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.

5 days ago

Montgomery eyes new nature park, recreational trail network

(River Region Trails/Contributed)

For years, greenspace advocates in Montgomery have eyed an extraordinary, city-owned property near downtown as a potential site for a new park. The proposed public space even has a name: Cypress Nature Park.

Others have longed for the city to create recreational trails that would better connect neighborhoods and capitalize on Montgomery’s historic and natural resources.

Those conversations are turning to action as the city, Montgomery County and a nonprofit group collaborate on a master plan for both Cypress Nature Park and a citywide trail network.

One piece in the puzzle could be under construction later this year: a new trailhead and small park north of downtown along the Alabama River near the Montgomery Marina/RV Park and famed Capitol City Oyster Bar. Plans call for constructing a bicycle and pedestrian path south from the trailhead, all the way back to the existing downtown Montgomery Riverwalk.

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Meanwhile, the nonprofit River Region Trails expects to receive within a few weeks the first phase of a master plan for Cypress Nature Park and the trail network. The document, which is being prepared by a private consulting group, was funded in part by the nonprofit Alabama Power Foundation and will help guide the nonprofit trails organization and public officials on the best, next steps forward.

“We’re trying to get from knowing what this could be to defining what it should be, focusing on our overall goals for improving Montgomery,” said Will O’Connor, River Regions Trails executive director. “We want to build what we can build now to create momentum for more.”

At the heart of the parks/trails vision is the proposed Cypress Nature Park, a 260-acre parcel northeast of downtown, just north of the city’s historic Oakwood Cemetery. The parcel includes a stunning wetland area with mature black tupelo, water tupelo and bald cypress trees. From the wetland, the land rises 100 feet to a scenic bluff.

O’Connor said the qualities of the site indicate it may have once been part of the Alabama River, which now meanders past the city less than a mile away. The property is blessed with natural springs and seeps and is a haven for hundreds of species of birds, along with butterflies, a range of insects and invertebrates, and mammals, including racoon and deer.

He said few in town are aware of the site, although it is visited periodically by local college biology students. As a potential park, O’Connor and other advocates envision a host of amenities at the site, from a boardwalk trail through the wetlands, to hiking and biking trails, to interpretative signage and outdoor classrooms, making it a destination for environmental education. It would also be an amenity for a growing number of downtown loft and apartment dwellers.

“Most likely, the initial development focus would be the park,” O’Connor said, although the master plan will provide guidance. He said the initial hope is to begin development of the park in the next two years, with support from the city and other funders.

The bigger, long-term picture  – one that is likely take many years to refine and complete – envisions a 30-mile recreational trail, looping through multiple Montgomery neighborhoods and connecting to Cypress Nature Park. Tying into the “Loop” would be a network of smaller trails and sidewalks totaling 50 miles of pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly routes for the community.

The loop – a precise route hasn’t been finalized – would make use of discontinued railway rights-of-way in some locations and newly created trails in others. It would link to the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail that cuts through west Montgomery to the state Capitol and connect with other city parks and historic sites.

O’Connor said the organization is looking closely at a six-mile section of privately held railroad right-of-way, heading southeast from near downtown, that could become the initial “spine” of the trail loop. If that section can be developed into a trail, “it will begin to show how impactful this could be.”

He said the trail network would weave city neighborhoods closer together, with inviting walk paths and sidewalks. The network has the potential to boost property values, encourage residential and business development, and entice tourists. It could also help improve the health of the community by offering residents an easily accessible recreational asset for fitness and stress relief, not to mention providing a safe, alternate method for people to move around town without a car.

“Our trail can offer different things to different people,” O’Connor said, “It promises multiple benefits for the community.”

City officials are enthusiastic about the potential impacts of the Loop and Cypress Nature Park.

“We are excited to promote the Loop as a way for locals and visitors alike to get out and enjoy the existing urban trails that connect downtown and the Alabama River with a surprising density of public art, cool destinations, deep history and wonderful views,” said Jocelyn Zanzot, an urban planner with the City of Montgomery. “Overall, we are very excited to partner with River Region Trails to make these new opportunities for exploring Montgomery possible.”

John Steiner is a board member of River Region Trails and chairman of the board of the The Nature Conservancy’s Alabama chapter. He said River Region Trails is working with other partners and experts, including representatives of local universities, on the park and trails plan. He said the master plan will help sketch out a roadmap for the projects, but also provide information that can be used to broaden the conversation with the community and with potential public and private-sector funders.

O’Connor said public input and participation will be critical as plans develop, to ensure community buy-in and build support.

“The Cypress Nature Park is a spectacular part of Montgomery,” said Leslie Sanders, vice president of Alabama Power’s Southern Division, which is headquartered in the city. “When we talk about innovative and exciting opportunities to enhance the quality of life for those in Montgomery, and the visitor experience, the work of River Region Trails should be very near the top.

“Few cities have such an opportunity to bring together such diverse and unique recreational and educational opportunities. The trails and park will be important to the growing narrative that Montgomery is a great place to live, work and visit.”

To learn more about the park and trails plan and how to support the effort, visit the River Region Trails website at www.riverregiontrails.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 days ago

R3 campaign encourages Alabamians to get outdoors

(Billy Pope/Outdoor Alabama)

With the social distancing requirements from COVID-19, many people have turned to the outdoors to escape the impact of the lockdowns.

The number of people fishing and hunting for a variety of game species has seen a boost, and Justin Grider wants to see that trend continue. Grider was recently named the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s R3 Coordinator.

R3 is a national program that addresses ways to boost hunting and fishing participation – Recruit, Retain, Reactivate.

“The overarching view of R3 is that we want to reverse the decline in hunting and fishing license sales that’s been happening for several decades,” Grider said. “The average age of a license buyer in the state of Alabama is the late 50s, and once they turn 65 they don’t have to buy a license. We have to do something to change that trend. We not only want to revamp what we’re doing, we want to get everybody on the same page Division-wide. We want to streamline existing programs and then create new, innovative programs that will allow us to reach more people and give us a bigger footprint. We also want to reach new audiences, not only the ones we’re already in contact with.”

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Grider, WFF staff and the Communications and Marketing Section of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) are working on an R3 training video (I Am R3) to educate Department personnel.

“We want everybody in the Department to know what R3 is,” Grider said. “We want them to know the problems we are facing as an agency in that our funding model is tied to license sales. We need people to understand the importance of reversing downward sales trajectories.”

Grider said the campaign will include having more outdoors-oriented events led by WFF staff as well as training volunteers so the volunteers will be able to host the events by themselves.

“We want to increase opportunities for people to learn and get involved,” he said.

Outreach is a significant aspect of the R3 effort. A little over a year ago, Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship revamped the makeup and mission of the old Information and Education Section into the new Marketing and Communications Section and tasked Section Chief Billy Pope to find ways to expose the public to the benefits of outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing.

“It’s exciting that we are in a position to expand our marketing efforts with Billy Pope and his staff,” Grider said. “My hat’s off to Commissioner Blankenship and Billy Pope for their willingness to try innovative ideas and new approaches in how we are promoting our programs, promoting our license sales and encouraging people to utilize public lands and water bodies. We’re encouraging people to get outside to hunt, fish and get to the shooting ranges. That’s not something we have done in the past as a Department. But this is a national trend in the last couple of years and especially during the pandemic; state agencies are starting to realize the role marketing can play in helping reverse downward trends in participation.”

Although the white-tailed deer season has closed for now, Grider said the outreach will highlight the upcoming turkey season, which opens on March 20, and the abundant fishing opportunities in the spring. The campaign will continue into the summer and fall with dove season, archery season and the rifle deer season.

During the COVID pandemic, Alabama has seen a significant increase in all outdoors activities. Hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and other activities have increased as well as hunting and fishing, which can be tracked through license sales.

“We have been very fortunate to see a surge in fishing, especially, but also in resident hunting licenses,” Grider said. “The goal is to retain those new license buyers. These outreach efforts we’re putting in place are so we can retain those folks who got outdoors because of the pandemic. Because of the restrictions, people had more time on their hands and were able to get outside. We want to do whatever we can to retain that new audience.”

Grider understands that when some of the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the forces that caused the decline in outdoors activities will again be in play.

“We’ll be competing for time again as things get back to normal, as normal as it can be,” he said. “As we get back to where folks are working more and kids are involved in extracurricular activities, we will be dealing with what we faced before the pandemic. I feel like if we can get out in front before their plates get full again and they see the benefits of getting outside, they see the benefits of hunting and fishing, then those outdoors activities, like hunting, fishing and target shooting, will maintain relevancy and continue to be a priority.”

Grider said the new efforts will focus on spring and summer as well as continuing the outreach that occurs during hunting seasons with the Adult Mentored Hunting Program (AMH), the Special Opportunity Area (SOA) hunts and opportunities on our Wildlife Management Areas.

“We want to keep people engaged throughout the year, not just during hunting season,” he said. “That’s where fishing events come into play. That’s where shooting events come into play. This will help us stay relevant throughout the year.

“As for recruitment, we’re looking for new audiences. There is a lot of interest in learning how to fish and hunt in major metropolitan areas. In our marketing efforts, we will encourage those people to participate, whether it is the Adult Mentored Hunting Program, the new ‘Go Fish Alabama!’ program or getting to one of our events at one of our shooting ranges.”

The retainment aspect of the R3 program will encourage existing hunters, anglers and target shooters to take advantage of the outreach events and to volunteer to teach the newcomers the skills needed to enjoy outdoors activities.

“There are really good hunters, really good anglers and shooters who want to get involved by teaching,” Grider said. “We’ll use those folks as mentors. We’re seeing that already within the Adult Mentored Hunting Program. Folks in that program three or four years ago are coming back to serve as mentors.”

Reactivation efforts will reach out to those who have hunted or fished in the past but those activities have lapsed for whatever reason.

