Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer
The Berry Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is currently hosting an archery season for deer hunting until Friday and recently ended a firearm season on Nov. 2. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has seasonal hunts throughout the Berry College academic year, where signs go up saying that all non-hunting recreation is forbidden on the WMA. The hunting includes deer, bear, turkey, small game, dove and coyote, according to the WMA website. The DNR leases the land from Berry, paying for its use during the seasons, according to Gary Will, assistant vice president of campus safety and land management.
“We work with them [the DNR] hand in glove on the fifteen-thousand acres that we lease,” Will said. “We own it, we work on it, they work on it, and we try to maintain the dirt roads and what not.”
However, beyond that, authority for the WMA is handled by the DNR. They provide the information on the season, including dates, regulations and available game, all found at http://georgiawildlife.com/berry-college-wma under the regulations link. They’re also the department through which hunters sign up for hunts and turn in their harvests, according to Brent Womack, a wildlife biologist with the DNR.
The Berry WMA has a long history of use, dating back to the 1950s when it was one of the few places in Georgia that still had deer, Womack said.
“It was actually a place where working with the state, allowed us to trap deer and relocate them on a statewide level,” Womack said. “At this point we have deer over the entire state.”
Since the 1960s the WMA has been used as a hunting ground in designated seasons, Womack said. The seasons are short and spread out through the year. For the deer hunts, people have to sign up to be drawn into a limited quota of 1,000. In the end, about 500 actually show up, a number that Womack said is ideal.
Besides giving hunters the opportunity to harvest game, the hunting helps to maintain the local deer population.
“If you have an overpopulation of deer for too long, then you start to have issues with diseases and malnutrition and things like that with your deer,” Womack said. “It’s actually a benefit for the population to have the hunts to keep the numbers at a better, manageable, healthier level.”
The goal is the same for maintaining ideal populations of all animals hunted on the WMA: to prevent aliments to the animals and overhunting. For the deer, Womack believes it has proven effective over the years.
“We’ve been hunting them since the 1960s, and we’ve been able to maintain a good, healthy population that entire time, so that speaks directly to the soundness of ideas we’re using to manage the deer hunting,” Womack said.
As part of this hunting management, when hunters get a kill, they are required to go through with the DNR to process the animal’s weight, for example. Weight and other characteristics are used to determine if there are too many or too few of an animal at that given time. As such, the hunters provide information helpful for determining if there will be a hunt in the future and the regulations that may go with it, Womack said.
Likewise, during a hunt, Womack said that it is important for Berry students and non-hunters to pay attention to the signage posted during hunting season, for safety and courtesy reasons.
“There’ll be people hunting and they find a good spot and they’re sitting there and they’re waiting and all of a sudden [they] have someone come through the woods and scare the deer away and gotta ruin their hunt.”
Both Will and Womack advise that everyone at Berry be aware of when the hunting seasons are happening and notice the appropriate signage to avoid interfering with a hunt.Will sends out emails shortly before the hunting seasons begin to spread the information to the Berry campus. Both Will and Womack explain that this awareness will help maintain the long friendship between DNR and Berry.
“It’s a unique situation in the state,” Womack said. “I don’t know of any other WMA that’s this related to a college campus, so it’s just been a really fruitful relationship throughout the years and we can hope to continue that into the future.”