A Friendly Reminder to Buy Your Wildlife Tags

With recent law changes, tags give wildlife a better chance.  Thanks to new legislation, the wildlife license plates that provide critical funding for work involving nongame, northern bobwhites and trout will cost less and provide even more support.

After July 1 the cost of buying or renewing the eagle, hummingbird, quail and trout tags will be $25 and dedicates more than 75 percent of that fee to wildlife programs the plates benefit. The breakdown is that $19 of every plate purchase and $20 of each renewal will, by law, go to help conserve and manage native Georgia wildlife and natural habitats, from bald eagles to longleaf pine forests.

The support from these plates is critical, considering that the state does not provide general revenue for the core missions of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, which conserves rare and other nongame wildlife, and the Bobwhite Quail Initiative, which is focused on restoring quail populations and habitats.

The three nongame plates – the eagle and hummingbird designs – account for more than half of all contributions to the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund, the source of non-federal funding for the Nongame Conservation Section. The bobwhite, deer and turkey plate is the sole funding source for the Bobwhite Quail Initiative’s support for habitat restoration efforts on private lands – efforts that benefit bobwhites and a host of other game and nongame wildlife species.

DNR’s wildlife tags will soon give Georgia wildlife an even better chance, and this is your better chance to make a difference.

SUMMARY – 2014 Session of the Georgia General Assembly

ImageThe 2014 Session of the Georgia General Assembly came to a close on March 20. All things considered, it was success for fish, wildlife, hunters, and anglers. There were a number of bills of interests to members of the Camouflage Coalition. Three, Senate Bill 213, Senate Bill 299, and House Bill 881, were all very positively affected by the Camouflage Coalition. The absence of any new bills to allow private ownership and breeding of whitetail deer reflects on a significant win by our coalition near the end of the 2013 Session. A summary of these and other law changes follow.

SB 213:  The Flint River Drought Protection Act was a hotly contested and rapidly changing bill that held major implications for the renowned shoal bass fisheries of the Flint River. In 2014, it bounced around with multiple trips through the House Rules Committee, the House Agriculture Committee, and the House Floor, picking up amendments all along the way. The amendments were all important. Stream “augmentation” was defined and limited. The opportunity for creative interpretations of the new law were as a result, constrained. The geographic footprint was restricted to 4 creeks that feed the lower Flint, and the purpose for withholding traditional riparian rights was restricted to the protection of vulnerable aquatic life. With these amendments, the risks to the Flint and risks to Georgia water law became inconsequential. Reasons for opposition to the proposed law evaporated. The bill passed in a form supported by proponents of fisheries, wildlife, and stream health. It awaits the Governor’s signature.

SB 299: The Camouflage Coalition also spoke against the original form of SB 299 which altered minimum standards for water to be polluted and impacted current stream buffer requirements associated with water supply systems. After active involvement from the Georgia Council of Trout Unlimited and input from the Camouflage Coalition the bill was amended by its author and the harmful elements were removed. The bill is in a form that does not rollback current law, and it awaits the Governor’s signature.

HB 881: Camouflage Coalition members will recognize and associate this bill with HB 730, Wildlife License Plates. The original version died in committee with no committee vote taken. Advocates who felt that revenues from sales of nongame, bobwhite quail, and trout license plates should go to those DNR programs rather than the general fund did not give up. The result was continued support from Representative Epps and Knight, and with their help the wildlife-friendly language was attached to a license plate bill supporting Grady Hospital. Now, all that remains is the Governor’s signature, and members of our coalition can start buying wildlife license plates again, with the knowledge that their voluntary fees actually will go to support these key fish and wildlife programs.

SB 322: Currently, the provision exempting homes of poisonous snakes from protections has been used by some to dispense gasoline or other chemicals into gopher tortoise burrows. Many species of wildlife – including the gopher tortoise and threatened indigo snake – live in these burrows and are harmed by gasoline fumes. Harming these species is against the law, but the law needed clarification. SB 322 passed and awaits the Governor’s signature.

