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.

1 day ago

Five-year-old wins Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association’s 2021 Big Gobbler Photo Contest

(Alabama Black Belt Adventures/Contributed, YHN)

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association on Monday announced that Hudson Mathews of Deatsville has won the 2021 Big Gobbler Photo Contest.

Hudson, age 5, reportedly harvested the winning turkey in Pike County while hunting with his father. The gobbler, which was Hudson’s first, had a 10-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. Over the course of the photo contest, his photo received more than 1,300 votes and beat out nearly 20 other contestants to take home the top prize.

Hudson’s father advised that his son “made a perfect shot” to bag the turkey. This was the ninth annual Big Gobbler Photo Contest.

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Hudson has been awarded a limited-edition commemorative “Memories of Spring” box call produced together by famed Alabama turkey hunter Ron Jolly and turkey hunting legend Preston Pittman, as well as the recently released book by Jolly of the same name.

“We are grateful to the participants in this year’s contest and know that many memories of spring were created in Alabama’s Black Belt throughout the season,” stated Pam Swanner, executive director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association. “Our region continues to be a place where families and young folks can enjoy high-quality experiences, and we invite you to come to the Black Belt to create your own memories.”

The annual photo contest was open throughout turkey season as a way to further educate the public on the abundance of natural resources found in Alabama’s Black Belt region.

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

4 days ago

Huntsville’s Jones surpasses turkey-hunting milestone

(Ray Jones/Contributed, YHN)

For someone who got a late start chasing turkeys, Ray Jones of Huntsville has spent the last 60 years catching up.

In fact, Jones, 86, reached and surpassed a milestone this season by bagging the 400th and 401st turkeys of his career.

The reason he got off to such a slow start was because he lived in far north Alabama where turkeys were scarce for most of his life.

“We really didn’t have any turkeys north of Birmingham when I was a young boy,” Jones said. “They had all been killed during the Depression. We hunted squirrels. We didn’t even have any deer.”

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During the middle of the 20th century, the Alabama Game and Fish Division (now Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries) started an extensive restocking effort of white-tailed deer and Eastern wild turkeys across the state. Jones recalled being contacted by Game and Fish in the late 1950s.

“They called and asked if we didn’t mind if they turned loose deer and turkey on our Jackson County place,” Jones said. “They said the only thing is you can’t hunt it for five years. I told them that would be all right. The only thing was the turkeys walked up into Tennessee, so we didn’t have any for a while. The deer did well, and the turkeys finally backfilled into Alabama.”

Jones, who graduated from Auburn with a degree in agriculture, didn’t go on his first turkey hunt until he was 26, and it wasn’t on his farm. It was in the storied Alabama Black Belt.

“I sold some cattle to a man in Boligee, Alabama,” he said. “Part of the deal was I was to come go turkey hunting with him in the spring. We stayed at his ranch, some bottomland called Shady Grove. It was teeming with wildlife, every kind of wildlife you could imagine. I didn’t know anything about turkey hunting. We set up and Andy (Allison) started yelping. The turkey was coming straight to us, but Andy didn’t know it. He moved and the turkey saw us. He was really grieved about that. We jumped in his truck and went to another place. We jumped a couple of jakes and I killed one.”

To say Jones was instantly hooked would be a monumental understatement. In the following 60 years, turkey hunting has been his passion. Earlier this spring, Jones’ 400th turkey was a Rio Grande taken near Haskell, Texas. Recently, he added number 401 with a nice gobbler from just across the line in Tennessee.

Since that first hunt, Jones has widely expanded his turkey horizons, hunting all over the United States, and he even ventured into Mexico. He has bagged five of the six species of wild turkey – Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande and Merriam’s in the U.S. and a Gould’s in Mexico, earning him the NWTF’s Royal Slam designation.

The only wild turkey he hasn’t bagged is the ocellated, and he doesn’t plan to hunt the bird, which is located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

“I did not go ocellated hunting,” he said. “The old boy we were supposed to go with told me he went. He said we had to shoot them out of a tree. I said I sure don’t want to do that, so I never did go. And they don’t gobble. There’s not much to turkey hunting if they don’t gobble.”

Before turkeys became abundant in north Alabama, Jones hunted a great deal in Marengo and Wilcox counties in the Black Belt.

“We really enjoyed our hunting in Marengo and Wilcox,” he said. “That’s where we learned how to hunt turkeys. We really didn’t have turkeys up here until a few years ago. But they had the turkeys down there. We really got into turkey hunting in Wilcox County.”

Late legendary turkey hunter and Game and Fish wildlife biologist Paul Maddox, who was heavily involved in the turkey trapping and restocking efforts in Alabama, was a good friend of the Jones family and joined them to hunt the Wilcox property.

“Paul was the best turkey hunter I’ve ever been around,” Jones said. “He taught us a lot. Mr. Claude Kelley (late Conservation Commissioner) hunted with us, too. What made the place in Wilcox special was the people as much as anything. As we said later on, you really can’t reproduce that. We really enjoyed our time there. We hunted there 17 years and killed a lot of turkeys, but the main thing was the people.”

In the last decade, Jones has focused on taking Eastern turkeys in north Alabama.

“Now we have turkeys,” he said. “We’ve got as many as anywhere else.”

Jones penned a book, Southern Turkey Hunting, a Family Affair, about his life in the turkey woods.

“In the book, there are some stories about some of the turkeys I killed,” he said. “It also has a section about the history of the Department of Conservation and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). It’s a real success story as far as conservation is concerned.”

After hunting turkeys for so long, Jones has no plans to slow down.

“It’s a real addiction,” he said. “No doubt about it. Somebody asked me if I’ve really killed 400 turkeys. I said around 400. They said, ‘What does that represent?’ It represents a lot of lost sleep. It’s just a way of life with us. Still today, we plant for them. We put in warm-season grasses and other things that will help the turkeys expand. We are now able to kill our limit in north Alabama. We weren’t able to do that 20 years ago.”

Jones bagged a turkey in Marshall County earlier this spring on his way to 400.

“He was off in a swamp,” Jones said. “I hunted him twice. The last time I hunted him, the hens flew over and landed right in front of me, about 10-12 steps. They walked off and I kept yelping. I knew he knew where they flew to. It wasn’t long until he flew over to the same spot. He was a nice turkey. He had 1⅜-inch spurs.”

It was only a couple of days later that Jones added to his total just across the line in Tennessee.

“I climbed up a mountain and he wasn’t there,” he said. “But I could hear just a whisper.”

Jones relocated and climbed another mountain to get into position.

“I climbed and climbed and climbed,” he said. “I was hearing him good. He was gobbling good. I stopped 150 yards from him. I found a tree, but I didn’t like it much and moved to another one. It was near an intersection of two roads. I said, he’s going to come down one those roads. I was cackling and yelping, and he would answer me. I knew he was on the ground, but he wouldn’t come. I yelped and carried on. He answered me pretty good. I said, well he knows where I am. I laid my box call down. I could tell he was coming. But he didn’t come down those roads. He came right between the two roads. He got his head behind a big tree, and I got my gun up. He came out from behind the tree and I shot him at 18 steps. He was a big turkey. He weighed 24 pounds with a 10¾-inch beard and 1⅛-inch spurs. That’s a nice turkey.”

Despite bagging his milestone turkey, one of Jones’ proudest accomplishments is calling up turkeys with his family.

“My son, Raymond, I called in his first turkey when he was 7,” said the elder Jones. “He made a good shot. That was in Marshall County. And I called in a turkey for his son, Raymond III, when he was 7. That was in Jackson County. I think I’ve killed a turkey with every one of my grandsons. I really enjoy that.”

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 week ago

‘Safe Harbor’ documentary to focus on Vietnamese fishing community

(University of South Alabama/Contributed)

Chris Phengsisomboun grew up in the Vietnamese fishing community of Bayou La Batre, where the families of war refugees worked and sacrificed to build better lives for their children.

He remembers his grandparents coming home reeking of shrimp from the packing house. He remembers the community reeling from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. He remembers his family feeling so proud when he became the first Asian-American valedictorian at Alma Bryant High School.

“That was pretty emotional,” said Phengsisomboun. “When I graduated from high school, I was the only member of the family who’d made it to that point, so everybody was ugly crying. It was intense.”

At the University of South Alabama, where he earned a communications degree in 2019, Phengsisomboun juggled schoolwork, side projects and internships. The day after graduation, he moved to Nashville to start work at the Recording Academy, which produces the Grammy Awards.

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“He was the kind of student who takes advantage of every possible opportunity,” said Dr. Lorraine Ahearn, an assistant professor of multimedia journalism in the department of communication. “Anytime I saw him in the hallway, he was on the phone, working, or going into meetings. He was a man with a plan.”

Phengsisomboun will appear in a 30-minute documentary Ahearn is doing about the fishing community. The working title is “Safe Harbor: The Vietnamese Fishermen of Bayou La Batre.” The project also features David Dai, the first Vietnamese-American teacher at Alma Bryant, who was named Mobile County’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.

There will be interviews with older members of the community, too. After 1975, many of them fled the coastline of Vietnam, arrived in America, then found their way to an Alabama fishing community along the Gulf of Mexico.

“I think it’s very powerful that boats saved them, some of them, and then ended up sustaining them in a new place,” Ahearn said. “It’s a powerful metaphor, almost biblical.”

She began work on the Bayou La Batre project with Andrew Hongo, an assistant professor of broadcast journalism who moved to California but is still co-producing the documentary. Graduate students in the department are doing historical research and pulling together archival material from the Mobile Historical Society and the Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library at South. She received a $1,500 grant from the University’s Office of Research and Economic Development to pay for interpreters, travel and the rights to historical photos and newsreel footage.

One of the challenges for Ahearn is building trust and encouraging candor during interviews. Many Vietnamese faced hardship and prejudice, especially when they first came to this country, but that painful subject wasn’t always shared with their children.

“People don’t talk about it much,” she said. “It’s difficult for some older people to go back and tell it in detail. There are stages people go through — social stages, educational stages, economic stages — but it’s harder to get into the psychological and emotional part of that.”

Asian Identity in Alabama

Bayou La Batre, “the Seafood Capital of Alabama,” is 20 miles south of Mobile. It’s a small city of about 2,500 people. More than 20 percent of the population is Asian-American.

Phengsisomboun (pronounced “feng-siss-om-bon”) remembers his family celebrating the Laotian New Year at a Buddhist temple and the Blessing of the Fleet at a Catholic church.

He was a multiracial child in a melting pot community.

His father’s family are Asians from Laos and Thailand — they own the Taste of Thai restaurant — while his mother is a white woman from Mobile. After his parents divorced, his mother married a Vietnamese man, giving him an extended multiracial family along the Gulf Coast.

At South, he skipped many extracurricular activities to focus on a career after college. He landed a show business internship that turned into a full-time job in Nashville.

As a boy, he was embarrassed about having a long last name that people struggled to pronounce. Now he’s thrilled to have nationwide audiences read his name in the credits for Grammy productions.

Phengsisomboun is only 25 years old, but time on his own has given him some perspective. He thinks he’s just starting to appreciate the sacrifices that were made for him. He’s just beginning to understand his immigrant experience.

“You’re fed a particular idea of what the American Dream looks like, with all the prosperity, and having the opportunity to become a businessman or woman,” he said. “There was a sense that if I didn’t do something greater with my life, I’d be letting them down, and ultimately disrespecting them — and respect is just a huge, huge, huge part of the family.”

Different Refugee Experiences

Before Ahearn became a communications professor, she was a reporter and columnist for the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina.

One big story was the 5,000 Montagnard refugees who left the highlands of Vietnam and were resettled in Greensboro.

