Georgia wildlife officials expect to soon be able to hire dozens of rangers and make other improvements to public sites across the state after Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law Tuesday the state’s first increase in hunting and fishing fees in 25 years.
House Bill 208, sponsored by state Rep. Trey Rhodes, R-Greensboro, represents a big win for the state Department of Natural Resources, which has been working on the issue for the past two years after struggling to balance an increase in requests for better hunting and fishing experiences with stagnant license revenue.
The agency, however, couldn’t raise rates without approval from state lawmakers.
A state audit late last year said the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division could bring in $4.4 million to $6.7 million more annually if it bumped up fees to at least the average charged in the Southeast. The fees in Georgia, which currently start at $17 annually for a basic fishing and hunting license, have not increased since 1992.
The audit also said the agency could qualify for additional federal grant money — eventually as much as $5 million more annually — if it charged a nominal fee to older residents who currently qualify for a free lifetime license.
Under the bill, which goes into effect July 1, the state will raise the cost of a basic annual fishing and hunting license to $30. By comparison, South Carolina charges $22 for a comparable hunting and fishing license. Florida charges $32.50.
HB 208 also simplifies and reduces the total number of licenses required to hunt and fish in Georgia. It abolishes certain fee exemptions and creates a more structured fee schedule for anyone wanting to buy a lifetime license.
That includes a new $70 lifetime license fee for senior citizens.
Reggie Dickey, the president of the 5,000-member Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation, said his members have been pushing the agency for more access roads in the wildlife management areas and, more importantly, to hire more game rangers.
Forty-seven counties in Georgia currently are without one. The agency has said the increased fees will help it hire at least 40 additional rangers.
“The increases were a little higher than what we pushed for, but they’re in line with the states around us,” Dickey said. “We understand the reason for it. Nobody likes to pay more for anything, but if we get the benefit of it like they’ve promised, then we’re OK with it.”