3 months ago

2021 POWER & INFLUENCE 40: Numbers 1-10

It would stand to reason that the most powerful and influential media outlet in Alabama would have a keen sense of which state political figures fit the same bill.

That’s why Yellowhammer Multimedia, once again, is publishing its Power and Influence 40.

Taking into account countless conversations with political insiders, as well as the most recent developments in politics and public policy, the list is meant to recognize the top individuals in government and politics who leverage their power and influence on behalf of those they represent and the Yellowhammer State.

The ranked list is being released in four segments. Today we announce the individuals who comprise numbers 1 through 10. Numbers 31-40, 21-30 and 11-20 have already been published.

Welcome to a peek behind the curtain.

10. Quentin Riggins

What we said in 2019: The work Quentin Riggins does outside of politics would probably land him on any list of influential Alabamians. He is a pillar of the community and has involved himself in a myriad of different causes aimed at improving his home state.

Quentin Riggins has charted a remarkable path for himself to reach the heights of Alabama’s corporate community.

He can now point to more than 25 years of experience which has led to his current position as senior vice president of Governmental and Corporate Affairs at Alabama Power.

Riggins has served as a member of a governor’s cabinet, a senior staffer for a Speaker of the House and a senior vice president of the Business Council of Alabama. Then he did what most would do with that impressive resume — he built a private governmental affairs practice.

But Riggins did not stop there.

He instead entered the corporate world where he now leads Alabama Power’s extensive state and federal government relations program. He also coordinates the company’s grassroots and corporate relations effort throughout the state and nation, a critical function for a company with 1.4 million customers.

One of the truest ways to gauge power and influence is to look at how many “so goes this, so goes the state” entities and issues with which someone is involved.

Riggins has many.

The reason is that when leaders want to add heft to their effort and ensure its success, they tap Riggins.

There is a palpable reverence shown toward Riggins by his peers and the next generation of governmental affairs professionals. The fact is that they know power and influence when they see it.

9. Will Ainsworth

What we said in 2019: Ainsworth has displayed poise and wisdom well beyond his years, and the result is a lieutenant governor who has become a kingmaker rather than an afterthought. … His career is still just getting started, and Ainsworth will be elected to whatever job he wants in 2022.

We said it when he took Montgomery by storm after his election in 2018, and we’ll say it again: Will Ainsworth has completely transformed what a lieutenant governor can be — and accomplish — in a role that has largely been scoffed at by insiders over the past two decades.

Already a statesman at his young age, Ainsworth has quietly but rapidly become an out-front leader on some of the policy issues most important to the present and future of the Yellowhammer State. Whether it be chairing the Alabama Military Stability Commission and the package of pro-military bills he spearheaded to enactment this session, leading the charge to reopen the economy last spring, or heading up the 21st Century Workforce Commission, Ainsworth has made a name across Alabama as a pro-jobs conservative willing to tackle thorny, in-the-weeds policy challenges.

However, he has also started to grow a national profile, including as chair of the national Aerospace States Association and by bringing the National Lieutenant Governors Association annual meeting to Alabama for only the second time ever.

The world is his oyster, and it is only a matter of time before Ainsworth makes the leap to serve as governor or a United States senator. He has said that he will not run for the Senate this coming cycle, nor will he run against Gov. Kay Ivey, yet his endorsement will be at the top of the list for any candidate in 2022.

Ainsworth is well-positioned to be one of Alabama’s most powerful and influential people for decades to come.

8. Bill Poole

What we said in 2019: Bill Poole might just be the most powerful non-Speaker member of the Alabama House of Representatives. Ever.

Somehow, Bill Poole has outdone himself again.

As chair of the House Ways and Means Education committee, Poole has inherent power and influence. However, it is how he wields these responsibilities — and how he conducts himself on an interpersonal level — that makes him stand out above every other legislative chairperson, without exception.

We’re going to have more to say about him in the coming weeks, but know this: Bill Poole is in the type of rarified air that few before him have ever walked. Across party lines, by lobbyists and constituents alike, year after year, Poole earns the unquestioned respect and trust of everyone who watches him work for the people of Alabama. And he does it all without fanfare or fuss.

