Tuesday, January 13, 2009

GEORGIA NEWS: FDR Park Closed For Deer Hunt

Maybe the deer will never know what hit them — be it bullets or buckshot.

They could be in for a lethal ambush this week, as Pine Mountain’s Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park holds its first two-day deer hunt.

This Tuesday and Wednesday, the campgrounds, cabins and trails will be off-limits to everyone except 155 hunters and the authorities monitoring them — and the deer.

Motorists who regularly drive through the park on Georgia 190 or 354 still will find those highways open, but they are not to stop. Signs will say “Park Closed” and list the two hunting dates.

Hunters who each pay $30 for the privilege to participate in this first hunt will get a vehicle park pass with a special fluorescent strip distinguishing it from the standard pass given other visitors. No other vehicles, except those of rangers regulating the hunt, are allowed on the park’s roadsides or in its parking lots.

Bucking the trend

State authorities say such hunts are part of a long-range plan to better manage natural resources. But allowing hunting in the park has sparked some controversy.

The Pine Mountain Trail Association that maintains the park’s popular 23-mile hiking trail is opposed to it and disputes state estimates that the park has 50-65 deer per square mile. Jim Hall, former president and now vice president of the trail association, believes a more accurate estimate would be 12-14 deer per square mile.

Were that the case, no hunting would be necessary, said Ronnie Eakins, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Region 3 operations manager. He said those studying the deer population relied on three methods — investigating plant damage, setting up trail cameras and spotlighting deer at night. That yielded the estimate of 50-65 per square mile, he said. “It’s about twice the normal carrying capacity,” he said of the park’s environment, which optimally sustains 25-35 deer per square mile.

Exceeding that ratio leads to overpopulation and extensive plant damage, he said, so the park wants to reduce the number of deer, and hunting’s the most cost-effective way to.

In other state-managed areas where hunting isn’t feasible, paid sharpshooters are used to pick off the deer, he said.

By arranging this “quota hunt,” in which hunters buy permits and attend briefings on the two-day hunt, the park expects to make money, Eakins said. Other areas have made from $4,000 to $7,000 on such hunts. FDR park may not make that much, but having the hunters come in at this time of year when the park’s not as busy should give it a boost: Besides buying permits, the hunters also rent cabins and campsites.

Rules of the hunt

They are to gather for a briefing at 6 p.m. today in the park’s large group campground to go over the rules again, Eakins said. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they may go into the woods before dawn, but they are not to shoot until daybreak. They may hunt dawn to dusk, abiding by standard regulations, with rifles or shotguns.

One particular requirement for this hunt is that on the first day, hunters must kill a doe before a buck. On the second day, they may kill either. Does are targeted in reducing the population because they bear offspring.

To protect facilities and residents in the area, the park has set signed and painted “safety zones” to keep hunters at least 50 yards away from homes and park buildings.

Hall, the trail association vice president, said his group fears that allowing hunting in the park this week will encourage poaching later. He’s urging hikers to report spotting deer stands or people with guns in the park after this hunt.

Hunting hunters

“There was a safety concern that residual hunters would try to come in after the hunt,” Hall said last week. “If you go to our Web site, we’ve got a thing on hunts, and we’re telling people, after next week, you see somebody in the woods with a gun, or camo, or a deer stand — and even the park people are telling us this — call the sheriff’s department, or them.”

Eakins said park rangers already catch people setting up deer stands and poaching in the park and holding a legal hunt for two days isn’t likely to change that one way or another.

Park Manager Don McGhee said that because of this week’s hunt, the park boundaries have been marked more clearly, which should reduce the chance of hunters trespassing by mistake, or using the excuse that they couldn’t tell where the border was.

Because this is FDR State Park’s first hunt, everyone’s waiting to see how it goes, and hoping nothing goes wrong.

Hall doubts it will stock many freezers with fresh venison, or bring many trophies to the taxidermist.

“We figure, hey, look: They’re not going to kill that many deer. ... It’s not going to do any damage to the park’s looks. So we’re just going to let it pass.”

Source: Ledger-Enquirer.com

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