Left ACLR Right ACLR

Sign up for Our Newsletter

* indicates required
1 month ago

Alabama WFF Ramps Up CWD Sampling Effort

With positive tests for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Tennessee and additional positives in Mississippi, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has ramped up testing in north Alabama.

WFF officials set up manned sampling stations in Hackleburg the first weekend of the new year and followed with sampling last weekend in Waterloo.

Self-service sampling stations were recently set up by WFF in north Alabama to accommodate drop-offs 24 hours a day.

WFF Director Chuck Sykes said testing for the always-fatal disease, which is caused by a rogue protein called a prion, has been ongoing since 2002, but the positive tests in neighboring states caused WFF to increase its sampling effort.

“The Mississippi positives made us test more in the areas that joined Mississippi,” Sykes said. “When the deer in Tennessee tested positive, it prompted an increased level of testing where it fell within the response zone. Those positives just prompted us to increase our surveillance in those areas.”

Sixteen deer were brought in for sampling at the Hackleburg station, but Sykes said the interaction with hunters who didn’t harvest deer may have been the most productive aspect of the manned sampling station.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but I consider it a success for a volunteer check station,” Sykes said. “More important than the 16 deer brought in, we had two times that many hunters stop by and ask questions. It was a really good way for our staff to get in front of the public, and the public to be able to ask questions one-on-one.”

Sykes and the WFF staff discovered that, although the Division has been immersed in the CWD Response Plan, it has yet to be widely discussed in the public.

“We (WFF) are up to our eyeballs in CWD,” Sykes said. “Even though we’ve offered seminars, done articles and put up billboards, a lot of people don’t pay attention until it hits close to home. A lot of the questions were just basic CWD knowledge that the average hunter in Alabama doesn’t understand. What is it? Why is it a problem? What makes it different from other diseases? These were very positive interactions. There was nothing negative about it.”

Sykes said the self-service sampling stations are part of the standard protocols of the CWD Response Plan (https://www.outdooralabama.com/deer-hunting-alabama/chronic-wasting-disease-what-you-should-know).

“With the positives in Mississippi and Tennessee within 50 miles of our border, that prompts us to do more testing in those areas,” he said. “It’s been shown time and time again that hunter-harvested deer and road-kills are the best ways to achieve samples and to get the most out of those samples. Just going in and randomly shooting deer is okay, but in areas that have had CWD for a long time, there is a higher predominance in road-kill deer and hunter-harvested deer because they lose their sense of wariness. The most effective way to sample is by hunter-harvested deer and working with ALDOT (Alabama Department of Transportation) to identify road-kills.”

Above all, Sykes said he wants hunters to continue to pursue deer just like they always have.

“Again, this is not something to cause people to quit hunting,” he said. “We need them to become educated on what CWD is. Don’t rely on what they’ve heard at hunting camp or what they saw on Facebook. Talk to us to try to understand the disease and what we’re doing to try to prevent it.”

Sykes reiterated how hunting, especially deer hunting, is a cornerstone in Alabama’s culture and economy. Hunting has an almost $2 billion impact annually on Alabama’s economy.

“This is not a hunter issue,” he said. “This is not even a deer hunting issue. This is a State of Alabama economic issue and a way of life issue. We need people to understand what’s going on, and we need their assistance to gather these samples in the most efficient way so we can stay on top of it. Heaven forbid, if it does get here, we will be prepared to mitigate the risks as much as possible.”

Previously, tissue samples had to be sent out of state to be tested for CWD. In 2018, WFF provided funds for the Alabama Department of Agriculture to purchase CWD testing equipment, which was set up at Auburn University. The equipment and technician have been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and can test up to 90 samples per day.

Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said the new CWD testing equipment speeds up the state’s response time considerably.

“We don’t have to wait on anybody,” Blankenship said. “We take our samples to the Department of Agriculture lab at Auburn University. We will get those test results quickly and be able to respond as soon as possible.”

The freezers for the self-service sample stations are located in Fayette, Lamar, Marion, Franklin, Lauderdale, and Colbert counties and are available to receive deer head samples 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At the self-service locations, hunters must first remove the deer’s head with 4-6 inches of neck attached. For bucks, antlers can be removed at the base of each antler or by removing the skull plate before bagging the head. Hunters will then place the head in the provided plastic bag and tie it closed. They will need to complete all sections of the Biological Sample Tag, and attach the tag to the bag with a zip tie. Hunters will take the bottom receipt portion of the Biological Sample Tag before placing the bagged head in the freezer. All materials needed to drop off a sample are provided at each freezer location.