“Some of the folks who got back out during the pandemic were some of those people who had lapsed or had not purchased a license for several years,” Grider said. “They may have grown up in the outdoors or dabbled in it as an adult and just got busy with other priorities in life. When the pandemic offered them spare time, they were able to get back involved in the outdoors. Some of the reactivation efforts are tied to recruiting as well. We think there are people in metropolitan areas who haven’t participated in R3-type activities in five, 10 or 15 years. They may have moved from rural areas where they grew up to metropolitan areas where they can’t go hunting, fishing or target shooting as easily. We want to educate the public about the great hunting, fishing and shooting opportunities in or near the major metropolitan areas all over the state.”

Grider said WFF Director Chuck Sykes has made the R3 program and the marketing efforts a priority.

“We’re going to try innovative ways to reach these people,” Grider said. “And I think this will allow our efforts to come to fruition. If we aren’t selling licenses, we aren’t able to continue conservation and our wildlife and fisheries management programs. The majority of people care about conservation. We just need to get that message in front of them.”

Grider said the “Go Fish Alabama!” program will hold fishing events in areas like Public Fishing Lakes, state parks and local lakes in or near metropolitan areas. The program will be geared toward adults and families.

“We want to teach people how to fish so they have the knowledge to do it themselves,” he said. “We’ll have mentors on-site teaching participants how to use the equipment, how to target specific species and how to clean and cook the fish.”

Grider said the “Go Fish Alabama!” program will start as soon as COVID-19 restrictions allow. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/freshwater-fishing for the latest details.

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

Hoover’s Davis reaches pinnacle with High Hopes

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed)

B.J. Davis of Hoover has lived through the peaks and valleys of a deer hunting career in Alabama. This season he reached the pinnacle with High Hopes, a buck that changed the record books for Buckmasters and Alabama Whitetail Records.

The 42-year-old Davis started his deer-hunting career with a dog hunting club in south Alabama in the early 1980s and moved to a stalk-hunting club in Coosa County.

“My dad and I, hunting was our thing,” Davis said. “He put the passion in me.”

Davis was 21, a student at Auburn University, when his father was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. A short time later, Brian Davis, B.J.’s namesake, passed away.

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“When that happened, I kind of lost my passion for it,” B.J. said. “It was good memories but bad feelings. So I got away from hunting for a while. I would go every once in a while, but not like before.”

Then B.J. got married and his wife (Kasey) came from a family that loved the outdoors. Kasey’s father and brother (Bruce Shore Sr. and Jr.) were big hunters, pursuing deer and wild turkeys.

“They kept wanting me to go when we had family get-togethers,” B.J. said of his in-laws. “Slowly, they started working on me and got me fired up again about four years ago. I got all excited again and got in a club in Wilcox County, which is about two-and-a-half hours from our house. We’ve got five kids and I was leaving on Friday and coming back on Sunday during deer season. My wife is sweet and understanding, but that was a little tough to handle every weekend. She said, ‘We need to figure out a different plan.’”

Davis had been following a group of suburban deer hunters (SeekOne) in the Atlanta area on YouTube, and he thought he could possibly find a way to do the same in the Birmingham area.

“I grew up in the suburbs of Birmingham and wondered if that would be possible,” he said. “I started looking at the legalities and how it could be done. I knew a lot of landowners, so I got to digging into it.”

Davis had access to a piece of property near Hoover where Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Law Enforcement Section officers made a case of illegal hunting. That bust gained a great deal of media attention. Soon, other landowners in the area were contacting Davis to keep an eye on their undeveloped property in exchange for bowhunting rights. He soon had about 3,000 acres on all sides of Birmingham where he could bowhunt. Davis established an online presence with Suburban Bowhunter on Instagram and YouTube, and one of his viewers sent him an interesting photo one day.

“Three seasons ago, somebody sent me a trail cam picture of this deer and put a pin where the picture was taken,” he said. “The picture looked Photoshopped the deer was so big. It was taken near some property I have access to. It sparked my interest, but you never know what you can believe on the Internet. So I threw a lot of game cameras up to see. That season, I didn’t see anything.”

During the following season, Davis had harvested his three bucks by the middle of December but was still checking for deer in his hunting spots. One of those spots was particularly thick with an overgrowth of privet hedge, near a busy highway and railroad tracks.

“It was so nasty, but it had this one little tiny oak ridge,” he said. “Something told me to walk up on that ridge. One day, maybe it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I walked up there. It looked like elk had been up there, and it was a mile from where the guy had sent me the picture.”

Davis put up a game camera and started getting photos of the big buck he named High Hopes. The antler characteristics were the same, but the deer was not in good shape physically.

“He had gone down from that prior year,” he said. “It was post-rut, and he looked old and sickly. I was afraid he wasn’t going to make it, so I put the protein to him to try to bring him back. When he dropped his rack, he disappeared. I didn’t get a single picture until June, when his rack had started growing back. He wouldn’t get anywhere near an artificial feeder, but I was able to watch him grow. He kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It just blew my mind.”

Davis sent a photo to Lee Ellis of SeekOne, who told Davis that 16-point buck had to be a 200-inch deer.

“I’d never heard of deer that big,” Davis said. “If I got a 120-inch deer, I was elated. After he lost his velvet, I thought he might not be that big, but Lee told me, ‘Brother, that is a 200-inch deer.’ He had a little nest area that he would pop in and out of. I tried to put minimal pressure on this deer. I was going to wait until he got consistent, and then I was going to slip in on a perfect wind and try to shoot him.”

But High Hopes disappeared again, this time for 30 days. The next picture Davis got was on Thanksgiving evening.

“He was still alive, but as nocturnal as he could be,” he said. “But at least he was in the area. It was still hot and muggy with mosquitoes, but on Nov. 29 there was a cold front coming in. On Sunday morning, my wife said let’s do late church, so I decided to go sit in a tree stand. I had two stands in the area. I felt one had a better chance, but the other was better for the wind. I’ve got a flip-the-coin app on my phone. I flipped it, and it was for the stand I didn’t want to sit in. I flipped it two more times, and it came out the same.”

Davis eased into the stand he didn’t really want to go to and managed to spook a deer on the way to the stand.

“I figured it was High Hopes and he was off to Texas or somewhere, but I got in the stand anyway,” he said. “It was a beautiful morning to hunt, overcast and cold. At 7:30, I saw feet in the old roadbed. I figured it was a doe. I clicked my cameras on so I could film me taking a doe. Lo and behold, when he came around the corner, I could see it was him. He came right in and got about 15 yards from me and stopped behind a tree. I drew my bow back and held it for what seemed like 15 minutes. When I looked at the video, it was about four seconds. I let it down. It was the most scary let-down I’ve ever had, afraid that arrow might pop off (the rest). As soon as I let down, he walks out in the open at 12 yards. I was able to get my bow drawn again and let one go. I knew right off it was a good hit. He butt-kicked and ran off toward that oak ridge. I saw him fall over.”

When Davis walked up to the big buck, he still didn’t realize what he’d done, figuring High Hopes would score 165 to 170. He sent a photo of the buck to his in-laws, who were about 1½-2 hours away. Both Senior and Junior hopped in their vehicles and headed to see the deer.

“They put a tape to the deer, and we were all just blown away,” Davis said.

After a trip to the processor, Davis took the caped-out head to the taxidermist. A couple of days later, Steve Lucas with Buckmasters and Larry Manning of Alabama Whitetail Records paid a visit to measure the antlers. Both scorers came out with the same exact measurements of 199 4/8 inches.

“I asked them to measure again to see if they could squeeze in another half-inch,” Davis said with a laugh. “I was just tickled to death.”

In the Alabama Whitetail Records book, High Hopes is the second-best archery buck in the typical (symmetrical rack) category and ranks fifth in the non-typical category.

In the Buckmasters scoring system, which has perfect, semi-irregular and irregular categories, High Hopes is the top semi-irregular ever taken in Alabama with a compound bow.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” Davis said. “It’s been exciting. I documented the whole thing with High Hopes. I put some stuff up on my Suburban Bowhunter, and Lee is going to put the video on SeekOne on YouTube probably in October this year.”

Although suburban Atlanta may hold some giant bucks, Davis figures deer the size of High Hopes are rare in suburban Alabama.

“I mean, a 150-inch deer in Alabama is a deer of a lifetime,” he said. “This deer was in a spot where he was able to get really old. We think he was 7½ years old. His diet was heavy in protein with plenty of kudzu, and there were tons of acorns. I don’t think there’s another one like him. Praise to God if we do find another one. I think it will be another lifetime before another one like him shows up.

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

Bass Pro Shops announces US Open National Bass Fishing Amateur Team Championship

(Bass Pro Shop/Contributed)

Bass Pro Shops is celebrating its 50th year, and amateur anglers and the waters where they practice their craft will net the rewards.

Founder Johnny Morris today announced what he called the grandest fishing tournament in history – the Johnny Morris Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open National Bass Fishing Amateur Team Championships.

The tourney will have more than $4 million in cash and prizes for anglers and is expected to reel in at least $1 million for conservation.

“This is just for amateurs,” Morris said. “It’s just for you.”

The tournament, which will air internationally on NBC, invites owners of TrackerRangerNitroTritonSun TrackerTahoe and Mako brand boats to compete in two-person teams. The event is exclusively for amateurs, including serious weekend tournament anglers, parents, grandparents and youngsters.

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The national championship team will win a $1 million cash prize.

“Never before has there ever been a freshwater tournament like this,” said legendary angler Bill Dance. “And that’s just the beginning. Participants will be rewarded with a total guarantee purse value (of) $4.3 million in cash prizes.”

But the big winners, Morris said, will be the habitats of the fish.

“About a third of your entry fee will be donated directly to conservation (through) a fish habitat initiative that supports habitats and freshwater lakes that’s so important,” Morris said of the National Fish Habitat Initiative. “Also, we’ll match that at Bass Pro with another third and then our great conservation partners at Toyota are going to match that a third.

“We’ll all be like partners in this conservation effort of this tournament,” the Bass Pro Shops founder said. “That’s one of our big motivations – celebrate our 50th anniversary, have a lot of fun, have some great prizes to get you excited, have a chance to win some really big awards and recognition of prizes, but also do a great deal to support conservation.”

To grow the sport of bass fishing, regional and international qualifier events will feature division payouts for youths, family teams, all-female teams, veterans and more. Additional prizes will be offered for the biggest bass and other categories.

