The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

6 days ago

Pandemic forces changes for Alabama Coastal Cleanup

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama’s largest one-day volunteer event will be spread out over an entire week this year thanks to the pandemic.

The 33rd annual Alabama Coastal Cleanup will begin Saturday, Sept. 19 and continue through Sunday, Sept. 27. Angela Underwood with the State Lands Division’s Coastal Section of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) said spreading the event out over eight days gives volunteers and staff the space and time they need to stay safe from COVID-19.

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“The biggest adjustment is giving people more time to get out and participate in the cleanup so everybody is not necessarily crowded in one space at one time,” Underwood said. “On the 19th, we are asking groups to send one representative from their group to pick up supplies and wear face coverings while picking up those supplies, then practice safe social distancing while cleaning up, especially if they are around people not from their household.”

2020 Alabama Coastal Cleanup will have a few changes from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Alabama Coastal Cleanup is part of the International Coastal Cleanup, an annual effort to remove marine debris from coastal waters around the world. In 2019, approximately 5,000 volunteers removed more than 30,000 pounds of trash from Alabama’s coastline and waterways.

“I want to keep seeing people get involved every year and understand the problems we have with marine debris,” Underwood said. “I would love to see some of our volunteers get more involved in the educational aspect of teaching people why marine debris is so detrimental to our natural resources and our economy.”

This year, ADCNR has partnered with Alabama People Against a Littered State (ALPALS) to organize the event. Spencer Ryan, executive director of ALPALS, is looking forward to the event despite changes brought by the pandemic.

“We’re excited about it,” Ryan said. “It’s going to be different. It’s going to be a challenge, but we met early enough to where a lot of good plans were put into effect.”

Ryan said volunteers are needed on land and on the water at cleanup sites in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Participants will receive a T-shirt and basic cleanup supplies. Event organizers will provide masks for up to 5,000 volunteers.

“I’m looking for a huge turnout,” Ryan said. “I think people have been shut up enough. I think they’re ready to do something positive. I think the coastal cleanup each year brings that out in people.”

Organizers are recommending participants use the Ocean Conservancy’s Clean Swell mobile app to tally their debris data. Underwood said this will allow them to receive data faster than in years past.

“We normally hand out close to 5,000 paper data cards each year so that people can take data on the things they are cleaning,” Underwood said. “We don’t want volunteers to handle data cards, and we don’t want to handle them as they come back in. It just seemed like the right thing to do. We still get the data and it’s better on our resources.”

The 2020 Alabama Coastal Cleanup is sponsored by Poarch Band of Creek IndiansAlabama People Against A Littered State (ALPALS)Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR)National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)Ike’s Beach ServiceBebo’sCoastal Conservation Association of Alabama (CCAA)Alabama PowerLulu’sCity of Gulf ShoresGulf Shores Utility BoardCity of Orange BeachRiveria UtilitiesBaldwin EMCFlora-BamaEvonikCompass MediaCoast 360Baldwin County Sewer ServiceAlabama Department of TransportationALFACoca-ColaVulcan MaterialsHonda Manufacturing of AlabamaAlabama Farmers CooperativeAssociation of County Commissions of AlabamaThe Ocean ConservancyGulf Shores/Orange Beach TourismOsprey InitiativeThompson EngineeringWeeks Bay FoundationWeeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Paddle the Gulf.

“We’re the only state that does it with corporate sponsorship money,” Ryan said. “I think that’s the reason why we continue to be one of the most successful coastal cleanups in the country. Our corporate sponsors make that possible.”

For more information about the coastal zones, zone captains, start times and safety tips, visit AlabamaCoastalCleanup.com or call 251-928-9792. You can also follow the Alabama Coastal Cleanup on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AlabamaCoastalCleanup.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 days ago

New deer zones, Hunting 101 and transfer of possession requirement

(Gary Mitchell/Outdoor Alabama, YHN)

Deer hunters will find two new zones in the 2020-2021 Alabama Deer Zones map with season dates that better coincide with deer rutting activity in those areas.

Chuck Sykes, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director, said studies have confirmed that deer in Zone D in northwest Alabama and Zone E in southeast Alabama rut significantly earlier than deer in most of the state.

“We have been conducting annual herd health checks for the past 15 years. Part of the data gathered was the reproductive status of the animal. That data is what helped us move the season into February. We also determined we had deer that rutted early.” Sykes said. “We already knew this from historical stocking data, but it took us a little more time to determine some clear-cut boundaries that would take in those areas. It was pretty easy to set up Zone A and Zone B. We basically just divided the state. But D and E are isolated pockets with early rutting deer, so it took a little more time to get those boundaries defined. Once we got the boundaries defined, it was a logical step to make those new zones.”

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Sykes said in the majority of the state the deer rut considerably later, and it was reasonable to move the season dates to close on February 10. The seasons in Zone D and Zone E start early and end early.

“Because of the early rut in Zone E, some of those deer were already casting (shedding) their antlers,” he said. “So, people who were trying to fill their freezers later in the year ended up shooting 2- and 3-year-old bucks that had cast their antlers, thinking they were just shooting a big, old doe. The season comes in early to cover the rut, but it also goes out early to try to protect those bucks that had already shed.”

Newcomers to hunting or those with little experience can take advantage of the WFF’s Adult Mentored Hunts (AMH), which Sykes said has been tweaked for the 2020-2021 season. Last year, a requirement to take a one-day workshop to be eligible for an AMH event was implemented. This year, potential participants can take a Hunting 101 or Introduction to Deer or Turkey to meet the requirement.

“What we found was we had too many people backing out at the last minute,” he said. “Now, with the introductory courses or Hunting 101, people have to have a little skin in the game. Once you complete the one-day workshop, you will be eligible for one of the three-day, full-blown Adult Mentored Hunts. Last year, our participation rates went through the roof on our three-day hunts. The people who were eligible had already been to the one-day workshop, and they had figured out if they wanted to participate. Our staff puts in a lot of work and effort to make these hunts happen, and to have somebody cancel at the last minute was taxing on us. Plus, I’m sure there would have been a lot of people willing to take that slot on one of the best hunting areas in the state.”

WFF’s Justin Grider, who has been in charge of the AMH events since their inception four years ago, said the new format has achieved positive results in terms of hunter recruitment.

“We’re finding that people who are self-motivated are signing up for the Hunting 101 workshop,” Grider said. “If they are willing to give up a Saturday and learn about hunting and firearms safety at one of our public shooting ranges, we’re finding they are more likely to continue hunting as a result. Whereas, our previous format was come one, come all. Whoever wanted to apply could, and the participants were randomly selected from that pool. But we ended up with attrition rates above 50 percent. We had people who accepted a spot and then backed out. That was very frustrating and a waste of state resources.”

Grider said the new workshops not only confirmed participants’ commitments, they also reached a broader audience.

“With the AMH events, we could only accommodate a few people at a time,” he said. “With the one-day workshops, we can accommodate as many people as want to come. Last year, we had about 40 people at the workshop outside of Birmingham.”

Grider said new this year is an option to attend a species-specific workshop that focuses on deer or turkey.

“When we polled our participants in hunter education, 90 percent said they wanted to hunt either deer or turkey,” he said. “We created those Learn-to-Hunt workshops to satisfy that demand. With that, we cast a really big net to reach a lot of folks.”

The Hunting 101 workshop covers the basics on hunting safety and is geared to small game, like rabbit hunting, squirrel hunting and dove hunting.

“If you come to one of these Learn-to-Hunt workshops, we will obviously focus on the safety components of firearms and treestand safety, and then we will really drill down on the hunting of a specific species. If it’s turkey, we will go into the different turkey calls, the gear we use, patterning shotguns, how to find birds, setting up for a hunt, everything you need to know to hunt turkeys.

“With Hunting 101, you’ll have a chance to shoot a .22 and a shotgun. You’ll learn about what is good squirrel habitat or where you can find some rabbits. Then later in the day, you will have the opportunity to do a little small-game hunting or become familiar with the habitat.”

Either workshop meets the requirement to apply for the three-day AMH events. Grider also said people can come to as many of the workshops as they want.

“These are great opportunities to meet additional staff members, additional mentors and new hunters,” Grider said. “That’s the other component of the one-day workshops – it’s a great opportunity to socialize with other hunters, mentors and staff. And it’s not based on previous hunting experience. If you’ve been an avid deer hunter for 20 years and are interested in turkey hunting, come to that turkey workshop. It’s a great networking tool.”

Anyone interested in one of the workshops or an AMH event can visit www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/adult-mentored-hunting-program and use the interactive map to find a Hunting 101 or Learn-to-Hunt event.

Although there has been little mention of chronic wasting disease (CWD) during the COVID-19 outbreak, Sykes said WFF still needs the assistance of hunters to properly monitor the state’s deer herd.

“We still need people to help us collect samples,” he said. “Just because COVID hit, CWD didn’t miraculously go away. We’re still collecting samples. We’re still doing all of our surveillance. And we need people to participate. We installed those self-check freezers around the state for people to drop off samples. The response from the public was less than desirable. Just because we’re not talking about it every day like we have been for the past couple of years, CWD didn’t go anywhere. There’s still the threat. The numbers in Mississippi and Tennessee are still growing. We have to be diligent in doing our part so if it does hit, we can react swiftly.”

Locations of the self-service freezers are available at https://www.outdooralabama.com/cwd-sampling.

Sykes also wants to remind deer and turkey hunters about the changes to the possession regulation for the upcoming seasons.

Hunters who harvest deer and turkeys must maintain proper paperwork when transferring possession of that animal to a processor, taxidermist or any other individual.

According to WFF’s Law Enforcement Section, the recording and reporting requirements remain the same in Game Check. The update concerns possession of the game by someone other than the hunter.

Whoever is in possession of all or part of a deer or turkey that is not their own must retain written documentation with the name of the hunter, the hunter’s Conservation ID number, the date of the harvest and Game Check confirmation number. The information can be documented on a piece of paper, or a transfer of possession certificate is available in the Alabama Hunting & Fishing Digest or online at outdooralabama.com.

The documentation must be kept as long as that person is in possession of that deer or turkey. The hunter who harvests the deer or turkey is required to enter that animal into the Game Check system and maintain in his or her possession a valid confirmation number for that animal.

Hunters still have 48 hours to report the harvest through Game Check to attain a confirmation number. However, the game cannot be transferred to another individual until a valid Game Check confirmation number has been acquired.

The easiest way to comply with the requirements is to download the Outdoor AL smartphone app. The other is to go to outdooralabama.com and click on “Game Check.” For those who don’t have internet access, WFF has self-service kiosks at all district offices. The 1-800 number is no longer in effect. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/transfer-possession for more information.

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.

2 weeks ago

State Parks online campground reservations system goes live

(Billy Pope/Outdoor Alabama)

Ready for a camping trip to one – or several – of the beautiful Alabama State Parks? Ensuring you’ll have a site for your RV, travel trailer or tent just became much easier when the new online campground reservation system (www.reservealapark.com) went live.

When ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship was appointed by Governor Kay Ivey in 2017, one of his first initiatives was to connect all Alabama State Parks to broadband internet service and to implement an online reservation system for Alabama State Parks. Parks officials spent months integrating the technology into the 17 parks the system will serve, and the new online tool will include a variety of features that park visitors have requested.

“One of the things we were intentional about providing to the customer was to look at a site’s availability for the whole year instead of one specific date range,” said Emily Vanderford, Natural Resources Planner with the State Parks Division. “This new system gives them a longer date range. If they have a favorite campsite, they can look at availability and book it. That is something customers asked for – being able to look at that site’s availability across the year.”

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Another feature of the new reservations system is the ability to book at multiple parks during one online visit.

“If someone is making a road trip and they want to book several parks along the journey, they can do that in one booking,” Vanderford said. “There are some specific features that people have wanted, like saving their bookings into their account to know which sites they’ve stayed on in the past. Also, now you can purchase a gift card and use a gift card in that same system.”

Vanderford thinks people are really going to appreciate this tool with the user-friendly online system.

“But we also want people to know that if they have questions, they can call us, and we will be happy to help,” she said.

State Parks Assistant Director Rob Grant started the work on the new online system with a Request for Proposals (RFP) last fall. After Parks officials selected a vendor, Vanderford took the lead.

“We really appreciate the hard work Emily has done since she took on the role,” Grant said. “After the RFP was finally issued, Emily joined in and ran with it. And our staff has been fantastic in navigating the new system.”

Prior to the new system, nine parks had campground reservations on an online system, but that system linked to each park separately and did not include many features.

“Before, all our parks on the online system, ran their own system,” Vanderford said. “So, if you wanted to make a booking at Cheaha, you had to go to a Cheaha-specific booking link. If you wanted to make a reservation at Lake Lurleen, you had to call that park. With the new system, we have all of the parks we operate on the online reservation system. There were multiple pieces to the puzzle. One was to transfer the old reservation system into the new system. Then we had to prepare all of the campgrounds that had been in the old system for the new system. The challenging part was to do that in a way that provided some uniformity. With this system, everything comes into one centralized source that can make a booking for any and all of our camping parks. That was one of the bigger challenges, making sure we could bring everything into one system and make it work so the customers could pull up the sites and see all of our parks.”

With the new campground reservation tool, campers can go online and find numerous options to plan a trip to Alabama’s most scenic destinations, from the Appalachian Mountains to Mobile Bay.

