1 month ago

Alligator comeback continues; Hunt registration opens June 2

Alabama will celebrate its 15th alligator hunting season in 2020 as a remarkable recovery story continues for the American alligator.

Early in the 20th century, alligators in the U.S. had diminished to alarming numbers. Unregulated alligator harvest during this time prompted Alabama to protect the animals in 1938. In 1967 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the American alligator as an endangered species.

“Alabama was one of the first states in the Southeast to protect alligators,” said Chris Nix, Alligator Program Coordinator with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division.

Conservation efforts by the affected states allowed the alligator population to rebound so that by 1987 it was removed from the Endangered Species List but continued to be a federally protected species.

Alabama’s alligator population has grown to the point that it can sustain a limited harvest, allowing state residents a new and exciting opportunity. WFF officials decided to start with limited access and increase the opportunities when possible.

“I had joined Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries two months before that first season in 2006,” Nix said. “We had 50 tags that year, and the hunting area was strictly the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. The south border was the Causeway; the north border was the CSX Railroad; the west border was Highway 43; and the east was Highway 225. It was a very small hunting area that first season. The reason is that managing alligators is a lot different than managing white-tailed deer or wild turkeys. If you overharvest deer one season, they can rebound from that pretty quickly. Alligators are not like that. It takes a lot longer for alligators to return to previous populations.”

While maintaining the integrity of the alligator population was the cornerstone of the conservation efforts, WFF surveys showed the hunting opportunities could be expanded to other parts of the state.

Registration for the 2020 alligator season opens June 2 and runs through 8 a.m. July 8. A total of 260 tags will be issued in five hunting zones.

Registration is $22 per zone, and individuals may register one time per zone. Selected hunters and others accompanying or assisting in any vessel are required to have a valid hunting license in their possession while hunting.

Only Alabama residents and Alabama lifetime license holders aged 16 years or older may apply for tags. Alabama lifetime license holders may apply for an alligator possession tag even if they have moved out of the state.

Visit https://www.outdooralabama.com/alligators/alligator-hunt-registration to register for the 2020 alligator hunts.

The original 2006 hunting area, now known as the Southwest Zone (100 tags available), has expanded its boundaries to include all of Mobile and Baldwin counties north of I-10 and private and public waters in Washington, Clarke and Monroe counties that lie east of U.S. Highway 43 and south of U.S. Highway 84. The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 13 until sunrise on August 16 and sunset on August 20 to sunrise on August 23.

The Coastal Zone (50 tags) was added last year and includes the private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties that lie south of I-10. The 2020 season dates are the same as the Southwest Zone.

The Southeast Zone (40 tags) covers the private and public waters in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, and Russell counties, excluding Alabama state public waters in Walter F. George Reservoir (Lake Eufaula) and its navigable tributaries. The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 8 until sunrise on September 7.

The West Central Zone (50 tags) includes private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox, and Dallas counties. The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 13 to sunrise on August 16 and sunset on August 20 to sunrise on August 23.

The Lake Eufaula Zone (20 tags) includes Alabama state public waters in Walter F. George Reservoir (Lake Eufaula) and its navigable tributaries, south of Highway 208, Omaha Bridge (excluding Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge). The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 14 until sunrise on October 5. The Lake Eufaula Zone is the only zone with a size restriction. Alligators must be at least 8 feet in total length in the Lake Eufaula Zone, which is the only zone that allows daytime hunting.

“The reason we created the Coastal Zone was due to nuisance complaints,” Nix said. “The alligator population is stable, but the human population is increasing in the alligators’ habitat. We found that very few people would harvest alligators south of I-10 in Baldwin County. It helped last year with 20 alligators harvested south of I-10. That’s a big area and we only issued 50 tags.”

Nix said WFF staff diligently surveys the alligator hunting zones to ensure the health of the alligator population.

“Our surveys are conducted using GPS routes, run at the same time each year, preferably with the same weather conditions, air and water temperatures and wind speeds,” he said. “I try to do our survey within the same week and pick the best weather conditions of that week. We try to make the surveys as consistent as possible.”

Nix said the surveys are done with a boat driver and two observers. The surveys are done at night and are broken down into different zones.

“In no way are we saying we’re counting every alligator out there, but under the same conditions year after year, we can look at population trends over a period of time,” he said.

Hunters will be randomly selected by computer to receive one alligator possession tag each. Tags are non-transferable. A preference point system will be used in the random selection process. Unsuccessful applicants receive points for each year they are not drawn, which increases the likelihood of being drawn each year. However, if an applicant does not register for the hunt in a given year or is selected and accepts a tag for a hunt, the preference points revert to zero.

Applicants can check their selection status after noon on July 8. Selected applicants’ acceptance is required by 8 a.m. on July 15. Any selected applicants who have not responded by that time will lose the spots and alternates will fill the vacancies. All successful applicants must complete the online alligator training course prior to accepting hunter or alternate status. A Conservation ID number and date of birth are required for access to registration and selection status.