It’s time the University of Alabama, his alma mater, cuts a new “Where Legends are Made” commercial that shows a highlight reel of Poole’s legislative accomplishments — although that would be impossible in a 30-second spot.

This session alone, he has shepherded the largest-ever education budget in state history to passage, sponsored a bill signed into law reauthorizing and improving vital economic development incentivizes, and — through his chairmanship of the Alabama Innovation Commission — is one step away from passing two related bills to help grow the state’s tech and entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Any time a trade association or principal has a crucial bill that they need pass, their first thought is to see if Poole would carry the legislation. He’s simply the best at what he does.

The only question left about Poole is, “What’s next?”

7. Katie Boyd Britt

What we said in 2019: Britt has brought an energy, an excitement and an optimism back to BCA through her buoyant leadership. Through vision, determination and an undefinable charisma, she is setting the organization and its member companies up for unparalleled successes. However, her personal star also shines brightly. People are mentioning Britt at the very top of the list of contenders to succeed U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, whenever the venerable senator does decide to call it quits.

Well, when you’re right, you’re right.

Britt was thrown into the fire in 2019 when she took the helm as president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama. And, like the phoenix out of the ashes, her vibrant leadership has seen the BCA reborn anew, transformed for the betterment of its member businesses and hardworking families across the state of Alabama.

Very quietly, Britt has rebuilt BCA piece-by-piece into an organization that in mission and function is totally different from just three years ago. While still operating as the state’s foremost advocacy organization for businesses of all sizes and sectors, Britt’s BCA has also become more member-facing, now putting an overarching priority on ensuring Alabama businesses have the resources, tools and expertise at their fingerprints to thrive in a 21st-century economy.

Her tenure at BCA has coincided with record bests for Alabama in key economic measurables, including unemployment and businesses confidence.

However, while she has certainly helped make the good times even better when it comes to the state’s recent success, her legacy at BCA might boil down to the past 14 months, as Britt was the tip of the spear when it came to tirelessly advocating for businesses and employees during the historic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the list of initiatives, conversations and meetings Britt was an integral part of on behalf of Alabama jobs this past year or so could fill a chapter in a book, there is one example that cannot be passed up. Britt launched and championed the Keep Alabama Open campaign in November; as other states shut down, this effort led to our state staying open safely and responsibly, allowing hardworking Alabamians to safeguard their lives and livelihoods.

The results are clear. Alabama currently boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the Southeast and one of the best in the nation. Meanwhile, the state’s COVID numbers are also among the nation’s lowest. We’re open for business and poised to bounce back to reach greater heights than before the pandemic.

Britt is Alabama’s brightest rising star, and regardless of what comes next, her continued leadership is a reason for optimism that our state’s best days are ahead.

6. Greg Reed

What we said in 2019: When you get into the upper echelon of power players, distinguishing traits become even more important. Greg Reed has exhibited many on his way up the tower of influence and into the position of majority leader for the Alabama Senate.

What we said in 2019 no longer holds true for Greg Reed.

To clarify, the part about him having distinguishing traits of a power player is truer than ever. However, Reed has taken that last giant leap in his chamber and now serves as the president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate.

Having assumed the office earlier this year, Reed is now the most powerful member of the legislature’s upper chamber.

None of this is a surprise, either. He is a natural leader who has a discernible presence about him. And now he is running the show.

As pro tem, he oversees every aspect of the legislative process in the Senate. From committee assignments to legislative priorities to the time of adjournment. Reed is in control.

In 2011, a swell of new legislators flooded the halls of the statehouse after having been elected the previous fall. Reed is the first among them to rise to the top of the power structure in their respective chambers.

Hindsight makes it plausible to have pegged Reed as the first to do so. He entered the building confident in his abilities and his having earned the right to be there. But not too confident in the way that would create problems with his colleagues.

