Georgia Could Become a Conservation Leader for the Rest of the Country
By Whit Fosburgh, CEO, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Georgia is one of the most biologically diverse states in the nation, making it one of the best places in the country to hunt and fish. Hunters across Georgia – and the country – flock to the state because of its outstanding whitetail deer and quail hunting, and anglers head out in pursuit of some of the best trout fishing in the South.
Hunting and fishing aren’t just part of our heritage; they are economic engines for the state. Every year, 1.2 million Georgians go fishing and 630,000 residents head into the field to hunt. Sportsmen and women generate nearly $2.3 billion in retail sales and sustain 39,640 jobs across the state. According to Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams, sportsmen and women support as many jobs across the state as Hewlett-Packard and Delta Airlines, two of Georgia’s largest employers, and the economic impact of outdoor recreation is only expected to grow in the coming years.
While hunters and anglers help contribute to conservation efforts across the state through our license fees and excise taxes on gear purchases, it’s not nearly enough to meet all of the state’s conservation needs. Unless there is a significant effort to conserve the lands and waters that make Georgia special, future generations will be left with a state that is radically different from the one that we see today.
But there is a way to guarantee a long-term source of funding that will address the state’s conservation needs without raising or creating any new taxes or fees. The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, a bill currently being considered by the Georgia General Assembly, would dedicate a portion of the current sales tax on outdoor recreation equipment specifically to land conservation.
This could generate approximately $20 million a year for projects that would create new or improved access to outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, and help protect the source of many Georgians’ drinking water. The proposal is backed by a coalition of conservation organizations, including The Conservation Fund, Georgia Conservancy, Georgia Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Park Pride and the Trust for Public Land.
The legislation recently passed the State House by an overwhelming margin and is currently being considered in the State Senate. Should this important bill be approved there, the measure will appear on the November 2018 ballot for voter approval.
The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act’s ability to provide a dedicated funding stream will help the state implement a long-term conservation plan. Dedicated funding would ensure quality hunting and fishing opportunities for today’s sportsmen and women, but improved access would help prevent future generations of hunters and anglers from abandoning our sports. They would have the same, or better, opportunities than we grew up with.
This is a chance for Georgia to lead the way on conservation and provide an example for the rest of the country. Georgia should seize the opportunity.
Whit Fosburgh is the president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). With a mission to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish, TRCP helps create federal policy and funding solutions by uniting its partners and amplifying the voices of American sportsmen and women in service of Theodor Roosevelt’s conservation legacy. The organization has field representatives across the country, working on some of the most impactful regional conservation issues of the day, and a core staff in Washington, D.C., working toward conservation solutions with national decision makers.