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Monday, June 3, 2013 - 12:02pm

State Park Changes Afoot

Starting July 1, the state Department of Natural Resources will launch a five-year plan to change how its law enforcement unit works. The agency will also finish privatizing some parks. The DNR will have a public meeting Tuesday in Atlanta but some critics are already voicing concerns.

Under the plan, rangers will either become full-time law enforcement personnel or focus solely on park duties.

Private firms already running lodges at five state parks will take charge of those entire properties.

Homer Bryson, the agency’s deputy commissioner, says the changes will keep the parks open, and allow rangers to, "work on habitat improvement, or work on the upkeep of roads because they will no longer have those law enforcement responsibilities. So they will have some man-hours that they can devote to resource management.”

Some worry the move will divert money away from park services, and fisheries and game management.

Todd Holbrook is head of the Georgia Wildlife Federation and a former deputy commissioner of the DNR. He says something has to give.

“Either state parks enforcement is not going to get the level of attention it so desperately needs and deserves, and that state parks users have come to expect, or hunters and fishermen are going to get less services, or you’re going to have to move money out of some division, most likely wildlife resource management, into the new law enforcement division, to make up that gap,” he said.

DNR officials say the agency has lost almost 50 percent of its taxpayer funding over the past few years. And yet under the plan, the parks will remain open.

Holbrook also says the agency has kept the public out of the process. But Bryson says it wasn’t necessary to seek public comment because the changes won’t result in fewer services.

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