Also, Morris is awarding a junior angler age 11 to 18 a $250,000 scholarship toward a conservation-related area of study.

Following a series of regional qualifying tournaments beginning this spring, 350 two-person teams will compete in the televised championship finale this fall at Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake, home of the “granddaddy” Bass Pro Shops store in Springfield, Missouri.

The competition will include teams from Japan, Spain, Germany, Romania, Mexico and Holland.

John Paul Morris, the founder’s son, joined him in making the announcement.

“We’ve been working really hard on this and the main thing is it’s just a great way to kind of give back to our customers to show them a great time,” the younger Morris said. “We’re going to have eight qualifying events and if you’re one of the top 40 finishers in any of our qualifying events, you get your entry fee completely paid for (in) the final event.

“But more so than just the tournament, all these are fun events for the whole family,” he continued. “It’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun, the prizes are almost triple, if not over triple, that of the leading national professional bass fishing tournaments and the coolest part is, it’s just for you. No pros allowed.”

Here’s the tournament schedule:

  • Lake Okeechobee, Florida, March 13.
  • Lake Ray Roberts, Dallas, April 17.
  • Lake Mead, Nevada, April 24.
  • Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, July 17.
  • Lake St. Clair, Detroit, Aug. 21.
  • Old Hickory Lake, Nashville, Sept. 11.
  • Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oct. 16.
  • Last Chance Qualifier: Bull Shoals Lake, Arkansas, Nov. 17.
  • Grand Championship finale for those who qualify: Table Rock Lake, Missouri, Nov. 19.

Participation in the qualifying tournaments is limited and will be determined by lottery. Entry details are available at basspro.com/usopen. Registration opens Feb. 10.

Bass Pro Shops is a chain of large, wilderness-themed stores with a wide array of hunting, fishing and outdoor gear. The chain includes stores in Leeds and Prattville.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Alabama hunters bagging big bucks this season

(ADCNR/Contributed)

Judging from the number of deer reported through the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Game Check system and the number of trophy bucks posted on social media, Chris Cook thinks this is the best deer season our state has had in quite a while.

Cook, the WFF’s Deer Program Coordinator, said numerous factors are likely involved in the increase in harvest numbers as well as the quality of the bucks harvested.

Alabama’s three-buck limit has been in place for more than a decade, which could be one of the reasons for the big bucks, but Cook said that is difficult to quantify. Hunters are allowed to take one male deer (bare antlers visible above natural hairline) per day and three per hunter during all combined seasons. One of the three must have at least four antler points 1 inch or longer on one antler (except for Barbour County). A point is defined as an antler projection of at least 1 inch in length from base to tip. Main beam tip shall be counted as a point regardless of length. Barbour County requires all bucks to have at least three points on one side to be legal except during the statewide special youth season, when any antlered buck can be harvested.

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“It’s hard to track and determine what you can attribute exactly to the three-buck limit because of the way data was collected before that,” Cook said. “We used the mail survey, and before the three-buck limit one of the questions was how many bucks you killed. If they killed 20, that’s what they put down. After the three-buck limit, nobody was going to put down they killed more than the limit. But I also think people started to be a little more selective. So we can’t attribute it to the three-buck limit or just a change in hunter attitude. It does appear hunters were willing to pass on yearling and 2-year-old bucks. A lot of clubs put in rules on buck harvest, so some of it was self-imposed.”

The number of trophy bucks taken in Alabama this year has been impressive. Huge bucks pop up on social media daily. Cook thinks the ease of posting photos on social media could possibly be skewing the impression of a banner season.

“With increased use of social media, everybody wants to post a picture of what they’ve killed, so everybody else sees what they’ve done,” he said. “In the past, somebody had to take a picture, get the film developed and send the picture to you. But it definitely seems that a lot more really good bucks were taken this year. Our Game Check numbers show that people are reporting way more deer than they ever have. They’re killing more deer, and a percentage of bucks reported have been really good deer.”

Cook said the change in the possession regulations has likely increased the Game Check compliance. After a deer is harvested, it must be reported by the hunter through Game Check before it can be transferred to an individual, processor or taxidermist. Whoever is in possession of all or part of a deer or turkey that is not their own must retain written documentation with the name of the hunter, the hunter’s Conservation ID number, the date of the harvest and Game Check confirmation number. The information can be documented on a piece of paper, or on a transfer of possession certificate available in the Alabama Hunting & Fishing Digest or online at outdooralabama.com. WFF also reactivated its toll free Game Check phone number, 1-800-888-7690, to make it easier for those without smartphones or internet access.

“You look at this season’s significant increase in Game Check numbers, and you have to wonder what our phone survey is going to tell us,” he said of the survey that had previously been done by mail. “If the survey numbers track along with the Game Check numbers like they have in previous years, I suspect we’ll see a pretty good increase in numbers from the phone survey.”

Cook said the COVID-19 restrictions have played a role in the increased harvest of all deer. Many people have discovered or rediscovered many outdoors activities, including hunting.

“We saw that during last year’s turkey season,” he said. “More people were hunting because of work schedules. Some people were working remotely and were able to schedule more time in the woods to kill more deer.”

Environmental conditions that improved deer habitat also likely contributed to an increase in deer harvest, Cook said.

“We had two good years of above average rainfall,” he said. “In some areas, we had a lot of flooding, which makes it hard to hunt during deer season. Some deer that would have normally been harvested didn’t get killed. The other benefit of all that rain is food production. So tough hunting conditions for a couple of years and great growing conditions probably allowed the deer to be a little older and in better condition. Early in the season, people were saying they couldn’t remember seeing body weights this good. Another factor that may be playing into this is the supplemental feeding. When feeding became legal last year, we had a 14-percent increase in harvest. But I wouldn’t attribute corn to the increased quality of the deer.”

Cook said WFF biologists and Law Enforcement personnel continue surveillance throughout the state for evidence of CWD (chronic wasting disease) with a special emphasis on northwest Alabama.

“We’ve increased our sampling efforts because of what’s going on in Mississippi and Tennessee,” he said. “We’re doing what we can to try to detect it early if it shows up in Alabama to give us more options on how to manage it. We haven’t detected anything. Mississippi added a couple of counties this year. Alcorn County (Mississippi) is the one closest to us. It really didn’t change our response protocol because it was still far enough away. Lauderdale County (Alabama) is the county within 25 miles of that positive case, and we had already stepped up surveillance in that area. We’re still working on meeting our target for testing. We’ve sampled a little more than 1,700 deer this year, more than we have before, and we’ll continue to sample more throughout the year.”

The Alabama deer herd is estimated at between 1.25 million and 1.5 million animals. As the Game Check numbers and phone survey data are analyzed for harvest on the county level as well as age and sex ratios, Cook said WFF will be able to update its population estimates after deer season ends February 10.

“We’ve got some areas where the deer population is down and other areas with more deer than they’ve ever had,” Cook said. “Places with good habitat will have good deer populations. It sure appears our deer herd is healthy. It’s going to be interesting to see what the phone survey numbers are, but it sure appears the harvest took a pretty good jump up this year, which I think will be an indicator of two things – we have more deer, but I think it also shows that people spent more time hunting. This deer season appears to be one of the best we’ve had in a long time. I hope people are able to take advantage of the last few days of the season. It will be prime time to be in the woods, especially in south 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

Purchase of large Dauphin Island plot offers protection of endangered species

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed)

The purchase of 838 acres on the west end of Dauphin Island will help protect a diverse coastal habitat frequented by endangered birds and sea turtles, state conservation officials said.

Funds from Alabama’s portion of the $8.8 billion settlement by BP for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf were used to buy the land that was until recently privately owned, the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group announced. The Dauphin Island West End Acquisition project was approved as part of the Alabama Restoration Plan III and Environmental Assessment.

The new public property is a diverse coastal habitat made up of dunes, marsh and beaches. Turtles and birds use these habitats for nesting. Neotropical migratory birds use the area as a prime resting spot during migrations.

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

The piping plover is a federally protected threatened species that is among the species on the west end of the 166-square-mile barrier island southwest of Mobile. Conserving this parcel will ensure that the sensitive coastal habitat is protected for years to come, Blankenship said.

Along with providing habitat, barrier islands protect natural and human communities against ocean storms. Waves expend their energy as they break on the island beaches. Because they buffer the Gulf’s wave action, barrier islands protect salt marshes and seagrass beds, which are nurseries for valuable marine species.

In partnership with the Department of the Interior and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural ResourcesMobile County and the town of Dauphin Island will develop a bird conservation and management plan to guide future activities on the new public land. Activities to support productive bird populations will likely include improvements to the habitat, temporary protective closures surrounding nests, protections from predators, and education and outreach.

“The acquisition of the west end of Dauphin Island provides much-needed protections for threatened piping plover habitat,” said Erin Plitsch, restoration biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Alabama’s coastal habitat is a favorite for bird watchers and wildlife habitat enthusiasts alike, and this project will add to the continuing effort to restore these vulnerable areas.”

For more information on this and other Alabama projects, visit the Alabama Restoration Area portion of the Gulf Spill Restoration website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Woodcock monitoring program tracks migration routes

(Billy Pope/Contributed, YHN)

Seth Maddox will head out in February with other Division biologists to do some woodcock hunting. Yes, that is after the woodcock hunting season closes on January 31, but Maddox will not be using a conventional harvest tool. He will be wielding a long-handled dipnet.

Maddox, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Migratory Gamebird coordinator, will be on a mission to continue a woodcock tagging program to determine migration routes as well as conduct genetic studies on the birds also known as timberdoodles.

The woodcock is a migratory bird similar in size to the bobwhite quail but with a long, slim bill. The birds winter in the Southeast, which means Alabama will have a population of woodcock during the winter hunting seasons. As soon as it starts to warm, woodcock head north to their breeding grounds.

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Maddox and WFF are working with the Eastern Woodcock Migration Research Cooperative to trap birds and attach transmitters that will track movement. For the first time since 1985, woodcock were trapped in 2020 in Alabama to become part of the study, which is spearheaded by the University of Maine.