Reed understands the political process in a way that few others do. Furthermore, he is highly attuned to the public policy challenges which Alabama currently faces and has a knack for carefully weighing solutions to any problem. He is particularly adept at understanding the state’s economic and workforce needs.

Only a few months into the job, these things probably forecast his leadership style in the years to come. What is certain is that Reed now occupies elite status among Alabama’s most powerful and influential people.

5. Joe Perkins

What we said in 2019: Joe Perkins is unspeakably powerful and influential. So much so – and in such a way – that we probably should not even be speaking about it.

One cannot help but marvel at the depth and breadth of Joe Perkins’ impact on Alabama politics.

It is especially remarkable considering his specialized approach. In practical terms, it is difficult to describe what he does because discretion is so fundamental to his business model.

Perkins is Alabama’s top political and corporate strategist. That much we do know.

While a visible client list exists only behind the tightly secured walls at Matrix, Perkins’ firm which he founded, he is known to represent a variety of interests. These run the gamut from some of the state’s largest companies to individuals who sought him out because they had a problem to solve.

With a reputation for having nearly unlimited intellectual capacity, he is constrained only by the number of hours in a day.

The tools he has at his disposal are both comprehensive and largely uncatalogued. There are entire collections of people, companies and interests which he quietly guides to the ultimate benefit of his clients.

A wide range of campaigns, initiatives and public and corporate policy have been shaped by Perkins’ involvement in recent years even as the man and his methods fall more into the realm of the mysterious.

Perhaps reputation truly is the cornerstone of power.

4. Mac McCutcheon

What we said in 2019: McCutcheon has dedicated his life to the people of Alabama. From protecting and serving as a career law enforcement officer in Huntsville to leading the rambunctious lower chamber of the Alabama legislature, McCutcheon has led with integrity and compassion every step of the way.

The 66th speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives has become a stalwart leader during some of the state’s most trying times in recent memory.

Mac McCutcheon’s ability to project stability and follow a common-sense approach to governing has led to gains for the Yellowhammer State and to his own strengthened position in the speaker’s chair.

McCutcheon is one of the all-time good guys who (oh, by the way) controls coveted committee assignments and the legislative process.

He hails from the technology-rich Tennessee Valley, and he has a healthy respect for the aerospace and defense industry, its benefit to the state and its importance to America.

This may partly explain why McCutcheon feels so strongly about responding to Alabama’s infrastructure needs to keep pace with the demands of a 21st-century economy.

He also listens to his members, though. As speaker of the House, he has been responsive to the needs of his members – a crucial aspect of holding down one of the single most powerful positions in Alabama. That’s why when there are roads and bridges across the state that need attention, or gaps in broadband access, McCutcheon thinks big to fix the problem.

His legacy is beginning to take shape as that of a public servant with a sincere desire to utilize his power and influence for the betterment of his entire state.

3. Jo Bonner

What we said in 2019: There are very few people who have served Alabama in a more exemplary way this century than Jo Bonner. Congressman. Vice-chancellor for the University of Alabama System. And now the immensely powerful and influential chief of staff to Governor Kay Ivey.

Jo Bonner is one of the most gifted power players the state has seen in a long time.

His versatility in the political world is virtually unmatched. He was a five-term congressman from the Gulf Coast and served as vice chancellor in the University of Alabama System.

He could easily be a candidate for a major statewide office. In our analysis of potential U.S. Senate candidates earlier this year, we wrote of Bonner, “He exudes statesman qualities.”

In the next sentence, we wrote, “He has been as active on Alabama’s pressing issues as possibly any chief of staff to the governor, ever.”

Therein lies the reason for his sky-high position on this list and maybe the reason why he would resist a return to electoral politics. Bonner is as powerful and influential as anyone who has been similarly situated inside of a governor’s office.

Governor Kay Ivey’s unwavering trust in Bonner is the foundation of his elevated status. Ivey counts on Bonner to implement her agenda on a daily basis.

Seldom does one person in politics have the skill set Bonner possesses. He has a mastery of political communications and a thorough understanding of public policy. Following years of exposure to national political figures, he is awed by very little.