Locations of the self-service CWD drop-off sampling sites are:

Fayette County, Fayette County Extension Office, 650 McConnell Loop, Fayette, Ala., 35555

Lamar County, Hunter’s Gold Processing, 11634 County Rd. 9, Millport, Ala., 35576

Marion County, Watson’s Grocery, 5658 State Highway 19, Detroit, Ala., 35552

Franklin County, Fancher’s Taxidermy, 715 Newell Rd., Red Bay, Ala., 35582

Lauderdale County, Florence Frozen Meats, 1050 South Court St., Florence, Ala., 35630

Colbert County, Yogi’s Texaco, 17750 US Highway 72, Tuscumbia, Ala., 35674

Hunters can also have deer sampled at any WFF District Office (www.outdooralabama.com/wildlife-section) or at the WFF office in Marengo County at 1105 Bailey Dr., Demopolis, Ala., 36732, phone number 334-289-8030. WFF offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Before dropping off the sample, hunters should call ahead to make sure a biologist is available.

Sykes said the test results will be emailed to the hunter within three to four weeks.

Currently, self-service freezers are located throughout northwest Alabama only because of the increased surveillance samples needed in the response zones of the CWD-positive locations in Mississippi and Tennessee.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

27 mins ago

The case for state control of alcoholic beverages

It’s that time of year again. The Alabama Legislature is only days from its opening session, and lawmakers across the state are drafting bills they say will make Alabama better.

As in years past, some special interest groups – big-box retailers and liquor distributors – are pushing again to privatize liquor sales in Alabama. By privatize, they mean closing state-operated liquor stores and handing over the sale of all liquor in the state to private businesses.

On the surface, that might sound sensible. Why should the state even be in the liquor business?

713

Look closer, though, and you will see that privatizing hurts state budgets, public safety and health, and even Alabama consumers. I like to tell people that Alabama is not in the “liquor business”; the state is in the “control business” – controlling the sale of alcohol and protecting the people of the state from the harmful effects of alcohol.

Last year, the Alabama Alcohol Beverage Control Board’s operations provided $262 million to state and local governments. Most of that went to the habitually challenged General Fund and agencies such as the departments of Human Resources, Mental Health and Public Health and law enforcement.

The argument from those pushing for privatization is that the state will come out ahead financially because it no longer would incur the costs of operating stores. That argument is false. Every state in recent memory that has privatized elements of alcohol sales it once controlled has lost revenue or had to raise taxes.

The most recent example is the state of Washington. After Costco pushed through the state legislature a referendum to privatize liquor sales and spent $22 million to make sure the referendum went the way Costco wanted, Washington voters in 2011 approved closing state stores in favor of opening private stores. The result? Stores selling liquor went from 328 to more than 1,400, two large distributors grabbed 93 percent of the wholesale market while big-box stores dominated retail sales, and the state raised liquor taxes by 27 percent to make up for lost state revenue. Today, Washington has, by far, the highest liquor prices in the country.

As someone deeply concerned about the harm alcohol inflicts on families and society in general, I have no problem with higher liquor prices. I do, however, worry about already struggling state agencies that assist families and protect public safety and health taking a financial hit due to lost revenue.

I am also concerned about the ABC Board’s ability to adequately “police” the sale of what is a destructive substance. Remember, one of the agencies the ABC Board funds with dollars from its stores is itself. Take away that revenue, and the ABC Board would not be able to inspect, license and investigate stores and restaurants that sell any form of alcoholic beverages to ensure their compliance with state laws.

Just like prisons and Medicaid, the ABC Board would be dependent on funds from the General Fund. We all know the struggles the Legislature has had patching together the General Fund budget.

Let’s be frank about alcohol. It is not just any commodity, and we shouldn’t treat it like buying bread, milk or eggs. Alcohol is a mind-altering, addictive drug. It kills more people each year – 88,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – than all illicit drugs combined, including opioids. Excessive drinking costs the U.S. economy $249 billion each year, the CDC says. It costs Alabama more than $3.7 billion.

Alcohol is a factor in a majority of violent crimes, including rape and murder. About half the suicides in our country are linked to alcohol. Most of the people in our prisons had alcohol in their system when they committed their crimes.

I am especially alarmed by the great harm alcohol inflicts on families. Alcohol is a major cause of domestic violence, child neglect, unwanted pregnancies and divorce.

My question to lawmakers is this: Why would you want to make all of those problems worse? Make no mistake about it, that’s exactly what privatization would do. It would multiply the number of stores selling liquor, hamstring enforcement and take money away from critical state agencies that assist and protect our most vulnerable citizens.

Who benefits from privatization? It’s not Alabama citizens. The only winners are those who sell liquor, particularly corporate-owned superstores and other chain retailers – based out of state – that see liquor as a way to further increase their profits. But, at your expense.