“The project started about four years ago,” Maddox said. “The Cooperative was interested in migration patterns. They began putting transmitters on birds in the fall for their migration to the South. Here, we started putting transmitters on birds in the winter, following their spring migration to the North. These studies will narrow down key factors, like stopovers on the migration routes. It will determine if they have to travel farther because the habitat has been degraded or lost over the years.”

In February 2020, Maddox and crew went afield with spotlights, a thermal camera and the long dipnet.

“Once we locate the woodcock, we use the spotlight to try to disorient it for a minute,” he said. “We move forward, shaking the light to get close enough to catch the bird with the net. It’s not quite like a snipe hunt, where you have a cloth bag or burlap sack,” he said, referring to the prank where some unsuspecting individual is left in the middle of the woods holding the bag.

Maddox said last year they saw hundreds of woodcock, but they proved very difficult to capture.

“We ended up catching 13 birds,” he said. “We had seven transmitters to deploy, and we deployed all seven. We put four transmitters on females and three on males. The transmitters (less than the size of a quarter) on the females will give us information on nest success on the breeding grounds. We also took feather samples to do isotope analysis to determine geographic origin. You can look at the carbon in the feather and see where the bird was hatched. We also took blood samples for genetic analysis to determine population connectivity.”

The woodcock population is confined to the Eastern U.S., bordered by the Mississippi River to the West, the Canadian Provinces of Manitoba, Quebec and Novia Scotia to the north and Florida to the south. Maddox said where the prairie starts to the West is where the woodcock population ends. One of the birds tagged in Alabama last year traveled 2,100 miles into Manitoba. The woodcock are managed in two management regions, the central and eastern. Alabama is in the central management region.

“Woodcock are prevalent in the eastern U.S.,” Maddox said. “Alabama, being in the center of the Southeast, is kind of like a funnel for the birds that come from Minnesota, Michigan, Maine, Quebec, New York and Pennsylvania during their winter migration. We have a lot of habitat for woodcock with our woods and timber harvest operations.”

Maddox said ideal habitat for woodcock is forests that have been manipulated.

“Logging operations really help,” he said. “Every time you clear-cut a patch of land, when it starts coming back up, that first five or 10 years provides the ideal cover for woodcock. When the trees get tall, the woodcock don’t use it as much because there is less underbrush.”

Alabama has a 45-day woodcock season with a three-bird daily bag limit. A few hunters specifically target woodcock, but most are incidental harvests by quail hunters. Woodcock is a federally managed migratory species.

“Typically, woodcock hunting involves a pointing dog, kind of like quail hunting,” Maddox said. “But woodcock prefer thicker habitat along streamside management zones. You really have to get into the habitat because the birds hold very tight. It’s hard to hunt them without a dog. Their main source of food is earthworms. They use that long bill to probe into the soil and pull those worms out. They need really loose, moist-soil habitat that is found in bottomland areas. They’ll be along the water edges in thick cover. They won’t be in standing water, just a moist-soil environment where there is thick cover.”

Other hunters may encounter woodcock when pursuing other game.

“This time of the year, hunters see them from their deer stands or when they are walking to and from their stands,” Maddox said. “You’ll see woodcock feeding in the mornings or at night and after rains in harvested agricultural fields. You might also see the males doing a mating display, known as the sky dance, where they jump and fly 50 feet off the ground. As they fly in an arching pattern, the wind passing over their wing feathers will make a distinctive musical twitter sound. Their call is a peenting sound, which is sort of like a buzz. It sounds a little bit like an insect, like a cicada. While the birds are down here, they are pair bonding. The male is trying to attract a female with the displays. Then the pair will migrate north and establish a nest.”

According to the WFF hunter survey, about 300 hunters take advantage of the woodcock season with an average annual harvest of about 2,000 birds.

“The big harvest states for woodcock are Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota,” Maddox said. “I think most of our woodcock are taken by hunters who are probably not targeting woodcock. They are likely targeting quail. With the quail population at low levels, hunting woodcock could be a good way to get your bird dogs out and get some exercise. We have woodcock on lots of our WMAs (wildlife management areas), and you probably won’t run into many woodcock hunters. You’ll likely have it to yourself.”

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 saw a surge in visitors last year

(Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources/Contributed)

Alabama State Parks saw a marked increase in visitors last year, as their welcoming outdoor environments provided citizens with a safe way to leave the house amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A release from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) on Thursday relayed that 6.27 million individuals visited Alabama’s parks during the fiscal year ending September 30, more than 1.5 million than the year previous.

“Alabama State Parks has always been one of the state’s true treasures, and it’s gratifying to know so many people recognized that fact and visited the parks last year,” remarked Chris Blankenship, ADCNR commissioner, in a statement.

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Alabama has 21 state parks that encompass around 48,000 acres of land.

High visitation rates are crucial to sustaining Alabama’s state parks, as between 80 and 90% of their budget comes from customer fees.

A key driver of the 2020 visits was players on the six golf courses located in the state parks system. Per ADCNR, 61,235 rounds were played during the fiscal year ending in September, a year over year increase of 39%.

“I remain intensely grateful to Gov. Kay Ivey for making the courageous decision to keep our parks open,” noted Blankenship. “People needed an outlet for recreation, and the amazing staff at our parks made sure people could visit safely.”

ADCNR is also reporting that occupancy at their campsites went up 9.5% last year, even as the popular Joe Wheeler campground was inoperable for much of that time due to a December 2019 tornado.

We know our parks offer some of the most beautiful natural scenery anywhere in the world,” said Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein.

“We’re also proud that our parks offer activities and attractions that promote safe recreation while social distancing. That’s a unique blend that explains why so many people visited the parks in 2020, and we hope it continues in 2021 and beyond,” he concluded.

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

1 month ago

Lake Eufaula lands 2021 Bassmaster Team Championship event

(Lake Guntersville State Park-Alabama,Facebook)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The last spot in the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk will be filled on historic Lake Eufaula as this Alabama fishery hosts the Bassmaster Team Championship and Classic Fish-Off Dec. 8-11, 2021.

Battling for that coveted berth in the Bassmaster Classic will be the grassroots anglers competing at the Bassmaster Team Championship. The team portion of the event will be held Dec. 8-9 and will feature anglers from across the country — 32 states in 2020. The winning duo will not only win a cash prize, but they’ll also lead the charge into the Classic Fish-Off which will take place Dec. 10-11.

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The top three teams through Day 2 — six anglers in all — will have their weights zeroed and then compete individually in the Fish-Off. The competitor with the heaviest two-day total of the group will earn their spot in the Classic. 

In 2020, that honor went to Jordan Wiggins, a 29-year-old Cullman, Ala., resident whose older brother Jesse notched a third-place finish in the 2019 Classic.

“What a wonderful way to end a year,” says Ann Sparks, Tourism and Main Street Executive Director for the City of Eufaula. “We are thrilled to be hosting the Bassmaster Team Championship and showing off what Lake Eufaula has to offer! Most anglers have fished our great lake, but we are excited to show off our changes and improvements to our beautiful town.”

B.A.S.S. has visited Lake Eufaula 17 times for major events, including an Elite Series tournament last year that was broadcast live to an audience of more than 2.8 million. The town itself — with a statue declaring Eufaula as the “Big Bass Capital of the World” — is known throughout the fishing industry as the hometown of legendary angler and lure designer Tom Mann. It’s the home of Mann’s Bait Company and the Johnson Outdoors location where Humminbird electronics are produced.

In addition to the Team Championship event, Lake Eufaula will also host the Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series powered by TourneyX on May 1.

The tournaments are being hosted by the Eufaula Barbour Chamber of Commerce.

(Courtesy of B.A.S.S.)

1 month ago

Alabama 2020 oyster harvest doubles previous year’s totals

(David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

Harvest numbers for the 2020 Alabama oyster season, which ended on December 23, indicate the state’s oyster ecosystem is bouncing back in a big way.

That 2020 harvest of 22,000 sacks doubled the previous year’s harvest, thanks to improving conditions and a new method developed by the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) to determine when and where oysters could be harvested.

“I think it was a very successful season,” said Colonel Scott Bannon, MRD Director. “We think we are turning a corner on the things that we can control, which is the amount of harvest and the areas harvested as we work to rebuild our public reefs. As long as environmental conditions are favorable, I think we’re going to continue to see growth. With as many as 144 (oyster) boats on the water during a day, there was a lot of bottom that was turned, which is healthy for that reef by exposing shell and cultch material. When you don’t have harvest on a reef, you’re not exposing shell that may have been silted over. When you expose that shell and cultch material, it makes it available for spat (oyster larvae) to attach for future seasons. It’s that harvester’s circle. You work the reef; the spat sets and the reef expands. A lot of benefits came out of the harvest we had. It was a financial boost to the local economy, but also for the rest of the state and other areas that were receiving our oysters. It was a very desirable product.”

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Bannon said the demand for Alabama oysters was high, not only because of their quality, but also because the only other Gulf state with a fully open oyster season was Texas.

“It was a high-value product for a limited availability due to COVID,” he said. “COVID still had a negative impact on the oystering because there are still places around the country that are not open to sit-down-style dining. That’s where oysters generally are consumed in the half-shell market. The quarts and gallons of shucked oysters still had a market in stores, but COVID did have an impact.”

Dana Harbison Taylor at Anna’s Oysters in Bayou La Batre, which has been processing oysters for 28 years from sources around the Gulf of Mexico, said the 2020 Alabama season was a welcome success despite COVID.

“This year I saw more boats, so more people were interested in catching oysters,” Taylor said. “And I saw larger oysters than last year, which means the oysters are growing. Also, I could also tell by how fast the oyster catchers were coming in. It shows how many oysters were there. They weren’t scratching, as we call it, trying to find oysters. They were catching them pretty fast. When the season kicked off in October, some of the seasoned catchers would be pulling up to the docks within 45 minutes to an hour. It was unreal how fast they were coming in.”

Taylor said the demand for Alabama oysters was excellent for a variety of reasons.

