The Nongame Wildlife Conservation and Wildlife Habitat Acquisition Fund, underwritten by the sales of special Georgia wildlife tags featuring bobwhite quail, has raised more than $8.8 million since its inception a few years ago.
More than 634,000 Georgians have purchased the plates, with an estimated 45 percent of those members of the hunting fraternity, according to Jerry McCollum, president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation.
Perhaps the program has been too successful.
Alarm bells began sounding last week when it was learned that Rep. Jay Shaw of Lakeland, who represents District 176 (Lowndes and Clinch counties) had introduced a bill on Feb. 15 that would have deleted the wildlife tag bill language, thus diverting all of the money from future sales into the state's general treasury.
Even more alarming was the fact that two of House Bill 653's co-signers were Bob Hanner of Parrott, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Bob Lane of Statesboro, chairman of the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee.
This was akin to a fox (Shaw) bribing the guard dogs (Hanner and Lane) to open the henhouse door. What can they have been thinking?
The reason why the wildlife tag bill has been so successful is that the Georgia General Assembly promised that the money would be earmarked only for the nongame program and nothing else. That's why I supported it -- that's why the public has supported it.
House Bill 653's sponsors never said what they wanted to use the money for, although there was some mention of a bobwhite quail restoration program.
McCollum got busy alerting the 58,000 Georgia Wildlife Federation members last week and many of them, in turn, kept the House of Representatives phones busy.
The public outcry was so great that by Thursday, the bill had been killed.
McCollum deserves a vote of thanks for his watchfulness.
"We are working to come up with another way of funding the bobwhite quail restoration project without breaking our promise to the citizens who purchased the wildlife conservation vehicle tag," said Lane, quoted in a Wildlife Resources Division news release issued the day the bill was killed.
Division Director David Waller pointed out that the nongame program receives no state funding "and sales of the wildlife tag provide the bulk of funding for nongame conservation programs presently under way in Georgia."
Bill Babb is the Outdoor Editor of The Augusta Chronicle.