After four years of work by a committed group of people, legislation was passed last year on an issue that’s as critical to fish as it is to the people who like to fish for them. HB 207 passed the General Assembly in 2010, and thanks to the efforts of a coalition of dedicated folks, the use of motorized off-road vehicles is prohibited in perennial streams and rivers throughout Georgia.
“You mess with my fishing and you’re messing with me,” said Representative Chuck Sims of Ambrose, Georgia, the author of the bill. Sims, who lives on the Satilla River in Coffee County and who is a member of the Coffee County Fishing Club had been noticing ATVs eroding the banks of his local river for years and decided to do something about it.
“People would ride the river bank from highway bridge to highway bridge–you know what kind of erosion that was causing.” Sims said. “It just made me so mad that they could do that. I love to fish and the river is part of life for me—and really the whole region.”
Sims wasn’t the only person who was angry about the way the Satilla was being treated. In 2009 the Brantley County commission passed a local ordinance that prohibited the use of ATVs in the Little Satilla and Satilla Rivers of Brantley County. State law at the time prohibited ATV use on roads or road shoulders statewide, but the penalty for this activity was a fine of only $25. The Brantley County commission (all five of whom were members of the Satilla Riverkeeper) passed an ordinance that changed the fine structure to $250-$1000 for violating the existing state law, and expanded upon it to protect over 100 river miles in the county.
“This came about for a few different reasons,” says Gordon Rogers, who was the Satilla Riverkeeper at the time the Brantley County Ordinance was passed.
“For one thing, the Brantley County commission was a group of people that cared about the river and they knew that this was a problem that needed a solution. For another, people were using the Satilla and Little Satilla as highways to get to private property they wanted to ride around on. They’d put in the river at a bridge and drive a long way—5 or 6 miles—down the channel to trespass on somebody’s property. This ordinance made all that illegal.”
It wasn’t long before Brantley County’s new ordinance got statewide attention. It wasn’t just South Georgia rivers that were being affected by irresponsible ATV use. Trout Streams in North Georgia were being treated poorly by ATV riders as well.
According to Gordon Rogers, “Trout Unlimited really kicked in support for the statewide bill and brought the support of some state Senators from North Georgia like Chip Rogers and Jim Butterworth.”
“Down in South Georgia, people were riding their ATVs on the banks and in the river when it was low enough in the summer. Up in those north Georgia trout streams, people were riding in them all year long and just destroying the trout habitat. HB 207 passing is a win-win for everybody,” said Representative Sims.
Passage of this measure took four years of diligent work by House and Senate legislators, the Satilla and Flint Riverkeeper organizations, the Georgia Wildlife Federation, Georgia Trout Unlimited, along with many others, including DNR commissioner Mark Williams (who was a Brantley County legislator for much of the process).
Now that HB 207 is a law, enforcement is the key to keeping motorized vehicles out of Georgia’s rivers and streams. If you see someone riding an ATV on a road, the shoulder of a road or in a river or stream, chances are they are breaking the law (although it should be noted that the law does not apply to roads or streams on private property and there are exemptions for certain types of ATV use). This activity can be reported to any state enforcement agency—local police, the DNR, highway patrol, etc. So keep an eye out and thanks to everyone from the grassroots to the grasstops who made this happen!