“There would be entire apartment complexes in our city that were entirely Montagnard,” she said. “It was very interesting, a very noticeable presence. Every time I would write about them, we’d get these nasty, angry letters from some people. There were other people who understood that we had been allies, we were on the same side, and that Montagnards had saved many American lives.”

Ahearn marvels at the way immigrant communities seek out the landscapes and livelihoods they know. Mountain farmers head for the hills, while fishing families cling to the coast.

When she joined the faculty at South in 2019, she began meeting students from Bayou La Batre.

“One class after another had these Vietnamese and Cambodian students,” she said. “I started to delve into their stories a little bit and that’s how I learned about the seafood industry, and took some trips down there. It’s so localized to the Gulf Coast, and it’s so much about the Gulf, but it’s also a uniquely Southeast Asian story of refugees recreating their lives and becoming successful enough to put their kids through college.”

The “Safe Harbor” documentary should be finished by the end of this year. The coronavirus pandemic has slowed production, but Ahearn is still doing interviews. There’s always more to hear and something to learn.

“Hearing these migration stories is fascinating,” she said. “The people who fled South Vietnam, they lost everything when they came here. We see it as a story of resilience and determination, but it’s also a story of great loss. There’s this shadow of the past that stays with them.”

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

1 week ago

Nature trail, outdoor classroom reopen in Alabama town of Phil Campbell, 10 years after devastating tornado

(Stevi Reese/Alabama NewsCenter)

On April 27, 2011, a monstrous EF5 tornado tore through the nature trail and outdoor classroom on the Phil Campbell campus of Northwest-Shoals Community College (NW-SCC). Downed trees and debris rendered the trail and classroom unsafe and unusable.

Ten years to the day after the storm, the Cecil Clapp Nature Trail and outdoor classroom is open again.  A reopening ceremony took place April 26 at the revitalized outdoor classroom, which is now named in honor of former NW-SCC science instructor Joe Mack Alls. The Cecil Clapp Trail is  named in honor of a former forestry instructor at the college.

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“We are so glad that, with the help of our community partners, we were able to revitalize this unique part of our campus,” NW-SCC President Glenda Colagross said during the ceremony.

On hand to celebrate were representatives from the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, the Northwest Alabama Resource Conservation & Development Council, and the NW-SCC Jazz Band. Also attending was state Representative Jamie Kiel of Russellville, whose district includes the Phil Campbell area.

The reopened trail and outdoor classroom will serve more than the students at NW-SCC. It provides area K-12 schools a free and accessible educational resource, conducive to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classes, as well as physical education and language arts instruction. The trail is also available to the community at large as a recreational asset and place to enjoy nature.

The Alabama Power Foundation is among the partners who supported restoration of the trail and outdoor classroom.

“This project was a great fit for the Alabama Power Foundation and in line with our commitment to supporting education and the environment. We are proud to be a part of bringing this resource back to the Phil Campbell community,” said Alabama Power Community Relations Manager Melinda Weaver.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

New license allows hunting of feral swine, coyotes at night

(USFWS/Contributed)

With Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s signature this week, new legislation will provide hunters in Alabama with another opportunity to harvest two specific animals. The legislation allows Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship to establish a season for hunting feral hogs and coyotes at night without the need for a depredation permit.

When the season is finalized, Alabama residents will be able to purchase a $15 license ($51 for non-residents) to hunt feral hogs and coyotes at night.

Matt Weathers, Chief of Enforcement with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, said the new permit will make it much easier on hunters and the WFF staff.

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“To this point in our state, those who wish to hunt feral swine or coyotes during nighttime hours have to get a permit that is only issued to landowners,” Weathers said. “Those landowners can list friends, family or delegates on the permit to take those animals at night for crop damage, property damage or livestock damage. This is done through special permitting through the local WFF District Office. The new law provides for a license that allows anyone in the state to hunt feral swine and coyotes at night by buying a license to hunt on any private or leased property where they have permission to hunt. So, if you lease a hunting club, if the person or corporation you lease that property from allows you to hunt at night, you can purchase the license to hunt those animals at night on your hunting club. And you can do that without the landowner coming to us to get a permit. It represents a new hunting activity for the state, and it will enlist as many as 200,000 hunters in this fight against two insidious predators. So, a new hunting activity; that’s a good thing. You have more feral swine and coyotes being removed from the state; that’s a good thing, too. It’s a win-win.”

Weathers said the depredation permits will continue to be available to landowners who prefer not to buy the new license.

“However, as long as the landowner gives permission, you can buy that new license to hunt at night,” he said. “This streamlines the process and provides the ability to hunt on very short notice.”

The damage wreaked by feral hogs on agriculture and wildlife habitat is substantial throughout the South. Estimates are that feral swine cause $50 million in private property damage in Alabama annually. The damage to wildlife habitat is difficult to quantify, but feral hogs compete with the native wildlife, like white-tailed deer and wild turkeys, for food and also damage the native habitat.

Coyotes are known to be quite effective predators of whitetail fawns and can have significant impacts on populations of white-tailed deer.

Weathers said the new license is specific to these two species.

“This license does not allow you to take any other game animal at night,” he said. “It’s a good way to control predators on your hunting club or property. And this gives you the opportunity to utilize that property or hunting club during the months when it’s a little too hot to hunt during the daytime. It gives you a little more value in your hunting lease. All parties involved, except for the feral swine and coyotes, are going to benefit from it.”

Weathers said several regulations will be amended to allow for equipment used for hunting at night.

“Those who buy the license will be able to use equipment that has heretofore been prohibited,” he said. “During the established season, you will be able to use night vision or thermal optics. You can have lights attached to your firearms. Those technologies are emerging and make the taking of these animals a lot more efficient.”

As with any new activity, Weathers said the Division wants to emphasize safety during the nighttime pursuit of these animals.

“We want everybody who hunts feral swine and coyotes at night to think about safety,” he said. “Know where your property lines are. Know where your fellow club members are when you are hunting. Always properly identify the target before you shoot. All the commonsense practices we follow during daylight hours will need to be adhered to during nighttime hours. We need everybody to be very mindful of their actions because it is a new hunting activity in this state. With any new activity, you’ve got to think safety.”

Weathers said other states have capitalized on the appeal of hunting these animals at night.

“In a lot of states, nighttime predator hunting is very popular,” he said. “It’s big business in some areas. In Alabama, it has only been done by special permit. By doing this, it relaxes those restrictions and lets that style of hunting grow in this state. That’s a good thing. Hunting has been in decline for decades across the nation, but some of these specialty styles of hunting, nighttime predator hunting specifically, has just exploded. People are really getting into it. As the prices have come down on equipment like suppressors, AR-15-style hunting rifles, night vision and thermal optics, these things are becoming more common and are becoming more accepted in hunting. This is just an example of us trying to adjust regulation and law to account for the evolving manner in which Alabamians hunt. The feral swine population and the coyote population are certainly increasing in Alabama. These are animals whose populations can stand more hunters out there pursuing them.”

Chuck Sykes, WFF Director, said the 2021 season for hunting feral swine and coyotes at night will likely start on July 1 and run until November 1. In 2022 and beyond, Sykes said the nighttime season will likely start on February 11 and run until November 1.

“The way the bill was drafted, it gives the Commissioner the ability to set the season so we can evaluate and make sure this goes well,” Sykes said. “We can amend the dates down the road if it makes it better. This time frame is when most of the depredation permits are issued.”

Sykes is not sure how the hunting public will respond to the new license, but he wouldn’t be surprised to see it become very popular, like the depredation permits.

“We see this as an opportunity to streamline the process and make it easier to manage for us and the landowner,” he said. “This also opens the possibilities for others. Say you lease 1,000 acres from a timber company. You had to get the timber company to apply for the depredation permit and then put you on it. Now, if you have the hunting lease and the timber company is okay with it, you don’t have to bother them. You just go online and get a license. If you have college kids who come home for the weekend. That’s one thing we ran into. Farmers had kids come home from Auburn and wanted to take their buddies hog hunting. They had to call our office and amend their permit. Now all they have to do is get online, get the license and say, ‘Y’all have at it.’”

Sykes has no expectations the new license will have a significant impact on the feral swine population.

“We don’t think this is the silver bullet,” he said. “We’re not saying going hunting at night is going to eliminate the hog problem, because it’s not. What we are doing is giving people more opportunity to remove more pigs and coyotes if they choose to do so. It is another tool to reduce the number of predators. Predator control is a big buzzword right now. We’re giving you the opportunity to do what you think is best to manage your property.”

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

Katie Boyd Britt named to Alabama Wildlife Federation board of directors

(BCA/Contributed, YHN)

Business Council of Alabama (BCA) president and CEO Katie Boyd Britt has been elected to serve on the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s (AWF) board of directors.

For more than 85 years, AWF has been working for wildlife in the Yellowhammer State. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the federation works diligently to promote the conservation of Alabama’s wildlife and related natural resources, as a basis for the social and economic prosperity of present and future generations, through wise use and responsible stewardship of our wildlife, forests, fish, soils, water and air.

“Since 1935, AWF’s ultimate mission has been to promote the conservation and wise use of our wildlife and natural resources and to ensure a high quality of life for future generations of Alabamians,” stated Tim Gothard, executive director of AWF.

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AWF focuses on wildlife conservation, Alabama’s hunting and angling heritage, and connecting young people and adults to the outdoors by channeling efforts into three core areas: conservation education, resource stewardship, and celebrating the conservation role of hunting and angling.

“We are excited to add Katie Boyd Britt to our board of directors and are confident that she will help further AWF’s goal of sustaining Alabama the beautiful,” Gothard added.

Britt is the first female president and CEO of the BCA. She is the former chief of staff to U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL).

“The Alabama Wildlife Federation is the oldest and largest organization dedicated to championing the conservation of our state’s treasured wildlife and natural resources, and I am honored to be elected to serve as a member of their board of directors,” Britt said.

“My family and I enjoy quality time hiking, camping, fishing and hunting the beautiful outdoors that our great state offers. From the Black Belt to the Wiregrass, the Shoals to the Tennessee Valley down to our sparking Gulf Coast, Alabama has something unique for everyone,” she concluded. “As a board member of the AWF, I will continue to support the preservation of our lands and waterways for sportsmen and Alabama families to enjoy for generations to come.”

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

2 weeks ago

The Preserves, Alabama Power recreation sites, open to all to enjoy nature

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Alabama is known for its beautiful lakes, but there is even more to discover along the state’s lakeside lands.

Alabama’s rivers, lakes and streams have some of the most topographically and ecologically diverse property surrounding them, and The Preserves are Alabama Power’s celebration of this land, offering the gift of splendid outdoor experiences to Alabama residents and visitors alike.

“The Preserves are our company’s way of giving back by enhancing our state’s natural resources and making space for residents and visitors to take in and appreciate the beauty and solace around them,” said Ed Windsor, Alabama Power Recreation Development assistant. “They are designed to be open for everyone to enjoy. As the weather continues to get warmer and people are venturing outside again, we want to remind everyone that they are welcome to hit the road and enjoy some of these sites.”

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Explore The Preserves by Alabama Power along Alabama lakes from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Preserves, which were officially branded in 2018, leverage existing land around the lakes and reservoirs to create 65 unique public-use spaces across 12 reservoirs for individuals and families to venture outside, enjoy nature and make lifelong memories.

With lands along the Black Warrior, Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, there are Preserves within driving distance of everyone in Alabama.

Visitors to The Preserves can learn about the importance of protecting and preserving the environment for generations to come. Educational nature trails can be found at the recreation sites at these lakes:

Some of The Preserves’ day-use parks provide an educational component with interpretive signage on the nature trails that teach about different native species of plants, animals, birds and pollinators, in addition to offering picnic spots, boat ramps, playgrounds and swimming holes.

