Georgia’s Board of Natural Resources got an earful last week over a plan to restructure the Wildlife Resources Division’s law enforcement section.
The plan is to eliminate the law enforcement unit within the Parks, Recreation, and Historic Sites Division and separate the law enforcement section from the Wildlife Resources Division, creating a new “Law Enforcement Division” responsible for both wildlife duties and state parks.
Although the move was prompted in part by continuing budget woes, critics say the change will further erode law enforcement services to hunters and anglers.
“It’s a decision made and announced with no involvement from hunters, boaters, anglers or park users,” said Georgia Wildlife Federation president and CEO Todd Holbrook – who previously spent 27 years with Georgia DNR in a variety of roles.
“The wildlife resources officers become a separate division, and inherit state park responsibility, but without extra money,” he said. “It means hunting and fishing are going to get less attention, or you have to take money out of hunting and fishing for law enforcement in state parks.”
In a letter delivered Tuesday to DNR board chairman Rob Leeburn Jr., other groups shared the Wildlife Federation’s concerns.
“Simply stated, enforcement officers working state park duties are not patrolling trout streams, looking for turkey bait, or checking for illegal deer kills,” said the letter, signed by leadership from National Wild Turkey Federation, Quality Deer Management Association and Trout Unlimited.
“Hunters and anglers contribute $20.5 million annually in state license fees and approximately $15 million in federal excise taxes on arms, ammunition, and fishing equipment,” the letter said. “Of the license revenues, $13.2 million have been used to fund the Law Enforcement Section.”
Holbrook said the number of certified DNR law enforcement officers has declined in recent years – from 387 in 2009 to just 311 this year. Projections indicate the number will continue to fall – to 194 – by 2018.
If the reorganization is approved after a June 4 public hearing, the changes wold take effect July 1.