SB 93: Some hunters, particularly those who enjoy predator and hog hunting, hoped to see Georgia’s prohibition against the use of suppressors for hunting eliminated. SB 93 proposed this change with certain constraints like requiring landowner permission on private lands and DNR approval on public lands. This language was amended onto HB 60, a broad weapons carry bill. After being taken off then amended back on, the language allowing use of suppressors under certain provisions passed with HB 60.

Deer Breeding: While no state legislation was introduced to allow for individuals to own and breed whitetail deer in the 2014 Session, we can anticipate it coming back in 2015. Nationwide there has been a lot of activity by deer breeders, mostly from breeders in northern states, who are looking to expand markets by making this activity legal in the south. This activity includes changes proposed by APHIS for CWD Program Standards published in the Federal Register that are a rollback of protections against spread of CWD as presented in 2012 standards. As most deer hunters know, CWD or Chronic Wasting Disease, is a 100% fatal disease, transmissible within the deer herd. CWD like other prion diseases has an incredible shelf-life, persisting in the environment for decades.

Big Win in the Georgia General Assembly But Remain Vigilant

Congratulations! You all scored a big win last week at the Georgia General Assembly. Your participation stalled proponents of white-tailed deer captive breeding from seizing ownership of your wildlife and placing Georgia’s deer herd at risk for disease introduction – all for the private gain of a few self-serving individuals. Participation in the legislative process through the Camo Coalition works; the results on the deer breeding bill, Senate Bill 230, demonstrate that effectiveness.

Last Wednesday afternoon, SB 230 was dropped and scheduled for a Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee hearing the very next day. Such rapid movement through the process is atypical. In less than 18 hours you placed 817 Alert messages on the desks of Senate and House members. Despite having several bill signers who sit on this committee, the bill was defeated in committee by a vote of 4 to 2. SB 230 does not move forward.

This win, while huge, does not mean that we can relax completely on this dangerous issue. There is still time in this session of the General Assembly for a new bill with similar language to be introduced or for the language right out of SB 230 to be attached to another piece of legislation. There is no further action on your part needed at this time. But, please monitor your e-mails closely throughout March starting today. You may see a Camo Coalition Alert that requires your immediate action.

For now you can help by encouraging conservation-minded friends, who would be willing to take action, to go to the Camo Coalition website and become a Coalition member. If every current Camo Coalition member recruited two others, we would become an awesome political force indeed.

Also, you can track the progress of other legislation of interest to sportsmen conservationists by clicking here to check out changes to our legislation tracking sheet. This tracking document is updated almost daily. Thank you, enjoy the win, and remain vigilant.

Sincerely,

Todd Holbrook
President & CEO
Georgia Wildlife Federation

Legislative Update

When the Camo Coalition began in 2004, it was in response to increasing legislative pressures that threatened scientific wildlife management and the public’s right to the public’s wildlife. The Georgia Wildlife Federation believed then, as now, that a politically active and informed community of hunters, anglers, sportsmen, and conservationists were the best defense of professional resource management through the passage of good laws and the blocking of bad legislation. Your active involvement is what has made the Camo Coalition the most powerful legislative tool we have to protect our wildlife and natural heritage in Georgia. Thank you for that.

Let me take a moment and introduce myself. As of January 1st of this year, I am the new President & CEO of the Georgia Wildlife Federation – your host for the Camo Coalition. Before coming to GWF, I completed a 27-year career with Georgia’s DNR, most recently as the Deputy Commissioner from 2009-2012. Prior to that, I worked as the Assistant Director of the Wildlife Resources Division and the Chief of Game Management. At my core, I am a wildlife biologist with an intense passion for hunting and fishing. My rifle and fly rod aren’t just some accessories to a hobby; they are foundational to my personal outdoorsman’s lifestyle.

With introductions out of the way, this is the first Camo Coalition Notice for the 2013 Session of the Georgia General Assembly. Please take the time to go to the legislative tracking sheet to get a full update on legislation that is pending, proposed or in the wings. We will update this sheet regularly so you can keep track of important legislation in between official Action Alerts from the Camo Coalition.

