The 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.