“Visitors may not know which park they want to go to,” Vanderford said. “With the new system, they might want to camp in central Alabama. They could type in Birmingham, and the system will pull up a list of parks in the area. Then they can book any or all of those parks from the same place. Starting last fall, there was a lot of detailed setup work for pricing and availability. All of those things have to be ready to go so the customers can book online and avoid issues for them or Parks operations. We don’t want customers showing up to campgrounds they’ve made a booking for and the site not be available.”

The 17 parks included in the online booking system had to have upgrades to internet service to ensure the parks’ offices had the computing power to integrate into the new system.

Vanderford said now that parks’ offices have upgraded internet service, the plan is to add more internet access for park users as soon as possible.

“High-speed internet is definitely something we are working towards for the campers, but it may not be distributed throughout the parks for the campers at this time,” she said. “That’s a totally different challenge – making sure there is secure Wi-Fi. We had park offices that did not have enough internet service to run the system, so we had to upgrade those first.”

Grant added, “We have been redoubling our efforts to expand the Wi-Fi access now that we have fiber to each park and the online booking system launched. This continues to be one of Commissioner Blankenship’s top priorities.”

The new campground reservations system has been online since August 19, and it appears there are many happy campers.

“A lot of bookings have been made since the system went live,” Vanderford said. “When you launch a system of this magnitude, there are always some things you have to work out. I’m invested in making sure the customers have the best experience they can. All in all, I think it has gone really smoothly. Customers have been asking for some features for a long time that we can now provide. We have staff all across the state who have done a great job of learning the new system. We will be able to answer questions people may have.”

Grant said the feedback he’s received has been positive.

“We have had some rave reviews from guests who have accessed the new system,” Grant said. “They’ve had some great comments and some suggestions. We’re still tweaking it and making adjustments. We’re adding in more and more functionality, but we’re pleased with the system and the progress we’ve made.”

Currently, the new online system includes campsites and camping cabins. Chalets, cabins and hotel rooms at the parks will remain in the legacy system for the time being.

“We are working to put everything in one system,” Vanderford said. “That’s something we will be working on this fall.”

State Parks Director Greg Lein said that this has truly been a team effort to improve services to park guests, and that the project especially benefitted from the dedication of two Parks employees over the last year.

“Rob Grant spent countless hours in 2019 researching companies and reservations systems to prepare our agency for the formal Request for Proposals and to develop the eventual contract,” Lein said. “Emily Vanderford led our efforts to review proposals and implement the transition process from the old system to the new system over the last 9 months. She has literally lived and breathed reservations over the summer to the point where they are probably part of her dreams. This work could have never been accomplished were it not for Rob and Emily’s leadership and commitment to the project and our park guests, and the support we received from Commissioner (Chris) Blankenship, Deputy Commissioner (Ed) Poolos, and our Information Technology staff.”

To look at the new online booking options, go to www.reservealapark.com. For more information on reservations, please visit www.alapark.com/reservations.

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.

2 weeks ago

New Indiana bat hibernaculum discovered in Alabama

(Darwin Brack/Environmental Solutions and Innovations, YHN)

Biologists have recently discovered a new Indiana bat hibernaculum (a shelter occupied by hibernating bats) in Alabama, bringing the known number of active Indiana bat caves in the state to four. The location is the southernmost known hibernaculum for the species across its range that extends north to Canada.

“The Indiana bat is exceedingly rare in Alabama, and this new discovery continues to improve our understanding of this endangered species in the state,” said Nick Sharp, Nongame Wildlife Biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “In 2017, researchers also discovered the southernmost known Indiana bat summer maternity colonies in the forests of the Oakmulgee Ranger District (Talladega National Forest) near Tuscaloosa.”

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The newly identified hibernaculum is located in Shelby County, Alabama, and is closed to the public.

This is the same site where biologists identified a Southeastern bat infected by White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) in 2017. A specimen was collected at that time, and the infection was confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center. An ADCNR press release later that year announced the first Southeastern bat confirmed with WNS in the U.S., adding the species to the list of 13 other bat species known to be susceptible to the disease.

A separate bat research project conducted by the USGS National Wildlife Health Center has discovered that the WNS infected bat from Shelby County was misidentified in 2017. It is now believed the WNS infected bat was an Indiana bat. Additional research also suggests the Southeastern bat may be resistant to WNS.

Dr. Jeff Lorch with the USGS National Wildlife Health Center has developed methods to identify North American bats based on their DNA. Many bat species, including the group to which the Indiana bat and Southeastern bat belong, are challenging to identify based on their outward appearance. The use of DNA sequencing helps distinguish between bat species that outwardly look very similar.

When Dr. Lorch examined the DNA of the bat identified as the first Southeastern bat infected with WNS, he discovered its DNA matched that of Indiana bats and not Southeastern bats. He consulted with the biologists who collected the bat, but a re-evaluation of the bat’s external characteristics could not confirm the identity of the species.

In March 2020, biologists returned to the Shelby County location to conduct a new survey of its bat population. To assist in identifying Indiana bats, Darwin Brack, a field biologist with Environmental Solutions and Innovations in Ohio, also took part in the survey due to his extensive experience with the species.

The new survey identified 70 Indiana bats in the cave, the largest concentration of Indiana bats now known in Alabama. The Indiana bats were found in the same location where the WNS infected specimen was taken, in a cold-air sink within the cave. Southeastern bats were also present in the cave, but only found in an upper, warmer part of the cave. Gray bats were also hibernating in the cave.

“We now believe the bat confirmed with WNS was an Indiana bat and not a Southeastern bat,” said WFF’s Nick Sharp. “At this time, there is little evidence to suggest Southeastern bats are susceptible to WNS.”

Since the Southeastern bat was misidentified in 2017, WFF biologists have collaborated with Dr. Joe Johnson of Ohio University and Dr. Andrew Edelman of the University of West Georgia to investigate the susceptibility of Southeastern bats to WNS. Some bats can carry Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), the fungus that causes WNS, but not become infected with the disease.

In 2018, 62 bats from the Shelby County location and one other cave in the region were examined for the presence of Pd and WNS infection. The bats’ wings were photographed under a UV light, which causes tissue infected with Pd to fluoresce. The wings were then swabbed to collect DNA evidence of the fungal pathogen. Lab results from the swabs showed 56 of the bats tested positive for the presence of Pd. However, no bats exhibited fluorescence indicating WNS infection when photographed under the UV light, suggesting Southeastern bats may be resilient to WNS.

WNS has killed more than 6 million bats in North America. Before WNS was discovered in Alabama, more than 300 Indiana bats were known to hibernate within the Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge in Jackson County. In 2019, only 19 Indiana bats were counted at Sauta Cave.

The continuing effort to monitor WNS in Alabama is conducted through a collaboration between WFF and its partners including the USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Solutions and Innovations, Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Copperhead Environmental Consulting, Ohio University and the University of West Georgia.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

2 weeks ago

Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association names winner of 2020 Best Fish Photo Contest

(Black Belt Adventures/Contributed, YHN)

While Lake Eufaula is widely acclaimed as the “Bass Capitol of the World,” it was crappie that helped Blakely Sweatt reel in the winner for this year’s Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association “Best Fish Photo Contest.”

According to a recent release, Sweatt is a seven-year-old girl with special needs.

The winning photo came from Sweatt fishing with her grandparents on the Barbour County lake. She reportedly hauled in several crappie throughout the day, and Danny Waters, her grandfather, submitted the photo.

Waters described Blakely as an enthusiastic young girl who never meets a stranger and loves to be outdoors, especially with a fishing rod in her hand. Waters and his wife have a fishing camp on Lake Eufaula and often spend weekends in the Black Belt with their four grandchildren.

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“There is nothing better than being outdoors with family. These grandchildren are the light of our lives, and we love experiencing the bountiful beauty of nature with them whenever we can,” stated Waters. “Blakely does not allow her special needs to slow her down, she is active and passionate about life, and we were all thrilled when she won the contest.”

Sweatt won a half-day guided fishing trip on Lake Eufaula led by local expert Tony Adams of “Gone Fishing with Tony,” as well as a package of lures and hooks donated by Tru-Turn and Blakemore. The total value of the package was reportedly $350.

“We love seeing families and youngsters enjoying the vast recreational opportunities available within the Black Belt, especially during these times,” said Pam Swanner, director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association. “Spending time in the great outdoors is so important, and the Black Belt is the perfect place to encourage a love and appreciation for nature. ALBBAA thanks all of the contestants who entered photos this year and is pleased to honor Blakely for her fish!”

RELATED: ‘Flavors of the Black Belt Trail’ campaign to highlight some of Alabama’s local hidden gems

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 weeks ago

WFF cautiously optimistic about spread of silver carp

(USFWS/Contributed)

Chris Greene is cautiously optimistic that an invasive fish species that can wreak havoc on reservoir ecosystems has not expanded its range in Alabama’s waterways.

The silver carp, which has done noticeable damage in Kentucky and Tennessee waterways, has been found in Alabama’s Pickwick and Wheeler reservoirs.

Thankfully, the feared spread of the fish, highlighted in numerous YouTube videos for jumping when startled by boaters, has not materialized, said Greene, Chief of Fisheries for ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. Only Pickwick has a moderately abundant population of silver carp, and Greene hopes that population stays contained to that reservoir.

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“We’re relatively new to this situation,” said Greene. “Silver carp haven’t been in Alabama for very long. We’ve only had federal funding specific to Asian carp work since October of 2019, so we’re still in our first year of funding. So far, work has involved the acquisition of field gear, sampling equipment and staff training. We’re still awaiting our primary sampling boat, which we hope to get this fall and do more intense field sampling.”

When the new boat arrives, Greene said it will allow WFF personnel to target the collection of silver carp to determine population dynamics.

“We’ve been sampling with our standard shock boats,” he said. “The new boat will be more specialized with a rectangular frame and net attached to the front of the boat where you can actually trawl through the water. It will still have electrodes hanging down like a standard electrofishing boat. So, you’re moving through the water collecting carp in areas where they tend to congregate. It’s a learning experience. We’re learning from other states like Kentucky and Tennessee. They have been doing this a whole lot longer than us. Hopefully what we learn from them will make our sampling more effective.”

Because of the abundance of silver carp in their rivers and reservoirs, Kentucky and Tennessee rely heavily on commercial anglers to remove silver carp from their systems. Greene said those states even subsidize commercial anglers to remove silver carp to make it economically feasible.

The good news for Alabama is silver carp have had a limited range since the first one was detected in state waters about five years ago.

“Our limited field sampling has not yielded any silver carp outside of Pickwick Reservoir in Alabama,” Greene said. “From what we have been able to determine from angler catches, the farthest upstream location where silver carp have been confirmed by a commercial fisherman in Alabama is Wheeler Reservoir. Angler reports have been infrequent in Alabama. Most of those have come from Pickwick Reservoir. So, we believe the leading edge of where we have a moderately abundant population is Pickwick.”

Greene said WFF Fisheries encourages anglers to report any silver carp catches or sightings.

“We ask any anglers who are out on the water to let us know if they see a silver carp,” he said. “They are our eyes out there. We can’t always be on the water, so we ask anglers who see any silver carp or bighead carp, please report those to asiancarp@dcnr.alabama.gov.”

Greene asks that reports, locations and photos of silver and bighead carp be sent to that email address.

In an effort to deter the spread of the invasive fish, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) issued a new Wild Baitfish Regulation that deals with the capture of live bait in Alabama waters and restricts the movement of that bait to other water bodies.

“We enacted a regulation in Alabama to reduce the spread of Asian carp,” Greene said. “Young Asian carp closely resemble other live baitfish that are commonly used by anglers – skipjack herring, gizzard shad and threadfin shad. If we have anglers going out throwing cast nets and catching several species and taking these to other water bodies, it could increase the spread of Asian carp.”

The regulation states that if anglers catch bait on a specific body of water, that bait cannot be transported live to another body of water. It also restricts the import of live, wild-caught baitfish from other states.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is considering several methods to control the spread of Asian carp, including fish barriers at 10 locks controlled by the TVA. One type of fish barrier under consideration is a Bioacoustics Fish Fence (BAFF), which utilizes a combination of sound, light and air bubbles. This type of barrier is installed at Barkley Lock and Dam in Kentucky and is currently being studied for its effectiveness in deterring Asian carp. Other types of barriers used for Asian carp include the use of carbon dioxide or electricity. TVA is conducting environmental impacts on the deterrents to minimize the impact on native species.

TVA is also considering adjusting river flow rates during potential Asian carp spawning periods, which are usually during high-water events. Studies have shown that Asian carp eggs are only semi-buoyant and will sink to the bottom and die with low river flow.

“For those eggs to mature, there must be long stretches of flowing water from larger tributaries,” Greene said. “You have this series of dams on the Tennessee River, so it really doesn’t provide the habitat requirements for the eggs to mature and develop. But some of the major tributaries on the Tennessee River have long flowing stretches. The concern is if carp get up into these tributaries and we have a weather year with a good amount of rain, the potential does exist in certain places.”

Silver carp have been compared to feral hogs in the damage done to an ecosystem. Feral hogs outcompete native wildlife for food and habitat resources. When silver carp become established in an area, they interrupt the natural food chain and native species end up negatively impacted.

