New License Regulations Affect Birders & Hikers, Too

I reported previously that new Georgia license regulations may affect hikers and birders as well as hunters and fisherfolk. For a list of properties that require a license to enter:

Note that this list is not alphabetical. It appears to be alphabetical by DNR region. So you have to look through the whole list.

To make a long story shorter, seniors born after June 1952 no longer receive a free lifetime sportsman’s license. However, rates are discounted. Also, the GORP (Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass) is no longer. The DNR is encouraging people like hikers and birders to buy a hunting or fishing license, because of the rather large federal funding they provide. The cheapest is the annual fishing license at $7. If such people have an issue of conscience with holding a hunting or fishing license, there is an annual lands pass available for $30. It costs more because it does not generate federal funds. On the other hand, you can have it all in a combined hunting and fishing license for $30. Non-residents, of course, pay more.

Here’s a handy page that should answer all the questions about what license or stamp is needed for each activity:

I subscribe to the GABO emails, where the birders report their significant finds. It’s helpful. For instance the Indigo Buntings and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have just arrived in Atlanta. That tells me to keep an eye out for them. Yesterday, we saw beautiful male and female Scarlet Tanagers, in part due to a heads up from the list.

There’s been some discussion there about whether birders ought to have to pay to visit these areas. I think they certainly should. Hunters have been paying special fees to access them for years. And the birders and hikers use the roads, which are the most expensive item due to the maintenance.

Today, Bob Sargent, PhD, who is Program Manager, Nongame Bird Conservation Coordinator, Wildlife Resources Division posted a lengthy email explaining the changes in depth. The numbers are really shocking. For instance, purchase of a $30 combo hunting and fishing license generates $45 in federal funds.

Birders have long been aware that one of the best things they can do is purchase a duck stamp, because 98% of the money goes to wetland purchase or conservation. Now it appears one of the good things Georgia birders can do is buy a hunting license. Here’s the email from Bob Sargent, which I’m posting with his permission.

Dear GABO Family,

Regarding recent posts about the license changes and WMA access, here’s some background and perspective from the DNR Wildlife Resources Division. My apologies for the length.

First, know that DNR appreciates the birding community. Birders and others involved in what us agency types call “wildlife watching” are a core constituency. Many of you are some of our strongest advocates for wildlife conservation, and each year dozens of birders generously volunteer with DNR for a variety of bird survey and management projects. Thank you!

About the license changes: State lawmakers approved House Bill 208 in 2017 and the legislation took effect that July. The goal was threefold: Raise Georgia license prices closer to the Southeast average (the previous increase was a quarter-century ago), simplify licenses (for example, out with WMA stamps and in with licenses that include access to WMAs and Public Fishing Areas), and increase our state’s share of excise taxes paid by hunters and anglers nationwide on equipment, ammo, boat fuel, etc.

The new license structure means more hunters and anglers are considered “certified” under federal regulations that determine how much Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program money each state receives. Hunters and anglers not previously charged the minimum amount required to qualify Georgia for WSFRP monies are now counted (they are certified) when the federal funds are apportioned to states.
This is key. Contrary to popular belief, the primary source of revenue for wildlife management in Georgia is not state license fees but the federal funds – which these changes made our state more eligible for. Prior to the passage of HB 208, we were losing excise taxes generated from hunters in our state to other states.
In sum, buying a hunting, fishing or combo license not only returns that license fee for wildlife conservation in Georgia, it qualifies our state for a greater share of the federal excise taxes hunters and anglers pay. A $30 resident combo license bought in Georgia is worth an estimated $45 in federal excise tax revenue returned to the state. (This is getting in the weeds but a combo license certifies a participant for both sports. In addition to the fee for each license, a $15 hunting license is worth about $35 in excise taxes returned to Georgia; a fishing license, about $10. These figures vary year to year.)

Some people who do not hunt or fish still buy a license because doing so provides them access to designated state lands and leverages more federal excise tax money for Georgia, as described above. People who want to visit WMAs for wildlife watching or other “non-consumptive” uses but are opposed to buying a hunting or fishing license can get a lands pass. This offers the same access privileges but the lands pass is more expensive than a hunting or fishing license because it does not qualify Georgia to receive WSFRP monies.

Hunting/fishing licenses provide access and they’re a better deal for the buyer and the resource. As some of you have noted, you can buy an annual hunting or fishing license for $15, an annual combo for $30 and even a 1-day hunt/fish combo (which counts the same for certification) for $5. A lands pass, available only for annual, is $30.

About senior licenses: The timing change in the law was so that all Georgians who already receive free senior licenses would continue to receive them free. For those of us born after June 1952, a nominal hunting/fishing license fee – $4 for annual hunting or fishing, or $35 for a lifetime – at age 65 means we will be counted as certified. At 65 and beyond, our participation outdoors will continue to boost Georgia’s share of federal wildlife funds. Free licenses don’t.

Where the money goes: As has been pointed out, the revenue helps operate and maintain WMAs – road upkeep, building repairs, etc. It’s also used to restore habitat on WMAs and private lands, including through prescribed fire, wildlife plantings, streamside habitat protection and invasive species control. These efforts benefit game and nongame species, such as birds. Some things the increased funds will be used for include opening more WMA gates for longer, increased technical help for landowners, and hiring more than 40 game wardens to protect our natural resources. Also, WSFRP funds are sometimes used to help DNR acquire conservation lands, such as along the Altamaha River. These lands are open to the public to enjoy, be they birders, hikers, hunters or anglers.

Some comments have been made questioning reduced or restricted access on some WMAs. DNR does not own all of the WMA acreage it manages. In some instances, formal agreements with the landowners stipulate when those properties can be open for public use and what those uses can be. In other cases, access to WMAs or parts of them are restricted on a seasonal basis to protect public safety so that, for example, bird watchers are not using property at the same time as turkey or deer hunters.

I hope this helps answer some questions. You can buy licenses at online at www.go and at many outdoor sports stores. For online purchases, new customers will need to create an account.

You can even donate to the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund at! Click “Licenses & Permits” and log in to see donation options.

Last, there are two major conservation efforts afoot, one in our state (the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act) and another on the national level, the Alliance for America’s Fish & Wildlife. You can learn more about each, respectively, at and

Please feel free to contact me directly with questions or comments.

Bob Sargent
GA DNR Wildlife Resources Division
Forsyth, GA
Monroe County

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