User fees proposed for Wildlife Management Areas

Georgia has almost 100 Wildlife Management Areas from the mountains to the sea -- at least one within an hour's drive of every Georgian.


They are supported largely by hunters who buy a special permit each year, in addition to their regular licenses.

As it stands now, others who use these lands for hiking, bicycling and other types of recreation don't pay anything -- and that might soon change, along with how these public areas are named.

"There are two things we are looking at -- one is a major change and one would be considered minor," said John Bowers, Georgia's assistant game management chief.

The major change involves a proposal to establish user fees for selected WMAs.

Options being discussed include the sale of per-vehicle passes at a cost of $5 for a three-day pass; or $19 for an annual pass, excluding transaction fees, Bowers said.

A second option involves per-person passes that would cost $3 for three-day access, or $12 for an annual pass.

Sportsmen who already buy traditional $19 annual WMA permits would not be affected by the added costs.

The Wildlife Resources Division is exploring the additional fees to offset the burden of sportsmen whose fees support management areas suitable for other recreation activities.

"This is something the sportsmen have repeatedly commented on," Bowers said. "If they have to pay to hunt and fish, why do the horseback riders or people who use the shooting ranges not have to pay something too? This is our effort to try to address that issue."

A second change being considered involves how the WMAs are named.

State-managed properties are known by several names, including Wildlife Management Areas, Public Fishing Areas, Natural Areas, Outdoor Recreation Areas and others.

The proposal under study would bundle all Wildlife Resources Division sites under a single name.

Options include State Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Area, Conservation Recreation Area and Outdoor Recreation Area.

Other options include continuing to call them Widlife Management Areas and PFAs (or Public Fishing Areas).

Bowers said comments received so far are from Georgians who like the WMA name -- and prefer to keep it.

"The majority of our comments so far are to keep the status quo," he said.

The comment period is open through June 11.

If you have an opinion on the naming issue -- or the fee plan -- you can e-mail yout thoughts to or mail to GA DNR, WRD, Game Management Section, Attn: John Bowers, 2070 U.S. Highway 278, SE, Social Circle, Georgia 30025.

PANTHER REWARD: For decades, Georgia's wildlife authorities have routinely dismissed the dozens of reported panther sightings each year as cases of mistaken identity.

All that changed on Nov. 16, 2008, when a hunter in Troupe County shot and killed what DNA tests later confirmed was an authentic wild panther of the federally endangered Florida strain. It was the first tangible evidence that panthers could exist here.

Georgia Outdoor News has offered a $1,000 reward for the best legally obtained physical evidence of a Georgia cougar, with a deadline of May 1, 2011.

Panthers are federally endangered species and killing one is a crime. If you see one, try to get photos, scat samples, castings of tracks, etc.

GATOR TAGS: Georgia's application period for alligator permits opened last week and runs through midnight July 31.

The 850 tags available this year represent an increase over last fall's quota of 700 tags, but that won't make it much easier to get drawn.

In 2009, there were almost 6,000 applications -- and wildlife authorities expect at least as many this season.

Interested hunters must complete and submit a state "quota hunt" application at

Alligator hunting season runs from Sept. 4 to Oct. 3.

Primary public lands near augusta


Alexander Tract WMA /Burke County /1,300

Broad River WMA /Lincolnton /1,500

Clark Hill WMA near /Thomson-Appling /12,703

Di-Lane Plantation /near Waynesboro /8,100

Germany Creek WMA /near Thomson /1,200

Keg Creek WMA /near Appling /800

Phinizy Swamp WMA /Augusta /1,500

Soap Creek WMA /near Lincolnton /1,050

Fishing Creek /near Lincolnton /2,903

Tuckahoe WMA /near Sylvania /15,105

Wilkes County WMA /near Washington /1,910

Yuchi WMA /near Waynesboro /7,800