It is that time of year again. Spring is getting nearer, and so is the arrival of lawmakers gathering in Montgomery. It is also a good time for us to get smarter and put to rest for good the notion that we can make it easier to sell liquor without all of us paying a higher cost.

Joe Godfrey is the executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP)

59 mins ago

Forensic Sciences awarded nearly $400,000 in grants to combat opioid and drug crisis

Governor Kay Ivey reaffirmed her support for the fight against opioids and other illegal or abused substances by announcing a grant to the Department of Forensic Sciences worth $386,207.

The award, which consists of two grants valued at $260,207 and $126,000, will provide the Department of Forensic Sciences with necessary equipment, including two state-of-the-art substance analyzers which have the capability to rapidly analyze and identify opioids, prescription drugs and other illegal substances.

Both solid and liquid substances can be detected by the analyzers and the presence and type of drug can be found. The screening time for each sample will last approximately two minutes, according to the Forensic Sciences department, which is responsible for the collection and identification of evidence for more than 450 law enforcement agencies in the state of Alabama.

137

“Evidence provided by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences is often the difference between whether a suspect is convicted or set free,” Ivey said in an announcement. “These new tools will greatly enhance the ability of technicians to accurately examine drug evidence and provide that information to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.”

The grants made available from the U.S. Department of Justice are being administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).

“Gov. Ivey recognizes the tireless work that the Department of Forensic Sciences performs daily to assist our law enforcement agencies and prosecutorial services in doing their jobs effectively and efficiently,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell stated. “ADECA is pleased to join Gov. Ivey in this partnership to provide this new equipment.”

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

2 hours ago

Obama era environmental regulations strike again, force closure of APCO’s Gorgas Steam Plant

The Obama administration has ended, but job-killing environmental regulations from the 44th president’s time in office are still hurting Alabama.

Alabama Power Company announced Wednesday that the Gorgas Steam Plant in Walker County will be shuttered because of unrealistic and cost-prohibitive mandates put in place by President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plant, which has been operational since 1917, will cease operating its three coal-fired generating units and close April 15.

The facility could not meet the stringent mandates related to coal combustion residuals (CCR, better known as coal ash) in time, and the cost to convert to gasification would have been monumentally high. In a press release, the company said it estimated a price tag of approximately $300 million just to comply with one set of mandates and continue operating the plant’s coal-fired units.

Alabama Power has worked to ensure that almost all Plant Gorgas employees will be transferred to new facilities and get to keep their jobs. Bevill State Community College has been working with the company to retrain affected employees. 

1123

Jim Heilbron, senior vice president and senior production officer for Alabama Power, said, “We recognize that Plant Gorgas and the men and women who have operated it have brought great value to Alabama Power, our customers and the local community.”

Patrick Cagle, president of the Alabama Coal Association, told Yellowhammer News that he commends Alabama Power’s efforts at minimizing the economic impact of the closure.

“President Obama’s administration declared war on the coal industry and unfortunately this is the latest example of that legacy,” he stated.

Cagle continued, “The Alabama Coal Association is keenly aware of the economic impact this closure will have on the local community, and we commend Alabama Power for working to relocate affected employees and minimize this economic impact as much as possible. Alabama Power has been a longtime partner to us and our members, and we appreciate their continued commitment to investing in our great state and local economies through the use of Alabama coal.”

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-4) commented, “This is just another example of [Obama’s] ‘War on Coal.’”

“While I’m certainly glad to hear that most of the employees of the Gorgas plant will be able to keep their jobs, the loss of tax revenue to Walker County is astronomical,” he advised. “This is just another example of the ‘War on Coal’ that was prevalent during the Obama Administration and how it deeply impacts rural communities with little concern for those who are hurt.”

Aderholt also outlined how elections – and the policies of respective administrations – have consequences that cannot be undone overnight.

“President Trump has made progress in rolling back the Obama Administration executive orders that were trying to kill coal and coal jobs. And in Congress, I voted in 2015 on a bill that would roll back crippling EPA rules, but as has been the case for far too many bills, it went to the Senate where it was allowed to die,” he explained.

Aderholt concluded, “I, along with my conservative colleagues, are fighting alongside President Trump to stop these job choking, economic crushing and community killing regulations. But changing the chronic Washington lack of understanding when it comes to rural America, will take time to reverse.”

Alabama Public Service Commission — ‘The war on coal finally took its toll’

A press release from the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) stressed that due to “extreme Obama Era Federal regulations… there is just no choice regarding the future of Plant Gorgas.”