“People had a lot of interest in Alabama oysters because they have a meatier texture, so they were fatter,” she said. “They were salty. They have an all-around different taste. We have a lot of locals and businesses that requested Alabama oysters. We had a truck waiting on the catchers to bring the oysters in. We were determined to buy Alabama oysters. And the catchers were telling me the reefs are loaded with oysters. They said there were oysters everywhere. I think it’s awesome.”

Bannon said the development of a grid system for management of the oyster reefs allowed MRD to be a great deal more flexible in opening and closing areas to harvest.

“Last year, during the season, we had some areas where harvesters were concentrating and probably overworking,” Bannon said. “But we felt there were other areas with harvestable oysters (at least 3 inches in length) they were not accessing, and we didn’t have a mechanism to close portions of areas we had open. We developed a grid system with 500 by 500 square meter grids so we could open and close those grids. Now we can use the grid system to narrow the areas of harvest. That does multiple things. It gives us an idea of specific areas where people are harvesting, which helps account for the oysters that are coming off the reef. We can then compare that area harvest to our preseason surveys and make season adjustments.”

Bannon said that situation occurred this year at the Cedar Point West Zone. MRD closed Cedar Point West after the northern end received a lot of harvest pressure and opened Cedar Point East. After surveying other sections of Cedar Point West and finding harvestable oysters, MRD was able to use the grid system to reopen a portion of Cedar Point West while keeping the northern end closed.

“That gave the harvesters an extra 4,000 sacks from that area,” Bannon said of the sack measurement that equals a bushel basket. “Some people are saying we’re using the grids to exclude them from harvesting in certain areas. That is true once they have worked to what we feel is the optimum yield. But we also use it to open areas where we think they will have additional opportunities for harvest. We feel like it was pretty successful.”

Oyster harvesters can go to www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/saltwater-fishing and look for the Oyster OMS Grid Map tab. Once there they can turn on location services, which will show the harvesters which grid they are in at the time. If harvesters don’t have a smartphone, MRD has an oyster management trailer available to provide graphics with the latest information.

“Marine Resources does not gather any information from those location services,” Bannon said. “We do not see the location of the oyster catcher from the website. We’re not tracking people. It’s there for the catchers’ benefit, and some of the catchers really liked it. They were able to move around. Some of them were really able to take advantage of it. I think it was a very effective tool to allow them to harvest maximum yield.”

MRD determines maximum yield by doing preseason dives and surveying one-square-meter blocks of the bottom to determine the oyster density and viability of the oyster habitat.

“We take everything from that one square meter and determine how much cultch material is there and how many live oysters are there from spat stage to undersized to harvestable oysters,” Bannon said. “We use that to determine how many sacks are available in an area. This year, we estimated that we could harvest around 19,000 sacks. During the season, we watched where people were working. We sent staff out to see them working on the reefs and conducted additional surveys, which allowed us to expand from 19,000 sacks to 22,000 sacks.”

Despite the encouraging results of the 2020 oyster season, MRD is working to revive some oyster reefs that have not been productive lately.

“Environmental changes have impacted the traditional oyster beds in Mobile Bay,” Bannon said. “We are working on some restoration projects. We’re looking at elevating the bottom in some of those areas because there is low dissolved oxygen on the bottom, and the oysters can’t survive. Once you elevate them in the water column, they have the potential to survive. We have a project called mounds and furrows, where we have piled shells and gravel in different fashions to get it higher in the water column. We will survey those areas to see if the spat is adhering to that material and surviving because the oxygen levels are higher. We will also be expanding our hatchery in Gulf Shores (Claude Peteet Mariculture Center) to produce oyster larvae to be delivered to an expanded program at Dauphin Island, where we place that larvae on shell. Those shells containing small oysters can then be used to revitalize some of the historic oyster reefs. Oysters are important, not only for harvest – we all enjoy that – but they are critical to the ecosystem. They are crucial for water quality, and they are important as a food supply for some of the other marine species. You need a good supply of oysters to have a healthy harvest and a healthy ecosystem.”

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

Volunteers build new fish habitats for Alabama’s lakes and rivers

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

New artificial fish habitats will soon be deployed in Alabama lakes and rivers as part of a joint effort by Alabama PowerB.A.S.S. and Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation to help fish thrive.

Approximately 200 “spider blocks” were assembled Jan. 9 in Calera. High school anglers, coaches and parents from the Gardendale Rockets Bass Fishing Club and HUKONE Bass Club joined volunteers from Alabama Power, B.A.S.S. and Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation High School to assemble the fish-attracting devices (FADs). The work was done in an open field, allowing participants to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.

“This is exciting,” said Darrel High, state youth director of Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation. “We do a lot of projects and we like for our high school clubs to get involved with these type things. I think it’s great.”

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Alabama Power, B.A.S.S. team up to build new artificial fish habitats from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The spider blocks were built using 150 bags of cement, 200 buckets, 1,600 synthetic sticks and water. Alabama Power Environmental Affairs Specialist Mike Clelland said the spider blocks will replace aging natural habitat.

“As our reservoirs age, the natural habitat starts to deteriorate and go away, so we’re supplementing the old stumps, logs and trees with spider blocks built out of synthetic materials,” Clelland said. “As these structures sit in the water, they’ll start collecting algae and macroinvertebrates, which are little insect colonies. That in turn will attract smaller fish to feed on, and in turn the larger fish will come to the smaller fish, so we’re creating mini-ecosystems throughout the reservoir.”

Clelland added that these artificial habitats can survive much longer than natural FADs, such as old Christmas trees, because of their synthetic structure, giving fish more reliable habitats in which to thrive.

“These fish habitats will be here for many years,” Clelland said.

Catherine Huffman, coach of the Gardendale Rockets Bass Fishing Club, said her anglers enjoyed putting the habitats together.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “It’s a good project and it’s good to get them out of the house and get them working.”

Clelland said the FADs will be placed in area lakes and rivers in the coming weeks with GPS locations of the new habitat drops placed on apcshorelines.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

South Alabama dives into Galapagos research

(University of South Alabama/Contributed)

When Dr. Ronnie Baker returns to the Galapagos Islands as part of ongoing research project with the University of South Alabama, he’ll bring along a dozen underwater cameras and a plan for surveying the waters surrounding one of the most remote and unique ecosystems on the planet.

“What I’d like to do is look at the mangrove and other shallow water habitats along the coast,” said Baker, who is also a senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. “And get a general baseline of the juvenile fish communities to allow us to detect changes in these communities into the future.”

The research is part of a collaboration with the University of North Carolina and Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador. Baker is one of seven South researchers who have been awarded grants to explore research opportunities with the Galapagos Science Center.

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He made his first trip in 2019. He planned to return this fall, but the coronavirus pandemic interrupted travel. His next chance might come in the spring.

COVID-19 restrictions may have delayed trips to the archipelago for South faculty and students, but they haven’t diminished enthusiasm for the partnership. A USFQ team of engineering students and an instructor recently participated remotely in a USA innovation program as they seek to link disposers of recyclable materials with buyers.

Meanwhile, three South students have worked on research projects with faculty from USFQ. Marie Foret and Aaron Wilson, both honors students, are participating in meaning in life research, surveying USA students to secure a comparison population and offering an opportunity for cross-cultural understanding. Lena Siemers, a December graduate in international studies and foreign languages and literature, assisted on a project focused on human migratory flows from Venezuela to Ecuador.

“When you start these kind of partnerships, you hope they’ll grow into something meaningful and significant,” said Bri Ard, director of international education at South. “With USFQ, we had a great idea and we were able to execute it.”

Alex Rendon, director of operations for the office of international programs at USFQ, said South research fit well with plans for the International Galapagos Science Consortium.

“One of the motivations for inviting USA to join the consortium,” Rendon said, “was the strong capacities in sustainable fisheries and ecotourism that could elevate ongoing activities to higher levels of scholarship and greater global visibility.”

The Ecuador program joins more than 15 South partnerships with colleges around the world. These include exchange programs with the Toulouse Business School in France, Hanyang University in South Korea and Kansai Gaidai University in Japan.

The Galapagos Islands, which are more than 500 miles off the coast of South America, are famous for inspiring Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution during his scientific voyage on the HMS Beagle in 1835. Because of their isolation in the Pacific, the islands have a large number of unique species and are a national park and marine reserve of Ecuador, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dr. Tony Waldrop, president of the University of South Alabama, helped start the Galapagos Science Center when he was vice chancellor of research at the University of North Carolina. The center was founded in 2011 as a hub for research among local, national and international scientists. The focus of work is on interdisciplinary research, education through science and community support. The connection between Waldrop and USFQ administrators led to South joining research in the Galapagos.

“These kinds of relationships are incredibly valuable,” Ard said. “You automatically have university buy-in and support. It’s a bit of a dream.”

Lynne Chronister, vice president of research and economic development at South, offered travel grants to professors interested in Galapagos research. These included Dr. Sean Powers, Dr. Alison Robertson, Dr. Brian Dzwonkowski and Baker in the department of marine sciences; Dr. Kevin White in civil, coastal and environmental engineering; and Dr. Alex Beebe and Dr. Steven Schultze in the department of earth sciences.

Areas of study are fisheries, climatology, oceanography and seismology, along with tourism and hospitality, health-related services, and civil and coastal engineering. In years to come, field work could include graduate assistants and undergraduate students from Mobile.

“This will give our students an opportunity to gain international experience,” Chronister said. “Both in the classroom and in research.”

Right now, South professors are trying to plan their research around the travel restrictions and health concerns of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s delayed all of the research by about a year,” Chronister said.

In 2015, some of the first scholars from the University joined an international research project in the Galapagos Islands. A pair of South biologists at the time, Dr. Ylenia Chiari and Dr. Scott Glaberman, helped identify a new species of giant tortoise – the Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise, Chelonoidis porteri.

Baker joined the South faculty two years ago. He was born in the United States, but grew up in Australia and earned his Ph.D. from James Cook University in northeast Queensland. For several years, he did research in Australia and Papua New Guinea. His post-doctorate experience includes work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Galveston, Texas, and the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce, Fla.

One of his mentors at the Smithsonian, Dr. Ilka “Candy” Feller, is a world leader in mangrove research and traveled to the Galapagos in 2019.

