Gov. Deal signs 'deer baiting' bill

TIFTON -- Gov. Nathan Deal signed two bills (HB 225 and HB 277) pertaining to the state's agriculture and gaming industry into law late last week at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

HB 277 is of particular interest to the region because the new law will allow for hunters and land owners in the Southern Hunting Zone to bait fields to better manage deer and feral hog populations.

The law is also intended to encourage more people to take up hunting through greater access to deer.

Georgia is the No. 1 destination for hunting in the United States. Deer hunting in Georgia is responsible for an estimated 10,000 jobs in the state.

"People come from all over the world to hunt our prized deer population, and the sport is an economic engine for many rural parts of Georgia," Deal said. "HB 277 also helps address a growing problem in Georgia as it expands hunters' options for going after feral hogs. The cost of crop damage from feral hogs is tremendous, and this legislation helps Georgia farmers protect their livelihood."

Flint River Services Vice President Zach Aultman was a strong proponent of the bill, which he says will benefit south Georgia.

"This new law is going to benefit hunters, landowners and our economy," Aultman said. "We'll be able to grow and harvest better animals. More people will come in here to hunt and spend money. It will have a snowball affect."

In addition, the bill is aimed making it easier for landowners to kill, capture or manage feral hogs.

"We'll never be able to eliminate the hogs, but the new law will allow us the chance to somewhat control them," Aultman said. "We have a tremendous problem with hogs at the farm (Aultman Forest). We brought someone in with a night vision scope last week and found out we have way more (hogs) than we thought."

Deal first signed HB 225, a bill that will help to promote responsible agriculture and best practices by giving a strong working definition for "sustainable agriculture" that will be understood by producer and consumer alike.

"Growing Georgia's economy through sustainable agriculture is critical to ensuring that we have a viable future for Georgia's No. 1 industry," he said.

An estimated 50,000 farms cover more than 10 million acres in Georgia. Currently, one in seven Georgians works in agriculture, forestry or a related field. The economic impact of the industry exceeds $65 billion annually.

Deal also spoke at ABAC's commencement Friday night.