THOMSON --- Mike Crawley's new canine partner has four legs and a badge.
"We use them around the state and all of them are male German shepherds," said Crawley, a law enforcement corporal with Georgia's Department of Natural Resources.
Storm, a 90-pound shepherd from the Czech Republic, is the department's eighth and newest canine -- and will be used throughout the 21-county region that spans from Athens to Augusta to Covington.
Shepherds are typically trained for many tasks, while other breeds are used for single purposes, such as tracking, he said. "They're very special multi-purpose dogs."
Storm's 11-week cross training program at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center's Canine Academy in Forsyth, Ga., included instruction in tracking, apprehension, officer protection, building search, evidence recovery and wildlife protection.
He can also climb ladders, self-deploy from a car and testify in court -- sort of.
"If he alerts, that is probable cause to conduct a search," Crawley explained.
If the search results in a case that goes to court, the dog's credentials and certification are used to justify the legality of any evidence recovered.
Storm's purchase, he said, was made possible through the generosity of conservation groups that financed $6,000 of the dog's initial $6,500 cost.
The National Wild Turkey Federation's national superfund contributed $3,000, and the Augusta chapters of NWTF, Quail Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited contributed $1,000 apiece.
Crawley, a veteran of DNR's canine program, has been a dog handler throughout most of his law enforcement career. His previous dog, Tar, retired recently after seven years of service and now lives at home with Crawley.
DEER DECLINE: South Carolina's deer harvest fell about 7 percent last season, according to Charles Ruth, the state's Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator.
Based on an annual survey, hunters killed 231,703 whitetails during the 2009 season, a decrease of 7 percent over 2008. The harvest included an estimated 120,365 bucks and 111,338 does.
Ruth said that while harvest figures were up slightly in 2008, the decline in 2009 is consistent with a trend that has yielded about a 25 percent overall decline from the record harvest established in 2002.
The decline has been linked to habitat changes and alterations in timber programs that pushed deer populations to unprecedented levels during the 1980s.
Much of the acreage planted during that period is now in older pine stands that cannot support large numbers of whitetails.
The impact of coyotes on fawns each spring is another possible factor in the changing harvest figures.
"Coyotes are a recent addition to the landscape and are another piece of the puzzle," Ruth said, noting that studies remain under way at Savannah River Site to better define the coyote's impact on deer numbers.
Based on the 2009 Deer Hunter Survey, South Carolina's deer hunters reported harvesting about 30,000 coyotes in 2009, and about 36,000 feral hogs.
Georgia's annual harvest figures are usually available in May, but this year the report is behind because of delays in contracting out the project, said Melissa Cummings, a spokeswoman for Georgia's Wildlife Resources. The study is now under way, though, and the results will be available later this year.