Yet another showdown is brewing in the perennial battle over whether Georgians should be allowed to shoot deer over bait.
This time, it's in the form of a House Wildlife Management Study Committee appointed by the Legislature to seek public opinion - and sound science - regarding the controversial practice.
"This is an issue that's been going on for years, and we'd like to put it to rest one way or the other," said Jay Roberts, a legislator from Ocilla, Ga., appointed to chair the five-member committee.
The group has scheduled public meetings in Perry, Tifton and Lawrenceville and hopes to forward its recommendations to the General Assembly later this fall.
If the committee believes, after everyone has weighed in, that shooting deer over bait is in the best interest of the hunting public, and Georgia's deer herd, it will likely spawn a proposed change in state law this fall.
Although hunting over bait has its share of supporters, groups such as Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division and the Georgia Wildlife Federation have opposed the measure.
"Representatives from our agency won't be attending these meetings and we are not involved in them," said Melissa Cummings, spokeswoman for the division.
The Wildlife Federation is taking a much more active stance in opposing efforts to legalize baiting.
The Georgia Camo Coalition action group has set up a Web site with fact sheets and studies into the issue, and also offers a link through which visitors can e-mail opinions to legislators and members of the committee. The site address is: www.camocoalition.com.
Among the reasons the Wildlife Federation opposes baiting:
- Hunting over bait violates the fair-chase ethic all hunters should adhere to, and could gradually turn non-hunters who accept hunting into anti-hunters.
- Using bait to concentrate deer also can increase transmission of wildlife diseases.
- Studies in Michigan, Mississippi and Texas have documented that baiting makes deer increasingly nocturnal, thus decreasing opportunities for hunters. Bucks followed this trend more than does.
- In one South Carolina study, hunters in the lowcountry, where baiting occurs, are less successful than hunters in the upstate, where baiting is illegal. Upstate hunters harvested 15.4 deer per square mile and low country harvests were 11.0 deer, despite lowcountry hunters averaging 30 percent more time afield.
Roberts said he intends to study the matter with an open mind and give all interested parties an opportunity to comment.
"We will look at all the data that's there, look at all the information and comments and report back," he said.
"We will also make recommendations on whether we need to move forward with this type of legislation (to legalize baiting), or not move forward with this type of legislation."
BALD EAGLE SURVIVAL: Geor-gia's bald eagle population is holding its own this year, despite lingering damage along Thurmond Lake, where more than a dozen eagles have died in recent years from a neurological disorder known as AVM.
Senior biologist Jim Ozier of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said 82 nesting pairs of eagles were observed statewide this year, compared to 83 last year.
"The recent totals do not necessarily indicate that the population trend has flattened or taken a downturn," he said, noting that some pairs might have moved to new nests that have not been found by observers.
Among documented nests this year, 61 nests were successful in fledging 94 young eagles. The previous season, 67 nests were successful, producing a state-record year of 107 young.
Ozier said three known nesting territories on Thurmond Lake's Georgia side were occupied this year and doing well. Three other known nesting territories along the Little River arm of the reservoir remained unoccupied this year.
The majestic birds are endangered in Georgia, and are on the federal list of threatened species.
"We have been very satisfied with the species' progress here in our state," Ozier said. "In the last 25 years, we've gone from just one nesting pair to more than 80 nesting pairs."
BENEFIT SHOOT: It's often said that outdoor folks stick together and help one another.
On Saturday, local shooters will hold a benefit trap shoot and dinner to help a fellow outdoorsman, Owen Lavender, who is suffering from cancer. There is a $50 registration fee for 50 targets and the shoot will be held at Pinetucky Gun Club. Call (706) 533-5850 for more details.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.