“Silver carp are filter feeders,” Greene said. “They are planktivores. They filter out plankton throughout the water column. This puts them in direct competition with baitfish and young game fish as species like bass and crappie are planktivores in their early life stages. There’s more competition at the base of the food chain. It also affects baitfish species as adults. You’ve only got so much biomass that particular water body can support. The more taken up by Asian carp, the less will be taken up by the native species. The problem with silver carp is once they come into a water body, it becomes a management issue. You never really get rid of them. It’s like feral hogs. You just have to manage them. You can never fully eradicate them.”

As the boaters and anglers saw in the aforementioned videos, silver carp also pose a safety issue for recreational activities on the waterways.

“Once silver carp get scared, they jump out of the water, which can be hazardous for someone in a bass boat or on a jet ski,” Greene said. “It’s definitely a safety concern.”

Alabama continues to work with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to collectively manage the spread of silver carp. Joining the fight on a larger scale is a multistate group called the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resources Association (MICRA), which includes the 28 states in the Mississippi River basin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Service, TVA, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and two Native American tribes are also members of the coalition.

Several years ago, Tennessee Tech received federal funding to monitor numerous lakes, including Pickwick, for silver carp. One of the goals has been to catch silver carp and insert sonic tags to allow tracking of the fish’s movements.

“Tennessee Tech is still doing the tagging studies, and they’ve even got detectors set up on some of the TVA locks in Alabama,” Greene said. “From my understanding, none of the silver carp they’ve tagged in Pickwick and other places have gone through any of the locks in Alabama. At least that was the case just a few weeks ago. To date, we have not had any confirmed reports of silver carp in Guntersville Reservoir or Wilson Reservoir. We certainly hope it stays that way.”

Greene said concerned anglers and those interested in mitigating the damage done by invasive species can help by purchasing the Alabama freshwater fishing distinctive license plates, which recently received a new design.

“Proceeds from the sales of this license plate are earmarked for specific purposes, and one of those is the control of aquatic invasive species, including Asian carp,” he said. “We’re excited about this.”

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.

4 weeks ago

Alabama sandhill crane season returns for 2020-2021

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

Last year, Alabama saw its first sandhill crane hunting season in more than 100 years. The season returns for 2020-2021 with 400 permit holders having the opportunity to hunt sandhill cranes in north Alabama. Registration for the permits opens on September 8.

Norman Haley from Scottsboro, Alabama, has hunted sandhill cranes twice in Tennessee and was excited to have the opportunity to do so in his home state during the 2019-2020 season.

“Sandhill crane hunting is very unique,” Haley said. “The anticipation of seeing the birds approach from a distance is exciting. The slow and graceful circling as they land in a field is a sight to see.”

Today, that sight is more common in north Alabama thanks to the state’s conservation efforts and hunters who purchase their hunting licenses.

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In the early 2000s, sandhill crane seasons in the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways were under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). By 2010, USFWS approved a sandhill crane management plan that included a hunt plan for the Mississippi Flyway, which includes Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. Kentucky opened its season in 2011. Tennessee’s season soon followed in 2013. Alabama’s season opened in 2019.

“I’ve now been able to take part in the first modern day sandhill crane seasons in Tennessee and Alabama,” Haley said. “It’s nice to know that hunter dollars and conservation efforts have brought sandhill cranes to sustainable and harvestable levels in the state. Alabama’s sandhill crane season is just another example that conservation works.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) receives no funding from the state’s general fund. The WFF’s Wildlife Section is primarily funded through a portion of hunting license sales that is matched on a three-to-one basis by the USFWS through the federal Pittman-Robertson Act. Alabama State Duck Stamp sales are also matched through the same process, but earmarked by state law to be utilized for wetlands and waterfowl conservation.

“Monies from these two revenue sources directly benefit sandhill cranes by providing habitat protection, management and restoration work in the areas of Alabama that cranes utilize as migration routes and wintering habitat,” said Seth Maddox, WFF Migratory Game Bird Coordinator. “Over the long term, conservation of habitat has played an integral part in the population growth of sandhill cranes.”

Those conservation efforts have benefited both sandhill cranes and hunters in Alabama like Haley.

“There was a time I thought the only way I would be able to hunt sandhills was by taking a trip to Texas or Oklahoma,” Haley said. “Now that I can hunt them in my home state, I don’t ever see myself passing up the opportunity as long as it’s available.”

Registration for Alabama’s 2020-2021 sandhill crane hunting season will open at 8 a.m. on September 8 and run until 8 a.m. on September 29, 2020. The WFF will conduct a computer-controlled random draw of 400 sandhill crane hunting permits on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, at noon Central Time. To register, visit here during the dates listed above. A $10 registration fee applies.

Registration is limited to Alabama residents 16 or older or Alabama lifetime hunting license holders. Applicants must have their regular hunting license and a state waterfowl stamp to register.

If drawn, hunters must complete an online test that includes species identification and regulations. After passing the test, WFF will issue the permit and tags to the hunter. In addition to a hunting license and state duck stamp, hunters must also acquire a federal duck stamp and Harvest Information Program certification, and, if hunting on a Wildlife Management Area (WMA), a WMA license.

The season is restricted to north Alabama and consists of two segments. The first segment runs from December 4, 2020, to January 3, 2021. The second segment will be January 11-31, 2021. The daily, season and possession limit will be three birds per permit. Hunters can harvest all three birds in one day if they choose. Both state and federal wildlife refuges are closed to sandhill crane hunting.

For more information about Alabama’s 2020-2021 sandhill crane hunting season, click here.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visitwww.outdooralabama.com.

(Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)

and 1 month ago

Alabama State Parks emerge as safe oasis of activity during COVID-19 pandemic

(Alabama State Parks Foundation/Contributed)

Alabama State Parks have long served as Alabama’s backyard.

That’s been more evident than ever in recent months, as Alabama’s 21 state parks remained open thanks to the wisdom of Gov. Kay Ivey, Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship and other state leaders. The number of day-use and camping visitors soared this summer, drawn by the variety of family-friendly activities and wide-open spaces that made it easy to practice social distancing.

Alabamians have always supported and visited state parks in high numbers, but plenty of new visitors have discovered the parks in recent months. “We don’t know why we didn’t come before, but we’re glad we did, and we’ll be back” has become a popular comment from many new guests.

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The global COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives dramatically. Concerts and athletic events were canceled. Schools abruptly closed as instruction moved online. Church services were curtailed and became a virtual experience.

Alabama State Parks, however, remained open and became a safe oasis for thousands of citizens across the state. Like a devoted friend, the parks came to the rescue during a time when people desperately needed a healthy outlet for recreation, fresh air and beautiful scenery.

The new COVID-19 reality also revealed new opportunities, including park naturalists creating virtual visits to the parks. Whether as a resource for students looking for an adventurous lesson or a senior citizen looking for a virtual visit, the innovative naturalists’ program took the parks to the people.

It’s easy to understand why so many people have begun visiting the parks and why the virtual programs have enjoyed online popularity. The parks – stretching from the white sand beaches along Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast to spectacular mountain vistas in the Appalachian foothills of northeast Alabama – offer something for just about everyone.

Looking for fishing? Check out Lake Guntersville State Park – the same fishery that hosted the 2020 Bassmaster Classic and was recently ranked as the nation’s No. 2 lake for bass anglers for the last decade – or Joe Wheeler State Park in the Shoals or Lakepoint State Park in Eufaula.

Want something truly unique? Check out cave tours at Rickwood Caverns State Park, just north of Birmingham, and Cathedral Caverns State Park, just east of Huntsville. Don’t forget about new zipline adventures available at Lake Guntersville, Wind Creek and DeSoto state parks.

Visitors to Alabama State Parks can also explore the Mobile-Tensaw Delta – known as American’s Amazon – at Meaher State Park near Spanish Fort, visit pristine white sand beaches at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores or visit one of America’s most majestic waterfalls at DeSoto State Park near Fort Payne.

State parks like Monte Sano, Meaher and Oak Mountain offer an easy escape from the state’s largest urban areas for a quick visit into wild, undisturbed nature, and smaller parks in places like Clio and Gallion showcase the state’s rural areas.

With 21 parks covering about 48,000 acres of land and water in Alabama, there’s a state park within driving distance for virtually every Alabamian to safely enjoy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed American life, but it hasn’t changed the Alabama State Parks’ commitment to preserving some of the state’s most beautiful land and water, enhancing public knowledge of the environment and developing top-notch recreational facilities.

Alabama’s backyard serves as a playground for some, a schoolroom for others and a sanctuary for all – now more than ever.

That’s a success story, and we’re proud to be part of it.

Dan Hendricks serves as the president of the Alabama State Parks Foundation. He holds a doctorate degree from Duke University and served in several prominent roles in higher education, including vice president or vice chancellor at Western Illinois, Purdue the LSU Foundation and the University of North Alabama.

Matthew Dent is a member of the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board of Directors and also serves as the president and chief operating officer of the Buffalo Rock Company.

About the Alabama State Parks Foundation
The Alabama State Parks Foundation, an IRS 501(c3) created in 2018, is a community of people who love state parks. The Foundation is a dedicated philanthropic partner of the Parks Administration. The Foundation seeks gifts that will support and enhance park programming, parks facilities and parks experiences to sustain a great, statewide park system. The Foundation is led by a 13-member board of directors comprised of community leaders from all sections of the state.

1 month ago

Alabama Power steam plant equipment finds new home as fish habitat in the Gulf

(Danny Hamm/Alabama Power)

Alabama Power and the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) are working together to provide a new place to fish off the Alabama coast.

The two deployed an artificial reef Thursday about 8 miles off the coast of Dauphin Island. The reef is made of three repurposed tanks from Barry Steam Plant near Mobile. The tanks, which were used to produce electricity, had reached the end of their service at the plant and were recently replaced with upgraded equipment as a part of regular maintenance.

“Alabama Power is very pleased to partner with the Alabama Wildlife Federation to deploy this artificial reef,” said Environmental Affairs Vice President Susan Comensky. “We are excited about the new AWF Nearshore Artificial Reef Zone and look forward to seeing it fully develop.”

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Alabama Power storage tanks become new fish habitats from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The reef is the first of 26 artificial reefs to be deployed in AWF’s new Build-Out Plan for its Nearshore Artificial Reef Zone. Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources named the reef zone in 2019 in honor of AWF’s long-standing work in support of Alabama artificial reefs. The zone encompasses 7.5 square miles of ocean 8 miles south of Dauphin Island in waters 60-70 feet deep.

“Alabama Wildlife Federation has worked collaboratively with a variety of partners for two decades to support Alabama’s world-class artificial reef system, which provides both ecological benefits for marine life as well as enhanced opportunities for anglers,” said AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard. “We are excited about the new Build-Out Plan developed in conjunction with Alabama Marine Resources, and we appreciate Alabama Power working in partnership with us to establish the first of the 26 new reefs in the plan.”

The new reef is the second reef project aided by Alabama Power. The first involved two old boilers from Barry Steam Plant that were deployed in the Gulf in 2016. Divers in January found the reef teeming with life.

“We’ve sunk tanks, barges and concrete pyramids, but when we can get companies like this that will work together to take that which might otherwise have been sent to a landfill or that was scrapped a different way, that will go out here and perpetually produce fish, we think that is a much more environmentally-friendly way to dispose of things,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “We’re very thankful for those partnerships.”

The three tanks are about 30 feet from each other, and are located at the following coordinates:

30 05 296, 88 15 541

30 05 300, 88 15 547

30 05 307, 88 15 549

To learn more about Alabama’s artificial reefs, visit alreefs.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Three days added to Alabama’s 2020 red snapper season

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) on Saturday announced the addition of three days to the state’s 2020 private angler recreational season for red snapper.

The decision came after the department’s Marine Resources Division completed a review of data from the red snapper season that ended July 3. The division determined the additional days are available to achieve the year’s red snapper quota.

The additional days will begin at 12:01 a.m. CT on October 10 and run until midnight on October 12.

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According to ADCNR, the days apply to State and Federal waters adjacent to Alabama. The limit will be two fish per angler with a 16-inch total length minimum size.

“The 2020 private angler season started out with record setting fishing effort,” said Scott Bannon, Marine Resources Division director.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made outdoors recreation more important than ever, and that showed during this year’s red snapper season,” he continued. “That higher level of early season effort ultimately led to the closure on July 3. It is important to our fishermen to provide access to this resource, and our goal is to fish the quota we’ve been given by NOAA Fisheries. We are excited to offer these additional days in October to harvest more red snapper and still stay within our quota.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 month ago

Scaup limit reduced to one; Sandhill registration opens soon

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed)

North America’s waterfowl breeding population annual survey is another aspect of the outdoors that has been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

Seth Maddox, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Migratory Bird Coordinator, said virus-related travel restrictions would not allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to conduct the aerial survey of the prairie potholes regions of Canada and the Midwest U.S.

“It’s going to be an interesting season,” Maddox said. “With COVID ongoing, they didn’t fly the breeding population survey in Canada and the northern U.S. The border was closed, so we don’t have a good estimate of what the waterfowl population looks like.”

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Maddox said waterfowl specialists will have to depend on weather conditions and long-term datasets to take an educated guess on waterfowl populations.