“What’s she’s found there,” Baker said, “is an incredible mangrove system unlike any other in the world.”

His plans for the Galapagos rely on an underwater camera system developed by one of his former students. Small waterproof devices are much easier to use than bulky equipment from years past. The hard part comes with analyzing all of the data from different cameras at different locations.

Species of snapper and grouper are most valuable to the fishery, but also most vulnerable to overfishing. Ecotourism is an opportunity, but also a concern. One question for national park officials is whether to allow snorkeling at certain mangrove bays.

His research will have an application for island programs with ecological tourism and sustainable fisheries.

“That’s quite appealing,” Baker said. “To be able to work with the national park managers, to have our work tied to their immediate plans.”

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

1 month ago

Black Belt Adventures urges hunters to donate venison

(ALBBAA/Contributed, YHN)

Hunters Helping the Hungry has provided more than a half-million pounds of ground venison to those in need in Alabama, and the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) is encouraging hunters to make a special effort to donate harvested deer to the program during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend of January 15-18.

Hunters Helping the Hungry (HHH) started in Alabama in 1999 through funding derived from the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation, which is chaired by Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). The Foundation pays processors in Alabama $1 per pound for the ground venison, which is then donated to food banks and charities in Alabama.

Commissioner Blankenship and Pam Swanner, ALBBAA Director, said the impact of the global pandemic has greatly increased the need for donations of protein-rich venison for those impacted by the virus.

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“We know this past year has been difficult for many, and we hope this targeted weekend will assist in providing healthy, organic ground venison to families in need all across the Black Belt region,” Swanner said. “During this time of year, and especially with the impact of COVID-19, we couldn’t think of a better way to encourage sportsmen and women to utilize this free program to support the areas in which they go afield.”

Commissioner Blankenship said Alabama’s deer herd provides a bountiful resource that can be shared in this time of need.

“I think Hunters Helping the Hungry is a great program,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We have such a healthy population of deer in our state. A lot of landowners need to harvest more does off their property to keep the deer herd in balance. When the freezer is full, this a great opportunity to manage your deer and donate the harvested animals to Hunters Helping the Hungry, which then donates the venison to the food banks to help those in need. We want to make sure there is no waste in the harvest of these deer.

“With the COVID situation and food banks being relied on by a lot of people to provide their protein and sustenance, it’s a great opportunity for deer hunters in the state to make sure those food banks are stocked with good meat to help the people in those communities.”

Because the processing fee is paid by the ACNRF, there is no cost to the hunters.

“All they have to do is drop the deer off at one of the participating processors with a Game Check confirmation number, and the processor takes care of the deer and sends it to the food bank,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Currently, eight processors are participating in the HHH program within the Black Belt with 15 food banks participating within the region. The participating processors are Buckster’s Deer Processing in Montgomery County, Green’s Deer Processing in Clarke County, M & S Wildlife Services in Choctaw County, Nichols Deer Processing in Dallas County, Richey’s Deer Processing in Hale County, John’s Deer Processing in Lee County, Milliron’s Deer Processing in Russell County, and Venison LLC in Wilcox County. For a full list of participating processors and food banks statewide, please visit https://www.outdooralabama.com/programs/hunters-helping-hungry.

Paying the processing fee for HHH donations is only one of many benefits ACNRF provides.

“The Foundation does a lot of good work to help promote hunting, fishing and wildlife management in the state,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Scholarships are provided at the University of Alabama and Auburn University in different disciplines. We provide seed and other materials for youth dove hunts around the state. We help support the Adult Mentored Hunting Program. A lot of things that come through the Foundation really support the work of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, especially those things that encourage people to become hunters and fishermen and get out and enjoy the outdoors.”

The Foundation has also been impacted by COVID-19, limiting the methods it can use for fundraising.

“The Foundation receives contributions from interested people throughout the state, but the biggest fundraiser is the Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Due to COVID, we were not able to have the hunt last year, and we won’t be able to have it in 2021. But we’re counting on 2022 to be the best Alabama Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt ever.”

Commissioner Blankenship said individuals, companies or groups that want to donate to the Foundation can contact the ADCNR Commissioner’s office at 334-242-3486.

Commissioner Blankenship also serves on the ALBBAA board, which he said is a very natural partnership between the Black Belt group and the Foundation.

“The ALBBAA accentuates the great hunting we have in the Black Belt region and tries to help people in that area through the natural resources, which are so abundant in the Black Belt,” he said. “I really enjoy the work of the ALBBAA to promote those counties in the Alabama Black Belt. Most of those areas have smaller cities and small communities where hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation are a big part of the way of life there and a big part of the economy. The more people we bring to that region of the state, the more it will help with economic development and economic resources for those counties. I really appreciate the work ALBBAA does in the less populated but very important areas of our state.”

The Black Belt includes the following counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

The ALBBAA’s mission is to promote and enhance outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities in the Black Belt in a manner that provides economic and ecological benefits to the region and its citizens. Visit www.alabamablackbeltadventures.org for more information on the outdoors opportunities and cultural heritage in the Black Belt.

Those who donate a deer to the HHH program during the designated food drive and tag Alabama Black Belt Adventures on Facebook or Instagram will be entered into a random drawing for an antler mount from Foster’s Taxidermy Supply in Montgomery.

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

Inaugural Black Belt Hunters Food Drive being held this weekend in Alabama

(Alabama Black Belt Adventures/Contributed, YHN)

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) is encouraging hunters across the region to donate a harvested deer to the Hunters Helping the Hungry (HHH) program during the inaugural Black Belt Hunters Food Drive this coming weekend — Friday, January 15 to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, January 18.

A formal program of the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources (ACNR) Foundation, the HHH program began in 1999 and has donated nearly half a million pounds of venison to food banks across the state since that time.

“We know this past year has been difficult for many and we hope this targeted weekend will assist in providing healthy, organic and ground venison to families in need all across the Black Belt region,” stated Pam Swanner, director of the ALBBAA. “During this time of year, and especially with the impact of COVID-19, we couldn’t think of a better way to encourage sportsmen and women to utilize this free program to support the areas in which they go afield.”

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Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship chairs the ACNR Foundation and noted the importance of the HHH program.

“This established program has been a staple for wildlife managers over the past 20 years and helps fill a critical need in communities across the state as well as allows for quality deer management,” he said in a statement. “We are proud to offer this program and are grateful to the participating processors. This is a fantastic way for hunters to take advantage of our abundant deer population, months-long season and liberal bag limits to provide meat for the freezer for their own families as well as those in need.”

There is no charge to the hunter for processing the deer. Currently, there are seven processors participating in the HHH program within the Black Belt along with 15 food banks participating within the region. The participating processors are Buckster’s Deer Processing in Montgomery County, M & S Wildlife Services in Choctaw County, Nichols Deer Processing in Dallas County, Richey’s Deer Processing in Hale County, Johns Deer Processing in Lee County, Milliron’s Deer Processing in Russell County, and Venison LLC in Wilcox County. For a full list of participating processors and food banks, click here.

Those who donate a deer to the Hunters Helping the Hungry program during the designated food drive and tag Alabama Black Belt Adventures on Facebook or Instagram will be entered into a random drawing for a donated antler mount from Foster’s Taxidermy Supply in Montgomery.

The Black Belt includes the following counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

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

2 months ago

WFF reactivates 800 number for game check

(Billy Pope/Outdoor Alabama)

The toll-free Game Check phone number, 1-800-888-7690, is back and better than ever. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has reactivated the number for hunters to comply with the reporting requirements for the harvests of white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.

What makes the reactivated number better is that hunters who use this method will talk to a live person at the call center that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Chuck Sykes, Director of the ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, said the 800 number had been deactivated because of the faulty data it produced under the previous format.

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“We had the IVR (interactive voice response) for the first couple of years of Game Check, where the computer took people’s information,” Sykes said. “The data we were getting through that system was faulty and was costing a fair amount of money, so we chose to eliminate that option.”

Hunters were urged to use the Outdoor AL app on their smartphones when possible. Harvests could also be reported at www.outdooralabama.com.

Sykes said WFF officials have allowed hunters to call in harvest reports to district offices this year if they did not have internet access or had trouble with the Outdoor AL app.

“Compliance with Game Check has definitely gone up this year, and we felt it was the right thing to do to give hunters that third option again,” he said. “But we were not going to waste time, money and energy on a computer system that would produce bad data. Now we have a 24-7 live operator who can help people Game Check their deer. It’s a more customer-friendly experience, and it gives us the data we desperately need.”

Amy Silvano, Assistant Chief in the WFF’s Wildlife Section, is in charge of the 800-number system and saw immediate use of the phone option.

“In the first 24 hours, 172 people had utilized it,” Silvano said. “And, I want to point out that this is not a new number. It’s the same Game Check number from before. We just switched from an IVR to a call service. So, it’s not a new way to report it. We had problems with the original system. We weren’t getting all the data we needed. We might get the date of harvest, but sometimes that was it. It was prompting through, allowing for the confirmation number, and we weren’t getting good viable data. Now you will have a live person on the line, and they will walk you through the reporting system.”

Silvano said the viable data include overall harvest per county and date of harvest. That provides WFF officials with a look at the harvest throughout the season.

“The date of harvest allows us to determine the peaks and bounds of harvest, and the county data allows us to look at the distribution of harvest across the state, because we do have multiple zones,” she said. “That information, along with our rut map, helps us define the zones as well as the timings of the seasons that we recommend. Overall, our harvest data is our population metrics. We can look at the transient harvests. If our harvest is going down in certain areas and our hunter numbers are being maintained, we know something is going on in the population that is not attributed to hunter activity. That could mean there is not enough deer for them to harvest. The same holds true with turkeys or any other game species. We would expect if hunters are declining, the harvest would also decline at the same rate. The overall data allows us to look at that. With the county data and date of harvest, we can look at the localized scale at zone levels.”

Silvano said the county data with dates of harvest allows WFF officials to determine the season dates for each zone that offer hunters the best time to be in the woods during peak rutting activity.