If selected for an alligator possession tag at two or more locations, hunters must choose which location they would like to hunt. The slot for locations not chosen will be filled from a list of randomly selected alternates.

A no-cull rule was implemented in 2018. That means hunters cannot catch and then release an alligator to try to find a larger one.

“If you get the alligator next to the boat, it must be dispatched immediately,” Nix said. “Once it’s captured, it’s your alligator.”

Nix said alligator population numbers and harvest numbers have remained consistent since the season was established. The only anomaly was in 2008 when Tropical Storm Fay hit the Alabama coast.

“Overall, the alligator population in Alabama is stable to slightly increasing,” he said. “When you look at available tags since 2006, the percentage of harvest has stayed very consistent with the exception of the year we had the tropical storm. As a whole, between 65 and 70 percent of the hunters have been successful regardless of the number of tags or the areas to hunt.”

If you happen to be one of the lucky applicants to receive a tag, Nix recommends doing homework before you head out to hunt alligators, which can grow as large as the current world record of 15 feet, 9 inches and 1,011.5 pounds. That monster gator was taken by Mandy Stokes of Camden in 2014.

“People who don’t have experience hunting alligators should watch available videos (at outdooralabama.com) repeatedly to determine the equipment they will need,” he said. “And a big tip refers to scouting. A lot of people want to scout alligators at night. Scouting an alligator is a lot different than any other species. I recommend people scout during the daytime and become as familiar as possible with the area they’re hunting.”

With the exception of dates, the 2020 alligator season is unchanged from last year’s season. Nix said WFF staff continues to survey other areas to determine if additional areas can be added in the future.

“The Division is working as hard as we can to offer as many opportunities for as many people as possible while maintaining the health of the alligator population,” he said. “That’s a continuing effort we make each year.”

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.

8 hours ago

Alabama needs to limit uncertainty for healthcare providers in the pandemic

Uncertainty can be crippling. In many, it turns an energetic “can-do” spirit into a cautious “wait and see” mentality.

In 2011, more than half of small businesses surveyed by the US Chamber of Commerce said they were holding off on hiring new employees largely because of uncertainty about the economy.

That was in 2011. What about in 2020, with the coronavirus and the government’s response to it, at least for a time, laying waste to the stock market and much of the economy? How much does certainty matter now?

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Take Tuscaloosa, for example. Just last week Mayor Walt Maddox said that a lack of a football season, or even a mitigated season with less fans, would be “catastrophic” for the city. How catastrophic? A $131.5 million-in-lost-revenue kind of catastrophic.

So what do the restaurants, bars, and other businesses that rely on football-related revenue do while they wonder if this economic doom is heading their way? Do they hire and train employees? Do they stock up on inventory? How exactly do they plan for two extremely different potential realities?

Those answers are not clear. What is known, however, is that Tuscaloosa is not used to this uncertainty. And neither is our state.

Much of the unpredictability that the coronavirus has brought with it is not easily controlled or minimized. We can’t exactly make college football come back. And even the government cannot regulate the virus away.

We are not, however, entirely powerless in the COVID-19 era. Some uncertainty can be reigned in with action by the state legislature.

On April 2nd, Governor Ivey suspended the licensure and certificate of need requirements for medical practitioners and first responders, which enabled them to more readily come to Alabama’s assistance during the pandemic.

This action made it significantly easier for healthcare professionals from other states to come to Alabama and treat our sick. It’s also made quick and necessary expansions of healthcare facilities possible, since providers no longer have to jump through regulatory hoops governing whether or not the government thinks a new healthcare facility, or even an expansion of an existing facility, is needed.

The certificate of need process does just this. It forces healthcare providers to seek government approval before they can build a new facility or even increase the amount of beds in an existing facility. For many, this is a lengthy and costly process.

For this reason, the suspension of these regulations is good and necessary. It encourages healthcare providers to increase the availability of medical care in our state by offering a break from weighty government restrictions.

The problem, however, is that the April 2nd suspension is not permanent. In fact, Governor Ivey can only suspend these regulations for sixty days at a time.

Insert uncertainty.

Is it worth it for a nurse to pack up and move to Alabama to work with coronavirus patients if the order allowing her easy transfer ends in September (when the state of emergency is set to expire as of this writing)?

Is it worth it for healthcare facilities, likewise, to plan for new capacity if they don’t know for sure whether they’ll find themselves ensnared in government regulations once again in a couple months?

Again, it is a good thing that Governor Ivey suspended these regulations. In fact, the very absence of these regulations provides more certainty for our medical practitioners as they are less dependent on the decisions of bureaucrats in Montgomery. The uncertainty which comes with the temporary nature of the suspension, however, can inhibit the very healthcare providers we need most from proactively planning for the state’s health in the near future.