“It’s been a fairly wet spring and summer across the U.S. prairies, which makes for really good breeding habitat,” he said. “But it has been fairly dry in the Canadian prairies, which will impact the breeding habitat there. We’ll see what the fall flight looks like. It may be a little below what we’ve seen in the past few years as far as population numbers. So, it will be an interesting year. I think the numbers will be fine. They may just be a little lower than the previous few years.”

Maddox said the waterfowl seasons in the flyways are set a year in advance. While this season’s bag limits and dates have minimal changes, he said the 2021-2022 season framework may be affected.

“This season, the only significant change is a reduction in the bag limit for scaup (bluebills),” he said. “Based on the 2019 population, scaup dropped into the restrictive package, which allows for a 45-day season with a two-bird daily bag limit and then a 15-day season with a one-bird daily bag limit. In Alabama, we decided to go a little more restrictive and go 60 days with a one-bird daily bag limit. That makes our regulations a little easier for our hunters to interpret. And it makes it easier for our Enforcement Officers as well. We didn’t want to put any hunters in a situation where they might be over the limit. We’re working on the harvest strategy at the Flyway level to get that changed so we won’t have season-within-a-season limits.”

For the 2020-2021 season, Alabama hunters will again have a daily bag limit of 6 ducks, which may include no more than 4 mallards (no more than 2 of which may be females), 1 mottled duck, 2 black ducks, 1 pintail, 3 wood ducks, 2 canvasbacks, 1 scaup, and 2 redheads. The daily bag limit for coots is 15 per day. The daily bag limit for mergansers is 5, only 2 of which can be hooded mergansers. The aggregate bag limit of 5 dark geese (Canada, White-Fronted and Brant) shall not include more than 3 Canada geese or 1 Brant. For light geese (Snow, Blue, Ross’s) the aggregate bag limit is 5. Possession limit is three times the daily bag limit.

Regular season dates for ducks, coots, mergansers and geese are November 27-28 and December 5-January 31, 2021. The Youth, Veterans and Active Duty Military Special Waterfowl Days are set for November 21 and February 6, 2021.

After a successful season last year, Alabama again will offer a limited sandhill crane hunt in north Alabama. The limited quota sandhill hunts will have 400 permits with 1,200 tags. The daily bag limit is 3. The season possession limit is 3. Sandhill season dates are December 4-January 3, 2021, and January 11-31, 2021.

“We had a good opening season for sandhill cranes,” Maddox said. “We harvested 291 birds, which is about 24 percent of the allocated tags. We’ll be doing the same thing this year.”

Registration for a sandhill crane permit will open September 8 and the random drawing for permits will be held after registration closes at 8 a.m. on September 29.

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/sandhill-crane-hunting-alabama for the link to apply for a sandhill permit. A $10 registration fee applies.

“Last year’s sandhill season was very positive, overwhelmingly positive,” Maddox said. “Everybody seemed to have a good time. Several hunters managed to fill their bag limits. People are excited to have the opportunity to chase this bird in the field again this year in Alabama.”

Maddox said the sandhill crane population in the U.S. has been steadily increasing over the past few years. However, the number of sandhills that end up in Alabama is directly related to the weather, just like ducks.

“The colder it is, the more birds show up in Alabama,” he said. “We had a good number of sandhills show up last year, but with colder weather, we’ll have more birds show up.”

Maddox said the bulk of the sandhill population spends summers in the northern U.S. states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec.

“Like ducks, sandhills only want to move as far as they have to, so the more snow cover up north, the better it is for Alabama,” he said. “Sandhills are feeding in dry or slightly wet agricultural fields. Snow cover pushes them farther south. We have really good habitat in Alabama for sandhills. Most of our sandhills winter on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and along the Tennessee River. But there is a decent population on Weiss Lake on the Coosa River.”

Maddox just hopes the weather conditions change for the 2020-2021 seasons after two years of less-than-average waterfowl hunting success.

“Last season looked a lot like the previous season,” Maddox said. “It was a pretty warm, mild winter here in Alabama. And, it was pretty mild in most of the country. We never saw that late good push of ducks that we are used to when we have cold weather. So, it made duck hunting fairly tough.

“It was a fairly wet winter across the Midwest and southern United States. There was a lot of water available on the landscape that provided a lot of available habitat for birds to spread out. It was almost a mirror image of the previous season.”

Maddox said the most recent quality duck season in Alabama occurred during the 2017-2018 season.

“That was a really good season,” he said. “We had a lot of cold weather that pushed down. We had a stretch of below freezing temperatures in Alabama. We really need that in the North and Midwest to put ice on the landscape to minimize the open water. And we need snow on the landscape to cover the available food and push the birds further south into open water and good habitat.

“Overall, it’s looking pretty good for this season. As long as we stay with average rainfall, we’ll have good habitat for migratory birds that make it here this fall and winter.”

For some early waterfowl action, don’t forget about the Special Teal Season, which runs September 12-27, 2020, with a daily bag limit of six birds.

Also, the early season for geese runs September 1-30 and then October 12-24. During the September season, hunters can take five dark geese per day, but only one Brant is allowed in that bag limit. The bag limit for light geese is five per day for the entire season.

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.

1 month ago

Alabama Wildlife Federation recognizes conservationists at annual ceremony

(Alabama Wildlife Federation/Facebook)

The Alabama Wildlife Federation Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards ceremony was Friday, Aug. 7, representing the highest conservation honors in the state.

Honorees at this year’s ceremony included: Dr. Mike Drummond, Forest Conservationist of the Year; Carl Jamison, Land Conservationist of the Year; and The Alabama Rivers and Streams Network, Water Conservationist of the Year.

Over the past 45 years, the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) has presented these awards to individuals and organizations that make great contributions to the conservation of Alabama’s wildlife and related natural resources.

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Dr. Mike Drummond was recognized for his extraordinary commitment to forest management. White’s Bluff, his 1,700-acre property along the Alabama River in Dallas County, consists of riparian hardwoods, mixed pine-hardwoods, loblolly pine plantations and open pine-grasslands. Black Belt prairies and old field habitats are also interspersed throughout the property.

A variety of forest management techniques have been used to improve forest productivity and wildlife habitat at White’s Bluff, including:

  • Reclaiming loblolly pine stands from hardwood invasion.
  • Thinning and prescribed burning in loblolly pine plantations.
  • Prescribed burning in mixed pine-hardwoods.
  • Retaining riparian hardwoods along intermittent streams, creeks and the river.

In addition, Black Belt prairie restoration, old field habitat establishment and exotic species control are conducted to further improve wildlife habitat on the property and have all yielded significant results.

Jamison was presented the Land Conservationist of the Year Award for his exceptional commitment to restoration and management of one of Alabama’s unique landscapes.

As managing partner of Ridge Farms, a 2,000-acre property in Greene County composed of hardwoods, mixed upland forests, loblolly pine plantations and Black Belt prairie, Jamison established a goal to manage the property for the benefit of people and wildlife. His first step was engaging natural resource professionals to develop a habitat management strategy for the forests and prairie.

In addition to active management of the forests on the property, that strategy included restoration of over 400 acres of Black Belt prairie. These sites were invaded by eastern red cedar and have now been reclaimed and are actively managed to support functional native prairie.

Jamison’s commitment to Black Belt prairie conservation goes beyond just the property he manages. He is a member of the Alabama/Mississippi Black Belt Prairie Restoration Initiative, where he provides a private landowner’s perspective for prairie conservation. In addition, he is advancing Black Belt prairie knowledge by allowing researchers from the University of Alabama to conduct prairie-related research on Ridge Farms.

The Alabama Rivers and Streams Network was recognized as Water Conservationist of the Year. Comprised of a diverse partnership of industries, agencies, nongovernmental organizations and landowners working together to protect water resources, the network began with four organizations in 2010 and now includes 50.

Network partners have identified 60 watersheds and river reaches across the state for habitat and water quality restoration, and the recovery of imperiled and listed aquatic species. Their early results are impressive:

  • Over 40 stream restoration projects.
  • Over 500 Biotic Integrity Surveys.
  • Over 5,000 stream/road crossing assessments.
  • 200,000 cultured freshwater mussels and snails released into native streams.
  • And due to studies conducted by network members, four aquatic species have been federally delisted, one downlisted, and three listed, and 13 aquatic species have avoided federal listing.

AWF’s Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards were created to promote leadership by example, and, in turn, increase conservation of the natural resources in the state, including its wildlife, forests, soils, water and air.

The program is designed to bring about a greater knowledge and awareness of conservation practices and projects and to give proper recognition to those persons and organizations that make outstanding contributions to the natural resource welfare of their community and state.

This year’s event was modified to incorporate COVID-19 safety precautions. Usually an indoor banquet with 400 attendees, this year’s event was held outdoors at the Matt Bowden Gathering Area at the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s NaturePlex facility in Millbrook, and the 90 attendees were encouraged to wear face coverings.

Gov. Kay Ivey provided a congratulatory video prepared specifically for the 2020 award recipients.

Presenting sponsors for the event were Alabama Power and PowerSouth Energy. The Westervelt Company, Hammer LGC Inc., and FirstGuard LLC sponsored the food and refreshments for the event. Alabama Gulf seafood was sponsored by the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission. Additional sponsor support was provided by the National Wildlife Federation, Southeast Region.

The Alabama Wildlife Federation, established by sportsmen in 1935, is the state’s oldest and largest citizens’ conservation organization. To learn more about AWF, including membership details, programs and projects, contact Alabama Wildlife Federation at 334-285-4550 or visit www.alabamawildlife.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama youth dove hunts provide gateway to the outdoors

(Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources/Contributed)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) provides several youth dove hunt opportunities throughout the state each fall. A simple hunting setup combined with a fun, family-friendly atmosphere makes WFF’s youth dove hunts an ideal way to introduce young people to the outdoors.

Registration for this year’s hunts will open at 8 a.m. Aug. 10. Although the hunts are free, online registration is required. Locations and hunting slots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. For most of the state, the hunts begin Sept. 5. For more information, including a complete hunt schedule, visit www.outdooralabama.com/youth-hunting/youth-dove-hunts.

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“The pandemic has shown us that access to outdoor recreation is more important than ever,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR commissioner. “We are happy to be able to provide that access this fall through a variety of hunting opportunities across the state, including our youth dove hunts.”

To participate in the hunts, hunters must be age 15 or younger and accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old (or a parent) who has a valid state hunting license, a Harvest Information Program (HIP) validation and a Conservation ID number.

Alabama’s youth dove hunts are held in open fields and staffed by WFF personnel, which encourages a safe, secure environment for both parents and participants. Before each hunt, a short welcome session with reminders on hunting safety will be conducted. All hunters are encouraged to wear eye protection and earplugs when hunting.

“As a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we are asking that all participants and our staff wear a facial covering during the registration and safety briefing when they are within 6 feet of a person who is not a member of the same household,” said Seth Maddox, WFF migratory game bird coordinator. “Participants are not required to wear a facial covering when in their hunting location or while hunting.”

Doves are migratory and covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service https://www.fws.gov/ has rules and regulations that apply to dove hunting, which all hunters must follow. To review the Alabama Cooperative Extension System recommendations for plantings related to dove management, visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/mourning-dove-hunting-alabama.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama offers new options for hunting and fishing licenses

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed)

Hunters and anglers who pursue game or fish in Alabama will have new options to make purchasing licenses for the 2020-2021 seasons easier.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is offering packages that will cover license requirements when pursuing white-tailed deer and wild turkeys or fishing the state’s abundant opportunities for freshwater and saltwater species.

To make it as simple as possible, the packages can be acquired with a one-click purchase when the 2020-2021 licenses become available on Monday, August 24, 2020. All current licenses expire on August 31, 2020.

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Chuck Sykes, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director, said other states have successfully packaged licenses to take the guesswork out of the requirements.

“We’re trying to make it easier on people who are hunting and fishing in Alabama, especially non-residents or new hunters and anglers who don’t really know exactly what they need,” Sykes said. “People can go online and look for what activity they want to do, and we’re providing everything they need to do it with one click.

“I know when I go hunting out of state, a lot of times it can be fairly daunting trying to figure out exactly what licenses I need, like a regular hunting license, a WMA (wildlife management area) license or a stamp of some sort. What this does is eliminate the confusion and make it as easy as possible. When people come into Alabama and say they want to deer hunt, then here’s everything they need to deer hunt, or here’s everything they need to fish. We just want to provide easier access for hunters and anglers in Alabama.”

For the ultimate bundle, consider the new All Access Sportsman’s Package, which includes annual licenses for All Game Hunting, WMA License, Bait Privilege License, Alabama State Duck Stamp, Harvest Information Program (HIP) Stamp, Freshwater Fishing, Saltwater Fishing, Saltwater Reef Fish Endorsement, and Spear Fishing. The All Access Sportsman’s Package will cost $127.95 for residents and $533.25 for non-residents.

The All Access Hunting Package includes All Game Hunting, WMA License, Bait Privilege License, State Duck Stamp, and Harvest Information Program Stamp. Prices for the hunting package are $73.15 for residents and $407.45 for non-residents.

The All Access Fishing Package covers anglers from the abundant freshwater fishing opportunities to the bounty of Alabama coastal waters and the Gulf of Mexico. The fishing package includes Freshwater Fishing, Saltwater Fishing, Saltwater Reef Fish Endorsement and Spear Fishing. The fishing package prices are $54.80 for residents and $125.80 for non-residents.

