On the final day that legislation could move forward this year, the Georgia state Senate approved Senate Bill 450, which removes the 200-yard and out-of-sight restriction for Northern Zone deer hunting near feed. There has been no distance restriction for Southern Zone deer hunters since 2011.
The Senate vote yesterday (Feb. 28) was 36 in favor and 19 against. The map below shows how the vote went according to Senate districts. Much of the opposition came from senators who represent urban areas. Along party lines, Republican senators voted 28 to 8 in favor of SB 450, and Democrats voted 11 to 8 against SB 450.
Baiting is still not legal in the Northern Zone. The state House of Representatives would still have to vote in favor of the measure, and there is opposition among key politicians, including some members of the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee, which didn’t allow a House version of SB 450 to move forward to a full vote by all members of the House.
In 2011, legislators approved a law to legalize hunting near feed with no distance restriction, but only in the Southern Zone. That legislation originally sought to legalize it statewide, but political wrangling ended up splitting the state. Since then, a common sentiment among Northern Zone deer hunters has been that the baiting law should be the same statewide—whether it is illegal or legal. If there are legitimate reasons why it should be one way or the other, those issues don’t apply to half the state and not the other. Before the mid-1990s, there was no Georgia law restricting deer hunting near feed until the legislature restricted it statewide so hunters had to be 300 yards from placed feed. Then in 2001 the law changed again to make the distance 200 yards.
The Georgia Wildlife Federation and Quality Deer Management Association issued a joint action alert on Feb. 27 opposing SB 450, primarily citing issues that relate to feeding deer, not how far a hunter should be from a feed site. The action alert stated:
GWF and QDMA opposes SB 450 for the following reasons:
• Baiting has the potential to accelerate transmission of diseases such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), bovine tuberculosis and several others. This is especially significant given the recent discovery of CWD in Mississippi, the closest state to Georgia to find CWD in its herd. This discovery increased the number of states with CWD to 25. As is so often in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (especially as there is NO CURE for the always lethal CWD).
• Surveys reveal that the majority of the hunting and non-hunting public objects to shooting over bait.
• Research confirms that baiting increases deer movement/feeding at night and does not increase hunter success.
• Predators have been shown to key in on feed sites to ambush deer – thus increasing deer mortality rates.
• Baiting increases reproduction/spread of nuisance animals such as feral hogs and raccoons.
SB 450 is not good for hunting, wildlife management, or wildlife conservation. Therefore, we urge you to join with us in opposing this bill.”
Of 1,464 people who responded to a GON survey last week, 86 percent were in favor of SB 450.
Deer Management Assistance Program
Legislation that would have created a Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) in Georgia did not progress before “Crossover Day,” the deadline for a bill to be approved by either the state House or Senate. So, DMAP won’t happen at least for another year unless the measure is added as an amendment to a bill that did pass.
If DMAP is approved, the Wildlife Resources Division would have the authority to prescribe property-specific deer harvest limits so a landowner (and people hunting that property) wouldn’t have to comply with the statewide bag limit. Also, approved DMAP properties would have the option for archery-only deer hunting until Jan. 31. HB 950 did not address program specifics, such as the cost of DMAP enrollment or any tract-size requirements.
HB 950 also would have extended archery-only deer hunting to Jan. 31 in Bibb, Chatham and Clarke counties to go along with Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties, which already have extended archery-only deer hunting until Jan. 31 each season.
Of 1,462 people who responded to a GON survey, 71 percent were in favor of HB 950.
Outdoor Stewardship Act
The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (GOSA) was introduced in the form of HB 332 and an accompanying House Resolution, HR 238. The GOSA creates a dedicated funding mechanism “for the conservation for priority lands, the stewardship of state parks and wildlife management areas, and the support of local parks and preserves.” HB 332 passed the House yesterday (Feb. 28) by a vote of 169 to 2, and HR 238 passed 164 to 2.
The measure still has to be approved by the state Senate, and final approval would then have to be made at the ballot box in the form of a state constitutional amendment that voters would have to approve. That might be a significant hurdle, as most voters have a tendency to quickly vote against constitutional amendments if the word “tax” appears in the ballot question.
The GOSA is not a new tax. It would be funded by dedicating 75 percent of the existing state sales tax on outdoor recreation equipment. It is simply a redirection and dedication of state sales tax money already being collected, so that it doesn’t go into the general fund but is dedicated to a GOSA trust fund.
According to the Georgia Conservancy, the money would be used for “the purchase, maintenance (including providing access) of conservation lands and parks. Stated priority areas would for the trust fund would be: Water Quality, Wildlife Habitats, Cultural Sites, Buffers around Military Installations, Support of Economic Development, and the Provision of Recreation (including, biking, hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, etc.).”
Sportsmen might expect some additional hunting opportunities on some of the newly acquired lands. There might also be additional fishing access to some areas of rivers, streams and small lakes. Based on recent lands acquired by the state, properties purchased would most likely be river and stream corridors and properties that are home to endangered or threatened animals and plants.
The GOSA is different from past land-acquisition programs, such as Preservation 2000 which was funded by sportsmen’s license-fee increases, because GOSA also will purchase land for parks, hiking and biking trails and cultural sites. The GOSA effort is painting with a broad brush in hopes of finally getting broad support for a dedicated source of land-acquisition funding in Georgia. Other states have multiples sources of dedicated funding, but Georgia hasn’t been able to get one passed.
The past two land-acquisition programs in Georgia were funded completely through license-fee increases on hunting, fishing and boat registration.
To allow for the dedicated allocation of tax revenue, the Constitution of Georgia would have to be amended. HR 238 introduces a ballot initiative to do this.
The GOSA trust fund would be administered by the State Properties Commission.
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