A scattering of people from Bryan and surrounding counties turned out Wednesday for a public forum on potential cost increases for hunting and fishing licenses in Georgia.
The informal meeting at the Richmond Hill City Center was the third of seven forums the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is hosting throughout the state to gauge public support for raising hunting and fishing license fees for the first time in 23 years.
If the backing is there, “We can go to the Legislature and say, ‘Our customers are ready for an increase,’” DNR spokeswoman Jenifer Wisniewski said.
The license fees are put toward DNR efforts such as managing public hunting and fishing locations, conducting research, planting food plots and raising and stocking fish. Raising the fees would help meet increasing public demand for hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities, according to the DNR.
The agency has suggested raising the cost of a hunting license from $10 to $15, a fishing license from $9 to $15 and a combined hunting/fishing license from $17 to $25. However,Wisniewski cautioned, those numbers were offered simply to start the public dialogue.
“We haven’t proposed an increase yet,” she said. “It’s just easier if there’s an example than saying, ‘What would you want the prices to go to?’ Because then you’re going to get anything for an answer.”
The response has been favorable so far, according to Wisniewski. About 100 people have filled out the DNR’s survey at the three meetings and another 4,500 have taken it online, she said.
“We’ve got 78 percent that are not opposed to an increase,” Wisniewski said. “So far, the feedback has been very positive — ‘$5, no big deal. Sure, do it.’”
Among those OK with raising the license costs is Jimmy Henderson, vice president of the Bryan County chapter of the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation. However, Henderson said he and others he’s talked to would like more specifics on how the DNR would spend the money raised from the fee hike.
“They need to be a little more open with how they want to spend this money,” he said.
Upgrades such as road and boat-ramp improvements are needed at several of Georgia’s wildlife-management areas, Henderson said. He also sees a need for more personnel.
“Twenty-some counties don’t have a ranger in that county,” Henderson said. “People will be glad to see their dollars go to something like that.”
An overwhelming response on the survey — with 97 percent in favor, according to Wisniewski — is for the DNR to simplify its licenses. She acknowledged the licenses are “a little complicated.”
One step could be to eliminate specific licenses such as the deer dog hunting license or the one-day saltwater shore-fishing license, Wisniewski said. Another example she used was that someone wanting to access any public lands managed by the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division is required to get a wildlife-management-areas stamp on top of having a hunting or fishing license.
“One of the proposals is that we could maybe roll that into your base hunting and fishing license and not require that (additional stamp),” Wisniewski said. “There are several things that are out there that we could definitely roll into a basic privilege or bundle.”
Georgia’s two most recent fee increases, in 1992 and 1987, were used to acquire land for sporting purposes. The last hunting and fishing license fee hike in support of DNR operations was in 1981.
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Public comment is being taken through July 6. The online survey is available at www.georgiawildlife.com/aimforsuccess. Written comments also may be sent to: License Restructure, Wildlife Resources Division, 2070 U.S. Hwy. 278 SE, Social Circle, GA 30025.