ADCNR will offer a variety of additional packages for residents and non-residents for those who fish only in saltwater.

Anglers can purchase the Resident Annual Saltwater Pier Fishing Package, which includes Pier Fishing and the Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement. The price is $16.45. Additional permit fees apply at Gulf State Park Pier.

For those who love to catch red snapper and other reef fish in Alabama’s unparalleled artificial reef zones, the Resident Annual Saltwater Reef Fish Package will include Annual Saltwater Fishing and Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement. The price is $34.75. A Resident 7-Day Trip Saltwater Reef Fish Package is available for $20.30.

For those who like to hunt their fish underwater, there is a Saltwater Spear Fishing package, which includes a Spearfishing license, Annual Saltwater Fishing and Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement. The price is $40.75 for residents.

“What I like about the packages is that it groups together commonly purchased licenses,” said Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. “It helps people make sure they have everything necessary to legally participate in an activity. For instance, if you’re going to spearfish in saltwater, most people do that offshore and would need a spearfish license, saltwater license and Gulf reef fish endorsement. Using the package option makes it easier and clearer.

“With our new license purchase format that groups licenses into a drop-down menu by activity, we’re hoping to make it more user friendly for people to purchase their licenses. The packages are an extension of that. And the All Access Sportsman’s Package makes it easy for those who participate in everything we do in the outdoors in Alabama.”

Visit https://www.outdooralabama.com/license-packages for a direct link to the new license options. An auto-renew feature is also available on the licenses page at www.outdooralabama.com.

Last year, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources introduced a set of collectible hard-card licenses with a variety of outdoor scenes and wildlife. A set of six new cards will be available for the 2020-2021 license year.

The art scenes include a mature white-tailed buck, strutting turkey, crappie, redfish, wood duck, and a Second Amendment-themed card for shooting sports. A total of 32 license privileges are eligible for purchase as a hard card, including annual hunting and fishing licenses for residents and non-residents, state duck stamp, and Wildlife Heritage and bait privilege licenses. This feature is not available for trip licenses and no-cost privileges. Lifetime licenses will also now come on a beautiful new hard card.

To obtain a hard-card license, go online at www.outdooralabama.com and click the link to purchase a license, or request one when purchasing at a retail outlet. Buyers can choose one or all of the six new cards at $5 per card. If a license has already been purchased, those who want to get a hard card can go online and click on the “Replacement/Additional Hard Card” link to purchase any or all of the six cards.

The hard-card licenses will be mailed to buyers within 10 days of purchase. If you haven’t received your hard card before you plan to hunt or fish, be sure to keep a paper copy of your license or have it available in the Outdoor AL app on your smartphone.

Also new for the 2020-2021 hunting seasons is an updated requirement for hunters who harvest deer and turkeys to maintain proper paperwork when transferring possession of that animal to a processor, taxidermist or any another individual.

Jonathan Stone, Assistant Chief of WFF’s Law Enforcement Section, said the recording and reporting requirements remain the same in Game Check. The update concerns possession of the game by someone other than the hunter.

“What this means is that whoever is in possession of all or part of a deer or turkey that is not their own must retain written documentation with the name of the hunter, the hunter’s Conservation ID number, the date of the harvest and Game Check confirmation number,” Stone said. “That information can be on a piece of paper, or they can use the transfer of possession certificate available in the Alabama Hunting & Fishing Digest or online at outdooralabama.com.

“That documentation has to be kept in possession as long as that person is in possession of that deer or turkey. It’s the responsibility of the hunter who harvests the deer or turkey to enter that animal into the Game Check system and maintain in their possession a valid confirmation number for that animal.”

Hunters still have 48 hours to report the harvest through Game Check to attain a confirmation number. However, the game cannot be transferred to another individual until a valid Game Check confirmation number has been acquired.

“Anyone who takes possession of a harvested deer or turkey, which includes taxidermists and processors, must receive and maintain documentation containing the valid Game Check confirmation number, the name of the hunter and other necessary information,” Stone said. “Those who take possession of that animal need to make sure they have that information prior to receiving it.”

Stone also wants to remind hunters that there are two ways to enter their harvests through Game Check. The easiest by far is to download the Outdoor AL smartphone app. The other is to go to outdooralabama.com and click on “Game Check.” For those who don’t have internet access, WFF has self-service kiosks at all district offices.

“The 1-800 number is no longer in effect,” Stone said. “You can go to the website or the best way is to use the Outdoor AL app on your phone. It only takes a few seconds to plug in that information and you’re done.”

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.

2 months ago

Alabama cities taking to the water with new shoreline public parks

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

More Alabama cities are discovering, or rediscovering, the allure and economic development potential of their waterfronts.

In the coming months, at least two Alabama cities located along Alabama Power reservoirs expect to open new waterfront parks – not only to support community recreation but to draw new visitors, residents, businesses and revenue.

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In Lincoln, in Talladega County, construction is well underway on a 38-acre fishing park off Travis Drive on the shore of Lake Logan Martin. The $6 million project is designed for major fishing tournaments, with a boat launch that can handle multiple vessels at a time, plus parking to accommodate up to 300 trucks with boat trailers.

A fish weigh-in station, multiple pavilions and boat piers round out the amenities that are critical for major fishing tourneys. Playgrounds, restrooms, walking paths and shoreline access for people who want to play in the water round out the park’s features.

“We are absolutely enthralled with what we are creating,” said Lincoln Mayor Lew Watson. He said the city consulted closely with fishing organizations, such as the Alabama Bass Trail and Bassmaster, in designing the park. “I’m a fisherman and I love to fish but I’m not an expert on fishing tournaments,” Watson said. “They have been totally involved with us, and the park is the result of their input.”

New fishing park coming to Lincoln from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

He said the city is already in the process of scheduling fishing tournaments for after the park’s anticipated opening in March 2021. “Everybody can’t wait,” Watson said.

Meanwhile, on Neely Henry Lake, construction continues on a long-planned waterfront park in the city of Southside, on State Highway 77 at Fowler’s Ferry Road.

Southside Mayor Wally Burns said the project, on about a 9-acre site, will be the city’s first waterfront park. About two-thirds of the city limits runs along Neely Henry Lake, on the Coosa River.

“This is going to be a huge asset for our people, and anyone else who wants to use it,” Burns said.

So far, a parking area has been carved out and two 20-foot-wide boat ramps are complete. Work is nearly finished on a bait store with public restrooms. The bait shack will also sell snacks. Next up is construction of a boardwalk along the shore, as well as a pier where people can fish. Burns said the first phase of the park should be open early next year, at the latest.

Additional phases may include a refueling facility for boats, a walking track, a pavilion with picnic tables and a restaurant. Burns said the site will be able to accommodate fishing tournaments. The project is designed to be both a recreational attraction and an economic development asset for the city.

Keith Strickland, with Birmingham architecture and construction firm Goodwin Mills Cawood, is overseeing the project in Lincoln. He said the park, on the site of a defunct sod farm, takes advantage of the sweeping shoreline, just minutes from Interstate 20. “From a design standpoint, it is meant to be sustainable,” Strickland said, with high-quality construction, underground utilities and aesthetically pleasing architecture. Like the project in Southside, it will be Lincoln’s first waterfront park.

Strickland said city leaders wanted a facility that not only provides recreational opportunities for residents and visitors but also has the potential to drive growth and boost tax revenues.

Watson hopes the park will be an attraction and catalyst for commercial projects, such as hotels and restaurants. He said the I-20 exit nearest the park and Honda Drive – which leads from the interstate toward the park site as well as to the Honda automotive plant that is the city’s most well-known employer – are ripe for development.

“That’s one of the things we hope to accomplish with this. It’s absolutely an opportunity,” Watson said.

He said it’s thrilling that all Lincoln residents will soon have access to the water and the many recreational options that Logan Martin Lake and the Coosa River provide. “We are on the lake; we ought to be doing that. The time was right to move forward.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Private anglers to get one more opportunity at red snapper

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

Just when it appeared that the 2020 red snapper season was a wrap, private recreational anglers are likely to get one more opportunity to fish this year.

Scott Bannon, Director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD), said the preliminary harvest numbers for the private recreational sector indicate about 100,000 pounds remain in the quota of 1,122,622 pounds.

The red snapper season for private recreational anglers (which includes state charter vessels) was originally set to last 35 days, beginning the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. However, the season had to be shortened to 25 days to ensure the quota was not exceeded.

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Bannon said he and Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, are discussing options that would provide the best opportunity for private anglers to catch Alabama’s premier reef fish species.

“The private recreational angler season went really well even though we closed a little earlier than we anticipated,” Bannon said. “The data showed a tremendous number of people took advantage of the season, especially with the opening earlier on May 22.”

When the data from the season was analyzed, Bannon said a significant uptick in participation was quickly evident.

“The average vessel trips for the season were 713 trips per day,” he said. “That means a lot of people went fishing compared to the last two years, which had an average of about 530 vessel trips per day. I think people took advantage to go snapper fishing when they could not participate in other activities. They could not get on cruise ships. They couldn’t go to Disney. People were not playing travel sports. Boating was considered a safe outdoor activity, so I do think the COVID-19 pandemic affected the snapper season. I think it prompted more people to go snapper fishing than we had in the past.”

Bannon said the snapper season might have ended even a little earlier had it not been for Tropical Storm Cristobal, which significantly limited fishing on the third weekend of snapper season.

“Even after the second weekend, I had people tell me about the high number of boats they were seeing offshore,” he said. “They said there’s no way we’re going to make it to July 19. My thoughts were that as the season progresses the fervor dies down in July, and fishing gets a little tougher. Again, with not having other activities available, the weather outside that Cristobal weekend was really good and people went fishing.”

Bannon said anyone interested can visit www.outdooralabama.com/2020-red-snapper-landings-summary and view the catch data as well as the chart that shows the angler participation rate compared to the average wave height. The catch data in the chart has been updated to include additional reports.

“You can see in the chart that the wave height and catch effort are directly related,” he said. “The Cristobal weekend slowed down the catch effort. You can also see the weekend days had much higher catch effort.”

For the first time since the five Gulf states were granted control of red snapper management in 2018, Alabama added Mondays to the weekend to try to spread out the effort and provide more opportunities to fish.

“I think adding Mondays was a success,” Bannon said. “Some people felt that had a negative impact and reduced season length because of the Monday fishing. But if you add up all of the Monday effort, it is barely more than our peak Saturday. Mondays did exactly what we hoped it would do. It provided opportunities to avoid the Saturday chaos, allow people who work weekends an opportunity to go, and allow people who were on vacation who had to travel on Saturday to have an extra opportunity. And, if you were local, the feedback I got was they took advantage of Mondays instead of trying to fish on Saturdays when the effort was so high. They didn’t fish any more because it was open on Mondays; they just fished a different day.”

With the snapper season closing after July 3, red snapper had to be replaced with lane snapper for the 87th Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo at Dauphin Island later in July.

“I know there was disappointment that we didn’t have red snapper for the Alabama Deep Sea Rodeo, being the nation’s largest fishing tournament,” Bannon said. “With all of the other challenges the rodeo had with the COVID-19 issues and all the events that were cancelled, I think they had the best event they could under the circumstances.”

With three years of state management data and the 2020 data on Monday fishing, Bannon said the MRD staff will analyze those numbers to determine season dates for 2021.

“Our goal is to make accurate season predictions,” Bannon said. “Again, the pandemic did have an impact, and we don’t know where we will be next year with COVID. We will work with the Commissioner to see what kind of season we will have moving forward.”

The other sector that takes advantage of the state’s great red snapper fishing is the Alabama charter boat fleet, which still operates under federal management through NOAA Fisheries. The charter season opened on June 1 and ran straight through August 1.

“I think the charter season went really well, especially considering that, when the coronavirus first hit, a lot of people were canceling trips early in the year,” Bannon said. “As boating was considered a safe activity, many of the boats adjusted their capacity so people felt comfortable and safe. They lost the Cristobal weekend just like everyone else, but they got to fish pretty consistently for the 62 days they were open. From my discussions with the captains, they considered it a very good season considering the COVID circumstances. And I think they’ll have a good fall season as people still have limited outdoor activities. The charters will target other fish, like amberjack, which is scheduled to be open until October 31. They can also catch vermilion snapper (beeliners) and other reef fish species as well as king mackerel.”

Bannon was encouraged by the variety of sizes of red snapper that inhabit Alabama’s unparalleled artificial reef zones.

“We saw in our preseason data that we had a large number of smaller fish, which we attribute to a strong year-class of fish,” he said. “Those younger fish will crowd those reefs. What you should see in the next year or two, those fish will be growing up around those reefs and then dispersing. We should be able to follow the year-class and see how it works out over the next few years. We are comfortable with the amount of fish harvested in our reef zones from all sectors. Our surveys help ensure we are making appropriate management decisions to make sure our fishery is sustainable.”

One of the ways MRD conducts those surveys and other management practices is through a variety of funding sources, one of which is the Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement that was implemented for the 2020 season. Bannon said 22,755 endorsements were obtained. The funds will be used for reef fish management.

