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Friday, March 30, 2012 - 11:00am

State Expanding Public Wildlife Areas

Georgia wildlife officials want to convince more private landowners to lease their land to the state for hunting, fishing and recreation. The state is expecting nearly $1 million from the federal government to add 15,000 acres of wildlife management areas.

These lands are available for the public to hunt, fish or use them for other outdoor activities. The state actively manages them to protect animal populations and habitat.

Right now, Georgia has nearly a million acres of public, wildlife management areas; about 120,000 acres are leased private land, but that’s been declining.

“We’ve had to cut some of our leased acreages because of budget cuts over the last several years,” said Alex Coley, assistant chief of game management with the Department of Natural Resources. “Some of our WMAs have gone away. Areas like the Ogeechee WMA we had for years, it was sold off and that WMA disappeared. So our leased acreages have declined.”

Coley said the department is targeting middle Georgia bear habitat to help bolster the black bear population but are looking for land statewide.

“We want to focus on that central Georgia bear population because it has seemed to be growing and expanding, so we’d like to encourage that a little bit, stabilize the population, [and] make sure they’ve got room to expand,” Coley said.

Coley said the state will get the first year’s grant of about $325,000. The remaining two years will have to survive Washington budget cutting.