“We are incredibly proud of our Preserves and all they have to offer,” said Sheila Smith, Alabama Power Shoreline and Recreation land supervisor. “Our sites provide access to boaters, picnickers, hikers and swimmers. These areas have been updated in the past couple of years with features such as gazebos, benches and trails perfect for walking, biking and even bird-watching.”

In 2021, Alabama Power plans to continue working on updating The Preserves sites with added features, such as barrier-free amenities, paved and striped parking lots, new walkways and more.

For visitors looking for specific amenities, The Preserves website, apcpreserves.com, includes a map and detailed charts that outline what each site offers.

In the coming months, check back at apcshorelines.com for new stories that offer an in-depth look at some of the individual Preserves sites and one-of-a-kind amenities available to visitors.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Two rare plant species discovered at Alabama’s Oak Mountain State Park

(ADNCR/Contributed, Patrick Thompson/Contributed, YHN)

When Noah Yawn headed out for Oak Mountain State Park in October 2020, he was planning to take part in a survey for a tree found only in Alabama. What he didn’t expect was to also stumble upon a sizable population of another rare plant species – the Georgia Aster.

The survey was part of an ongoing effort of the Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance (APCA) to better understand the range and natural history of the Alabama Sandstone Oak, a tree only found in six north-central Alabama counties.

Yawn, an undergraduate student assistant in conservation and botany studies at Auburn University, was looking for the rare oak when he first spotted the asters through what he calls “drive-by botany.”

“Driving through the park at 25 miles per hour with my windows down is how I unintentionally discovered the park’s roadside populations of the aster,” Yawn said. “I estimate there are approximately 500-1,000 individual flowering stems at the documented roadside sites. These sites are scattered over 1 to 2 miles along Terrace Drive.”

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Often considered the Southeast’s largest, prettiest and most purple aster species, this distinctive plant can grow to more than 3 feet tall and features a large flower head encircled with deep purple to lavender petals. Once found in woodlands and Piedmont prairies throughout the Southeast, the Georgia Aster is currently only found in a few counties in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

In recent years, a multi-state/multi-organization agreement was developed to provide a framework for the conservation and management of Georgia Aster throughout its range. The goal of the agreement is to conserve and improve current populations and keep the aster from being federally listed as an endangered species.

“Even the smallest preserved natural areas, including roadsides, can protect extremely valuable and imperiled species,” Yawn said. “The Georgia Aster at Oak Mountain State Park represents some of the only populations in Alabama that are protected on state lands, making this all the more exciting.”

Located just south of Birmingham, Oak Mountain is Alabama’s largest state park at 9,940 acres. The park’s size and the varied nature of its Ridge and Valley habitat is partly responsible for the high level of biodiversity found at Oak Mountain.

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), said these discoveries highlight the importance of public lands, including our State Parks, to the conservation of rare plant and animal species.

“Alabama’s State Parks, Forever Wild tracts, Wildlife Management Areas and other state lands play a vital role in conserving important habitat for some plants and animals found nowhere else in the world,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “These locations ensure the public can continue to enjoy the rich diversity of Alabama’s landscape for generations to come.”

While finding the Georgia Aster at Oak Mountain was a pleasant surprise, the main focus of the survey was to document the Alabama Sandstone Oak within the park. Like the Georgia Aster, this oak is very vulnerable because of its small population numbers and its narrow habitat preference.

The Alabama Sandstone Oak is a very long-lived and slow-growing plant. The trees discovered at Oak Mountain State Park could be older than the nearby city of Birmingham itself.

Core samples taken from Alabama Sandstone Oaks found at the Forever Wild Hinds Road Outcrop in Etowah County indicated an average age of less than 100 years for the aboveground tree stems. As the tree grows, its below-ground stems creep along, spreading under the surface of the soil, creating clones of its aboveground stems. Since the root system is the oldest part of the tree, age estimates of the aboveground stems may not accurately reflect the actual age of the individual trees.

In addition to documenting the existence of the rare oaks in the state park, the survey team also found a 90-foot by 60-foot collection of stems that appears to be a single clonal individual tree. Clonal growth usually occurs at a rate of about an inch or two per year for this species. If this collection of trees is a single individual, it could have taken centuries for it to grow to this enormous size in a low-nutrient environment like the rocky ridges of Oak Mountain.

Patrick Thompson, Curator of the Auburn University Davis Arboretum and APCA Coordinator, was first made aware of the trees at Oak Mountain by David Frings, former director of the Oak Mountain Interpretive Center.

“The survey project was an effort to document the extent of the Alabama Sandstone Oak population at the park and to collect acorns,” Thompson said. “It was led by Tracy Cook from the Huntsville Botanical Garden and funded by the U.S. Forest Service and the Association of the Public Gardens of America. This survey is part of an ongoing effort to increase knowledge of the species range and natural history, and to secure the species in the wild and in safeguarding collections nationwide.”

The acorns collected at Oak Mountain State Park were sent to the Huntsville Botanical Garden, Auburn University’s Davis Arboretum, the National Arboretum, the Morton Arboretum in Illinois, the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Atlanta Botanical Garden. They will be stored in those locations and potentially used to grow more trees in an effort to conserve the species.

For those hoping to catch a glimpse of the Georgia Asters at Oak Mountain State Park, flowering occurs October through mid-November. Look for the relatively tall green stems topped with deep purple and lavender petals along Terrace Drive.

For directions to Oak Mountain State Park, visit www.alapark.com/parks/oak-mountain-state-park.

For more information about the Alabama Sandstone Oak or Georgia Aster, contact Patrick Thompson at the Auburn University Davis Arboretum by calling (334) 332-0283.

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 Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit www.outdooralabama.com.

3 weeks ago

Alabama red snapper season parameters different for 2021

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

Alabama’s 2021 red snapper season for private recreational anglers will be different than in previous years. The season opens on May 28 with four-day weekends like last year’s season, but the closing date has not been set. The end of the season will be determined by catch data compiled through the Red Snapper Reporting System, better known as Snapper Check.

“What we’re doing different this year is we’re going to track the private recreational catch through Snapper Check, and when the quota is about to be met, we’ll project a closing date,” said Scott Bannon, Director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD). “There are so many factors that impact the fishing effort, and that makes it difficult to determine a closure date. We will provide a graph on our red snapper summary page at outdooralabama.com for anglers to see how the effort is progressing. Once we anticipate the quota will be met, we will announce a closure.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has not yet provided the exact 2021 Alabama private angler quota, but it is anticipated to be similar to the 2020 quota of 1,122,662 pounds.

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A drastic reduction in the red snapper quota for Alabama and Mississippi was avoided during last week’s meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) with a vote, spearheaded by the Alabama delegation, to delay “calibration” until 2023. NMFS had proposed that the catch data from the Marine Recreation Information Program (MRIP) survey and state reporting systems be “calibrated,” which would have essentially cut Alabama’s quota in half.

“The Gulf Council voted for a motion that was put forth from Alabama that we continue fishing at the rates similar to what we have for the last four years and to not implement calibration at this time,” Bannon said. “This recommendation is for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. NMFS does not have to go along with that. They can choose to take a different path. Historically, that hasn’t happened. Generally, they accept the recommendations from the Gulf Council.”

Before last week’s meeting, the Gulf Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) met to consider integrating the results of the Great Red Snapper Count, which indicated the red snapper abundance in the Gulf is three times higher than previous estimates, into the committee’s recommendations. The SSC voted to increase the red snapper overfishing limit by 10.1 million pounds to 25.6 million pounds. However, in a decision Bannon questioned, the SSC set the acceptable biological catch (ABC) at 15.4 million pounds, a slight increase from last season’s 15.1 million pounds. Limited by the ABC, the Gulf Council voted last week to set the annual catch limit at 15.4 million pounds.

“We went from 15.1 million pounds to 15.4 million pounds, and that’s for all sectors – private recreational, for-hire (charters) and commercial,” Bannon said. “That’s only 300,000 pounds for the entire Gulf of Mexico. That’s a negligible increase for the private anglers.”

Bannon said the two-year delay in calibration allows the SSC to revisit amended results of the Great Red Snapper Count, review some additional studies and incorporate the results of a comprehensive red snapper research track assessment that will be completed in 2023.

In Alabama, private recreational anglers are regulated under a state management system implemented by the Gulf Council. The system applies to anglers fishing from recreational vessels and state-licensed Alabama commercial party boats that do not hold federal for-hire fishing permits.

Alabama charter (for-hire) boats with federal reef fish permits continue to operate under federal guidelines, which set a 63-day season for 2021 beginning June 1, 2021, at 12:01 a.m. local time through August 3, 2021, at 12:01 a.m. local time.

For private recreational anglers, weekends are defined as 12:01 a.m. Friday through 11:59 p.m. Monday. The daily bag limit remains at two red snapper per person per day with a minimum size limit of 16 inches total length.

Anglers over the age of 16 must have a valid Alabama saltwater fishing license. Any Alabama resident 65 or older or a lifetime saltwater license holder must have a current saltwater angler registration. The saltwater angler registration is free and available at www.outdooralabama.com/saltwater-fishing/saltwater-angler-registration.

Also, all anglers 16 years of age and older who possess red snapper or other gulf reef fish are required to have an Alabama Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement, available at www.outdooralabama.com/saltwater-fishing/saltwater-reef-fish-endorsement.

Private boats landing red snapper in Alabama are required by law to complete one landing report per vessel trip of their harvested red snapper through Snapper Check before the fish are removed from the boat or the boat with the fish is removed from the water. Reporting of greater amberjack and gray triggerfish also became mandatory this year. Owners/operators of federally permitted charter vessels are also required to possess an Alabama Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement and submit an Alabama Snapper Check landing report prior to red snapper, gray triggerfish or greater amberjack being landed in Alabama.

The easiest way to comply with Snapper Check is with the Outdoor AL app, available from Apple and Android stores or online at www.outdooralabama.com. Paper reports and drop boxes are no longer available. MRD will provide semi-weekly Snapper Check updates at www.outdooralabama.com.

Bannon said compliance with the Snapper Check regulation is crucial to the future management of the fishery on a state level.

“We defended our actions before the Gulf Council based on Snapper Check landings as a much more accurate accounting system,” Bannon said. “I know people may think with calibration that if they report their catches through Snapper Check it’s going to count against them. But that’s not true. We use Snapper Check to validate the real amount of fish being landed in Alabama. We’re going to continue to fight to improve state management programs. I would like to see us use the abundance of snapper off each state to determine the allocations. That’s where Snapper Check is a critical component.”

While Alabama has only three percent of the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, about 26 percent of red snapper from the Gulf are allocated to Alabama. Bannon said Alabama’s vast artificial reef program, which encompasses about 1,060 miles of offshore waters in 14 permit areas, is what makes fishing for red snapper off the Alabama coast so special.

“The investment we’ve made into artificial reefs has created the largest artificial reef program in the nation if not the world,” Bannon said. “That’s why everybody comes to Alabama to go red snapper fishing.”

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.

3 weeks ago

New member appointed to Conservation Advisory Board

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed, YHN)

Kevin Savoy of Dothan, Alabama, has been appointed to the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board by Gov. Kay Ivey. Savoy replaces Patrick Cagle of Montgomery, whose six-year term expired.

A native of Mobile, Savoy is a 1991 graduate of Auburn University. He currently serves as Vice President of Great Southern Wood Preserving, Incorporated and Greenbush Logistics, Inc.

Savoy’s involvement in state, community, and professional organizations is extensive. In addition to his position with Great Southern Wood, he serves on the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Alabama Wildlife Federation Board of Directors Executive Committee, the Leadership Alabama Wiregrass Area Board of Directors, is a member of the HNB First Bank Advisory Board, and is the current chairman of the Houston Academy Board of Trustees.