The tracking sheet will provide you with a bill number if legislation has been introduced. For the exact language, simply click on the bill number. Other concepts listed have been discussed by agencies or legislators and still others are proposals that were floated last year, suggesting that some activity is likely during the 2013 session. We will offer the Georgia Wildlife Federation’s opinion on the relative value of the legislation, easily distinguished by color code. Green is good; red is not. For the shades in between, the devil will be in the details. All bills bear watching from start to finish.

In addition to specific action alerts we will send monthly updates on all relevant legislation. Please know that the colors on the tracking sheet may change. As bills move through the process, amendments can ruin a good bill or perfect a problematic one. At this point there is no action on your part that is recommended or requested. Feel free to check the website anytime for updates on specific bills or issues. If a Camo Alert is needed, as always you will receive an action email for that issue.

If you have any comments or questions, please let us know. Again, thank you for your help in protecting Georgia’s outdoor traditions and resources.

Sincerely,

Todd Holbrook
President & CEO
Georgia Wildlife Federation

GWF 2012 Legislative Update

The 2012 legislative session was a huge success for conservationists. Georgia Wildlife Federation members and the Camo Coalition raised their voices in unison and our elected officials took notice. We defeated three bills that would have been detrimental to our fish and wildlife resources.  In addition, we supported and helped pass a saltwater fishery management reform bill. Thank you to all of our supporters for taking action and contacting your Senators and Representatives.  Your emails, calls, and faxes made a huge difference. It really grabs the attention of our elected officials when they receive hundreds of emails from their constituents asking them to support or vote against a particular bill.  They appreciate your input, your knowledgeable positions, and your passion.

GWF participated in two very important events at the Gold Dome during the 2012 session. We set up a display and handed out brochures and information at the annual Sportsman’s Day on February 8th and we participated in Conservation Day at the Capital on February 28th. GWF is a strong presence at the Capitol thanks to our very active membership. Please encourage your friends to join us by going to our website at gwf.org and signing up to be a free member of the Camo Coalition.  Together we can make a difference and protect our hunting and fishing heritage and Georgia’s abundant and diverse natural resources.

Significant Legislation:

Deer Breeding, HB 1043, was killed in committee
HB1043 would have legalized the breeding and hunting of captive held genetically engineered White-tailed deer in high fence preserves. It would have made it legal to import breeder bucks and does. If this bill had passed, these deer would have been bred for big antlers, hand fed for four years or more, and sold to canned hunting operations where people would pay $5,000 or more to shoot them. It was assigned to the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee. We sent out a Camo Alert and you responded!  The members of the committee received over 8,000 emails in opposition to HB1043 sent by GWF supporters!  Way to go! The Ag committee was not supportive and the bill’s sponsor asked to have the bill moved to the  House Game, Fish and Parks committee.  We sent out another Camo Alert and again you responded. Several of our staff members and one of our board members went to the Capitol and testified against HB 1043. HB1043 died in committee and never made it to the House floor for a vote. We probably have not seen the last of this type of legislation.  GWF will continue to fight for ethical, fair chase hunting laws and for the health and security of our native deer herd.

Log Mining, SB 362, passed the Senate but was defeated in the House
Senator Tommie Williams tried again and failed to pass a bill that would allow for the removal of old growth logs from our rivers. SB 362 would have legalized the sale of these “deadhead” logs from the bottom of several of Georgia’s rivers.Submerged logs, when exposed above the stream or river bed, serve as valuable fish habitat for Georgia’s panfish, bass, and other fish species. They are often covered by sediments that in many cases hold high concentrations of toxic heavy metal pollutants that have accumulated from our upstream activities over the last 150 years. Mining of these logs would release these toxins and potentially pollute drinking water, fish habitat, and recreation areas. Passage of this bill would have also allowed our precious natural resources to be sold well below market value. The Senate passed SB 362 but the House opposed it with a vote of 93 -67. This victory was a result of hard work on your part, GWF staff, and many conservation mindedorganizations in Georgia. GWF passed out fact sheets to legislators and sent out two Camo Alerts during the process. Thank you for responding and sending a strong message to your elected officials against SB 362.