“I feel like we had really good compliance on the Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement,” he said. “This year, our Enforcement Officers were just making people aware they needed the endorsement, which helps us identify just how many people are participating in the fishery in addition to providing funding for all aspects of reef fish management. Next year, a person may receive a citation for not having it. Also, for the fishing seasons after January 1, 2021, we’re adding greater amberjack and gray triggerfish as mandatory species for recording in Snapper Check. They are two valuable species to Alabama anglers, and we want to develop better landings data.”

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.

2 months ago

Scientists search for rare mussel on Alabama’s upper Tallapoosa River

(Dick Biggins/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

On a steamy July morning, along a quiet stretch of the Tallapoosa River north of Wedowee, a small team of biologists from Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) eyed the fast-moving water. The prior day’s rain had turned the river murky – not the best circumstances to search for an elusive and threatened species of freshwater mussel.

Conditions were better the prior morning, when the team scoured a four-mile section of the Little Tallapoosa River, to the north. During that day’s survey, biologists found freshwater mussels – but not the one they were seeking: the finelined pocketbook.

Somewhat disappointed but undaunted, the team plans to return to the river in August, when drier conditions will hopefully aid the ongoing search.

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Searching for finelined pocketbook mussels in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

A year ago, federal wildlife officials worked with multiple partners, including Alabama Power, and a private landowner to remove an old mill dam on the Tallapoosa, just above the river section the team hoped to search last week. For nearly a century, the 100-foot-wide dam adversely affected the river habitat and impeded the finelined pocketbook and its preferred “host fish,” black bass, from moving up and down the waterway. The pocketbook can be found in the upper reaches of the Tallapoosa watershed and in other isolated locations in Alabama rivers that flow toward Mobile and the Gulf of Mexico, but it is not known to exist at this time in the sections of the Tallapoosa where the team is now searching.

Alabama is rich in aquatic life and ranks at the top of the list for mussel diversity, with 182 species reported over the course of state history. But over the past 150 years, habitat destruction, construction of river dams, polluted runoff and other factors have led to a serious decline in the population of finelined pocketbook and other mussels across the Southeast. Removal of the old Howle and Turner Dam was one reason to expand the search for the fine-lined pocketbook in the Tallapoosa. The survey is also part of the ongoing process of relicensing Alabama Power’s Harris Dam, located farther downriver.

In order to support restoration of mussels and other species, federal officials designated stretches of select waterways in the Mobile River Basin, including portions of the Tallapoosa, as “critical habitat” for the finelined pocketbook and other freshwater mollusks. The designation is helping drive a coordinated effort to manage and improve water quality in the river.

Mussels are considered a “keystone” or indicator species – essentially a gauge for the health of creeks and rivers. Mussels need good water quality to survive, and their absence can indicate water quality issues.

Jeff Baker, a biologist at Alabama Power, is among the team on the lookout for the finelined pocketbook along with state conservation experts, in coordination with federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and others. The ongoing survey on sections of the Tallapoosa and Little Tallapoosa, in addition to several smaller tributaries, will help inform efforts to protect the mussels and, hopefully, help expand their population.

“This continues the history of cooperation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Baker said.

The finelined pocketbook gets its name from the delicate lines that ring its shell. But the name also harks to the remarkable way the pocketbook propagates.

As part of their reproductive process, pocketbooks release a glue-like mucous that stretches out in the river current, like fine fishing line. At the end of the gummy line, the pocketbook’s larvae are attached in a tiny clump. The larvae wiggles and shimmies in moving water, mimicking tiny bait fish, and are snapped up by larger fish, especially black bass. The bass serve as a host for the larvae, which grow and develop over a two-week period in the fish’s gills before eventually dropping off into the water. By hitchhiking on the fish, pocketbook mussels can also spread their offspring farther along the waterway.

Todd Fobian, a biologist with ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, was among the team searching for the finelined pocketbook last week. “They kind of look like rocks on the bottom of the river, but they’re a lot more than that,” he said.

“They’re down there filtering and feeding on algae and bacteria. Mussels are nature’s little filter systems,” Fobian said.

He said the oval-shaped pocketbooks can grow as big as 4-inch saucers, with some freshwater mussel species known to live as long as 100 years. Mature freshwater mussels can take in and filter as much as eight gallons of water a day, helping protect and improve water quality, Fobian said.

Mussels also are “pretty big components of the ecosystem and the food chain,” Fobian added, providing a source of food for fish and reptiles, small mammals and birds.

Eric Spadgenske, state coordinator for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program at FWS, said there are relatively few mussel species thriving in the Tallapoosa, which makes efforts to find existing populations and improve their habitat especially important. The goal: to expand the population to the point that they can be removed from federal protection and to prevent other species from being added to the list.

Removing the Howle and Turner dam was a significant step toward improving water quality in the upper Tallapoosa, Spadgenske said. He said the survey by Alabama Power and partners, and other ongoing research, point to better days ahead for rare species in the Tallapoosa. “That’s certainly our expectation and hope over the next five to 10 years.”

Fobian noted that the finelined pocketbook is among the species ADCNR is breeding at the agency’s Aquatic Biodiversity Center in Marion. Depending on the outcome of the Tallapoosa survey, the agency could consider augmenting any pocketbook populations found in the survey with mussels raised at the center or re-introducing the mussel to some sections of the river – if none is found. Other elements of a management plan for the mussels could include streambank restoration to reduce sediment and working with private landowners along the river to improve water quality.

Spadgenske said there is a growing alliance of individuals and groups working together to protect and improve waterways and water quality in Alabama. The Alabama Rivers and Streams Network includes multiple federal, state and local agencies, researchers, private landowners, nonprofits and businesses, such as Alabama Power, who all agree that clean, abundant water is a benefit to everyone.

Baker said Alabama Power will continue to coordinate with others to support habitat and species protection on the Tallapoosa River and other parts of the state.

Spadgenske added, “Everyone has a role to play. Without the work and support of all these organizations and stakeholders, public and private, including Alabama Power, a lot of these projects wouldn’t get done. It has really become a fine, moving machine.”

To learn more about the extraordinary array of mussel species in Alabama, and those in greatest need for conservation, check out ADCNR’s interactive map.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

WFF reminds alligator hunters of no-cull regulation

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

With Alabama’s 2020 alligator season only a couple of weeks away, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division wants to remind those lucky tag holders about the no-cull rule in effect.

With the exception of the Lake Eufaula Zone, tag holders are not allowed to release an alligator after it has been captured. The exception for the Lake Eufaula Zone is because it is the only zone that has a minimum size length, which is 8 feet total length. In this zone, only alligators that are under 8 feet in length may be released after capture. In all other zones, culling is completely prohibited.

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“Many folks who have been going to classes for years and are now getting the training online understand about culling,” said WFF Director Chuck Sykes. “However, I think some hunters have abused our leniency in enforcing the regulation. We just want to make sure that everybody is aware that culling is not a legal practice. This is not a fishing trip where you practice catch-and-release. This is a cold-blooded animal that expends a great deal of energy during the fight and that could end up as an unexpected mortality. When you have 5,000 or so people apply for one of these coveted tags, we don’t want people abusing the process and making it look like a catch-and-release fishing tournament. We just wanted to clarify that culling is not allowed.”

Wildlife Section Chief Keith Gauldin said this regulation has been in effect since Alabama’s 2018 alligator season.

“Just as you don’t capture and release any other game animal, hunters are not allowed to practice releasing alligators unless they are hunting in the Lake Eufaula Zone, where there is a minimum harvest length of 8 feet,” Gauldin said. “A captured gator is your gator, so be sure to review the training videos on the website. The videos give you helpful tips on how to judge the size of an alligator.”

Gauldin said there is a direct correlation between the distance from the gator’s nostrils to its eyes and the total length of the animal. If the distance from the nostrils to the eyes is 10 inches, the estimated total length of the alligator would be 10 feet. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/alligator-hunt-tag-training-videos for the six training videos and one that explains the no-cull regulation.

Tag holders must abide by the rule that applies when an alligator is “captured.”

“In the past, we have seen individuals on social media posting alligators that they have captured, taken pictures of and then released,” Gauldin said “We don’t want hunters to cause any undue stress on these animals. By regulation, an alligator is considered captured once it is secured with a snare around a leg or the head and is secured boat-side and in control. It must be immediately dispatched and the temporary tag applied. We want to stress that before hunters pursue an alligator and throw a hook at it or any of the legal means of catching an alligator, they should view that gator and estimate its size closely. They need to make sure that’s the one they want to harvest.”

Gauldin said another rule that will be closely enforced has to do with boats providing assistance during the pursuit of an alligator.

“When hunting parties have multiple vessels involved, only the boat with the tag holder can have the capture equipment in it,” he said. “The other vessels that are assisting can only have spotlights but no capture equipment.”

Capture methods are restricted to hand-held snares, snatch hooks (hand-held or rod/reel), harpoons (with attached line), and bowfishing equipment (with line attached from arrow to bow or crossbow). The use of bait is not allowed.

Gauldin said the WFF’s Enforcement Section will be out in full force during the alligator season to ensure the regulations are followed.

“There is a high likelihood hunters will be checked by a Conservation Enforcement Officer at least on one of the nights of the season,” he said. “It’s a good idea to put all of your identification, hunting license and alligator tag in a Ziploc bag for easy access instead of having to dig it out of your wallet at one o’clock in the morning. Have that ready for presentation when you get checked. It will make it easier for our officers and make for a more timely check for the hunters.”

Gauldin also wants hunters to refrain from consuming alcohol during the hunts.

“We want hunters to have a good time but a safe time,” he said. “Combining alcohol and alligator hunting is not a good idea. And make sure everyone has a PFD (personal flotation device). It’s a good idea to have that PFD on if the boat is under throttle, especially at night. Obstructions are much harder to see at night. We just want them to have a safe hunt.”

The Alabama alligator season is broken into five zones throughout south Alabama, the traditional range of alligators in the state.

The zone where Alabama’s first season originated is the Southwest Zone, which has the most tags (100). The Southwest Zone includes 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 created last year to address the rising interaction between alligators and the human population along the Coast, where WFF receives most of its nuisance alligator complaints. The Coastal Zone 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 that allows daytime hunting.

Alabama’s alligator harvest numbers have been consistent at between 65 and 70 percent of the available tags since the program’s inception.

And one never knows when another monster gator will be hauled in that rivals the current world record of 15 feet, 9 inches and 1,011.5 pounds that was harvested in 2014 by Mandy Stokes of Camden.

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.

2 months ago

‘Hiking with Hailey’ explores Alabama’s great outdoors

(Courtesy of WSFA-TV/Outdoor Alabama)

For someone who really doesn’t care for insects, Hailey Sutton has put her fears behind her to share Alabama’s great outdoors via her increasingly popular “Hiking with Hailey” segments on Montgomery’s WSFA-TV.

Sutton, who hails from Red Oak, Texas, has been in Alabama for less than a year after her first TV gig in Montana.

The weekend sports anchor at WSFA, Sutton has a background in soccer rather than the outdoors. Despite her lack of outdoors experience, she pursued an idea of hiking through numerous Alabama State Parks and other natural wonders. That concept blossomed into weekly episodes that may turn out to be more than the summertime feature she originally envisioned.

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“This whole series is kind of funny,” Sutton said. “I don’t really like to be dirty, and I’m terrified of bugs. Living in Alabama, this has been challenging. My first job was in Montana, and their bible up there is the outdoors. I had wanted to do a similar series in Montana, but I just didn’t have the resources. When I moved here, I saw all these different parks. I was able to pitch the idea to my boss, and then the coronavirus happened. That kind of gave me a chance to step away from sports since they haven’t had as many sports going on.”

Sutton admits the series has caused her to expand her horizons to provide her viewers with snapshots of the beauty of Alabama.

“It was a refreshing way to push myself out of my comfort zone,” she said. “In this past weekend’s episode at Cheaha State Park, our guide had us eat a leaf. If you had told me three years ago that I would be on TV eating plants for my job, I would have LOLed. But it’s been really fun to do something different and push myself.”

The Cheaha State Park episode, where Park Naturalist Mandy Pearson got Sutton to sample a leaf from the sourwood tree, was the sixth in the series that started at Oak Mountain State Park.

“Cheaha was awesome,” Sutton said of the park that sits atop the highest mountain in the state. “I’d seen pictures and videos of Cheaha, but pictures and videos can’t do justice to how cool it is to get up there and be able to see all the way to Birmingham, which seems crazy to me. I’ve just been blown away by how diverse Alabama is. What we have focused on each week is trying to show something every week. We started out at Oak Mountain, which is the largest state park (9,940 acres) in Alabama. So, if you’re looking to get a little bit of everything, that’s a great place to start.”

Sutton decided to downsize the next week with a visit to the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Alabama Nature Center at Millbrook.

“Obviously, the Alabama Nature Center is smaller, but they do a lot of programs to educate kids about nature,” she said. “I thought that was really neat, especially during the summer, highlighting that this is still something available to do with your kids.”

Sutton and crew then visited Wind Creek State Park, the 1,445-acre park on the banks of scenic Lake Martin in east central Alabama.

“Wind Creek was really neat because you’ve got the forest and the lake atmosphere,” she said. “That was really cool.”

Next up was a visit to 696-acre Chewacla State Park and its iconic waterfalls that were formed when Moore’s Mill Creek was dammed to create Lake Chewacla.

“I had been to Chewacla once before,” Sutton said. “It’s just so funny. You hop off I-85 and you’re right there at the park. That’s one of the things our guide, Joshua Funderburk, said was one of the things that make this park so interesting is you’re in the middle of Auburn, but you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere when you’re there.”

