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State hearing may help in bid for new local hunting laws
Athens-Clarke
By Blake Aued | [email protected] | Story updated at 12:54 AM on Thursday, January 4, 2007
A Monday public hearing on potential changes to Georgia hunting laws could bolster calls for local hunting restrictions in Clarke County.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Doug Lowry said he formally will propose changes to the county's hunting ordinance next month, in the wake of the December shooting of a dog by a poacher in southeastern Clarke County.

Lowry publicized the hearing at a county commission meeting Tuesday night.

It's just a coincidence - the state Department of Natural Resources holds similar hearings every year - but after hearing from the public, the DNR could make some changes to state law that are similar to what Lowry said he has in mind.

The hearing, scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, is one of eight that will be held across the state next week. Lowry said he will use the hearing as an opportunity to get feedback from hunters and state officials on his ideas for changing local laws.

Although nothing is on paper yet, Lowry said his proposal likely will include some type of ban on rifle hunting, while allowing hunting with shotguns and "primitive" weapons like bows and muskets that lack the range of most rifles. To keep the deer population under control, he said he also may propose extending the deer-hunting season, raising the current limit of nine does and two bucks that a person can kill during a season and opening county-owned land for limited hunting.

"If you restrict rifle use in Clarke County, you're going to have to balance it with some other things, because there's too many deer," Lowry said.

The surplus of deer in many parts of Georgia can lead to starvation, car collisions and extensive damage to lawns and crops.

The annual DNR hearings usually are a chance for dialogue between hunters and regulators and are more of an informal discussion rather than for selling a specific policy to the public, said Bob White, the Southeastern regional director of the Bogart-based Quality Deer Management Association, a nonprofit hunters' group that advocates for sustainable deer populations.

Last year, DNR officials proposed raising the bag limit, adding a special season for muzzle-loading weapons and allowing hunters to bait deer, but hunters said the deer population was down, so the changes weren't necessary, and DNR dropped the ideas, White said.

This year, similar ideas are likely to come up, and raising the bag limit may fare better because the deer population is noticeably larger than last winter, he said.

Changes made to state hunting laws last year included requiring a license to hunt with dogs, banning use of a computer to remotely aim and fire a weapon and allowing scopes on muskets, according to DNR's 2006-07 hunting regulations guide.

"There doesn't seem to be a real hot-button issue" this year, White said.

DNR will have to approve any changes to local hunting laws, Lowry said.

It's made similar changes in urban Atlanta and DeKalb, Cobb and Fulton counties, allowing hunting only with bows and extending the season about a month, White said.

QDMA generally is in favor of such laws in small, densely populated areas where the danger of being hit by a stray bullet is greater than rural areas, White said. Clarke, the smallest county in Georgia, fits that bill.

Lowry and Commissioner Kelly Girtz met Wednesday with QDMA representatives.

"We are very much in agreement with (Lowry's ideas)," White said. "Naturally, safety is something you have to include in any management program."



Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 010407
 
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