Domesticating Tilapia, SB 360, passed the Senate but was tabled by the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee
SB360 would have legalized the release of three species of tilapia into farm ponds throughout Georgia. Supporters of the bill felt that tilapia would make good forage fish for largemouth bass. Introducing Tilapia in Georgia could wipe out local populations of native fish like sunfish throughout South Georgia. GWF created a fact sheet on Tilapia and passed it out to legislators at the Capitol. GWF CEO Jerry McCollum also testified before the full Committee in opposition to SB360. Although this bill passed the Senate it fortunately died in the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee after the entire House received Camo Alert emails from our members. We do not need to further threaten our native fish with another exotic invasive species. Thank you for contacting your Representatives and helping GWF send a strong message against introducing the Kudzu Fish!

Saltwater Fishery Management Reform, HB 869, passed the House and Senate without unnecessary amendments
Currently Georgia law divides regulating saltwater fishing among the Georgia General Assembly, the DNR Board and the DNR Commissioner. This division of authority among three entities often makes it difficult for DNR to manage saltwater fisheries in a timely and effective manner.  HB 869 gives the DNR Board and the DNR Commissioner the ability to quickly make routine changes to saltwater fishery regulations based on current biological conditions just like they manage freshwater fishing and hunting.  GWF supported HB 869 because it streamlines the process and makes it easier for DNR to effectively manage our saltwater fishery resources in a timely manner.  The House passed this bill but the Senate added unnecessary amendments that would have complicated the fishery management process even more.  GWF sent out a Camo Alert asking you to urge your Senators to vote on the compromise bill that came out of the House conference committee.  You responded promptly and the Senate voted to accept the House version of the bill without the amendments. Thank you for your support for this excellent piece of legislation which will lead to better coastal fishing for all Georgia anglers.

Truth in Fees Bill/Put the trust back in trust funds, HB 811, was killed in committee and therefore failed to pass
HB 811 was groundbreaking legislation which we strongly supported.  The bill required that fees collected for certain activities be used for the intended purposes and not raided to pay for other state budgetary needs. We have several environmental fees in Georgia that were designed to fund specific state programs including:

– a tire disposal fee that is supposed to go to the Solid Waste Trust Fund to clean up illegal tire dumps and other solid waste problems

– fees collected at landfills and places that handle hazardous materials that are supposed to go to the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund to clean up old hazardous waste dump sites that threaten ground water.

HB 811 passed the House with only 5 dissenting votes.  A clear signal was sent to the Senate that trust needs to be put back into these trust funds. Unfortunately, it was gutted in the Senate and ridiculous “Rainy Day Fund” caveats were added.  The two chambers could not compromise and it never came up for a final vote. Representative Jay Powell, who sponsored the legislation, has made it clear that he will keep introducing this bill until changes are made.  Although we did not sent out a Camo Alert on HB 811, GWF worked hard behind the scenes to encourage passage of this ethical bill.  We will continue to fight for proper dispensing of these fees in the years to come.

SB 427 – The “Pay to Play” Bill was passed
SB 427 allows the DNR Environmental Protection Division Director to accept a fee that would expedite the reviewing and granting of permit applications and variances. It also requires that the EPD maintain a way for applicants to track the status of their applications, with real time updates, on the division’s Internet website.  We are opposed to the provision that allows an applicant to pay for faster processing.  This is not equal treatment under the law.  GWF sent out a Camo Alert and although the bill passed, we were successful at preventing an amendment from being attached that included a deference clause that wouldhave required an Administrative Law Judge to give deference to EPD’s positions, rather than maintain appropriate judicial independence at the administrative law judge level. The administrative law courts would be unfairly favoring government bureaucrats over average citizens.  We have fought this amendment several times over the years and thankfully it did not make it into the final version of this bill. We continue to believe that a judge should apply the law to all sides of a dispute equally and then find favor with the side that is favored by the facts contained in law.

Pictured: Governor Nathan Deal speaks at this year’s Sportsman’s Day at the Capitol.