Some of my earliest, and certainly fondest, memories involve the outdoors and hunting and fishing. I remember crisp fall mornings, too young to carry a gun but certainly capable of carrying a blanket, walking into the squirrel woods with my dad and younger brother. We boys would run and fetch the squirrels and feel all grown up doing grown up things like bringing meat home for the pot.
I remember warm summer mornings with walks through the dew wet grass to get to the farm ponds full of bluegill and largemouth bass with my grandfather. I still cherish the warm afternoons gathering catalpa caterpillars (to us, they were catawba worms) to try and catch some channel cats later.
Summer evenings often involved running around barefoot with mason jars or old mayonnaise jars, catching jars full of lightening bugs. A grand evening’s entertainment. Today, catching a jar full of lightening bugs would take me two weeks…they just aren’t around like they used to be. I haven’t walked the quail fields of my teen years in decades…the quail are just not there anymore.
Over the years I have seen tremendous changes in the wildlife habitat in our forests, watersheds, and along our coastline. Natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods are becoming more frequent and more intense. More insidious, but just as real, are increased temperatures, dryer summers, less cold winters. Whether catastrophic or insidious, these events damage our forests, degrade our hunting and fishing opportunities, and threaten local communities. This isn’t a future problem. Hurricane Michael devastated SW Georgia three years ago. In addition to all the agricultural problems for forestry and row crops, it did tremendous damage to our wildlife management areas in that part of the state.
Part of the problem is that we haven’t done enough to restore and fortify our natural areas so they are healthy and can survive catastrophic events. Investing in such natural infrastructure would make our lands more resilient to big storms and improve habitat for fish and game. Just as we see with stream buffers, natural infrastructure is often the most effective AND the most cost-effective mitigation effort.
Fortunately, a solution is on the horizon. Congress is poised to make historic investments in forests, watersheds, and coastline restoration. Those investments would fund shovel-ready projects in Georgia that would create good jobs, revitalize our natural areas, and improve opportunities for hunting and fishing.
I urge Senators Warnock and Ossoff to support natural infrastructure investments and build back better with nature. Such restoration projects will restore wildlife habitat, rehabilitate our lands and waters, protect communities from wildfires and hurricanes, and improve hunting and fishing all while creating jobs to boost our economy. It’s a win-win-win for Georgia.
Mike Worley is the President and CEO of the Georgia Wildlife Federation.
The Great American Outdoors Act will fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund while investing in a backlog of public land maintenance, providing current and future generations the outdoor recreation opportunities like boat launches to access fishable waters, shooting ranges, and public lands to hunt as well as the economic stimulus we need right now.