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Cost of hunting, fishing licenses going up
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Jack Smith fishes for largemouth and spotted bass Monday afternoon at Wahoo Creek. Georgia sportsmen will soon be paying more for hunting and fishing licenses with revenue from the increase going toward hiring 40 additional game wardens.

Three ways to purchase hunting, fishing licenses

• Go to https://www.gooutdoorsgeorgia.com/

• Go to a license agent (find ones near you at https://license.gooutdoorsgeorgia.com/Licensing/LocateAgent.aspx)

• Call 1-800-366-2661 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

State hunting and fishing licenses are getting more expensive beginning July 1.

Gov. Nathan Deal is set to sign House Bill 208 on Tuesday, increasing the prices of a slew of licenses in the state — the first time since 1992 lawmakers have increased the cost of resident hunting and fishing licenses.

HB 208 increases the cost of resident annual hunting licenses to $15 from $10 and annual fishing licenses to $15 from $9. The sportsman’s license, which covers most hunting and fishing privileges in the state from big game to trout, will increase to $65 a year from $55. Similar increases are scheduled for the majority of the hunting and fishing licenses in the state, including those offered to seniors and for children.

Costs won’t increase until the beginning of the next fiscal year, which means hunters and anglers can purchase annual, multiyear and lifetime licenses at the cheaper rate until the end of June.

HB 208 was sponsored by Rep. Trey Rhodes, R-Greensboro, and came after a state audit in 2016 found that Georgia’s license fees are lower than most of the southeastern United States.

Several years in the making, the increases are estimated to raise more than $11 million each year for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, according to department spokesman Wes Robinson, with the extra money to pay for more game wardens, infrastructure and maintenance.

“We manage over a million acres of public land, so we want to make sure that our public has access to that land,” Robinson said. “Whether that’s through better maintained roads to access that land or whether it’s through more and better boat ramps to access our public waterways, all of that is really important.”

The fee increases are intended to provide more cash to the department’s wildlife resources division — one of the demands made by the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation and its 5,000 members before it would support the bill.

The division employs Georgia’s game wardens and manages hunting and fishing in the state. Increasing the cost of licenses would pay for approximately 40 new game wardens. Also called rangers, Georgia’s game wardens are the state’s frontline wildlife law enforcement officers who fulfill a range of duties related to wildlife management.

“Right now we’ve got a need for that many,” said Reggie Dickey, president of the GHFF, on Monday. “We have counties that don’t even have a game warden, and we’ve got some rangers that are assigned to three counties.”

For now, the department isn’t saying where new game wardens will be assigned. Robinson said new postings are “to be determined.” Georgia has almost 50 counties without a game warden.

Dickey said the organization also lobbied for more road access to Georgia’s wildlife management areas — a statewide collection of 90 tracts of land intended to provide more game opportunities for hunters.

While license fees are collected by the Department of Natural Resources, the revenue must be appropriated through the Georgia legislature’s budget process, according to Robinson.

Dickey said his group had been promised that the license revenue would benefit the wildlife division, game wardens and infrastructure.

“We’re going to be watching. I hope we don’t have to hold their feet to the fire,” Dickey said. “I hope they just do what they promised.”

The department also operates several gun ranges in the state, including the Wilson Shoals range in the wildlife management area east of Gainesville. Robinson said the cash raised by the increased fees will be used to offer “more and better shooting ranges” in Georgia.

John Lipscomb, the owner of Foxhole Guns and Archery in Gainesville, said he was thankful for the department and its rangers, but noted there are some aspects of state wildlife management that need improvement.

Wildlife management and the budget for the division aren’t always obvious in urban life, but for hunters and anglers hitting more rural spots, Lipscomb said the gaps are clear.

“Sometimes I feel the state kind of forgets the DNR,” he said, adding that the management areas are where the effects of the department are seen. “... You don't look at it around here because there’s not 20,000 acres on the side of Gainesville that is management area.”

Sitting in his office at the back of his shop on Monday, he said there’s an easy way to tell when you cross from Georgia to South Carolina in the wilderness: trail conditions.

“You can be in South Carolina riding a horse — the DNR handles all of this — in South Carolina it’s awesome,” Lipscomb said. “The trails are just wide, they’ve been graded, they’ve taken care of them. You cross the river into the Georgia side and you can tell there’s no money because the trail is not good.”

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