Expanding and enhancing public access to Wildlife Management areas is a priority for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD). A grant received by WRD will assist with this priority, but first the agency is seeking public comment for a required environmental assessment prior to the funds being awarded.
The grant is through the Voluntary Public Access-Habitat Incentive Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Using the existing Wildlife Management Area (WMA) program as a model, WRD’s grant proposal will provide new public hunting and fishing opportunities through participating landowners.
“Our goal is to enroll an additional 15,000 WMA acres as well as add 1,000 to 1,200 acres of dove fields,” says Alex Coley, assistant chief of Game Management. “Participating landowners will benefit from improved wildlife habitat through technical guidance, management recommendations and habitat development from WRD personnel.”
The state currently leases more than 120,000 acres of WMAs and dove fields for the current public access program. This grant would expand this acreage by providing more than $300,000 for the next three years.
Also allowable may be recreational activities that are compatible with hunting and fishing. These include bird watching, hiking, nature observation and canoeing as well as possibly mountain biking and horseback riding. These activities will be negotiated in the individual landowner agreements.
Wildlife Resources will evaluate potential lands for appropriate habitat and accessibility. These lands will receive promotion in the official Georgia Hunting Seasons & Regulations guide and through media outreach.
A portion of the grant provides coordination for private landowners to offer public hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation opportunities on their land -- without being added to the WMA system. These public offerings could be targeted to specific groups such as youth, people with disabilities, or other special audiences, as directed by the donor or the agency.
WRD conducted a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) as part of the grant process. The public is encouraged to review the PEA and the full proposal, then provide comments. Comments will be accepted through April 14, 2012.
You can find the proposal, PEA and how to comment at www.georgiawildlife.com/node/2892  .