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“This appointment is truly an honor,” Savoy said. “As an Alabamian and an avid outdoorsman, I know that we are fortunate to have a vast treasure of natural resources in every corner of our state. I appreciate the opportunity to join with the other Conservation Advisory Board members to strengthen our conservation efforts on behalf of all Alabamians.”

Gov. Ivey also reappointed four current board members to new terms: Joseph Dobbs, Jr., of Birmingham; Brock Jones of Tuscaloosa; Gary Wolfe of Fairhope; and Grady Hartzog of Eufaula.

“I am very pleased with the addition of Mr. Savoy to the Conservation Advisory Board and I am thankful for the reappointments of four of the current members,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “We have an outstanding Board that brings a wealth of knowledge and outdoor recreation experience to their work. I look forward to working with the Board to continue our progressive management of Alabama’s abundant natural resources.”

The Conservation Advisory Board is composed of 10 members appointed by the Governor for alternating terms of six years and three ex-officio members: the Governor, the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, and the Director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. ADCNR’s Commissioner serves as the ex-officio secretary of the board.

The board assists in formulating policies for ADCNR and examines all rules and regulations. By a two-thirds vote of the members present and with the Governor’s approval, the board can amend, change or repeal current rules and regulations or create and promulgate additional rules and regulations. The board also assists in publicizing the department’s programs and activities.

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 Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit www.outdooralabama.co

(Courtesy of Outdoor Alabama)

3 weeks ago

Start of Alabama’s 2021 red snapper season announced

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Marine Resources Division (MRD) on Monday announced that Alabama state waters and federal waters will open to private vessel anglers for red snapper fishing on Friday, May 28, 2021.

The season will consist of four-day weekends, Friday through Monday, continuing until the private angler quota is projected to be met.

The season dates listed above only apply to anglers fishing from recreational vessels and state-licensed Alabama commercial party boats that do not hold federal for-hire fishing permits. Anglers fishing from federally permitted for-hire vessels have their own 63-day season from June 1 through August 3 at 12:01 a.m. local time.

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As in recent years, Alabama will use Snapper Check to monitor landings during the season and will provide semi-weekly updates online here. The exact Alabama private angler quota has not yet been provided by the National Marine Fisheries service but is anticipated to be similar to the 2020 quota, which was 1,122,662 pounds. When the quota is anticipated to be met, MRD will announce a closure date.

The daily bag limit will be two red snapper per person, per day with a minimum size limit of 16 inches total length.

Anglers over the age of 16 must have an Alabama saltwater fishing license, and any Alabama resident 65 or older or a lifetime saltwater license holder must have a current saltwater angler registration.

All anglers 16 years of age and older who possess gulf reef fish, including red snapper, must have an Alabama Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement.

Read more about relevant requirements and information here.

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

4 weeks ago

Scientists identify new home for rare, tiny rush darter

(Dylan Shaw/Alabama Power)

A new search in the Bankhead National Forest for a tiny, rare fish found only in Alabama has discovered it living in a spot where no one had seen it before.

The USDA Forest Service, supported by biologists from Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, went looking last month for the federally endangered rush darter in a remote section of the forest in Winston County.

The rush darter was already known to inhabit small streams near Bankhead National Forest. Then, in 2019, biologists found the fish living in Bankhead, in a tributary of Clear Creek. The latest surveys, completed over three days in March, revisited some of the same locations but added a few more.

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The result: Experts found the little fish, which grows to a maximum 2 inches, in a new location in the Clear Creek watershed – expanding the range of confirmed habitat for the species in the national forest.

“It’s always good news when you find more of an endangered species,” said Dylan Shaw, a biologist with Alabama Power.

Bankhead National Forest Wildlife Biologist Allison Cochran credits the ongoing Forest Service-Alabama Power partnership for a number of important accomplishments related to aquatic species surveys and management.

“Our capacity to survey for and conserve rare species exponentially increases when we have strong working partnerships,” Cochran said. “We are learning more every year about the rush darter’s habitat and how we can incorporate it in our management efforts. It has been exciting for all of the partners to finally find rush darter on Bankhead!”

The rush darter is known to survive in only a few locations – all within Alabama. While not much is known about the dun-colored fish, it prefers to live, as its name implies, in grass-like rushes and vegetation found along the edges of small, clear streams.

Spring is the ideal time for surveyors to go darter-detecting – when showers create seasonal pools near creeks where rush darters are suspected of breeding. The darters are believed to travel back and forth, from creek to pool, to spawn.

Shaw said it’s unusual to find more than a few darters during surveys. But the more locations that scientists identify as rush darter habitat, the more they learn about the species. That knowledge also can inform future decisions about where to look for more darters, and how to protect the places where they exist.

Alabama Power has partnered with the Forest Service to perform surveys and help protect several rare and important species in the Bankhead National Forest in northwest Alabama. In addition to the rush darter, the company has conducted or participated in surveys supporting the federally endangered Black Warrior waterdogIndiana bat and the federally threatened flattened musk turtle.

Alabama’s national forests encompass about 668,000 acres of public land, divided into four separate forests – Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega and Tuskegee. The forests span 17 counties in northwest, northeast, west-central, east-central and southern Alabama that are permanent or transitory homes to about 850 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fishes. Other endangered species that live in Alabama’s national forests include the red-cockaded woodpecker and several freshwater mussels. The national forests in Alabama also contain three Wilderness Areas totaling more than 42,000 acres, where human activities are further restricted to preserve the unique, natural character of the landscape.

Learn more about Alabama Power’s efforts to help sustain Alabama’s unique environment and preserve the state’s rare plants and animals at www.alabamapower.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Alabama Wildlife Center celebrating Coosa the owl’s 20th birthday on Saturday afternoon

(Alabama Wildlife Center/Contributed)

A near-death experience for a fledgling owl in 2001 resulted in a second chance for the raptor and educational close encounters for countless people across Alabama over the past two decades.

On April 17 from 1-4 p.m., the Alabama Wildlife Center (AWC) inside Oak Mountain State Park will celebrate the 20th birthday of Coosa, the barred owl whose life was saved after it fell from the nest and was attacked by a predator. Coosa was brought in by a rescuer and the severe wounds repaired through multiple surgeries by volunteer veterinarians. The owl could no longer use his talons to catch and hold prey, and would be unable to survive in the wild, so Coosa became the center’s first education ambassador.

Coosa has spent his life at the AWC but ventured outside his adopted home thousands of times to be met by schoolchildren and adults alike. For many people, Coosa is the first owl they’ve ever seen up close as he’s held by gloved, specially trained volunteers.

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Attorney Doug Adair became AWC executive director eight years ago following his lifetime passion for nature and its creatures. He has a special appreciation of Coosa, who over the years has been joined as an education ambassador by hawks, falcons, eagles and other owls.

“Coosa’s had an amazing life. He really launched the Alabama Wildlife Center’s environmental education program,” Adair said. “The unique hook that AWC offers is we are able to introduce folks, up close and personally, to many of the amazing raptors that we are blessed with in Alabama.”

The AWC environmental education program has expanded from its beginnings with Coosa. Under Adair’s direction, it has gone from a few dozen outside efforts annually to more than 600 programs a year – before the pandemic – reaching hundreds of thousands of Alabamians. Adair has taken the AWC staff “to the next level,” involving scores of volunteers and veterinarians.

“It’s been a pretty steep incline in growth,” Adair said. “We reach a very broad audience now and are so pleased to be able to offer this unique program.”

Coosa and most of his fellow flying ambassadors were unable to return to nature after injury, surgery and rehabilitation. The AWC staff is able in most cases to eventually release wildlife that have been brought in sick or injured. The rehab facility is Alabama’s oldest and largest, annually caring for about 2,000 birds of more than 100 species.

“Training of the raptors is constant,” Adair said. “They don’t become domesticated like a dog or a cat. They will always be wild animals but they do become more comfortable being around people.”

The AWC in an independent nonprofit organization that has a relationship with the state park and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. However, the center receives no state funding and depends entirely on donations and grants, in addition to the work of volunteers.

“It’s a very expensive proposition,” Adair said. “Just as we’re always searching for new volunteers, we’re always looking for funding.”

Raptors can live for decades, Adair said, noting that a bald eagle lived in captivity for 62 years. He hopes Coosa will continue to have good health and enjoy many more years educating visitors at the center and around the state.

Coosa’s 20th birthday will be celebrated with free cake, crafts and other family fun activities. Guests will get to tour the facility, meet the birthday bird and see other raptors as well.

The birthday party is free, although cash-only admission to Oak Mountain State Park is $5 per adult, $2 per senior (age 62-plus) and $2 per child (4-11). The park’s back gate is closed because of recent tornado damage.

The AWC is open every day of the year, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 100 Terrace Drive in Oak Mountain State Park near Pelham. To donate, volunteer or for more information, call 205-663-7930, visit wildlife@awrc.org or go to the AWC’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

The Hunting Public matches wits with Alabama turkeys

(The Hunting Public/Contributed)

The guys from YouTube sensation The Hunting Public made a swing through the state early this turkey season and found out how much work it takes to bag an Alabama bird.

Aaron Warbritton, Greg Clements and Zack Serenbaugh had previously worked together at Midwest Whitetail, a deer video website, and all were in between jobs when this new venture was considered.

“We had this idea we concocted sitting around the dinner table one night,” Warbritton said. “We said, ‘Man, we know how to make hunting videos, but we want to make videos that relate to people like us, sort of made for the average person.’ The average person is hunting small private land or they’re going out on public land, trying to deal with deer, turkeys and small game out there. We decided we wanted to make videos for the general public that hunt. We said let’s just call it The Hunting Public. Our goal was to have a positive impact on hunters and hunting culture. We wanted to show people that they could get together with family and friends and go out hunting. You didn’t have to have a bunch of money or fancy gear. From the get-go, we tried to show people this is doable. There are plenty of places to do it, and we’ve tried to show that over the years.”

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Since the inception of The Hunting Public with deer hunting videos in 2017, the crew has hunted in about 30 states and has made multiple trips to Alabama, one deer hunting trip and four to chase turkeys. The team has hunted turkeys in northwest, northeast and south Alabama.

“All of us grew up hunting public land or private land with permission,” Warbritton said. “We’re from different parts of the world, but we all grew up hunting public land. We’ve got a lot of experience dealing with property where there are other hunters. Over time, that experience has helped us be more comfortable in those environments. Alabama certainly has a lot of hunters, especially early in turkey season. That’s what we were dealing with on our recent hunt, for sure. But you can use that hunting pressure to your advantage. If you communicate with other folks, you can ensure everybody is having a good experience. That’s a big part of it. We always talk to other hunters when we run into them.”

Warbritton said the videos stress the courtesy aspect of hunting on public land and how not to infringe on other people’s hunts.

“That’s the way we’ve always operated,” he said. “It’s sort of an unwritten rule for public land. If there is one access point into a relatively small area, and they beat us there, we let them have it. Or if we’re moving in on a turkey, and somebody is already set up, we ease out and let them work the bird. We hope they would do the same for us.”

Although Warbritton says Alabama has plenty of turkey hunters, the state also has a good population of wild turkeys. However, early-season birds seem especially difficult to deal with.

“We’ve never had a problem finding a turkey to hunt on public land,” he said. “But when we go there early in the season, we found that the turkeys were flocked up, henned up and pretty quiet. At times, you have to deal with adverse weather conditions. You occasionally have cold fronts and the turkeys get quiet. The henned-up birds don’t make much noise. They don’t gobble as much.”

