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12-16-2002, 12:29 AM
Lawmakers are expected to address huunting issues

December 14, 2002

By Robert Pavey, Augusta Chronicle

The autumn elections have set the scene for a new political landscape in next year's General Assembly - and topics of interest to outdoorsmen could range from canned hunts to restrictions on dog hunting.
"This is definitely a whole new ballgame," said David Waller, director of the state's Wildlife Resources Division. "There's no telling what might be introduced."

The new governor isn't likely to spring many surprises in terms of wildlife- related issues, he predicted.

"Sonny Perdue is a big hunter and fisherman," Waller said. "When he was in the Senate, he was always supportive of DNR."

However, with plenty of new politicians on board, there are rumblings of efforts to legalize a controversial practice: canned hunts.
Georgia - fortunately - forbids canned hunts, which involve charging people to shoot captive wildlife. Current laws allow high-fence preserve hunting, but only if the area is 300 acres or more.


"We think, next year, there might be some legislation introduced on canned hunts," Waller said. "The main reason is chronic wasting disease."

The dangerous disease, normally confined to Western states, was detected in Wisconsin whitetails last year. Most Eastern states quickly enacted outright bans on the importation of deer of any species.

That ban left private game farms, which Georgia categorizes as "alternative livestock," with lots of deer that can no longer be exported for profit.

One such farm, in Meriweather County, raises red deer that are similar in appearance to elk. The animals previously were exported to other states, and antlers were cut off each year and sold internationally as aphrodisiacs.

Today, with a ban on exporting live animals - and products such as Viagra crimping the international aphrodisiac market - such farmers see canned hunts as a more attractive option to make money, Waller said.

"They want to be allowed to shoot them in those pens, so they can make more money," Waller said. "We, of course, will oppose that if it does come up."

Another issue that could resurface is decriminalization of shooting deer over bait - a practice legal in some states, including portions of South Carolina. Georgia forbids hunting over bait.

"Last year, baiting was an issue, and after three months it was defeated," Waller said. "Whether it comes up again this year I don't know - but I hope not."

Some states that have allowed the practice are reversing the trend in efforts to avoid concentrating animals in feed areas - which can promote the spread of diseases such as CWD.

Waller pledged the Department of Natural Resources will oppose any effort to legalize baiting or canned hunts - both of which could open hunters to criticism from anti-hunting groups.

"When we start shooting tame critters in pens, and shooting at deer with their nose in a pile of corn, that's when we start to go downhill in the eyes of the nonhunting public," he said.

One other possible topic ripe for a legislative skirmish is hunting deer with dogs - a time-honored tradition that also has pitted landowners against neighboring hunting clubs in some areas.

"We've met with the Georgia Dog Hunters Association several times to talk about options to alleviate conflicts between hunters and landowners," Waller said. "What we've told them is, if this is something y'all want, it needs to come from y'all to members of the General Assembly."

Possible options include licensing clubs that use deer hounds or creating a minimum size of land that can be hunted with deer hounds. Waller concedes it will be difficult to draft any law to resolve disputes.

"DNR supports dog hunting," he said. "If someone enjoys running their dogs, that's fine. They ought to have that right. But we might consider something where you make the clubs large enough so you can hunt dogs and keep them on your property and not have them drifting onto the still hunters' domain."

The General Assembly convenes Jan. 13.

HUNTING COOTS? Researchers were at Thurmond Lake last week collecting coots as part of an inquiry into the mysterious disorder that has killed 25 bald eagles in recent winters.

The scientists - from the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia - will test the birds for avian vacuolar myelinopathy, or AVM.

The fatal condition, which causes spongy lesions in the brains of affected birds, is thought to be linked somehow to hydrilla eaten by coots, which in turn are eaten by eagles - which die.

Fortunately, AVM deaths this season appear to be minimal, said Vic VanSant, a Department of Natural Resources biologist.

"We haven't fond any dead birds so far this fall," he said.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.