Known as a stickler for always having a plan of action, Bonner assuredly has designs on his next power move.

2. Zeke Smith

What we said in 2019: One of the most impressive and useful traits that Smith displays is an unmatched capacity. His knowledge of Alabama Power’s massive operation extends to every corner of its business. Layered on top of that is a continual awareness of Alabama’s political climate, its power players and what makes each tick.

In the governmental affairs domain, Alabama Power is at the top of its game.

Zeke Smith, as executive vice president of External Affairs, has overseen the company’s current run of success as the state’s leading corporate citizen in politics and public policy.

Smith is tasked with a vast array of responsibilities all of which have an appreciable impact on his company’s position with policymakers and elected officials. Everything from lobbying to public relations to regulatory affairs to charitable giving falls on Smith’s desk.

Each of those areas of the company’s activity are intertwined with the next which is why handling them requires the type of comprehensive approach that Smith has employed.

The Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame inductee has assembled a team of unrivaled talent and installed an aggressive but well-planned process befitting his background.

Smith has an innate ability to see over the horizon and understand the conditions which will impact his company’s mission to grow Alabama’s economy, create jobs and broaden its customer base. Always looking for avenues to improve the state’s competitive advantages, he was appointed by the governor to chair Alabama’s Workforce Council, and he serves on the College and Career Ready Task Force.

He fields a steady stream of calls from those wanting to enhance their own positions on the political ladder. Elected officials and other power players around the state have taken notice of Smith’s leadership on issues they know will help them.

To paraphrase a well-tested maxim, much is to be gained from the dependence of others on one’s power and influence.

1. Kay Ivey

What we said in 2019: Governor Kay Ellen Ivey will go down as one of the most consequential leaders in Alabama history. And she’s not even close to being finished yet. From the second she put her hand on the Bible and became the state’s 54th governor, Ivey has been laser focused on governing and nothing else.

It has been nearly four decades since Alabama has seen a brand as strong as Kay Ivey’s in state politics.

After 20 consecutive years holding statewide elected office, Ivey remains wildly popular and seemingly unsusceptible to attacks aimed at diminishing her standing. Her lofty approval ratings have given her the freedom and confidence to engage on some of the most precarious issues the state is facing.

Ivey kicked off her first full term in office by taking control of a long-awaited infrastructure initiative, tapping into her vast reserve of political capital to pass the Rebuild Alabama Act. She has tackled other thorny issues such as updating the state’s prison system and expanding broadband access. Her handling of the COVID-19 crisis has drawn praise from both ends of the political spectrum.

Ivey has now found her next major undertaking in the form of the comprehensive gambling legislation. Her elevated involvement has been pivotal to the movement of the package through the Alabama Legislature.

There is a long list of individuals who have thought they could get the upper hand on Ivey. It is difficult to even find one of them for whom it ended well. That’s one of the classic traits of a truly powerful and influential person.

With reelection in 2022 all but assured, the Ivey brand is poised to assume a place of high honor in the pantheon of Alabama politics.

See 31-40 here.
See 21-30 here.
See 11-20 here.

1 hour ago

State Rep. Tracy Estes announces reelection campaign

State Rep. Tracy Estes (R-Winfield) has announced his reelection bid to the Alabama House of Representatives, serving District 17.

Estes, a first-term lawmaker, serves on the Education Policy, Public and Homeland Security, and Children and Senior Advocacy Committees.

“Serving my district in Montgomery has proven to be one of the greatest honors in my life,’’ said Estes. “More importantly, serving in this capacity has given me the opportunity to represent the people of Northwest Alabama while giving them a voice in state government. With a second term in office, I am committed to honoring the promise I made the residents of Lamar, Marion and Winston counties on the campaign trail in 2018 – to be hard working, transparent and accessible. Without hesitation, I believe I have honored my word.’’

In the earliest stages of the global coronavirus pandemic, Estes said in a release he was at the forefront in efforts to bring “much-needed federal financial assistance” to House District 17.

