Lean budgets halt plan to expand Georgia WMAs

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A plan to use a multi-year federal grant to add 15,000 acres to the state’s Wildlife Management Area program is gone with the wind, as they say in Georgia.

Budget writers in Atlanta – and later in Washington – put a double hex on the Wildlife Resources Division’s program to lease and operate public hunting lands by cutting state funds for existing leases and then eliminating the federal funds that were to provide more grant money in the coming two years.

“The WMA lease fees in our state budget were cut, so we are having to move money around and see what we can do,” said Alex Coley, Georgia’s assistant chief of game management.

The department’s budget for leases, which totaled $902,032 for 2011, was reduced to $695,396 in fiscal 2012, and then further reduced by $500,148, which left just $195,248 for the entire program. However, Georgia received the first installment of its federal Public Access-Habitat Incentive Program grant from the U.S. Agriculture Department, totaling about $325,000.

Those funds, Coley said, will be reprogrammed to help make up the shortfall in the existing lease budget.

Although Georgia is getting a part of its grant, the program has been defunded in Washignton for fiscal 2012, but could be reinstated for fiscal 2013.
“So we are sort of in limbo for now, but if we didn’t use that grant for lease fees, we would lost some of our existing properties,” Coley said.

The east Georgia region, which includes Augusta, currently has 23 public wildlife areas, including 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.

None of those areas will be impacted by the current year’s cuts, officials said.

GET OUT (SIDE): In 2011, more Americans participated in outdoor recreation activities than in the past five years, according to a new survey by The Outdoor Foundation.

The study, which concludes more people are seeking healthier, more active lifestyles, said 141 million Americans, or 49.4 percent of the U.S. population, participated in outdoor activities last year — an increase of three million people compared to 2010 and continuing a five-year trend.

Americans made a total of 11.6 billion outdoor outings in 2011, which is 1.5 billion more than the previous year, the survey said.

The most popular activities among young people, in terms of overall participation, continued to be running, biking, camping, fishing and hiking. Skateboarding, triathlons and bird-watching were among their top five favorite activities as measured by frequency. Interestingly, adults share a passion for similar activities.

ARCHERY COMPLEX: After almost two years of planning, Georgia Southern University officials will meet with architects this week to launch the design process for $4.125 million shooting sports complex to be located near the school’s campus.

The project, to occupy 15 acres, is expected to include 22,000 to 24,000 square feet of indoor shooting and archery facilities and offices, surrounded by a series of outdoor archery ranges.

Funding has already been set aside for the project, including $3.3 million from Georgia’s share of proceeds from the federal Pittman-Robertson Act, which sends excise taxes from the sale of sporting arms and ammunition back into state and local organizations to benefit wildlife, habitat and hunting and shooting programs.


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