Sutton found her trip to Rickwood Caverns State Park, just north of Birmingham, to be one of the most enjoyable for a variety of reasons.

“Rickwood was awesome,” she said. “That may have been my favorite place. One, it was cool in the caverns. It was 60 degrees, so it was nice to not be sweating. The other thing is it was so ‘otherworldly.’ It was just so different from anything I had ever seen.”

Sutton highlighted all of the amazing features of the caverns with their numerous formations estimated at 260 million years old. She also discussed the exit from the caverns and the number of steps involved.

“It was crazy,” she said. “Going into the cave, it’s not 110 steps down to get to the features. It was a gradual descent. Then our guide told us, ‘Oh, by the way, to get out you have to go up 110 steps. We had to sit for a couple of seconds after we got done with the steps.”

Designed to give a glimpse of the great outdoors before her busy season started, the series surprised Sutton with how quickly it gained a widespread following. She said the impact of the coronavirus will likely dictate what happens next.

“I guess it just kind of depends on what happens to football season,” she said. “It was originally a summer project. But, if there’s no football, it will depend on how busy my schedule gets. I don’t know if we have a timeline on it. To be 100 percent honest, I didn’t know it was going to be as popular as it has become. I guess as long as people are watching…”

Sutton said she is amazed at how quickly word has spread about the “Hiking with Hailey” series.

“We have people reaching out to us on a regular basis asking us to come to their park,” she said. “We had to make a list of all the places we would like to go. If we have to stop, then there’s always next summer or later in the year. It’s been good. There are so many parks and forests to explore. I’m really excited that we’re going to Bankhead National Forest in a couple of weeks.”

Visit www.wsfa.com/authors/hailey-sutton/ and scroll to find each episode of “Hiking with Hailey.” The episodes are also on the “Hiking with Hailey” Facebook page.

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.

2 months ago

No live auction for 2020 State Lands hunting leases

(Marty Palsy/Contributed)

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) will conduct its hunting lease program without a live auction for 2020.

Patti Powell McCurdy, State Lands Director, implemented a program in 2010 that aligned all leases under State Lands’ control to operate on a five-year public bidding cycle. State Lands would kick-off a new cycle by advertising an Invitation for Bids listing all the tracts available for leasing.

Until this year, potential lessees could submit sealed written bids, but they also had the opportunity to continue bidding at a live auction.

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“We had an auctioneer conducting the bidding,” McCurdy said. “If we received written bids on a tract, the highest written bid then became the new minimum at the live auction. Like any other auction, people would be raising their hands and yelling out bids. It was fun to watch.”

McCurdy said when it came time to send out the 2020 Invitation for Bids, the uncertainties related to COVID-19 presented hurdles that made it unrealistic to try to hold a live auction.

“We held off a bit in hopes that we could find a way to successfully include a live auction component,” she said. “We never really got there. The last thing I wanted was for a hunter to drive several hours and then be unable to bid at the live auction because of capacity limitations or other restrictions. I ultimately decided to move forward the best way we could. So, for the 2020 cycle, State Lands will only be accepting written, sealed bids.”

However, with the 2020 cycle providing avid hunters an opportunity to submit bids for 145 tracts across 30 counties, there is still plenty to get excited about this year.

McCurdy said the hunting lease program expands the many excellent public hunting opportunities currently offered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on the state’s wildlife management areas (WMAs), Special Opportunity Areas (SOAs) and various Forever Wild Land Trust tracts.

“The leasing program gives individuals the opportunity for a totally different hunting experience – a very personal one,” she said. “Not everybody has access to family land or a hunting club. This gives the public an opportunity to lease a tract and enjoy it with family and friends. Our bidders range from hunting clubs to grandparents looking for a place to take their grandkids hunting. I suspect we might also have a few bidders who just want a place to get away and enjoy all by themselves. It’s just a different experience we can offer the public.”

One happy lessee is Marty Pasley, who leases a tract in central Alabama. Pasley said the lease allows him to take his 9-year-old grandson hunting anytime he is available.

“This has been great for me and my grandson,” Pasley said. “It’s been a godsend for me because it’s close to home. It’s been the greatest experience in the world with the way State Lands did everything they said they would do. It’s been a great setup to take kids. Almost every time we go, we see deer. I’ve really been blessed to be able to lease this property.”

While Pasley leases for his family, hunting clubs also participate in the program.

“It’s been fantastic for us,” said Brian Fulkerson, who leases land in south Alabama. “If I need any support, they (State Lands) are fantastic. We’re on the QDMA (Quality Deer Management Association) program, so we take care of our deer. I know they didn’t have a choice on the bidding process. Sealed bid is okay with me.”

Interested bidders can go to www.outdooralabama.com/hunting-lease-bid-2020 to see the 2020 Invitation for Bids, a “Complete Listing of 145 Hunting Lease Tracts” (ranging from 43 acres to 1,400 acres), maps for each hunting lease tract, and a sample hunting lease.

“I encourage everyone to first read the Invitation for Bids very carefully,” McCurdy said. “It is the official document detailing all requirements related to submitting a bid that must be followed so that the bid can be accepted by State Lands.”

Perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to submit a bid will close on July 30 at 3 p.m., the deadline for all sealed bids to be physically received at the State Lands Division office in Montgomery.

“It’s the responsibility of each bidder to make sure it reaches our office on time,” McCurdy said. “We cannot accept any bids for any reason after the deadline in the Invitation for Bids. Bidding starts at the tract-specific minimum bid amount noted in the Complete Listing.”

Each bid submitted must also include a certified or cashier’s check (no cash or personal checks) for the required bid deposit for that tract. McCurdy said the required bid deposit amount can also be found on the Complete Listing.

“We can’t consider any bid that is not accompanied by the bid deposit,” she said. “Again, it is just so critical to read and follow all the instructions in the Invitation for Bids. Successful bidders will have the bid deposit applied to the first year’s rent. Bid deposits submitted by unsuccessful bidders will be returned.”

“After the bid opening on the following day, hopefully by close of business, the highest bids for each tract will be posted at the same website link (see above),” McCurdy said.

In the event of a tie, State Lands will contact the tied bidders regarding the process for those bidders to continue the competition and arrive at the highest bid.

“If a successful bidder fails to execute the lease within the required 30-day period, we can contact the next highest bidder,” McCurdy said. “So, even if you are not the highest bidder initially, you could still have a chance to lease the tract you want.”

Interested bidders should also take the time to review the sample lease. McCurdy said it is important to be sure you are willing to comply with the lease provisions throughout the five-year lease period, before submitting a bid.

“One requirement is to maintain general liability insurance,” she said. “A successful bidder must also submit a list of the proposed hunters who will be on the tract. We do check those hunters for a record of game violations. Lessees are also required to provide some landowner assistance and generally return the tract to State Lands in as good or better condition than they found it.”

The hunting lease program is just one example of how State Lands fulfills its responsibility to manage a variety of state-owned land for the purpose of generating revenue.

“Like any business that manages real estate as an asset, State Lands is charged with trying to find ways to make these tracts a revenue-generating asset for certain state agency beneficiaries,” McCurdy said. “To some, this might sound like an unexpected role for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, but really it’s not. Employing proven conservation principles and implementing best management practices has always been directly linked to the resulting productivity of land. While you might see a one-time generation of revenue, you will never achieve the goal of perpetually generating revenue unless you take proper care of the land over the long term. So, these leases are truly a win-win for the state and hunters. They generate revenue for various state agencies, like the Department of Education and the Department of Mental Health, and at the same time allow State Lands to offer a unique hunting opportunity to anybody willing to participate in the bid process.”

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.

2 months ago

Hunting season dates announced for 2020-2021

(Michael Padgett/Contributed)

The 2020-2021 hunting season will bring big changes for white-tailed deer hunters in a few parts of Alabama with the creation of two new deer zones. The newly created zones D and E will allow hunters to gun hunt before and during the peak of the rut (deer breeding season) in those locations.

Zone D includes areas in Cullman, Franklin, Lawrence and Winston counties. Zone E includes areas in Barbour, Calhoun, Cleburne and Russell counties. Archery season for zones D and E will open on October 1, 2020. Gun deer season for antlered bucks will open in both zones on November 7, 2020. Antlered bucks can be taken in zones D and E through January 27, 2021. The unantlered deer harvest dates differ between zones D and E, and both zones close to unantlered deer harvest earlier in January.

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Archery deer season opens in zones A, B and C on October 15, 2020. For complete deer season dates and zone information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/deer-season.

In Alabama, the peak of the rut varies throughout the state. This is due, in part, to deer restocking efforts that occurred decades ago. Deer population data collected over the last 25 years by Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) biologists is leading to a better understanding of the state’s deer population. That data is also providing improved hunting opportunities, including the fine-tuning of the state’s deer hunting zones to allow hunters to hunt the peak of the rut statewide.

“The creation of these new deer zones highlights the hard work of our wildlife managers and the importance of harvest data provided by Alabama’s hunters,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “The Department strives to offer the best hunting opportunities available, and I’m happy to announce the new deer zones.”

Hunters are reminded to record their deer harvest before moving the animal using a paper harvest record or through Game Check in the Outdoor AL smartphone app. If using the paper harvest record in the field, hunters must still report their harvest within 48 hours through Game Check using the Outdoor AL app or online at outdooralabama.com.

DOVE SEASON COMES EARLY THIS YEAR
Dove season for the North Zone will open on Labor Day weekend this year, a week earlier than in previous years. Both the north and south zones feature split seasons.

This year’s North Zone dove season will open on September 5 and run through October 25 for the first segment. Hunters on opening day can hunt from noon until sunset. After opening day, hunting is allowed from one-half hour before sunrise until sunset. The second segment runs November 21-29, and the final segment is set for December 12 through January 10, 2021.

The South Zone season opens on September 12 and runs through November 1. The final two segments mirror the North Zone dates. The daily bag limit is 15 birds of either mourning doves or white-winged doves or a combination of the two.

Registration for the state’s youth dove hunts will open in August 2020. For complete dove season dates and zone information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/mourning-and-white-winged-dove-season.

SANDHILL CRANE SEASON RETURNS
Sandhill crane hunting returns for the 2020-2021 season. Last year saw the first sandhill crane season in Alabama in more than 100 years.

The season is by limited quota permit only – prospective hunters must apply online. Registration is currently closed but will open this fall with an associated registration fee. The permits will be chosen by a computer-controlled random draw in October 2020. A total of 400 permits will be issued.

The season dates are split into two segments with the first running from December 4 to January 3, 2021. The second segment will be January 11-31, 2021. The daily, season and possession limit is three birds per permit. Hunters can harvest all three birds in one day if they choose.

For complete sandhill crane season dates and zone information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/sandhill-crane-season.

TURKEY SEASON OVERVIEW
For most of the state, the 2020-2021 turkey season will run March 20 through May 2, 2021. Zone 4 (Clarke, Clay, Covington, Monroe, Randolph and Talladega counties) has both a fall and spring season. The fall season in Zone 4 runs November 21-29, and December 12 through January 1, 2021.

Spring turkey season will be delayed for research purposes on the following Wildlife Management Areas: Barbour, J.D. Martin-Skyline, Hollins, Oakmulgee, Lowndes, Choccolocco and Perdido River. The delayed season will run March 27 to May 2, 2021.

Hunters are reminded to record their turkey harvest before moving the animal using a paper harvest record or through Game Check in the Outdoor AL smartphone app. If using the paper harvest record in the field, hunters must still report their harvest within 48 hours through Game Check using the Outdoor AL app or online at outdooralabama.com.

Special youth hunts will take place on the Saturday and Sunday the week prior to all opening days of the spring season. For complete turkey season dates and zone information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/turkey-season.

ADDITIONAL SEASON INFORMATION
All other hunting seasons including waterfowl, feral pig, bobwhite quail, squirrel, rabbit, trapping information and more can be found on the seasons and bag limits page of outdooralabama.com or in the 2020-2021 Alabama Hunting & Fishing Digest (now available).

Alabama’s recreational hunting and fishing licenses expire annually on August 31. The presale for 2020-2021 licenses will open on August 24, 2020. Licenses can be purchased from various vendors throughout the state or online at outdooralabama.com.

ADCNR is once again offering hard card licenses for the 2020-2021 season. For an additional $5 fee, purchasers can select from six new designs including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, wood duck, crappie, redfish and a “We the People…” design featuring the Second Amendment.

HUNTER RESOURCES
WFF’s Adult Mentored Hunting (AMH) program was designed for those new to hunting or interested in learning how to hunt. The program provides new hunters with a one-on-one hunt under the guidance of a veteran mentor. To apply for an AMH hunt, you must be at least 19 years old, have a valid driver’s license and be new to hunting or have limited hunting experience. More information about the AMH program can be found at www.outdooralabama.com/mentored-hunting-program.

Alabama is rich in natural diversity with more than 1.3 million acres of public hunting land and some of the most liberal seasons and bag limits in the nation. Public land hunting opportunities in the state include Wildlife Management Areas, Special Opportunity Areas, Physically Disabled Hunting Areas, Forever Wild land, U.S. Forest Service land, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, Tennessee Valley Authority land and several National Wildlife Refuges.