To deal with the early-season obstacles, Warbritton and pals have developed a reconnaissance strategy before they even try to hunt.

“We try to locate birds first thing in the morning, even if we only hear them gobble one time,” he said. “We try to find birds in as many locations as we can. First thing in the morning, we’re listening. Throughout the day, we’re scouting for turkey sign – tracks, scratching, droppings in the woods around potential roosting areas. Once we have a handful of areas with turkeys, we go about hunting them. We bounce from one to the other throughout the day until we get on a turkey that wants to play. At the same time, we’re gaining more options if we pull into an area that is being hunted by somebody else. Then we don’t have all our eggs in one basket.”

If their schedule had allowed, Warbritton would prefer to hunt Alabama’s tough turkeys in the middle of the season.

“As turkey season progresses, especially in Alabama, fewer hunters are going to the woods,” he said. “The pressure has slacked off. Turkeys realize that. They start going back to what they were doing before that hunting pressure moved in. The hens are also starting to nest. As the woods continue to green up and temperatures get warmer, turkeys are going to start gobbling more. If I was coming to Alabama, I’d probably pick this time frame to hunt. The gobblers that remain are going to gobble more than they did earlier in the season. There are a lot of advantages to hunt the whole season in Alabama. If I was a resident of Alabama, I’d just spend the first part of the season scouting and finding all the areas with turkeys. I’d have a lot of spots on the map where I’d heard or seen turkeys.”

Warbritton applauded the efforts of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division and its wildlife management areas (WMAs).

“That’s one thing about Alabama,” he said. “They do a good job of maintaining good turkey habitat. The most diverse habitat is going to hold the most turkeys. They do a good job with prescribed burns, and they have different stands of timber.”

Warbritton said he depends heavily on the Outdoor AL and OnX apps during hunting season.

“We use the Outdoor AL app a bunch,” he said. “We use the app to check in and out of WMAs, but we also read specific regulations about those WMAs. Each is managed a little differently. There is tons of information on the app. We also use the OnX maps that we can download to our phones when we’re offline. We’re constantly flipping back and forth between the apps as we’re hunting. When we’re looking at maps, we’re looking for areas with habitat diversity like creeks and rivers or clearcuts and burns. We get an idea of the areas we want to check out. Then we go in with boots on the ground and see if it’s good turkey habitat. If we find turkey sign, we’ll drop pins on the map.”

While Warbritton says “a turkey is a turkey,” he admits that birds in the South are generally tougher to deal with early in the season.

“But that’s why we love to come down there to hunt,” he said. “We love the challenge of hunting turkeys in Alabama. We learn a lot about turkeys doing that.”

During this year’s trip to Alabama, Warbritton managed to bag a bird., Ted Zangerle, another The Hunting Public team member, also scored on a bird late in the afternoon. Zangerle’s bird never gobbled, but he could hear him drumming.

“We struggled to get on birds at first,” Warbritton said. “We dealt with the hunting pressure, but we stayed persistent and were able to kill a couple of turkeys in a week’s time. If we go into any new area in any state, that’s pretty good. It’s about all we could ask for.”

On Warbritton’s fateful hunt (Episode 11), he had to belly-crawl into a position to be able to spot the turkey strutting on a ridge. After his accurate shot, he celebrated for several minutes.

“Man, I love turkey hunting,” he said. “I got excited about this one. We had struggled in Alabama and north Florida. We got our butts whipped in Florida. We came to Alabama and had adverse weather conditions and a lot of hunting pressure. It was difficult. Combined, we had been hunting about 11 days without a bird. I was really pumped when I got that bird.”

Warbritton admits he doesn’t quite understand the popularity of The Hunting Public, which has 363,000 YouTube subscribers. Warbritton and Zangerle were gracious enough to do an interview on the Outdoor Alabama YouTube page. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxLjGKA1_40 to check out the video.

“I really don’t know why people decide to watch,” he said. “Most people say it reminds them of themselves or their own group of friends and buddies who hunt. That’s pretty much who we are. We’re just a bunch of average guys who love spending our time hunting. A lot of young people use YouTube for entertainment and to learn how to do stuff. Kids these days use the internet to solve all kinds of problems. You have to be on there quite often so when they Google how or where to go turkey hunting, your page will pop up.”

Warbritton said not to be surprised if 2022 turkey hunts from Alabama show up on YouTube.

“We plan to come down next year,” he said. “We love coming to Alabama.”

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 State Parks launching historic corporate giving, improvement campaign

The Alabama State Parks Foundation announced the launch of its corporate giving campaign with the pledges of significant contributions by Buffalo Rock Company and the Alabama Power Foundation. Pictured, from left, are Greg Lein, State Parks Director; Matthew Dent, president and CEO of Buffalo Rock Company; Dr. Dan Hendricks, president of the Alabama State Parks Foundation board of directors; Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey; Alex McCreary, Director of Federal Government and Corporate Affairs for Alabama Power; and Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday joined the Alabama State Parks Foundation, local corporate leaders and other stakeholders at Oak Mountain State Park to announce unprecedented efforts aimed at investing millions of dollars into park improvements.

The governor spoke about an $80 million bond issue for park improvements that must be approved by voters through a constitutional amendment in the 2022 general election if the state legislature approves it this session. House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab) are sponsoring this legislation, which passed the House on Tuesday and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“Alabamians love and cherish the State Parks, and we must make sure they are maintained and available for generations to come,” Ivey remarked. “I support the use of state bonds to make the needed enhancements throughout the state parks system.”

Additionally, the non-profit Alabama State Parks Foundation (ASPF) on Thursday announced the launch of its corporate giving campaign with a goal of raising an additional $14 million in the next five years for needed park improvements.

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ASPF kicked off this campaign with pledges of $250,000 by Buffalo Rock Company and $100,000 from the Alabama Power Foundation.

“Since the creation of the Alabama State Parks Foundation in 2018, we have worked to improve and enhance our State Parks, and our corporate giving campaign is another significant and important step for our organization,” ASPF president Dr. Dan Hendricks stated. “I also applaud and thank Governor Ivey for her visionary leadership and support of the State Parks system.

“We believe this innovative public-private partnership will maximize our efforts to help the Alabama State Parks system maintain its place as one of the state’s true treasures,” he added.

The prospective bond issue and ASPF’s fundraising would fast-track projects to expand campgrounds, add cabins and improve internet connectivity, among other priorities.

A majority of funding for Alabama State Parks – 80-90% annually – is generated through user fees for rental, lodging, golf and other amenities in the parks. The system’s finances can also be impacted unexpectedly, such as the tornado that damaged Oak Mountain last month, Hurricane Sally damaging Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores last fall, and another tornado wreaking havoc on the campground and day-use areas at Joe Wheeler State Park in December 2019.

State parks attracted a record 6.27 million visitors in fiscal year 2020, and enhancing facilities or building additional ones should help that number continue to grow.

“Our state parks system is run as efficiently as ever, but there are plenty of needs in every one of the 21 parks — both the small and larger parks,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation. “What Governor Ivey and the Alabama State Parks Foundation have done is create a funding framework for how we can modernize and enhance an already dynamic State Parks system and make it better than ever.

“We plan to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, as well as funds so generously donated by the corporate community,” he concluded. “Our state parks offer so many amazing outdoors adventures for all Alabamians, and we appreciate so many people working so hard to help us continue that legacy.”

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

1 month ago

Storms damage important red-cockaded woodpecker longleaf habitat in Alabama

(Dylan Shaw/Alabama NewsCenter)

The storms that tore through Alabama last month took a toll on a rare longleaf pine forest near Lake Mitchell, but Alabama Power biologists have moved in to make repairs ahead of the nesting season for a protected woodpecker.

Chad Fitch, a biologist with Alabama Power, said the storm took down numerous trees in the 1,600-acre, old-growth longleaf pine forest that the company has helped nurture over more than 30 years. Longleaf pine forests are critical habitat for a wide variety of animals and plants, including the federally protected red-cockaded woodpecker.

Fitch said the company’s biology team surveyed the damage and discovered that the storm had toppled nine longleaf pines that contained nesting cavities used by the woodpeckers to breed. With nesting season just a few weeks away, the company’s stewardship team this week began replacing the destroyed cavities with new, artificial ones that are being inserted in standing pines.

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“We want to get ahead of the nesting season and do what we can to keep our ongoing breeding efforts on track, despite the recent damage,” Fitch said.

Over the past 25 years, experts have refined a process of inserting artificial nesting cavities – essentially small birdhouses – into mature longleaf pines, which red-cockaded woodpeckers will inhabit, just like they would natural cavities. Because it can take years for woodpeckers to create new cavities on their own, the artificial cavities have been critical in helping increase the population of the rare birds.

Artificial nesting cavities have helped to expand the breeding population of red-cockaded woodpeckers at the Lake Mitchell site and at many others across the South. Last year, for example, there were 11 breeding pairs of woodpeckers thriving in the Lake Mitchell forest, up from eight breeding pairs identified in the forest in the 1990s.

Prior to western colonization, an estimated 1 million-plus red-cockaded woodpeckers lived in the United States. But over the past three centuries, that number has shrunk dramatically because of habitat destruction. In 1970, the woodpecker was placed on the federal endangered species list after its estimated population dropped below 10,000.

The clearing of longleaf pine forests, the preferred habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers, is directly tied to the historic decline of the bird. Once believed to cover more than 90 million acres across the Southeast, longleaf pines now thrive on about 3% of the trees’ historic range, although in recent years multiple public agencies, nonprofits and private landowners have worked together to expand longleaf forests across the South. Alabama Power and its parent company, Southern Company, are among those actively supporting efforts to restore longleaf pine habitat and expand the red-cockaded woodpecker population.

Last fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed “downlisting” the red-cockaded woodpecker from endangered status to threatened, because of ongoing, successful efforts to protect and expand the bird’s population. The agency said the downlisting is warranted because the species is no longer in danger of extinction, although a listing of threatened would still provide the bird government protections.

Fitch said real progress has been made across the South to add to the woodpecker population, thanks to a number of initiatives, including habitat protection and expansion, and “translocation” during which experts carefully capture and move birds to new sites to expand the number of breeding groups in the wild.

He said the repair and replacement work taking place in the longleaf forest at Lake Mitchell will hopefully ensure the population there continues to grow.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Great Red Snapper Count may have little impact on 2021 season

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama, YHN)

Last week’s meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (Gulf Council) Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) yielded mixed results for red snapper anglers.

The SSC voted to partially incorporate the Great Red Snapper Count, which estimated the red snapper population in the Gulf is three times higher than previous estimates, into the Gulf Council management process. However, that action may have little impact on the 2021 red snapper season.

“The Scientific and Statistical Committee is the science advisory panel for the Gulf Council,” said Scott Bannon, Director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division. “The purpose of the meeting was to review the Great Red Snapper Count, provide feedback and decide if it should be used in the interim analysis for red snapper this year and how it should be applied. The committee reviewed the Great Red Snapper Count and showed some areas that needed improvement. The researchers are going to go back and make some minor adjustments, but it won’t make a big change in the overall number. It just improves the report they have.”

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The Great Red Snapper Count estimated the abundance of red snapper in the Gulf at 110 million fish. Previous assessments from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries estimated the number of red snapper at 36 million fish.

“The committee voted on whether that data was the best science available for setting the overfishing limit,” Bannon said. “They voted that in. The number they chose for the overfishing limit was 25.6 million pounds. The Magnuson-Stevens Act states that you cannot exceed that overfishing limit or immediate changes will have to be implemented to prevent overfishing.”

Bannon said the previous overfishing limit was set at 15.5 million pounds, so the new recommended overfishing limit is a 10.1 million-pound increase. The committee then recommended that the acceptable biological catch (ABC) be set at 15.4 million pounds, which Bannon vigorously questioned.