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The release cited his work with hospitals in Winfield, Hamilton and Haleyville to secure more than $15 million in financial aid. The first-term lawmaker noted the assistance his office provided to his constituents in obtaining jobless benefits.

Estes led the legislative in the lower chamber to pass Aniah’s Law, which if passed through statewide ballot measure, would expand judicial authority to deny bail to those accused of committing violent crimes.

The press release stated that Estes has managed to secure funding for eight highway projects for his district, totaling more than $4 million.

He has been an ardent supporter of public education and has sponsored numerous legislation relating to education since assuming office, earning him recognition from the Alabama Association of School Boards and the School Superintendents of Alabama.

Estes serves as a deacon at Winfield First Baptist Church and sings lead in a Southern gospel quartet.

In closing, Estes offered a direct plea for reelection to voters of House District 17.

“I believe the voters in this district still honor and respect hard work,” said Estes. “I can honestly say I have poured all of my energy into working hard on your behalf over the last few years while also being transparent and accessible to everyone in the district regardless of age, gender, community or economic background. I worked for everyone in this district and have considered it an honor to do so.”

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News

3 hours ago

Britt: Border crisis ‘a result of the weakness of the Biden administration’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Katie Britt appeared Thursday on News Talk 93.1’s “Dan Morris Show,” where she was interviewed by guest host Apryl Marie Fogel.

During the interview, she was asked by Fogel whether some of the recent turmoil overseas and at the border was attributable to the transition in the executive branch.

“There is no doubt that this is a result of the weakness of the Biden administration,” Britt outlined. “You mentioned the border — it is a total disaster. If you look at the number of people coming over the border, both in May and June we hit 20-year highs. President Trump placed policies and enacted policies that showed strength and got the border under control. I mean, the first thing that we need to do is seal and secure the border. If you look at the safety and security of our nation, but also the humanitarian crisis that is occurring there. We are seeing so many drugs being trafficked over the border. They said they are catching over 3,000 pounds a day, but Apryl Marie, what China is sending over in fentanyl to Mexico, to then come over our border, they said could kill every American four times over.”

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“And every bit of this, it’s interesting, when Vice President Harris said, ‘Oh, I’m going go to the border to see what the issue is,’ which obviously took her, how many days did it take her? – How many months? It was absurd. But I thought, ‘You don’t need to go down there to see (the problem), just look in the mirror.’ It’s you, it’s your administration, the Biden administration’s policies. It’s the weakness that you’re showing,” Britt concluded. “We’ve got to put back Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy. We’ve also got to make sure that, as President Trump did, when people came over the border, they knew that they weren’t going to be placed on our welfare system. Those types of policies, that type of strength, that deters people from coming. Same thing in Cuba. Same thing in Israel. I mean, they see weakness in the Biden Administration, and they see that the Democrats are starting to undermine that relationship, and they are taking advantage of it. Make no mistake: this is why we have to have strength in D.C. and in the White House. We must have strength in the Senate, and we must have strength in the House.”

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

4 hours ago

A new-look Alabama Crimson Tide, the same old Nick Saban

Nick Saban knows you want to know what he thinks. About the prospect of COVID-19 disrupting another college football season. Name, image and likeness rights for college athletes. The revolving door on the transfer portal thanks to the one-time free transfer rule.

Winning a poll-era record seven national championships, six of the past 12, including the 2020 title, has earned the Alabama football coach a bully pulpit. It’s also earned him the right to admit he knows what he doesn’t know.

“I know there’s a lot of interest in a lot of those things,” Saban said Wednesday at SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel. “I almost feel that anything that I say will probably be wrong because there’s no precedent for the consequences that some of the things that we are creating, whether they’re good opportunities, even if they’re good opportunities, there’s no precedent for the consequences that some of these things are going to create, whether they’re good or bad.”

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Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban talks NIL, vacationing, sustaining success and a past SEC Media Days memory from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The more college football changes, the more Saban and Alabama adapt to those changes and keep winning. They went undefeated to capture the 2020 national championship despite COVID disruptions such as Saban himself missing the Iron Bowl because he tested positive for the virus, and two games being rescheduled.

