OUTDOORS: Wildlife Management Area regulations tougher for hunting season

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 1, 2001


Don’t look now but hunting season is officially underway. And if you are one of the thousands of hunters and other users of the 50 public Wildlife Management Areas statewide, the regulations just got tougher, effectively immediately. In addition to the special rules that apply to each individual WMA, there are two new major additions now in effect. And failure to comply could cost you up to $350 for the first offense. This applies to popular local areas such as the Pearl River, Ben’s Creek, Lake Ramsay, Sandy Hollow, Manchac and Joyce WMAs. Federal refuges such as Bogue Chitto and Big Branch are not affected by the changes. The first involves a newly created $15 WMA hunting permit. In addition to any basic, big game, archery, muzzleloader, turkey, migratory waterfowl and harvest information permits, licenses and stamps this permit is also required. Holders of lifetime licenses and anyone normally exempt from license purchases are also exempt from this permit. It is available wherever other licenses are normally sold. The second involves no cost but is much more complex. It is a WMA User Permit System, not to be confused with the $15 Hunting Permit mentioned above. This program is designed to monitor who is doing what and when on state WMAs. In the past hunters have been required to check in and out during periods of high use, but other user numbers have only been estimates. Here is how it will work. “Self-clearing” permit forms will be available at strategically located stations. An “S” on WMA maps will designate these locations. The permit will have four parts: CHECK IN, CHECK OUT, HUNT REPORT and VEHICLE TAG portions. The Check In portion requires users to enter the total number in the party by date. Check In portions must be deposited in a permit box before each day’s use. The Check Out asks for name, address, phone number, what activities (birding, sightseeing, camping, fishing, etc.) and what, if any species are being hunted. This portion must be carried by each user while on the WMA then put in the box after each day’s use. Hunters must carry the report while on the WMA. Its questionnaire about how many of each species was hunted and bagged and personal comments must be completed and deposited in the box after each day’s hunt. The last part of the two-sided permit is the Vehicle Tag, which must be displayed on the vehicle/vessel used to enter the WMA. Users will be allowed to check-in one day in advance. There are some exceptions to these new rules. No permit is required of anglers and boaters who do not travel on a WMA road and/or launch on the WMA as long as they don not get out of the boat and onto the WMA. Organizations such as school classes and scout troops require only one permit for the group as long as the group remains together on the WMA. For camping, only one permit is required per campsite. However if any members of the camping party participates in other activities, each person must complete a separate permit. So what do I think about the new regulations? First, the permit fees. If the money would be spent to better manage and enhance hunter opportunities, then I would have no problem. But we all know from experience that fees and taxes are rarely used exclusively for the purpose intended. The again look at it this way, in a perfect world, $15 per year for unlimited hunting of trophy-class deer (which we have) waterfowl, turkey and small game, on 1.2 million acres of prime, diverse habitat is one heck of a lease-fee bargain. As far as the check-in/out program, only time will tell, but I think this will be an awesome burden on users. True, more precise data leads to better management, but we may be very close to the line where too much hassle means, forget it, public hunting’s not worth all the effort and since I cannot afford or find private land, goodbye hunting, hello golf, tennis or bowling. And remember it is not just the hunters, who are more or less used to it already during special hunts. This affects everyone who sets foot on a WMA. Here are the questions to be asked and answered over time: Will violators, who plead ignorance be ticketed immediately or at least for awhile be warned? Will the permit boxes be full or will users find them empty or vandalized? Will the locations be too far from entry points to be convenient enough for those who need to enter just before daylight and cannot be there to check in the day before? Will the fear of being cited if all procedures are not followed properly on follow-up checks discourage use? Maybe a better means of getting data would be a voluntary check program. It would mean less participation but the information given voluntarily is probably more valuable than someone just scribbling anything to get finished. Or maybe users, by regulation, register once, be added to a database that would be sent a complete season questionnaire. That mandatory form could be completed at the user’s leisure and sent in at a later date. Like I said only time will tell. DON DUBUC is the outdoors reporter for L’Observateur.