Federal budget cuts have caused plenty of grief this year, but the deer at Savannah River Site might owe Congress a big “thank you.”
This fall, the 310-square-mile site’s popular public deer hunts will be scaled back and limited only to registered members of dog pack teams who have participated in past hunts.
The changes, according to site officials, are due to “severe budgetary constraints related to the effects of sequestration” and were unavoidable because of the high costs of transporting large numbers of hunters to and from stands.
The site’s organized hunts often produce trophy class bucks, but the main objective is to control the population for safety reasons and reduce vehicle collisions.
So far this year, 38 animal impact crashes have occurred, including 28 deer, seven wild hogs and three turkeys.
The dog drives, which offer wildlife managers the flexibility to reduce herd numbers in targeted areas, will also become more expensive this year.
Pack owners must pay a fee of $650 each, entitling them to five hunts from October to December. Additional hunts can be purchased for $130 apiece and pack owners may bring the same or a different dog handler to each hunt. In previous years, pack owners paid $75 for three hunts.
The online lottery program that allows the public to apply to hunt as standers in the dog drives was put on hold this spring as site officials awaited budget decisions, and has now been cancelled.
The good news, however, is that the changes – at this point – are only for fiscal 2013. Site officials will re-evaluate hunt programs for 2014 after appropriations are received.
For the 2013 hunting season, applications will be offered first to 170 pack owners who have participated in past hunts, and then to those on a waiting list, according to a summary of the changes provided by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.
The changes will not cancel the site’s annual Mobility-Impaired and Wounded Warrior Hunts, but the two events will be combined into one as a cost-savings measure.
Last season, hunters harvested 530 deer during the SRS hunts.
DNR LAW CHANGE: After weeks of controversy, Georgia’s Board of Natural Resources affirmed its reorganization of law enforcement programs that will make game wardens responsible for state parks and similar areas.
The consolidation plan would eliminate the Wildlife Resources Division’s Law Enforcement Section and create a new Law Enforcement Division with expanded authority. At the same time, law enforcement powers and duties currently allocated to state park officials will be phased out.
Although the Georgia Wildlife Federation, Quality Deer Management Association and other groups wrote to the Board of Natural Resources with concerns, DNR officials say the change will streamline and improve efficiency in the department and help standardize the currently varied role of the law enforcement officers.
NEW SAVANNAH BLUFF: The Army Corps of Engineers is getting closer to launching its $30 million fish passage project at New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam below Augusta.
The unusual series of man-made rapids that will encircle the dam on the Savannah River’s South Carolina side is expected to offer striped bass and other migratory species to swim upstream, past Augusta, all the way to the base of the city Diversion Dam at the Canal Headgates.
Although no construction date has been set, corps officials say the project will be a priority because it is part of the mitigation package for the $652 million deepening and dredging of Savannah Harbor – and must be in place before work can commence downstream.