Saban explained how Alabama has handled the subject of vaccinations for the disease with its players heading into this season. He broke it down into “a personal decision” for each player and “a competitive decision” on how that choice could affect the team.

How has that approach worked to date?

“I think that we’re pretty close to 90 percent maybe of our players who have gotten the vaccine,” Saban said, “and I’m hopeful that more players make that decision – but it is their decision.”

Speaking a day earlier at a Texas high school coaching convention, Saban weighed in on the newest phenomenon affecting college athletics, NIL rights. He dropped a nugget that Alabama’s heir apparent at quarterback, sophomore Bryce Young, has earned almost a million dollars in endorsements. Saban didn’t expound on Young’s earning power Wednesday but applauded the opportunity for players to make money.

He also questioned the impact that a disparity in NIL earnings could have on the roster “because it’s not going to be equal, and everything that we’ve done in college athletics in the past has always been equal. Everybody’s had an equal scholarship, equal opportunity.”

“Now that’s probably not going to be the case. Some positions, some players will have more opportunities than others. And how that’s going to impact your team, our team, the players on the team, I really can’t answer because we don’t have any precedent for it.

“I know that we’re doing the best we can to try to get our players to understand the circumstance they’re in, the opportunity they have, and how those opportunities are not going to be equal for everybody, and it will be important for our team’s success that people are not looking over their shoulder at what somebody else does or doesn’t do.”

What Alabama does in trying to compete for another championship without 10 NFL draft picks from last year’s team, six of whom were selected in the first round, including Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, will reflect the program’s ability to adapt to the new era of college football “free agency.” Tennessee transfer linebacker Henry To’oTo’o, a potential “quarterback-type guy on defense” in Saban’s words, is one of the newcomers expected to make an immediate impact on a team that will start the season in a much different place than last season.

With eight new starters on offense and a new offensive coordinator and play-caller in former NFL head coach Bill O’Brien, the experience this time around is on defense. Just the same, Saban said, after setting school records last season with 48.5 points and 541.6 yards a game, “we’re not changing offenses.”

“We’ve got a good offense,” he said. “We’ve got a good system. We’ve got a good philosophy. Bill has certainly added to that in a positive way, and we’ll probably continue to make some changes. But from a terminology standpoint, from a player standpoint in our building, our offense was very, very productive, and we want to continue to run the same type of offense and feature the players that we have who are playmakers who can make plays, and I think Bill will do a good job of that.”

So as a new season awaits, Saban and Alabama find themselves in a familiar place in a new world, trying to defend a national championship with a new cast of featured players and assistant coaches. Saban called it “the penalty for success.”

“The challenge is you’ve got to rebuild with a lot of new players who will be younger, have new roles, less experience, and how do they respond to these new roles? That’s why rebuilding is a tremendous challenge,” Saban said. “That’s why it’s very difficult to repeat.”

Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban speaks at SEC Media Days 2021 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Saban, who has won back-to-back national championships just once in 2011 and 2012, is heading into his 15th season at Alabama, his 20th in the SEC, including his five years at LSU. The SEC coach next in line in seniority is Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, who’s entering his ninth year. Eight of the league’s head coaches are in their first or second year.

Someone asked Saban the secret to his longevity.

“I think that’s simple,” he said. “You’ve got to win.”

Mission accomplished. Again and again and again.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

In Alabama, conservation is for the birds

Whether it’s the Yellowhammer State or the Cotton State, whatever you call the state of Alabama, an abundance of birds call it home. “Yellowhammer” in fact refers to the common name for the northern flicker woodpecker — which just happens to be the state bird of Alabama.

Specifically, coastal Alabama is home to a treasure trove of avian species that nest on the beach and use the area for stopover on their migratory journeys around the world. Coastal Alabama is a particularly vulnerable area, as well as the other four Gulf state coasts. The Gulf’s coast is subject to battering from hurricanes and storm surge, land loss from a lack of sediment transfers, and increased development — making coastal restoration projects all that more important.

