When Georgia's General Assembly reconvenes this week, one of the hot topics for outdoorsmen is likely to be the disposition of millions of dollars generated each year by the sale of fishing and hunting licenses.
Typically, those dollars - $20 million or so each year - are funneled into the state's General Fund, which allocates it to operate the Wildlife Resources Division and its wildlife and conservation programs.
This year, though, there will be something different.
Back in 1987, a hefty license fee increase was adopted for a specific purpose: to acquire public lands for wildlife management areas.
The idea was to generate a huge pool of capital through bond issues to buy properties, and use the extra revenues generated each year from the license fee increase to retire that debt over 20 years, said Todd Holbrook, the division's assistant director.
This year, the bond issues are finally being paid off - and Georgians now own an additional 62,000 acres available for public use.
Although the bond debt will be retired, the 1987 license fee increase remains in effect, and Holbrook estimates the additional - and now uncommitted - revenues will generate about $4.5 million per year, based on the numbers of licenses being sold in recent years.
Where will that money go now?
"That's a big question," Holbrook said. "We have to make some decisions."
Soon after the Legislature reconvenes on Monday, Gov. Sonny Perdue will unveil his proposed budget, which could offer some insight into the destination of those dollars.
"There's not been a question asked about this money yet, but there have been some conversations," Holbrook said, adding that the Georgia Wildlife Federation is watching the issue.
The fee increase has already brought many benefits to Georgians, including the purchase of Yuchi Wildlife Management Area near Augusta, encompassing 7,800 acres; and the 15,105-acre Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area near Sylvania, Ga.
Holbrook said it is possible that the funds could be used for a new bond issue to finance acquisition of more public lands. "Right now there are lots of large tracts facing divestiture from corporate landowners," he said. "There are lots of economic changes with timber companies that have made good parcels available."
The division's newest Comprehensive Wildlife Planning Strategy has already identified areas of interest, including the Altamaha and Ocmulgee river corridors, the Southwest Red Hills near Albany, Ga., the Cumberland Plateau extensions in northwest Georgia and many other areas.
"It might also be possible to reallocate those funds to help cover operations that go with some of the lands we already have," he said. "Whenever you add land, you also have obligations like personnel, vehicles, gasoline - all the things that help us do our management and protection job."
Members of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, which plans to lobby to keep those soon-to-be-uncommitted funds aimed at wildlife programs, hope to draw attention to the issue during its annual Sportsmen's Day at the Capitol, on Wednesday.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or email@example.com.