In short, healthcare providers need to know that if they come to Alabama or begin plans to expand medical facilities within our borders, the state won’t spring costly and time-prohibitive regulations on them. They need the certainty that only legislative action, in the form of a 12-month suspension of these requirements as suggested by API in the RESTORE Alabama Plan, can provide.

This, of course, depends on the Governor calling a special session of the state legislature to address the coronavirus and its effects. And if she does, this issue will not likely be a controversial one. In fact, over 70% of Alabamians support this idea, according to a recent Cygnal poll.

Even so, it is an important move. The state government has the ability to inject some stability into a healthcare field riddled with questions. Doing so is in the best interest, not only of our healthcare system, but of our state as a whole.

Parker Snider is the Director of Policy Analysis for the Alabama Policy Institute (API).

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

14 hours ago

National leader in water resources to head Alabama Water Institute

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Scott Rayder, an expert on building opportunities and funding for scientific organizations, was selected as the executive director of the Alabama Water Institute for The University of Alabama.

Water is a signature research and academic focus at UA, and AWI was formed to conduct integrated research and education on complex issues of water quantity, quality and security globally and locally.

“The University of Alabama strategically focused on water as a signature research thrust not only because of the profound importance of water in all facets of life, but also because we believe the University is ideally positioned to become a national and influential leader in the discipline. I believe Scott has both the vision and ability to work with faculty and students to make this happen,” said President Stuart Bell.

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The executive director position and AWI are vital to UA’s plan to increase research productivity and innovation in research, scholarship and creative activities that impact economic and societal development. Rayder will play a key role in continuing collaboration with the National Water Center, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration center located on the UA campus.

Currently senior advisor to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and to the president and vice president of the UCAR Foundation, Rayder will join UA Aug. 1.

He has extensive experience in building relationships and opportunities with both the private and public sector, including longstanding relationships with federal funding agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, NOAA, U.S. Geological Survey and National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“The University of Alabama has the unique opportunity, working with federal, state and industry partners, to propel the state of Alabama to become the epicenter for water research, water resource management and the new water economy in the United States. Scott is well-known both nationally and internationally and is the ideal leader to take full advantage of this opportunity,” said Dr. Russell J. Mumper, vice president for research and economic development.

Rayder’s involvement with higher education and research extends to the beginning of his career at NOAA, and includes nearly two decades of experience in senior leadership positions in large government, not-for-profit and private sector companies.

“I am honored to be joining the dedicated AWI team. UA science, policy and engineering expertise is uniquely positioned to help improve our understanding and application of the latest science and technology in support of critical water issues that affect everyone across the globe to citizens right here in Alabama,” Rayder said. “I look forward to engaging with the faculty, public and private stakeholders, philanthropists and future Alabama graduates in growing this capability here at the University.”

His work at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in support of the National Center for Atmospheric Research as well as at the Center for Ocean Leadership included working with research universities and private sector partners in the pursuit of funding to better understand and utilize the world’s resources.

He was also part of the presidential transition team in 2016 for the U. S. Department of Commerce, which oversees NOAA.

Rayder holds a bachelor’s degree in government and geology from Hamilton College, New York, and a master’s in public administration with a concentration in science and technology policy from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

The committee for this national search was co-led by Dr. Mark Elliott, associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, and Dr. Behzad Mortazavi, professor and chair of biological sciences. Dr. Patricia Sobecky, UA’s associate provost for academic affairs, professor of biological sciences and founding executive director of AWI, was also integral to the search process.

“We are grateful to Dr. Sobecky for her dedication in standing up the Alabama Water Institute as founding executive director,” Mumper said. “Her leadership created an excellent foundation for transformative research and economic development relating to water.”

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama)

15 hours ago

Anniston’s 44-year-old Book Rack saved from closing by new owners

The Book Rack, an Anniston institution that was set to close after almost 45 years, opened a new chapter July 1 as “Jo’s Book Rack.”

Patricia Hancock bought the store five years ago as part of a lifelong dream she finally fulfilled in retirement. Now that Hancock is retiring again, she is “jumping for joy” that she didn’t have to close the Quintard Avenue store that has more than 70,000 books.

The Book Rack grew popular selling used paperbacks at half-price, while giving 25% of the cover price back in credit to people who brought in good-condition books.

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Brittany Boozer shopped at The Book Rack as a teenager but thought it went out of business years ago. Then her husband, Jonathan, emailed her a notice that the store was for sale.

“I thought it was a joke because I love books so much,” she said. “When I realized it was true, I said, ‘Hey, can we do this?’”

Married 10 years and having never owned a business, the Boozers decided to give it a shot. They are renaming the store “Jo’s Book Rack,” in part after her grandfather who died in 2016, and for their daughters, Jorden, 5, and Journey, 18 months. Jonathan already works full-time but will help his wife at the bookstore when he’s able.