“That’s a 10 million-pound difference from the overfishing limit,” he said. “That’s a 44-percent buffer, which I’m disappointed in. That is relatively unheard of in fisheries management. I am pleased with the recommended increase in the overfishing limit. I’m not pleased with the ABC.”

The SSC report will go to the Gulf Council and will be discussed at the next council meeting, set for April 12-15 via webinar. The Gulf Council will then set the annual catch limit (ACL) for allocations among the five Gulf states for the 2021 season.

“With only 300,000 new pounds available, that’s a negligible increase,” Bannon said. “That increase would potentially be applied to all of the sectors – commercial, charter and private anglers.”

Another hurdle for private anglers is NOAA Fisheries is pushing that the catch data from the Marine Recreation Information Program (MRIP) survey and state reporting systems be “calibrated,” which could significantly impact Alabama’s quota and reduce the number of fishing days for private recreational anglers.

“Our goal is to avoid calibration,” Bannon said. “With calibration, Alabama and Mississippi allocations would be cut in half.”

Under calibration alternatives, Alabama’s quota for red snapper could go from 1.12 million pounds in 2020 to 547,298 pounds in 2021.

“Naturally we didn’t agree with that,” Bannon said. “NOAA Fisheries said that was going to be required because the fishery may have met the overfishing limit in 2019. The catch for 2019 barely exceeded the 15.5 million-pound limit by 150,000 pounds. That is Gulf-wide in all sectors, including private anglers, for-hire and commercial, but with the new Great Red Snapper Count data, whether there was overfishing at all in 2019 is in question. Our goal at the upcoming Gulf Council meeting is to postpone any calibration until the Great Red Snapper Count is fully integrated into the stock assessment so that Alabama and Mississippi would fish at the same level we’ve fished for the previous couple of years under the EFP (Exempted Fishing Permit) and state management, which is around a million pounds.”

The MRIP surveys have considerably overestimated red snapper catches compared to Alabama’s Red Snapper Reporting System, known as Snapper Check.

“We say we landed about a million pounds, but the MRIP survey says we landed about 2.5 million pounds,” Bannon said. “We have a monitoring program that we feel is accurate, and we are harvesting at a sustainable level. The Great Red Snapper Count says there are 10 million red snapper off the coasts of Alabama and Mississippi. We’re not getting the access to those fish that we would like. Across the Gulf, the count says there are 110 million fish, so no state is really getting the access to the fish we think they should.”

For those not familiar with the Great Red Snapper Count, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby sponsored legislation to provide $10 million for an independent survey of the red snapper population in the Gulf. More than 20 scientists across the Gulf from the academic world participated in the survey.

“It was designed to look objectively at the red snapper abundance in the Gulf,” Bannon said. “It counted fish that are two years and older. The scientists developed a plan that utilized cameras, acoustic arrays and a robust tagging program. They actually identify fish. They see them, count them and get size estimates with lasers on the camera equipment.”

The scientists surveyed natural bottom, artificial reefs and uncharacterized bottom. The uncharacterized bottom had no structures or vertical relief. Surprisingly, the surveys found far more fish on uncharacterized bottom than expected.

At the upcoming Gulf Council meeting, Bannon said any Council recommendations could be overruled by NOAA Fisheries, but he plans to make the argument that the alternative plan of no action on calibration is the proper choice.

“We are not in fear of overfishing,” he said. “The overfishing limit is now 10 million pounds higher, so if we sustain the level we’re fishing, we’re not going to get anywhere near the overfishing limit. I am disappointed in some of the decisions made by the SSC. We have an objective assessment done by more than 20 experts in the field that says there are conservatively three times the number of red snapper, but we’re not seeing the benefit of that. The SSC decisions only apply to 2021. This will give the scientists more time to review the Great Red Snapper Count in depth, make some minor changes, and hopefully it will be incorporated into the next red snapper assessment that will conclude in 2023.”

Bannon also reminds anglers or concerned citizens that the Gulf Council meetings always allocate a time for public comment on Wednesdays, which will be from 1-4:30 p.m. on April 14 for the next meeting.

“I always encourage people to voice their opinions and concerns about the decisions being made,” he said. “The Gulf Council does consider public comment. They listen, sometimes ask questions and consider it in their decision making. I will assure the anglers of Alabama that we’re not trying to take away any fish from other states or any sector, but we’re going to try to ensure that private anglers have the access that they should to this abundant resource.”

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

Two Alabamians named to Bassmaster high school All-American team

(Bassmaster/Contributed, YHN)

Two up-and-coming anglers from Alabama have been selected as 2021 members of the prestigious Bassmaster High School All-American Fishing Team, it was announced this week.

The 12-member team is presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors and selected by a panel of judges consisting of representatives from the sportfishing industry, media and conservation groups.

“For seven years, the Bassmaster High School All-American program has identified and honored some of the most accomplished student athletes in the country,” stated Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO. “We’ve seen past members go on to decorated college fishing careers and even compete in the iconic Bassmaster Classic, and know that this group of 12 outstanding All-Americans is equally as talented. We appreciate Academy Sports + Outdoors for partnering with B.A.S.S. to recognize these athletes’ fishing skills and commitment to academics, conservation and community service.”

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Tournament résumés, conservation efforts, community service activities and recommendations from school officials and coaches reportedly go into the final selection process.

“Congratulations to our newest Bassmaster High School All-Americans,” said Hank Weldon, senior manager of the B.A.S.S. high school program. “Our program is exclusive to only the most well-rounded and driven high school anglers, and each of these 12 young anglers and their parents should be proud of this accomplishment. I am looking forward to honoring their achievements at the Neely Henry Elite in May.”

The 2021 All-American team has been invited to participate in an exclusive Bassmaster High School All-American Tournament, which will be held in conjunction with the 2021 Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake, scheduled to take place May 6-9 in Gadsden. Each All-American angler will be paired with an Elite Series pro for the one-day derby to be held on a nearby fishery.

The two Alabamians selected to this year’s high school team are Alexis Grandstaff and Hayden Marbut.

Grandstaff, a senior at Headland High School, amassed an impressive two wins in the 2020 tournament season as well as 10 top five finishes and 10 top 20 finishes. She is a two-time Bassmaster High School National Championship Qualifier (2019 and 2021) as well as the recipient of two Big Fish Awards at Lake Wedowee and Lake Eufaula.

“She has proven herself a fierce competitor in the field of high school bass fishing,” commented Shannon V. Smith, Headland’s bass team head coach. “She has continuously excelled in her academics and leadership roles. She has been a trusted friend and Bass Team member to many. All of these qualities and more are what make Alexis Grandstaff a top candidate for the Top 12 Bassmaster High School All-American.”

Marbut, a senior at Vestavia High School, joins the ranks of the 2021 Bassmaster High School All-American team after netting two first-place finishes in the past 12 months, including winning the 2020 Bassmaster High School National Championship against a 250-plus boat field. He has also racked up seven top-5 finishes and nine top-20 finishes.

“In my field, I have met many hardworking, determined, motivated, energetic and intelligent students,” remarked Curtis Gossett, Briarwood Christian School fishing coach. “However, I have never met one as humble, confident and deserving as Hayden Marbut. I can say, undoubtedly, that Hayden will not only succeed in his pursuit of his fishing goals, but in his pursuit of an education and in life as well.”

Marbut plans to fish on the collegiate level for Auburn University.

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

1 month ago

Auburn University researcher, team present new methods of drought forecasting

(Pixabay)

With his research team, Sanjiv Kumar, assistant professor in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, co-authored a breakthrough study on drought forecasting published March 12 in Climate and Atmospheric Science, a partner publication to the journal Nature.

In the paper, “Seasonal to multi-year soil moisture drought forecasting,” researchers sought to find out whether they could accurately forecast soil moisture conditions at long lead times – from the next season to a few years out – and identify the mechanisms underlying that possibility.

Kumar said advanced long lead time in predicting soil moisture will greatly improve drought early-warning efforts for agriculture and natural ecosystems. The research is based on the latest advances in earth system modelling, as well as an improved understanding among researchers of land surface processes that influence soil moisture behavior on long time scales.

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He said these new findings will benefit agricultural and water resources as well as wildfire planning to mitigate the impacts of drought on society, including economic losses in the billions of dollars and intense stress to the productivity of ecosystems.

Kumar has done seminal work in the past few years to discover and develop a scientific basis for the potential for skillful soil moisture predictability, said Imtiaz Rangwala, one of the study’s co-authors.

Kumar’s previous work includes leading the group of researchers that in 2019 discovered soil-moisture re-emergence, a phenomenon that will likely have a profound impact on climate predictability science.

“That body of work, in culmination with this paper, provides a strong foundation for future research in soil moisture forecasting,” said Rangwala, a research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)/Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the climate science lead at the North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center.

Janaki Alavalapati, dean of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said Kumar’s ongoing work with fellow researchers has led to an ever-growing list of potential benefits.

“Dr. Kumar’s compelling new research builds on his previous work,” Alavalapati said. “These findings could have an enormous positive impact on drought predictability, leading to improved early-warning systems. This, in turn, will have a profound impact on people who experience drought in different parts of the world every year.”

The research team included Musa Esit, a visiting scientist who worked with Kumar on the research; Ashutosh Pandey, a former graduate student; David Lawrence from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado; and Stephen Yeager of NCAR.

While advancing the capacity for drought early warning was a major motivation for this study, the work has implications to address other water and land management issues, Rangwala said.

“Better information on soil moisture conditions is highly sought-after among communities who manage our land and water resources, but it has historically been among the most challenging variables to get accurate information on. Forecasting soil moisture accurately has been even a greater challenge,” Rangwala said.

“Currently, we cannot forecast precipitation with any skill beyond two weeks. That’s a pretty hard physical limit on our drought-predicting skills. But our research shows the potential to skillfully forecast soil moisture several months out, particularly for regions in the central and western U.S., where there is even some skill to predict soil moisture conditions over multiple years.”

The next step for this research, Kumar and his collaborators said, is to apply the principles of this discovery to develop tools to forecast soil moisture at local scales, where it can directly benefit users in agricultural planning, including the planting of drought-tolerant varieties and irrigation management.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Alabama-grown: Chilton County farmer cultivates her dream

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

THORSBY, Alabama – Taylor Boozer Hatchett didn’t grow up on a farm, but she has a passion for tending the land and sharing its bounty like many who did.

Her father, Bobby Boozer, worked with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University and spent his 26-year career helping farmers throughout the state, particularly fruit growers.

As a child, Hatchett sometimes tagged along with him on farm visits, while he scouted orchards, inspected crops, set out insect traps and visited with farmers. As she grew older, she and her family helped sell peaches for local farmers and eventually planted their own peach trees and other crops, establishing Boozer Farms in Chilton County as a fledgling summer project.

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Today, it’s no longer just a summer job, and Hatchett is a full-time farmer. She and her dad run Boozer Farms, which provides fresh produce to communities across Alabama through restaurants, local farmers markets and a growing Community Supported Agriculture program.

Despite early agricultural ambitions, Hatchett didn’t follow a direct path into farming. She planned to study nursing in college and even worked briefly in the medical field, before she returned to her first love.

“I am honored to work to bring our community fresh, local, quality food and narrow the gap between tables and farms,” Hatchett said. “I am thankful to work in an industry full of some of the hardest working and most dedicated individuals you will ever find.

“Farming is my joy … it’s in my blood.”

NEW GENERATION OF FARMERS

Boozer, 37, isn’t your typical Alabama or U.S. farmer. Federal agriculture statistics show the average farmer is over 58 years old, and their numbers have been dwindling for decades.