While hunting is one of the safest outdoor recreational activities, each year unnecessary hunting accidents happen and some are fatal. ADCNR reminds hunters to practice hunter safety including routine treestand maintenance and safety checks, always using a full-body safety harness when hunting from a treestand, wearing hunter orange and practicing firearm safety. For additional hunter safety tips, visit the hunter education section of outdooralabama.com.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natual resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

(Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)

Freshwater Land Trust focuses on conservation, stewardship to benefit Alabamians

(Alabama Power Foundation/Contributed)

From the ever-expanding Red Rock Trail System to protecting the habitat of the endangered vermilion darter on Turkey Creek, the Freshwater Land Trust both cares and caretakes.

“We own and manage 7,000 acres of Alabama land,” Executive Director Rusha Smith said. “We visit that land on a regular basis to ensure nothing negative is affecting the water species, the flora, fauna or anything else on the property.” The acres came to the trust through purchase, donation or conservation easements.

These conservation and stewardship efforts benefit all Alabamians in a behind-the-scenes, good-for-the-future manner.

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Other Freshwater Land Trust programs are more visible every day. The Red Rock Trail System offers dozens of trails running through 120 miles of Jefferson County. Seven “corridors” are each a main thoroughfare made up of many individual trails.

“Our goal is for every resident of Jefferson County to have access to an outdoor place in a convenient way,” said the trust’s Mary Beth Brown. “To use trails for exercise, to walk or bike to work, to access the library or church, to live healthy lives and be outside in nature where the car isn’t the only option.”

For instance, the new Five Mile Creek Trail in Gardendale connects to Fultondale’s existing trail, providing a 10-mile loop between the two cities. Plans call for extending the Rotary Trail from downtown Birmingham to Avondale and adding nearly 2 more miles to Homewood’s Shades Creek Greenway, so far the most used of all the trails.

Freshwater Land Trust strives to preserve and protect beauty all around us from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

As the newest trail of all, the High Ore Line Trail begins in Midfield, runs 3 miles along an old railroad bed and connects with Red Mountain Park at its recently opened Venice Road entrance. Closing the 20-mile loop around downtown Birmingham is coming soon. Eventually, every trail on every corridor will connect into a continuous linking of communities and outdoor possibilities, in all 750 miles lacing through the county.

People are excited. “When we build a new trail, the running and cycling groups want to be on it before we even finish,” Brown said.

Runner Tom Bartels, training for his next 50K, rejoices in the many choices. “These trails are in our own backyard,” he said. “You can get nice, long runs. I can easily do a 21-miler on the system. I’ve spent a lot of time running in other cities and, as Red Rock Trail System continues to grow, we’re going to rival some of those larger places. The terrain and beauty we have here is a match made for trails like these.”

Tom Cosby, a downtown enthusiast, agreed. “The system is burnishing Birmingham’s reputation as a truly great city. My wife and I bike from our home to the heart of the city center and throughout Railroad Park, and we hike the Vulcan Trail during winter months to see the breathtaking views of the city below. Of all the great things that have happened in Birmingham in the past 10 years, I would put Red Rock Trail System at the top of my list.”

That’s the idea behind the idea: getting people out, using and enjoying the wonders around them. A newly announced project in Birmingham’s Parkside District will draw people to reconfigured land that will include an entertainment venue for movies, music, special events, restaurants and shopping.

“The Freshwater Land Trust is going to assist with trail development through that area and even farther into the Titusville neighborhood,” Smith said. “We feel trails are vital to a community. Not only do they improve walkability and promote healthy living, they also attract businesses and residents to our city.” The project is expected to be completed in the next two to three years.

Of course, the quiet streams, pastoral lands and vistas protected by the Freshwater Land Trust remain a priority. When Turkey Creek experienced severe bank erosion, Stewardship Director Jeffrey Drummond enabled stabilization and the removal of an old dam in the midst of an 11-mile stretch that serves as habitat for the bright red-yellow, endangered vermilion darter, which is found only in Alabama. After strengthening the stream segment, “we found the fish even farther up the stream than ever before,” Drummond said.

The Freshwater Land Trust is looking to the future as it continues to add infrastructure to its stewardship and conservation of properties in Bibb, Blount, Dallas, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties.

“We hope to increase the property we own and manage,” Smith said. “And to continue the trails along the connectors of the Red Rock Trail System.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Mobile Bay conservation group develops smart growth plan for communities

(Mobile Bay National Estuary Program/Contributed)

The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) has developed a smart growth plan that communities can use to prevent erosion and protect watersheds.

The plan is based on MBNEP’s successful restoration and conservation efforts at Joe’s Branch in Baldwin County. Joe’s Branch is a tributary to D’Olive Creek.

The area was recently removed from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s (ADEM) list of impaired waterbodies thanks in large part to MBNEP’s watershed management plan and the organization’s leadership efforts in uniting cities, communities, and businesses behind the restoration effort.

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Mobile Bay NEP develops smart growth plan for communities from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Joe’s Branch was first listed by ADEM in 2008 for excess siltation caused by stormwater runoff and stream bank erosion in Spanish Fort and Daphne, which in turn was threatening seagrass beds and fishery habitats of D’Olive and Mobile bays. The Geological Survey of Alabama said at the time the sediment delivered by Joe’s Branch represented the greatest loads from any water body it had ever monitored.

“What we’re dealing with here in the city of Daphne was the perfect storm for stream degradation,” said Jason Kudulis, MBNEP Restoration Project manager. “You’ve got stream topography, you’ve got rolling hills, you’ve got uneven terrain, you’ve got highly erodible soils and then you’ve got precipitation, not only in quantity but in intensity, and so dealing with all of these things causes these streams to really fall apart.”

Ashley Campbell, Environmental Programs manager for Daphne, said the unrestrained stormwater was causing a lot of erosion, threatening roads as well as private and public properties. Campbell reached out to MBNEP for help after leaders in Daphne and Spanish Fort failed to reach a consensus on how to address the problem.

“We needed somebody to be a leader and a partner and bring us all back together,” Campbell said. “So we called Roberta Swann, who is one of my heroes over at the MBNEP, and they came over and we started having meetings. That was the beginning of a dream come true because that one partnership with Spanish Fort, ALDOT, the power companies, Daphne Utilities – all the partners we brought in on that one project called Joe’s Branch Step Pool – that led us to restoring all of D’Olive.”

In 2010, MBNEP published its plan to restore Joe’s Branch and then worked with both cities, as well as business leaders and neighborhood builders, to implement the changes, which included creating rock step pools and retrofitting neighborhood designs to slow the energy of stormwater flow.

“The city (of Daphne) embraced the plan,” Campbell said. “Spanish Fort embraced the plan and we reviewed our regulations. We updated them. We made them better. We enhanced them to protect water quality, to protect wetlands, to protect streams. That one partnership brought all of this about. The plan is what guided us once we got going.”

Kudulis said parts of the plan were adapted from best practices used in mountainous areas of the U.S.

“We’re bringing in techniques that you see in more mountainous streams, such as in the Appalachian Mountains, down here on the coast,” said Kudulis. “We’ve engineered step-pull conveyances to slow this water down and allow some of this sediment to drop before it enters into Mobile Bay.”

Work was completed in 2018, with the restoration of almost two miles of streams. MBNEP said post-restoration monitoring of Joe’s Branch revealed sediment load reductions of more than 90%, prompting ADEM in April 2020 to remove Joe’s Branch from its list of impaired water bodies.

“We did it through watershed management,” Campbell said. “We didn’t just say, ‘We are going to fix this.’ We looked at the watershed, we looked at our problems and then we developed a watershed management plan and that plan guided us.”

As a result of the successful restoration efforts at Joe’s Branch, MBNEP is encouraging cities and neighborhood builders to adapt its watershed management template in the building process, thereby avoiding costly repairs down the road.

“We have worked with the local governments and stakeholders to try to strengthen local subdivision regulations,” Kudulis said. “We bring all of these folks to the table to not just stop the bleeding on these sediment issues but get people to make good decisions – healthy decisions, smart growth decisions moving forward to reduce stormwater impact. Whether that be best management practices for construction in our neighborhoods, it’s tying all of those things together so that we can prevent these situations from coming about again.”

Kudulis said the MBNEP is working with the cities of Daphne and Spanish Fort to make sure these problems don’t return.

“We’re preparing to update the original 2010 D’Olive Management Plan,” Kudulis said. “They already have a vision for what they see as the next steps to continue to build these communities in a great way.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

North Zone dove season opens on Labor Day weekend

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes wants to make sure dove hunters are not caught flat-footed this September when the season opens earlier than usual.

The North Zone dove season will open on Labor Day weekend this year, a week earlier than most people are accustomed to. Sykes wants to get the word out well ahead of the season.

“Most people, me included, typically think dove season opens in the North Zone the first Saturday after Labor Day,” Sykes said. “That’s the way it’s been most years. There have been a few times since 2000 that the season has come in the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.”

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Because of a variety of opinions about when Alabama’s dove seasons, North and South zones, should be set, WFF officials decided that a survey inviting public input would be the best way to accommodate the majority of dove hunters.

“With anything we do, you’ve got some people who want the season to start early,” Sykes said. “You’ve got some who want to start late. Some want to hunt in October. Everybody has their own idea about what they want dove season to be, or any season for that matter. What that survey showed was that the majority of people wanted it to come in as early as it could in September. They wanted as many weekends and holidays as possible included where they would have opportunities to go. With Labor Day falling later this year, we had to decide if we wanted to push the season to September 12 in the North Zone or if we wanted to have it Labor Day weekend. There’s pros and cons to both sides, but we looked at what that survey said. The majority said they wanted it early, so we gave them the earliest date possible. We were also giving them an extra weekend and giving them a holiday. Those were all three things that ranked extremely high on our survey.”

The North Zone 2020-2021 season is set to start on September 5 and run through October 25 for the first segment. Hunters on opening day can hunt from noon until sunset. After opening day, hunting is allowed from one-half hour before sunrise until sunset. The daily bag limit is 15 birds of either mourning doves or white-winged doves or a combination of the two. The second segment is November 21-29, and the final segment is set for December 12 through January 10, 2021.

In the South Zone of Baldwin, Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Mobile counties, the 2020-2021 season opens on September 12 and runs through November 1. The final two segments are the same as the North Zone.

“We know we can’t make everybody happy,” Sykes said. “This isn’t something we took lightly. This isn’t something we didn’t deliberate. And it definitely wasn’t something where we didn’t listen to the hunters’ opinions. Basically, this is what the majority of the people who took the survey said they wanted. My biggest concern is that I didn’t want people to be caught off-guard. I wanted them to have plenty of time to make their plans for Labor Day weekend or vacation.”

Sykes also pointed out that hunters don’t necessarily have to plan a hunt on opening day, but it is available if wanted. Some may choose to wait until the following weekend.

Sykes and WFF Migratory Bird Coordinator Seth Maddox said the window for planting crops like corn, grain sorghum or sunflowers for doves has passed, but there is a short window for browntop millet remaining.

“You might be able to get some browntop millet in the ground in the next couple of weeks, but the time for other crops has passed,” Maddox said. “If you don’t have anything planted, the best thing to do is to bush-hog or burn off a field and prepare it by disking so that you have a well-prepared seed bed, and then top-sow some winter wheat. You can begin that as early as August, and you are allowed to plant up to 200 pounds of wheat per acre on a well-prepared seed bed.”

Anyone with questions can visit the ACES (Alabama Cooperative Extension System) website at https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/forestry-wildlife/mourning-dove-biology-management-in-alabama/ to learn more about allowed agricultural practices for dove hunting are listed.

“We see it every year,” Sykes said. “Yes, you can plant for erosion control. You can plant for winter grazing. There are agricultural practices that are legal, but simply going into a pasture and top-sowing wheat is not an accepted agricultural practice. Disking a field and spreading cracked corn is not an accepted agricultural practice. The ACES website explains in great detail what agricultural practices are allowed so that you will be legal and have a successful dove hunt.”

Landowners and dedicated dove hunters sometimes make the extra effort by adding fake power lines to attract the birds. Maddox recommends giving the birds as many places to roost and loaf as possible.

“Don’t cut down dead trees near a field,” Maddox said. “They like to have those loafing trees to sit in and check out the field before and after they eat. If you can provide a water source for them, that can make a big difference. And make sure your seedbed is disked well. Doves don’t have strong legs to scratch at the ground like turkeys do to uncover seeds. Doves are also attracted to freshly turned soil. It exposes seeds that didn’t sprout and bugs they eat as well. They pick up bits of grit for their crops to help grind the seeds. Doves are definitely attracted to a freshly plowed field.”

Dove hunting is one of the most popular outdoor activities in Alabama and the nation.

“Most people wouldn’t know that doves are the most hunted and harvested game in the United States,” Maddox said. “In our most recent survey, we had about 36,000 hunters with 200,000 days in the field and a harvest of more than 1 million birds. Most hunters don’t hunt but five or so days a year, so that’s a lot of birds harvested in the first couple of weeks of the season.”

Maddox said the annual harvest has no impact on the overall U.S. dove population of about 250 million birds.

“Doves nest seven or eight times a year here in Alabama,” he said. “They are a short-lived bird with a high rate of reproduction, so we’re not hurting the population at all. This renewable and sustainable resource continues to offer abundant opportunities to Alabama hunters.”

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.