The incredible amount of bird habitat in the Yellowhammer State is good news for outdoors enthusiasts. Birding trails and hunting opportunities are prevalent, and per Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, birding as a sector of tourism is huge. Roughly $17.3 billion is spent on wildlife-watching trips and related expenses, with an estimated 20 million Americans traveling for birding.

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“While our 32-mile stretch of sugar-white sand beaches is what draws people to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for their vacations, the broader nature and outdoors are part of our core marketing focus, especially in the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Beth Gendler, Chief Operating Officer of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. “The Tourism Office learned during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill just how vital it is that we protect our special environment for residents and visitors to enjoy and appreciate in the future. Birding and bird conservation efforts are a key component of this because our area is part of the winter and spring migration routes.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Gulf Restoration Office is working to implement projects ensuring these opportunities continue to exist far into the future. Within these efforts, some Service biologists are focused on land restoration, while others are looking to the sky — literally — as they track birds’ migration patterns.

Dauphin Island’s West End

Amid settlement negotiations and cleanup efforts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred in April 2010, one spit of land remained in focus for some Service biologists. Roughly 840 acres of coastal habitat, which until recently was privately owned, is known as the West End of Dauphin Island. Located near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island is a 15-mile long barrier island. The U.S. Census Bureau has designated the area as 166-square-miles, which includes about 96% open water. It offers invaluable habitat for coastal bird populations.

A major milestone on the path to restoring the Gulf of Mexico was marked recently as the state of Alabama acquired the West End of Dauphin Island. The acquisition conserves habitat for coastal bird populations that are dependent on the area. The Dauphin Island West End Acquisition project was approved as part of the Alabama Restoration Plan III and Environmental Assessment in December 2019. The 840 acres is a diverse coastal habitat made up of dunes, marshes, and beaches. Sea turtle and several bird species use these habitats for nesting. Migratory birds use the area as a prime resting spot during migrations. The Service’s team will work in close coordination with the State of Alabama and Mobile County to restore this valuable property.

“Public ownership of the West End of Dauphin Island will allow for the protection and management of its habitats,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Through the collaborative work of the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group, and the local stakeholders, the acquisition of this land will have a tremendous benefit for coastal and water birds injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

Among the bird species present at the West End are the piping plover and red knot. These two shorebirds are a threatened species within their Alabama range, and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Piping plovers frequent Alabama’s quiet shoreline throughout fall, winter and spring. Red knots are known for their more than 9,300-mile annual migration, one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom. Conserving this parcel of land will ensure that the sensitive coastal habitat is protected for years to come.

Tracking birds on the go

Conserving bird habitat is vital for species conservation, but so is knowing where Alabama’s coastal birds are going and staying. A project to track seasonal movements and habitat use of two species of colonial wading birds is providing valuable information for future planning to restore wading bird species in Alabama still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon spill. The project relies on the use of electronic transmitters attached to captured birds.

The Colonial Nesting Wading Bird Tracking and Habitat Use Assessment project has been underway since last July. Biologists will use the information to better understand important colonial wading bird foraging, resting and nesting areas in coastal Alabama which will allow for more efficient and effective restoration.

“This project gives us an important way to understand the many impacts that affect colonial nesting wading bird populations, including human disturbances such as the Deepwater Horizon spill. The data provided through this project will help us to more effectively restore bird species injured by the spill,” said Kate Healy, a Service biologist who works in the Gulf restoration office.

18 hours ago

WBRC’s James-Paul Dice signing off after 26-year career in television

One of the most familiar faces on Alabama television is signing off the air tonight.

WBRC-TV’s James-Paul Dice has been the chief meteorologist at the Birmingham TV powerhouse for 13 of his 26-year career in television.

The beloved weatherman is starting a new career as a corporate pilot, flying Gulfstream IV business jets for Birmingham-based Drummond Company.

Dice will deliver his final weather forecast Friday night at 10 p.m. on WBRC TV Fox-6.

In a tweet, WBRC thanked Dice and wished him well on his new journey.

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