When hunters call the 800 number, they will first hear a recorded message prompting them to have their information ready before speaking to an operator. Callers must have their Conservation ID or ADCNR hunting license number to begin the reporting process with the live operator, who will input the data from the harvest.

Hunters will be asked to provide the date and county of harvest, type of land (public or private) and the antler point count when reporting a deer. To report a turkey harvest, callers will be asked for the date and county of harvest, public or private land, the turkey’s age (jake or adult) and beard and spur lengths.

Exempt hunters can especially benefit from the 800-number option, according to Silvano.

“With a live person on the line, it helps hunters, especially hunters who are license-exempt,” she said. “The operator can go into the system and generate a HELP (Hunter Exempt License Privilege) or Conservation ID (CID) number and check the deer or turkey for them. This provides a lot more benefit than a recorded system did. We can assure that all the data is being collected. The call center is entering the information into the system like it was the hunter.”

Silvano said the smartphone Outdoor AL app (version 1.3.2 or higher) continues to be the most frequently used method to report harvests at 77 percent, followed by online at outdooralabama.com.

“The 800 number is working as planned,” she said. “The good thing is the number is the same, so people who used the phone system before will have access to that same number.”

Reporting is still required within 48 hours of any deer or turkey harvest or when possession of the deer or turkey is transferred to a processor, taxidermist or another individual.

“When we updated the possession regulation this year, it caused the compliance to go up,” Sykes said. “To make it easier on the processors, taxidermists and folks who don’t have a smartphone or internet access, we felt it was a wise use of our resources to reactivate the 800 number. But the most important thing is that we get quality data.”

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

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

Learn more about Alabama’s Game Check reporting requirements at www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/game-check-and-harvest-record-information.

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

2 months ago

Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association adds two board members

(Alabama Black Belt Adventures/Contributed, YHN)

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) on Thursday announced that former Auburn University assistant football coach Joe Whitt, Sr. of Lee County and Fran Pearce of Dallas County are the organization’s newest board members.

“We are extremely pleased that these two Black Belt enthusiasts are joining the board,” stated ALBBAA founder and board president Thomas Harris. “I have no doubt that the addition of Coach Joe Whitt and Mrs. Fran Pearce will enhance our ability to promote the incredible recreational opportunities as well as the thriving arts scene that can both be found all across the region.”

Whitt played football at Alabama State University, where he earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees and is now a trustee. Following a short stint coaching high school football, Whitt joined the staff at Auburn University, embarking on a legendary 25-season coaching career that saw Whitt be a part of six SEC titles, two undefeated seasons and 20 bowl games. He also spent an additional nine years at Auburn after his coaching career as an assistant athletic director for fundraising. Whitt has been inducted into the Blount High School, Lee High School and Mobile Sports Halls of Fame. He was also the recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Achievement Award from the American Football Coaches Association.

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“The economic impact related to hunting, fishing, field-trialing and tourism contributes to the Black Belt economy in a major way,” said Whitt, a resident of Auburn. “There is nothing I enjoy more than watching bird dogs work in the areas around Union Springs – the Field Trial Capital of the World – and I am excited to join the board and help promote this beautiful area of our state to others.”

Pearce, a Browns resident, has spent her entire life in Dallas County and is an ardent supporter of the area. She currently serves as a Selma Charity League Sustainer, board member of ArtsRevive and board member of Leadership Selma Dallas County. Pearce is a graduate of Leadership Alabama.

The fifth generation to live on her family farm, she and her late husband transitioned the once thriving cattle farm into one of the state’s first U.S. Farm Raised Catfish farms. Pearce Catfish Farms was recognized as Alabama’s Farm of Distinction in 1994. The farm is now run by their two sons.

“I am a firm believer that creative thinking and art brings people together, puts life back into historical structures and builds community,” said Pearce in a statement. “The greater Selma area, and the Black Belt region as a whole, is full of creative and artistic people that are passionate about their communities. I am looking forward to being a part of this board and continuing to promote the region as a multifaceted destination.”

Whitt and Pearce join current board members Thomas Harris (president), Tim Gothard (treasurer), Freddy Padilla (secretary), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship and Greenville Mayor Dexter McClendon.

The Black Belt includes the following counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

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

2 months ago

Auburn University professor teams with European scientists seeking to save olive trees from deadly pathogen

(Auburn University/Contributed)

An Auburn University researcher has joined with European scientists in an attempt to decipher the disease process caused by one of the world’s most harmful plant pathogens, Xylella fastidiosa.

The bacterium’s impact has been nothing short of catastrophic in both the U.S. and Europe. Originating in the Americas, Xylella fastidiosa has caused a crisis in the European Union, where the bacterium was first recognized in the southern heel of Italy in 2013. Tens of thousands of gnarled olive trees, some of them hundreds of years old, are withering and dying, destroying the livelihoods of families that have relied on the centuries-old groves for generations.

In California, the disease has evolved into a very serious problem for vintners, causing annual losses of more than $100 million. The European Union has taken a proactive stance to prevent spread of the disease to other regions after seeing the devastation wrought in Italy.

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“This disease’s capacity to devastate is amazing,” said Leonardo De La Fuente, an expert on Xylella and a professor in Auburn’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology.

De La Fuente first started studying the plant pathogen in 2005 as a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University. He said he was fascinated by the bacterium as a “biological problem” and continued his studies when he came to Auburn. Xylella fastidiosa was known for causing Pierce’s disease in California vineyards, and a different subspecies blighted Brazilian citrus trees and coffee bushes.

“At the time, I didn’t know it was going to be a worldwide problem,” De La Fuente recalled.

Xylella had never been seen before in Europe, blindsiding European scientists. They turned to American experts like De La Fuente when their olive trees started dying in 2014. He was asked to teach a course in Spain about emerging plant diseases. In 2015, the focus narrowed to Xylella.

“There was a lot of interest in learning how to work with it, diagnose it, find it and extract it,” De La Fuente said. “Then we started developing research collaborations, and people were coming to my lab from Spain, Italy and France for help jump-starting their research.”

Italy, Greece and Spain produce some 95% of European olive oil, with Italy’s contribution alone worth more than $2 billion each year. Spread of the disease beyond southern Italy would threaten the entire European Union economy. Currently, the only way to completely eliminate the disease is to tear up the trees in the fields and then to aggressively quarantine the area in an attempt to stop the pathogen’s spread.

“I feel like you have to respect this bacterium, because it is very good at causing incurable diseases in plants,” De La Fuente said.

Dying trees and public opinion

Spanish journalists at first nicknamed Xylella fastidiosa the Ebola of the plant world. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, coronavirus seems the better human counterpart. Dying trees and devastated groves had a psychological impact on people, with conspiracy theories taking root and growing. Italian prosecutors even opened an investigation into the scientists who first identified Xylella as the cause of the dying trees — in part because they failed to stop the spread of the disease.

“People didn’t believe it was real, and they didn’t want to do anything,” De La Fuente said. “People were going on TV saying it was a hoax, claiming that developers were destroying trees so they could buy cheap land. Some scientists who wanted to be in the spotlight were not methodical in their research, rushing to publish. Everybody seemed to have a solution, and they were belittling other people’s opinions.”

Part of the reason Xylella is so pernicious is that it is capable of attacking such a wide variety of plant species. In addition to causing disease in California grapevines and Brazilian citrus and coffee plants, different subspecies of Xylella cause disease in pecan and almond trees and blueberry bushes.

These high-value crops can take years before they become productive, destroying the livelihoods of farmers and causing massive economic damage. In scenic wine- and olive-producing regions, the financial loss from destruction of the crop is exacerbated by the loss of tourism that fuels local economies.

Central American origin

Genetic analysis suggests a Central American origin for the bacterium, which was introduced to California more than 100 years ago. Infected ornamental coffee plants imported from Central America, possibly decades ago, probably caused the European outbreak. Many plant species harbor the disease but are asymptomatic.

The pathogen is spread by sap-sucking insects such as leafhoppers, spittlebugs and sharpshooters and lives only in the mouths of insects and a plant’s xylem system, the system of tubes that circulates water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves. Basically, the pathogen lives only in flowing water and can’t survive in soil or air. The disease process is not well understood, and that is part of what fascinated De La Fuente.

“People make fun of me and say I like difficult systems,” he said.

De La Fuente’s lab works in two areas. First, his team studies the bacterium’s relationship with the nutrients needed by plants and transported in the xylem system, since the pathogen thrives on the very same nutrients plants need to grow. The team has found, for example, that calcium accumulates in infected plants and increases the virulence of the bacterium. They also have found that the plant’s defense response may worsen the disease, in the same way that our own immune systems cause autoimmune diseases by attacking too aggressively. They have identified additional target proteins that may be involved in colonization of plants by X. fastidiosa, as well.

The lab also studies how the pathogen evolves to adapt to different plants, an important focus because the bacterium was not known to be so aggressive until it colonized olive trees. The team has identified, for example, conditions that lead to exchange of genes among X. fastidiosa cells or even X. fastidiosa and other organisms. Only one other plant-associated bacterium, Ralstonia solanaceraum, is able to acquire DNA from the environment and incorporate the genes into its own genome, De La Fuente said. This horizontal gene transfer — sometimes called “jumping genes” — is known to sometimes make bacteria more virulent as well as more efficient in adapting to a host. De La Fuente’s team has identified genes that have roles in the bacterial fitness and pathogenicity, which will lead to recommendations for disease management.

The importance of management

Management is the key, since eradication of the disease remains an elusive goal. Perhaps someday, resistant cultivars of olive trees and other plants can be developed. But in the meantime, something has to be done to protect farmers and the economy. To that end, De La Fuente has worked with colleagues in Andalusia, in southern Spain, to protect the olive groves that produce 50% of the world’s olive oil.

“They did a great job and worked very fast to educate people,” he said. “They also found a different subspecies in Spanish almond trees and moved fast, removing the almond trees. There was some pushback, but people saw the problem in Italy and said, ‘OK, this is real.’”

In Italy, he said, critical time was lost to denial and argument. In Spain, too, scientists were accused of making people worry for nothing, but De La Fuente insists that raising the alarm was necessary.

