New Sports Put Strain on Wildlife Areas; the State's Wildlife Management Areas Were Developed with Hunting and Fishing in Mind

Article excerpt

Byline: VICKY ECKENRODE

ATLANTA -- Bryan Raffield is an avid rock climber whose brother happens to be an avid hunter.

The two outdoor hobbyists will get into the occasional friendly debates about their respective sports, especially when it comes to sharing the same wilderness spots.

"That's their sport," said Raffield, a member of a tight-knit climbing group from Atlanta. "I don't want to take it away from them, and they shouldn't want to take it away from me."

But the growing level of recreational activities in Georgia's wildlife management areas -- large expanses of woodlands and river swamps separate from higher profile state parks -- has state officials questioning how to adjust to the duel uses.

In the past, the Department of Natural Resources developed its WMAs -- now at about 100 sites throughout the state -- with hunting and fishing in mind, said David Gregory, a senior DNR wildlife biologist.

"Now as more people find these areas, they're getting higher uses," he said.

Once concentrated in state parks, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding and other recreational activities are spreading out and are not barred from the wildlife management areas, which typically place some restrictions on motorized traffic.

The influx, however, has added strain to officials not used to managing those types of outdoor sports.

"We don't have manpower or money to handle or accommodate these kinds of uses," Gregory said. "It's really becoming a distraction for our abilities to manage wildlife."

Gregory, who hunts as well as rides a mountain bike, points to the Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area in northwest Georgia as an extreme example of what's going on statewide.

The Walker County site draws 3,000 hunters annually, compared with 22,000 rock climbers, 12,500 cavers and 250 hang gliders, according to DNR figures.

Rock Town, acres of sandstone mounds on top of Pigeon Mountain, is well known among climbers in the Southeast as a top site for bouldering, a form of low climbing without ropes. …