However, there are signs that more young people are taking an interest in farming, amid generational shifts and growing interest in food sourcing and supply, said Hunter McBrayer, commodity director at Alabama Farmers Federation and executive director of the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

Some of them are full-time farmers, while others work in another industry and do farming on the side, he said. ALFA has an active young farmers group, and the organization’s goal is to provide resources to help them move into full-time food production.

McBrayer, who is 31, said there are a variety of factors fueling the trend among his peers.

“A lot of research says the younger generation wants to know they’re doing good, and what’s better than providing food for the rest of the country?” he said. “Some of them are driven by family traditions, with people who want to get back to the farm. Others have a desire to be their own employer, knowing the harder they work, the more it pays off.”

Many have gone to school to study agriculture, or perhaps even business or marketing, and then bring that back to the farm, to help grow it in a different way than it has in the past, he added.

CSA programs, like the one at Boozer Farms, are a particularly fast-growing source of revenue for Alabama farms right now.

“I think the pandemic has added even more to the CSA programs,” McBrayer said. “People have gotten so used to ordering groceries online or doing pickups. With a CSA, it’s easy for you to expect what you’re going to get. You pay up front for your subscription, and you’re going to have farm-fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables.”

WINDING PATHWAY

For Hatchett, the summer after third grade made a lasting impression and was a sign of things to come.

She and her sister began traveling to Slocomb on the weekends to help their dad sell peaches grown by a farmer friend in Chilton County and supplement the family income.

“It always felt like such an important adventure to be included on,” Hatchett said. “We would wake up early on Saturday morning and set up our peaches to sell.  We learned how to cup up peaches into baskets for display, how to help customers and how to make change.

“It was awesome on-the-job training for two young girls, and we loved every minute of it.”

As a teen, Hatchett worked weekends and summers at Petals From the Past nursery in Jemison, and her favorite task was propagating plants in the greenhouses. She learned to make cuttings, start seeds, graft and more, but as college approached she was headed in another direction.

Everyone around her was encouraging her to go into the medical field, based on the availability of well-paid jobs. So, the summer after high school, she took a job as a tech in the surgery department of a local hospital, but it was a true fish-out-of-water experience.

Hatchett then scrapped her plans to go to nursing school at Auburn, and after taking her dad’s advice, she decided to study the field that she loved, settling on Agronomy and Soils. Still, she thought she would just complete her basics at Auburn’s College of Agriculture and then transfer to some type of medical program.

“I was required to take Basic Crop Science my first semester, and that was it,” Hatchett said. “I’m not sure how many weeks in my mind shifted, but I never again considered switching majors. I was absolutely fascinated by that class.

“It was so exciting to learn the science behind so many things I ‘knew’ about but really only had surface knowledge.”

STARTING OUT

Looking back, that semester was also when Hatchett decided that one day she wanted to farm. But she viewed it as more of a retirement plan, after she had worked and made money.

“Although I grew up around farmers, I didn’t grow up with farming resources. My family owned seven acres – and half of that is woods – and had never even had a riding lawn mower, much less a tractor. I knew I wanted to farm, and I felt like one day I would be able to. But it wouldn’t be like other people sitting next to me in class who had multigenerational family farms to return to,” she said.

During college, Hatchett went back to peddling peaches as a summer job. She and her siblings set up in a parking lot across from Ag Hill in Auburn, selling peaches grown by Chilton County farmer Henry Williams, who had supplied the produce she sold as a child.

Eventually, Hatchett talked her dad into planting their own peach trees, as well as blackberries, and Boozer Farms was born. By the time Hatchett graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2005, the family had a small blackberry patch well established, along with nearly two acres of peaches on land a neighbor allowed them to use.

“Both of those orchards are no more, but the memories made in them I will cherish forever,” Hatchett said. “There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears left in those fields, but I wouldn’t trade that time with my family for anything. Each summer we would add another location or stop to sell, and by the end of my college years we had built up a wonderful summer business.”

Even after she graduated, Hatchett continued working the tiny farm, and the sales at markets each summer helped cover college expenses for her and her siblings.

Meanwhile, she went on to get a master’s degree in Plant Pathology at Auburn and then started her career following in her dad’s footsteps as a Regional Home Grounds Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

TURNING POINT

It was a sweet time in Hatchett’s life, as she supported backyard gardening education, as well as Master Gardener programs in her region. But the medical field beckoned again, and she was offered the job of quality control director at a medical device manufacturer.

“Looking back now I wish I had followed my dad’s advice to seek joy and not money, but the salary offered was substantially more than I was making and with my husband in school full-time I decided it would be the best decision for us,” she said.

“I spent two years at a job that I was not created to do, and to say I was miserable is an understatement.”

In 2011, after a series of devastating tornadoes ravaged Alabama, Hatchett volunteered on a cleanup team with her church and caught a ride home with Joe Mims, a longtime educator, cattle farmer and sod farmer in Chilton County. He was also the neighbor who had loaned her family the land for their peach orchards years earlier, and he had long been a grandfatherly figure to Hatchett.

During that ride, she poured out her heart over her misery at her current job, and he joked that she should take over his farm.

Several days later, however, it wasn’t a joke anymore. Mims, who was ready to retire, contacted Hatchett with a proposal, which she saw as a miraculous answer to years of prayer and a door to the life and career she truly wanted.

“He laid out the most beautiful lease agreement that gave me access to his sod farm, his equipment, his entire business and in a way that I only paid him if I made money,” she said.

“It was one of the most gracious gifts that I have ever been given. He proposed that I work under him part time and begin to learn the ins and outs of the sod business and work towards running it fully by myself.”

So, Hatchett switched to part-time at the medical device company, working three days a week there and three days a week farming. That arrangement worked well for about six months, but then Hatchett’s boss said he needed her to go back to full-time.

BECOMING A ‘REAL’ FARMER

For Hatchett, there was no going back.

“I had a taste of a job that I had dreamed about,” she said. “Three days a week it didn’t matter how hard I worked, how early I started or how late I stayed, I had found the job that brought me joy. I remember looking up with tears in my eyes and telling my boss he would have to consider that my two weeks’ notice. I couldn’t walk away from my chance to farm.”

In February 2012, Hatchett marked her first day as a “real” farmer, a title that makes her smile because she’s still amazed that this is her life.

Hatchett is involved all aspects of farm life, but sales and customer service is her main task, while her dad’s primary focus is production. She stays busy communicating with customers, marketing the farm’s CSA program – which is its primary means of sales – and establishing new markets.

While there are plenty of challenges involved in farm life – finding reliable labor and balancing her roles as a wife and mom chief among them – Hatchett is committed to the long-term.

She hopes the farm continues to move forward, always providing quality produce, being open and honest about growing practices and staying up to date with new research and farming methods.

“I want to continue to farm in a way that ensures that our farm, both the people and the land, are sustainable,” she said. “It does no good to sustain your land if you can’t keep an environment where people want to work.”

Hatchett said her ultimate long-term goal is to keep farming, since many small farms don’t have a long life expectancy.

“When I look at all that God has blessed us with and how He has grown the farm it never ceases to amaze me,” she said. “I still have just a little head knowledge and just a little experience but He has been so gracious to allow me to continue to work every day at a job that brings me genuine joy.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 month ago

Anglers, sightseers celebrate partial Gulf State Park Pier reopening

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

That old adage about making lemonade when you’re presented with a difficult situation applies perfectly to Alabama’s Gulf State Park Pier.

Just as one of the Gulf of Mexico’s premier piers was set to reopen after a substantial renovation last September, Hurricane Sally made a direct hit on the Alabama Gulf Coast and the pier was significantly damaged. A 200-foot section near the octagon on the end of the pier collapsed.

Thankfully, the Alabama State Parks staff went to work on the portion of the pier that could be safely repaired, and in January the pier past the middle restroom section, called the T, was reopened to anglers and visitors.

“I am very glad to get a portion of the pier reopened after the damage caused by Hurricane Sally,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “A walk out on the Gulf State Park Pier is a time-honored tradition of locals and visitors alike. A trip to the Gulf is not complete without experiencing the sights from the pier. I am really glad for the fishermen to have access again. Not everyone has a boat. The Gulf State Park Pier provides quality recreational angling for thousands of shore-based fishermen each year. From the red drum in the fall, whiting and sheepshead abundance in the winter, spotted sea trout and pompano in the spring to king and Spanish mackerel runs in the summer, with an occasional cobia catch mixed in, the pier offers excitement for fishermen during every season.”

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After Sally hit, ADCNR had the damaged assessed by engineers for guidance on how to proceed. Displaced floor panels, plumbing, electrical wiring and lighting had to be repaired or replaced.

“Obviously, we were disappointed in the damage to the pier right before we were set to reopen after a $2.4 million renovation,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The damage was caused by events outside our control. Hurricane issues are just a part of life on the Gulf Coast. As always, we will regroup and bounce back. We quickly got the contractor back in to repair what they could on the portion of the pier that was still standing. We had to make sure it was safe.”

Lamar Pendergrass, Alabama State Parks South Region Operations Supervisor, said although the pier was built for the deck panels to dislodge to save the infrastructure, Sally’s incessant pounding took its toll.

“The panels were designed to be blown out,” Pendergrass said. “As long as Sally sat there with her wind, waves and storm surge, the panels did their job. We actually recovered about 99 percent of the panels that had just been restored and placed on the pier. We had the same contractor, Mike Thomas, come in with his crew and we reopened as much of the pier as we could safely reopen. In some areas, large sections of the handrails were gone. We had to redo the deck panels. Some of them had to be repaired or replaced. We had lighting, electrical and plumbing that had to be repaired. It was almost a rebuild after the rebuild.”

Pendergrass said assessments by engineers deemed about 175 feet past the T was safe to reopen, but a section near the collapsed portion sustained damage, which limited the area that could be safely accessed.

Despite the limitations of the reopening, dedicated anglers, like David Thornton, were elated to get back on the pier.

“It was great,” Thornton said. “I know the crowd on opening day was just ecstatic to be back out there again. The fact we caught fish that day was really the icing on the cake. Right away, people were reconnecting with friends they hadn’t seen in a while. There were guys there I hadn’t seen since last spring. It was almost like a reunion.”

Thornton, known to the online crowd as Pier Pounder, said discussion focused on what the fishing would be like with access only to a portion of the pier.

“On the Gulf Shores Pier Fishing Forum, I changed my avatar to read ‘Half a Pier Is Better Than No Pier,’” he said. “That’s the way I feel about it. The part of the pier that was reopened looks so good. Everybody was appreciative of the effort that had gone into getting it ready for the fishermen.”

When the pier was reopened, Thornton said anglers were catching whiting, sheepshead and a few pompano and a few redfish. A cold front moved through and slowed the fish, but with the spring warmup, fishing is getting better every day.

“When it started to warm up, the fishing opportunities really opened up,” he said. “The sheepshead are in spawn. They’ve even been biting on days when water has been rough. Pompano are showing up, and the Spanish mackerel bite has been pretty good. Inshore species like speckled trout will start showing up when the water temperature gets up to about 70 degrees. They’ve got the lights under the pier working, which will bring in the bait and bring in the trout. The pompano bite is just going to get better. The full moon will be the peak of the sheepshead spawn. The sheepshead will then taper off, but then more Spanish, more pompano and specks will show up. Redfish and whiting will come and go.”

Thornton said anglers and sightseers have been very good about adhering to the COVID-19 protocols. The pier is limited to 200 people, 125 anglers and 75 sightseers. Visit www.alapark.com/parks/gulf-state-park/fishing-and-education-pier for more information.