“My grandfather was an avid reader and instilled it in me as a child,” she said. “I wanted to honor him and our girls, who I hope will love books as much as I do.”

Hancock posted on The Book Rack website “It’s time to celebrate!” as she turned the keys over to the Boozers. She said that when she was in her early 30s she wanted to own a bookstore, but it didn’t happen for 40 years. Hancock thanked her loyal customers and said she is excited “business will be conducted as usual” through the new owners.

Boozer admitted being “a little nervous” becoming a store owner in the midst of a pandemic that until recently had forced the closure of all “nonessential” businesses in Alabama and across most of the U.S. She is concerned by some print publications going out of business and that many young people read only online books.

“But I prefer to feel a book in my hands,” she said. “I know other people feel the same way.”

Boozer said there are “very busy” days ahead as she conducts a full inventory of the sales racks and books in storage. She hopes to soon begin online sales, will open a children’s section and will offer more hardbacks. Boozer may initiate sales of used hardbacks by sacrificing some of her huge collection from home.

“I want to make changes, but I want to keep some things the same to give old customers what they’ve come to expect the past almost 45 years,” she said. “At the same time, I want to offer things that will appeal to the younger generation.”

Boozer wants to sell books to parents who are homeschooling their children. She hopes to promote Jo’s Book Rack through sales of T-shirts, keychains and logo items. A new store sign will be installed atop the building, and there will be a new front window logo. Boozer intends to highlight new books and local authors.

“I am very excited for this opportunity to continue a landmark business in Calhoun County,” Boozer said. “I hope to keep the old customers and attract new ones.”

Contact Boozer at josbookrack@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/JosBookRack/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Roby: Happy Independence Day

The Fourth of July is one of America’s most celebrated holidays each year, honoring the birth of American independence dating back to 1776. Americans gather from state to state to participate in beloved traditions such as fireworks, parades, barbecues, and many more. With all that is happening across the country right now, I hope that we each stop and reflect on the meaning of this special day.

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Our Founders had the incredible courage to risk their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to defy a king and conceive a new nation based on freedom, equality, and government empowered by the consent of the governed. As they declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Now more than ever, our nation craves unity during these unprecedented times throughout all our communities. As we navigate a global pandemic that continues to sweep across the United States, already tragically claiming more than 130,000 precious lives, my greatest hope is that we stand together as one united people.

May we be ever vigilant in making sure the United States always embodies the ideals in that bold declaration by our Founders. May God bless each of you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. From the Roby family to yours, we wish you a wonderful Fourth of July!

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

16 hours ago

Stay safe during July 4th holiday

Across the country, people enjoy lighting fireworks to celebrate our nation’s birthday each Fourth of July. While gathering in large groups to watch fireworks shows may not occur this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families and socially distant groups can still safely enjoy the holiday.

Follow these tips to stay safe while using fireworks:

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  • Check to make sure using fireworks is legal in your area.
  • Only buy legal fireworks labeled with the manufacturer’s name.
  • Make sure children use sparklers only outdoors and keep them away from their faces, hair and clothing. Sparklers can burn up to 2,000 degrees.
  • Wear eye protection.
  • Always use fireworks outdoors and have a bucket of water or water hose nearby and stay away from people in case of accidents from backfiring or shooting in an unintended direction.
  • When using fireworks, always point them away from houses, trees, cars, shrubbery and, especially, other people.
  • Do not hold fireworks while lighting them. Place them in an open container before lighting the fuse.
  • Light one firework at a time and never relight a “dud.”
  • Never allow children to pick up fireworks from the ground. Unexploded fireworks may still ignite.
  • Soak used or unignited fireworks in a bucket of water before throwing them away.

Many families may spend Independence Day weekend at a lake or beach. Be aware of these additional precautions when you’re near the water.

Boating safety

  • Make sure your boat is in good working order before taking it out for the first time and that all required equipment is on the boat.
  • Make sure all life jackets are in good working order. Life jackets must be worn by children younger than 8 years old and by anyone on a personal watercraft or being towed on skis or a tube.
  • Be aware of what other boaters are doing around you.
  • Storms can come up quickly, especially in the summer, so keep an eye to the sky. If caught in a storm, try to get to the nearest shelter.

 Pool and water safety

  • Anywhere there is water, there is a danger of drowning. Never swim alone.
  • An adult must always watch children closely. This means no reading, talking on the phone or texting.
  • An adult should be within arm’s reach of infants, toddlers and weaker swimmers.
  • Enter shallow water feet first. It is never OK to dive into water less than 9 feet deep.

 Heat safety

  • Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
  • The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Limit the amount of time spent outside during these hours.
  • At least 20 minutes before going outside, apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)