“In 2008, candidate Obama declared war on coal and promised to bankrupt anyone who built a coal fired electricity plant. President Obama immediately went to work signing one after another punitive, burdensome federal mandates on the coal industry. Now his promise has come to fruition at Plant Gorgas,” the release said.

It added, “[T]he responsibility of the Alabama Public Service Commission is to require Alabama Power to provide secure, reliable service at the lowest cost to their customers.  Given this charge, along with the astronomical rising cost to comply with Obama era mandates, there is just no choice regarding the future of Plant Gorgas.”

“The company has taken every possible step to keep the plant up and running, but the war on coal finally took its toll,”  Public Service Commission (PSC) President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh said.

“Obama said he wanted to make it too expensive to run coal-fired plants, and he did. I commend President Trump for rolling back as many of the Obama mandates as he could. The problem for us here in Alabama was that Obama placed the biggest bullseye on us, and Trump’s valiant effort at finally implementing common sense came along a little too late,” she concluded.

Commissioner Jeremy Oden remarked, “I serve the State of Alabama as the Chairman of the Clean Coal Committee for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. One of my duties across the country is to make sure these plants continue to serve their mission in economical ways. With the mandated environmental retrofit required to continue to produce energy at Gorgas with coal, it is no longer feasible. I have spent years nationally trying to save these plants, and it saddens me deeply to see this happen in our state.”

Commissioner Chip Beeker commented, “Obama’s negligence and disregard for Alabama families and their jobs is one of the many destructive outcomes of his presidency. The liberals who helped drive Obama’s agenda continue to put Alabama’s economy at risk. Our task moving forward is to keep the ones affected by this and their families in our hearts and in our prayers. We will continue to fight for our state to achieve the most reliable and affordable energy.”

The PSC emphasized that it supports Alabama’s coal industry and the miners who “have supported their families and our state’s economy with their self-sacrifice, hard work and dedication.”

The commission is urging Alabama Power to continue working “to minimize the impact of this closure on the communities and on the numerous families affected.”

Just the latest example

Unfortunately, Plant Gorgas is just the most recent Alabama casualty of Obama era mandates.

On New Year’s Eve, PowerSouth CEO Gary Smith emailed employees that Lowman Plant on the Tombigbee River in Washington County will be forced to close.

He pointed to the coal ash regulations as prohibitive to keeping the facility in business, saying “we are left few choices other than to close the Lowman Plant and obtain additional generation resources to replace the coal-fired generation.”

Smith also outlined why having coal in a power generation portfolio is so important to this day, lamenting “extremist environmental ideologies.”

“With closure of the Lowman Plant, we lose the diversity of coal-fired generation as a natural hedge against higher natural gas prices, and we are more dependent upon natural gas as a generation fuel (The Lowman Plant has been economically dispatched ahead of our most efficient natural gas units for the past four weeks because of higher-priced natural gas),” he advised.

“It is sad and disheartening that environmental activists, politicians, bureaucrats and others have allowed environmental and climate change movements to close coal-fired units and cost good, hardworking people their jobs and livelihoods,” Smith added. “The real victims are the hopes and dreams of Lowman employees, people with families, lives and needs that were met with their employment at the Lowman Plant, not the abstract climate threats to public health. Maybe one day our leaders will understand the real damage they have done.”

Additionally, Plant Gorgas is far from the only example just when it comes to Alabama Power facilities being affected by Obama administration environmental mandates.

“Federally driven environmental mandates related to coal, and the costs to comply with those mandates, are changing the way Alabama Power provides electricity to customers,” the company’s press release Wednesday noted.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

All roads lead to Alabama jobs

“940,353 full times jobs are completely dependent on Alabama’s transportation network. If we want to recruit new industry and create more jobs, we need a road and bridge system that supports economic growth in Alabama. It’s time to take this issue seriously and invest in Alabama’s future. Let’s take action and rebuild Alabama’s roads!” #FixALroads

1
2 hours ago

Save the date: Yellowhammer News Shaper series kicks off with its 2019 legislative edition

Yellowhammer News will host its next “Yellowhammer News Shaper” event in Montgomery on March 19. The gathering will offer a networking opportunity as well as a live interview with Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia).

The discussion will be moderated by Yellowhammer News editor and owner Tim Howe and will cover issues surrounding this year’s legislative session.

72

The event will take place at the Alabama Association of Realtors, 522 Washington Avenue, and will begin at 5:00 p.m. with a cocktail reception followed by the moderated interview and questions from the audience.

Several more Yellowhammer News Shaper events will take place across the state this year. The series is non-partisan, on-the-record and designed to localize issues and highlight thought leaders.

Continue to visit Yellowhammernews.com for announcements during the 2019 calendar year.