“People still have social distancing in mind, trying to be as safe as they can,” he said. “Anglers on the end will catch a limit and then they move on to the shallows to try to catch whiting or something else. Typical of what you see on the Gulf State Park Pier, there has been a really good spirit of cooperation. They’re just glad to be back out there. And if they’re not fishing, people just walk out to watch the sunset and see what everybody is catching.”

One new feature on the pier that has also been well received is the fish carcass grinder that macerates the fish remains and then transfers them to holding tanks in the parking lot.

“Everybody is using the carcass grinder,” Thornton said. “It’s really neat. It’s certainly a better solution than tossing carcasses overboard, which is what we had been doing.”

Thornton knows it won’t be the same type of fishing as when the pier was completely intact and anglers could fight a big fish around the southern octagon, but he is just glad to be back on the Gulf State Park Pier.

“We just have to keep our patience,” he said. “At least we’re halfway there.”

Commissioner Blankenship said no timetable is available as to when the pier will be completely restored, but work is already underway.

“We have contracted with Thompson Engineering, the original design firm when the pier was built in 2008, to prepare the plans for rebuilding the pier out to the southern octagon,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “With design and permitting, it will be some time before the rest of the pier can be reconstructed. Rest assured, we are working diligently to get the entire pier rebuilt and opened as quickly as possible.”

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

Kick off turkey season with the help of Alabama-made turkey calls

(WoodHaven/Contributed)

Talking turkey is a finely honed skill of Mike Pentecost, the founder and owner of Woodhaven Custom Calls. This Alabama native has been hand-making turkey calls for 21 years—and his are known for being the best of the best when matching wits with the elusive bird.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods. I became fascinated—you could say obsessed—with the vocabulary and habits of turkeys. I started dabbling into making turkey calls as a hobby,” Pentecost says. “It all started with a broken call that I tried to fix. I thought it sounded better after I repaired it.”

His hobby kept growing, and today his company Woodhaven is making a national name for itself with high quality handmade calls made from walnut, cherry, purpleheart, and yellowheart wood. It’s been a long journey for Pentecost, from making calls in the family basement to a large barn to his current facility—a former sewing plant in in his hometown of Heflin, Alabama, located in the northeast part of the state.

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Business is booming for Woodhaven with the dealer and distributor base growing significantly this year. You can find Woodhaven calls sold in outdoor and sporting goods big box retailers across the nation.

“We work all year long to meet the demand during [turkey] season. We have earned respect in the turkey world,” Pentecost says. “You get out of it what you put into it. I enjoy making good calls [and] being the best there is.”

Spring turkey season has officially begun in most counties in Alabama, running from March 20 through May 2. The sport has grown in popularity with an almost 50 percent increase in the number of unique hunter IDs in 2020.

Pentecost has seen this popularity manifest itself in more sales of his calls as well as more interest in being his hunting companion. Pentecost jokes, “Everyone wants to be my buddy this time of year.”

Turkey hunting isn’t for everyone though. A typical hunt begins in the pre-dawn hours with the hunter crouching in a field patiently waiting for sounds of a turkey that he may never glimpse.

“There is no ‘so-so’ in turkey hunting. You either love it or hate it,” Pentecost says. “I love the challenge of it—matching wits with the turkey. I liken the sport to a gentlemen’s chess game. My turkey calls level the playing field.”

Woodhaven produces three types of handmade turkey calls—Box Calls, Friction Calls and Mouth Calls—all designed to imitate different sounds to attract and flush out turkeys. Making effective calls is an artful skill that Pentecost works to perfect everyday even after 21 years.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know this was what I would end up doing. My hobby kept growing,” he says. “I learn every day and that’s what I love the most. It’s been 21 years and I still work on perfecting my calls.”

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

2 months ago

WFF Enforcement Section teaches handgun basics classes

(David Rainer/Contributed)

As firearms sales continue to set records, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Law Enforcement Section recognized a demand in basic training for handgun safety and use. Eight million new gun owners were created in 2020 alone. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many to abandon their usual indoor recreations and take up new ones outdoors. For many that was shooting.

This past weekend, officers of the Law Enforcement Section and its Hunter Education Unit held the first of five “Introduction to Handguns” courses scheduled this spring.

Two sessions were held at the Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Shooting Range in Shelby County with 10 students at each session. The WFF staff covered the basics of firearms safety and marksmanship with new shooters from the area.

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“It’s no secret that there has been a surge in firearms sales in the past year,” said Marisa Futral, WFF’s Hunter Education Coordinator, who was joined by Stuart Goldsby, Regional Hunter Education Coordinator in north Alabama. “My office has been getting a lot of phone calls from people who want to know if there are any classes available for new shooters. There’s a huge demand from people who want firearms instruction. We are trying to fill that need by starting with  handgun classes and possibly adding long gun classes in the future. The classes are open to anybody who would like to come, but we are kind of targeting the new users. This could be people who are thinking about purchasing a firearm, or they have already purchased one and need to learn how to use it. They might be timid about going to a shooting range by themselves.”

The next “Introduction to Handguns” classes will be held at the Swan Creek WMA Shooting Range in Limestone County on April 2 and April 17, 2021. The next class at the Cahaba range on April 10 is already booked up, but don’t hesitate to get on the waiting list as future classes at this location are in the works. The last currently scheduled class is at the Etowah WMA Shooting Range near Gadsden on April 24. Contact Futral by phone at 334-242-3620 or email marisa.futral@dcnr.alabama.gov for more information.

Lead firearms instructor Scott Kellenberger, one of only a handful of Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission certified master firearms instructors in Alabama, explained to the students the basics of firearms safety – always treat all firearms as if they are loaded; never allow the muzzle of the firearms to cover anything you are not willing to destroy; always keep your trigger finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you have made the conscious decision to fire; and always be sure of your target and what is beyond.

After Kellenberger’s safety instructions, the students were each provided with a personal instructor to learn handgun basics with a Ruger .22 caliber semi-automatic handgun. All necessary firearms, ammunition and safety equipment were provided by WFF for the new shooters.

The students learned how to load a magazine and insert it the magazine into the handgun and how to manipulate the safety and slide release. Instructors ensured that the students followed all safety procedures and offered tips on the proper grip for best control of the firearm and accuracy. Students also learned how to clear their firearms after a misfire or a failure-to-eject occurred.

“We try to introduce novice shooters to our (WFF) ranges,” Kellenberger said. “If they are interested, we get them involved in shooting sports. Obviously, we start with firearms safety. Then we talk about range safety. We discuss at length what range etiquette means. A lot of people have never shot on a public range before. They learn how to call the range ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ and how to keep everything safe on the range. For many new shooters, the simple fear of not knowing what is appropriate on one of our ranges can be a barrier to them. After this class, they all completely understand how to use our ranges and what they need to have in reference to a license. Then we move on to stance, grip and trigger control. We go over ammunition selection, dry-firing as a practice technique and then live fire.”

A set of paper targets was set up at 6 yards for students to shoot during the first session. After instruction and practice, the students were able to “ping” metal targets at 25 yards.

Kellenberger said .22-caliber handguns, either semi-automatic or revolver, are excellent firearms for the newcomers to learn the basics. Many of the students get a great deal of knowledge simply from getting the chance to shoot different styles of handguns. Often they go home after a class and purchase the exact handgun that they enjoyed shooting on the range.

“The .22s are great starter guns,” he said. “They can learn all the basics and do it inexpensively. For people who are a little bit afraid of firearms, there is not a lot of recoil and not a loud report. They’re easy to shoot, and the ammo is less expensive. That means a lot right now with ammo being sold in never before seen amounts. A progression a lot of people take is to start with a .22 and then move up to the firearm they are comfortable shooting or carrying if they decide to.”

Kellenberger said he can see changes in the students’ confidence from the start of the class to the end.

“With the volume of shooting and close instruction, they are a lot more comfortable with firearms and shooting than when they got here,” he said. “They were all smiling when they left, which is a good thing.”

To use WFF Public Shooting Ranges, Alabama residents are required to have a valid hunting, wildlife heritage, fishing, or WMA license for all range users between the ages of 16-64. For nonresidents, a valid WMA license or non-resident hunting license is required for all range users age 16 or older.

“All of our shooters today purchased the Wildlife Heritage License before participating,” Kellenberger said. “I explained that this $11 license allows them to use our public shooting ranges and our public archery parks for a year. It allows us (WFF) to provide these services to the citizens of Alabama. WFF does not receive any money from the state’s General Fund, and a large portion of the funding that pays for programs like this comes directly from license sales and matching federal funds.”

As Kellenberger said before, it was all smiles when the class ended, and the participants were happy with their firearms education for the day.

“I think it was an excellent experience,” said Jacqueline Brooks of Montgomery, who was accompanied by her daughter, Jayla. “It gives them a chance to teach you one-on-one and make corrections. They show you the proper stance and how to hold your gun, so it was very exciting. I enjoyed learning how to clear a misfire. Sometimes people’s guns do misfire, and they don’t know what to do. I really enjoyed learning that.”

Jamie Ligon of Hoover said she decided to take the class for two reasons, the COVID-19 restrictions that caused her to seek solace on hikes through the woods and the fact her dog probably would not protect her if a situation occurred.

“Since the virus came around, about the only exercise opportunities are outside,” Ligon said. “I’ve gotten very interested in hiking with my dog. I decided if I encountered a snake I might want to have a way to protect myself. My friend asked me if I was afraid walking around. She knows my dog and said, ‘I know Boris is not going to do anything but kiss them to death.’ I was afraid of handguns and after the class not nearly as much. The instructors were all very knowledgeable. I’m glad I did this. I’m going to recommend this to a friend of mine.”

Patti Grace of Vestavia Hills said she loves camping and decided she needed to learn about firearms for her protection.

“I solo-camp,” Grace said. “Sometimes I boondock, which means I camp out in the boonies without electricity and maybe not much safety. I thought it would be good to know how to use a firearm safely. I’ve never shot anything other than a BB gun when I was 8 years old. This was amazing. My instructor, Stuart, was awesome. I’m kind of addicted to it now. I’m going to have to get all kinds of guns. I think this is so good for the public to have a place to come. The experience was awesome.”

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

Study: Gulf contains around three times as many red snapper as previously estimated

(The Great Red Snapper Count/Youtube)

The final results of a high-profile study revealed on Wednesday that the U.S. portion of the Gulf of Mexico contains more than 110 million red snapper, roughly three times as many as previously estimated.

Referred to as The Great Red Snapper Count, the years-long study was funded to the tune of $10 million by the federal government and conducted by scientists at the Harte Research Institute in Texas.

“This is fantastic news,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) on Wednesday in reaction to the news. “In 2016, I worked to have Congress fund this $10 million, state-of-the-art study & I’m very pleased with its results.”

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“[T]his new absolute abundance estimate may potentially change the way the Gulf of Mexico fishery is managed by federal and state officials,” Harte researchers noted in a writeup of the results.

The Harte institute claims they were able to examine “large expanses not previously surveyed by NOAA.” Over 80 Harte scientists worked on the project.

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has provided the previous government estimates on red snapper populations.

The agency’s most recent estimate of the snapper population had been 36 million, whereas the more advanced Harte research indicates it is 110 million.

Harte researchers provided breakdowns of the locations of Snapper in two graphics.

(Harte Institute)
(Harte Institute)

“This is great news. This study revealed there are 110 million red snapper, which is about 3 times more than prior estimates. Thank you [Senator Shelby] for your leadership on this!” tweeted U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Mobile), whose district encompasses all of Alabama’s coastline.

The Great Red Snapper Count was also a priority for Carl’s predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope).

Regulating the red snapper season for anglers in Alabama is the Gulf Council. The council has not yet published a news release on how the findings will impact its decisions.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.