AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Raise hunting, fishing license fees, state audit says

Hunters and anglers pay too little for licenses in Georgia, and the free licenses given to residents 65 and older are costing the state millions of dollars a year in federal grants and other revenue.

Those are two findings from a new state audit that gives a drubbing to the Wildlife Resources Division of the state Department of Natural Resources.

What's wrong with the division? Here are 5 findings:

  • It doesn't have good estimates on the black bear population, even as hunting


    opportunities have been expanded in Central Georgia, near Warner Robbins. When hunting restrictions eased in 2011, the number of bears killed by hunters went from an average of one a year to a total of 66 between 2011 and 2015.
  • The division hasn't kept track of how many trees have been harvested on the lands it manages, so its timber inventory is likely inaccurate.
  • WRD manages more than 100 wildlife management areas covering about 1 million acres, but when the audit began, it didn't have an accurate and complete list of properties it manages.
  • The division's website doesn't give the public such information as where bear hunting is permitted.
  • It's not clear how many prescribed burns were conducted in recent years or the number of acres burned, because of poor record-keeping.

The biggest consumer news in the audit may concern hunting and fishing fees. Those are consistently and substantially lower in Georgia than in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, the audit found.

For example, licenses for trout fishing and bear hunting cost less than half the average among Southeastern states. Fees in Georgia haven't increased since 1992. Auditors recommended that the General Assembly consider increasing them so the wildlife division can make improvements to its information systems and website.

That change could affect the 395,000 people who had paid hunting licenses in 2015 and the 646,000 with paid fishing licenses.

Another recommendation: consider charging nominal annual or lifetime fees for senior residents who want to hunt or fish.

Now, once Georgia residents are 65, there is no cost for licenses. But federal grant funds are apportioned based on a formula that includes paid licenses. Georgia could increase federal grant funds by $3 to $5 million a year if it charged a nominal lifetime fee of $55 for senior licenses. Another option would be a $5 annual license fee.




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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.