Originally created 07/29/01

State stands to benefit from bill



An important piece of legislation that would funnel more than $8 million each year into Georgia wildlife and conservation programs passed a milestone in Washington last week but still has hurdles to leap.

The House Resources Committee voted 29-12 to foward the Conservation & Reinvestment Act to the full House for further consideration. The landmark bill came close to passage last year.

David Waller, director of Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division, said the bill would reinvest $3.1 billion in federal offshore gas and oil lease revenues into wildlife programs, conservation and other efforts.

He is hopeful it will pass and become law this year.

Georgia's total annual share would be almost $40 million - of which $8 million would be exclusively for wildlife-related purposes.

"CARA would provide an assured funding source for programs that benefit non-game wildlife, such as songbirds, marina mammals, reptiles and amphibians that currently receive very limited funding," he said.

Georgia's non-game wildlife conservation funds come mostly from voluntary donations through special wildlife license tag sales and the "Give Wildlife a Chance" checkoff box on state income tax return forms.

Although helpful, those funding sources are inconsistent and insufficient for protecting important species and sensitive areas, said Mike Harris, chief of Georgia's Non-Game Wildlife and Natural Heritage Section.

"CARA would more than quadruple our current budget for these types of projects and allow us to greatly enhance our wildlife education programs and wildlife-related recreation programs on state-owned lands," he said.

CARA passed the House by a 3-1 margin last year. Then, despite a letter signed by 63 Senators urging Senate passage, CARA never reached the Senate floor for final approval before the end of the Congressional session.

Wildlife proponents are watching - and hoping for a better outcome this year.

DUCKS DOWN, BUT NOT GEESE: The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which reported a decline in most major species of ducks that use the Atlantic Flyway, found things different this year with Canada geese.

Record numbers of geese will be airborne along the East Coast this year, despite years of steep population declines in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Federal biologists found an all-time record 146,000 nesting pairs of geese during this year's aerial surveys of breeding grounds in northern Quebec - a dramatic 57 percent increase from last year.

USF&WS Director Marshall Jones said the resurgence of the powerful migratory waterfowl can be attributed to cooperative efforts among states that are host to Canada geese at different times of the year.

Populations of Atlantic Flyway Canadas declined so drastically in the 1980s that federal authorities closed the flyway to hunting in 1995 and limited hunting resumed in most areas just two years ago.

The Atlantic population of Canadas, by the way, shouldn't be confused with our resident populations of birds that thrive along the Savannah River and at Thurmond Lake.

Although those populations share genetic characteristics - and occasional wintering grounds - with migratory geese, they are distinctly different and remain in Georgia and South Carolina year-round.

BUCK-A-RAMA TIME: The 2001 Atlanta Buck-a-rama, put on by the Georgia Wildlife Federation, will be held Thursday through Sunday at the Atlanta Expo Center off Interstate 285.

It is the largest trade show of its kind in the Southeast - and a valuable tool to further the Wildlife Federation's myriad conservation and outdoor programs. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for seniors and $4 for children 6-12.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.