The Wildlife Management Areas program leases about 120,000 acres, including large tracts and smaller parcels used as dove fields.
A grant coming through the Voluntary Public Access-Habitat Incentive Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency will provide about $300,000 over the next three years to lease additional lands, said Alex Coley, the assistant chief of game management.
“Our goal is to enroll an additional 15,000 WMA acres as well as add 1,000 to 1,200 acres of dove fields,” Coley said. “Participating landowners will benefit from improved wildlife habitat through technical guidance, management recommendations and habitat development from WRD personnel.”
According to the 86-page environmental assessment that must be completed before the grant is fully authorized, one objective will focus on sites in middle Georgia to protect that region’s dwindling bear population. Potential sites can be considered anywhere in the state, however, and a goal of 13 new dove hunting areas would be scattered in all regions.
Besides traditional hunting and fishing, compatible activities authorized for WMA sites include bird watching, hiking, nature watching and canoeing in addition to possibly mountain biking and horseback riding. Specific activities will be negotiated as part of individual landowner agreements.
Other options under the grant program include authorizing opportunities to targeted groups on sites that would not officially be added to the WMA program. Examples could include providing hunting or fishing access for youths, people with disabilities or other special audiences.
The east Georgia region, which includes Augusta, has 23 public wildlife areas, including some of the largest state-owned or state-leased parcels.
Among them are the 1,500-acre Phinizy Swamp WMA in Augusta, the 12,700-acre Clarks Hill WMA at Thurmond Lake, the 8,100-acre Di-Lane Plantation in Burke County, the 15,100-acre Tuckahoe WMA in Screven County and the Yuchi WMA in Burke County, encompassing more than 7,800 acres.
Hunters using the public areas must purchase a WMA license in addition to their regular state license. Beginning in January, non-hunters using 32 of the state’s most popular areas – including Tuckahoe and Yuchi near Augusta – must purchase a Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass. The new pass program was established to generate revenue for the WMA program in areas that are heavily used by the public, in addition to hunters.