“If you’re a scientist raising these alarms, though, you never win,” he admitted. “There’s no way to win.”

De La Fuente’s research is funded by internal Auburn University grants, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and European sources. His lab is one of four in the U.S. that are part of the European EuroXanth COST action, initiated to foster training and research collaborations among different labs in Europe.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Two CWD cases suspected in NE Mississippi, first ever within 25 miles of Alabama border

(Wisconsin DNR)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on Thursday announced that the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) has received “suspect positive” Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) test results for two hunter-harvested bucks from Tippah and Alcorn counties in northeast Mississippi.

A release advised that these are the first CWD-positive detections for those counties. The samples will reportedly be sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa for final confirmation.

These are also the first suspected CWD-positive cases in white-tailed deer within 25 miles of the Alabama state line.

The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) has tested more than 11,000 deer since 2002. To date, CWD has not been detected in Alabama.

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CWD is a neurodegenerative disease found in most deer species, including moose, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer. It is infectious and always fatal. It is part of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. These diseases cause irreversible damage to brain tissue that leads to salivation, neurological symptoms, emaciation and death of the animal.

As part of WFF’s CWD Strategic Surveillance and Response Plan, CWD surveillance efforts were increased in Alabama after deer in Mississippi and Tennessee tested positive for the disease in 2018. That increased surveillance effort continues, including the collection of samples from hunter-harvested deer, road kill deer, and sick deer reported to WFF by the public.

Hunters are encouraged to utilize the self-service CWD sampling stations located throughout the state as part of WFF’s surveillance effort.

Deer infected with CWD can spread the disease to other deer even before symptoms develop. It can take one to two years for infected animals to become symptomatic. When symptoms appear, they can include emaciation, lethargy and abnormal behavior. Other signs include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, and drooping head/ears.

More information on CWD can be found here.

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

2 months ago

Auburn University professor’s study finds size of urban green spaces determines biodiversity

(Lewis Scharpf Jr./Contributed)

A recent study co-authored by an Auburn University professor, using nearly two decades of data on birds inhabiting New York City parks, answers longstanding questions about how well urban green spaces function to protect biodiversity, particularly the varieties of bird species.

Professor Christopher Lepczyk of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences said the study, published in the international journal Landscape and Urban Planning, examined three major aspects of urban green spaces — isolation, shape and area — to determine which provided the strongest support for biodiversity.

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The researchers found the size of an urban green space’s area — not its shape or isolation — most strongly corresponds with the richness of bird species in these spaces, both annually and seasonally.

“A long-running question in conservation has been whether the amount of area that is protected matters more than the protected area’s shape or isolation,” said Lepczyk, professor of wildlife biology and conservation. “To test these ideas, we used parks in New York City in which citizen scientists have collected a treasure trove of bird data, providing a very large number of species and parks for analysis.”

The study used data collected over an 18-year period by the citizen science group eBird.

“What we found was that how isolated a park was relative to other parks, and the park shape, were not important in describing the number of unique birds found in a given park,” he said. “Rather, the total amount of area was the most important aspect of the park.”

Lepczyk said urban green spaces are valuable stopover sites for migrating birds during spring and autumn migrations.

The new research has broad implications in the planning of new green spaces, as growing urbanization leads to increasing habitat loss and the introduction of non-native species.

“Taken as a whole, our work suggests that larger parks contain more unique birds, and thus, greater biodiversity,” he said. “For conservation and management, as we consider increasing urban green spaces, we should invest in larger spaces over smaller ones.”

Lepczyk co-authored the study with Frank A. LaSorte of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Myla F.J. Aronson of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources at Rutgers University and Kyle G. Horton of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University.

Janaki Alavalapati, dean of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said the findings are likely to bring about significant innovation in the development of urban green spaces.

“Dr. Lepczyk and his team have answered questions that are of vital importance to conserving wildlife and maintaining species biodiversity in urban spaces,” Alavalapati said.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Tips for hunting the rut in Alabama

(Gary Mitchell/Outdoor Alabama, YHN)

While the white-tailed deer rut has come and gone in a few areas in Alabama, hunters in the majority of the state are dealing with the December doldrums, waiting for the breeding season to begin in earnest.

Alabama native Chuck Sykes, Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, said the whitetails in the bulk of the state adjust to the increased activity in the woods, and hunters are having to deal with a lull in deer movement.

“People kill deer the first couple of weeks of the season, and, in my opinion, those deer get enough pressure that they go underground for a few weeks until the rut brings them back out,” Sykes said.

He said hunters should soon start seeing evidence of early rutting behavior with increased activity by the bucks.

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“Typically, you’ll start seeing a few scrapes and rubs, and you’ll start seeing a few does without fawns right up under them,” Sykes said. “The does are starting to wean those fawns, getting ready for the rut. So, you’ll see button bucks walking around aimlessly by themselves.”

Bucks paw the ground to make scrapes where urine is deposited as a scent marker. A licking branch, where the buck can leave additional scent, is usually above a scrape. The rubs are the results of bucks using their antlers to debark trees, often cedars, to mark boundaries and leave more scent.

“Earlier in the season, you’ve got bachelor groups of bucks running together,” Sykes said. “You’ll see a bunch of rubs and scrapes in certain locations where they’re establishing their pecking order.

“This time of year, when you see those scrapes and rubs, it’s deer laying out their territories, getting in areas where they can intercept a bunch of does. That’s a big portion of the mating process. When you start seeing those scrapes being freshened up, those are excellent places to hunt. A scrape is like a deer nightclub. They go to it and lay down some scent. It lets everyone know who’s in the neighborhood.”

In early January, hunters will likely see a few bucks chasing does, but Sykes says that activity is only by the younger bucks.

“Those bucks usually jump the gun by a couple of weeks over your mature deer,” he said. “It’s like people who raise cows. You put a young bull in the pasture, and he’ll follow a cow around three or four days before she’s receptive, a couple of days while she’s receptive and then three or four days after she’s receptive. They waste a lot of energy.

“You put an older bull in the pasture, and he’s going to lay around until the time is right. He conserves energy. Bucks are the same way. Those young bucks are rambunctious and moving around. The mature bucks, you’re not going to see them moving until it’s right.”

As for the timing of the rut, Sykes says peak rutting activity varies very little from year to year.

“You can go back and look at our historical stocking data, and the deer rut takes place within a day or two every year in those certain locations,” he said. “When people say the deer just aren’t rutting because the weather is hot, well, the deer are still rutting. They have the ability to do it at night when the weather cools down. The rut takes place whether you see it or not.

“That’s where the environmental conditions and hunting pressure have effects. If deer are getting pressured a lot, they may not move around during daylight hours. They will wait until after dark.”

Sykes said several misconceptions about the deer rut in Alabama persist, especially with the advent of social media platforms.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is I’ve got this big buck and I’m going to save him because he’s going to breed 15 or 20 does on my property,” he said. “That’s just not the case. Whitetails are not like elk, where a bull elk might have a big harem of 10 or 15 cows. In a good year, a buck may sire four to five fawns.

“Another huge misconception that you see all the time on social media is people talking about taking this buck out of the herd because they didn’t want him breeding and passing along bad genetics. In most cases, that’s just an excuse to pull the trigger. With free-range, wild deer, culling cannot change genetics. There are just too many factors involved. Half of the genetics are coming from the doe.”

Sykes insists hunters should not try to cull bucks based on antler characteristics. Instead, cull bucks based on age.

“You need to base your decision on whether you want to feed that deer another year,” he said. “You have limited resources of food, cover and water, so that’s how you make a determination, not because of what people think are inferior genetics. If you see a buck that has a nice rack on one side and a spike on the other, more than likely that occurred because of an injury to the pedicle (antler base).”

Sykes has a long history of hunting deer in Alabama. He was a guide at Bent Creek Lodge near Jachin, Alabama, for five years before managing Circle N Lodge in east Alabama for eight years. He was a wildlife consultant for 20 years before becoming WFF Director in 2012.

“I’m kind of an oddball,” Sykes said of his deer-hunting tactics. “I like to hunt deer before the rut when I can pattern them better on food sources. The rut can be a wonderful time to hunt, and it can also be extremely frustrating. If the conditions are bad and the bucks are locked down with does, you may not see a thing. Then on that one day when all the conditions are right, you get a hot doe running through your property and you may see six or eight bucks chasing her. That’s what everybody wants to see.

“But the rut can be very hit-or-miss. It can be extremely frustrating, or it can be extremely euphoric.”

While Sykes is hunting food sources right now, when the serious rutting activity starts, he is going to areas where he can find the most females.

“In west Alabama where I spend most of my time, I’m hunting does when the rut starts,” he said. “I’m going to be in a place with as many does as I can find if I’m trying to look for a mature deer.

“There’s one thing about the rut that is fairly interesting. I’ve got 10 or 15 trail cameras out that I’ve been monitoring since June. You think you know who everybody is. You’ve got your hit list together. Then, come January 20, you’ll have a deer show up that you have no idea who he is. It could be good or bad. You have some of your regulars go see the neighbors for a few days, but their deer may come to see you.”

One of the most important factors of successful hunting during the rut is having the time to spend in the woods, which is why many hunters take significant vacation time in January.

“You can’t kill him sitting at home,” Sykes said. “You’ve got to be out there as much as possible for when the magic happens.”

However, hunters can’t be haphazard about their approach to hunting a mature buck.

“You do your homework,” Sykes said. “You do your scouting. You try to plan as much as you can. And when the conditions are right, that’s when you go.

“One of the biggest mistakes I think people make is they have a deer in an area where they have a stand, and they want to hunt him so bad that they go in with a bad wind direction or conditions that aren’t right. Typically, for those older deer, you’ve got one day you can ease in and get him. If the wind shifts or you make a mistake, it makes it 10 times harder to try to find him again. I hunt the wind. If the wind is not right, I do not go.”

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

Monroe County acquisition protects Red Hills salamander habitat

(Eric Soehren/Contributed)

A significant step in protecting an amphibian species that only lives in Alabama was celebrated last week at the Forever Wild Red Hills Complex in Monroe County. However, the latest acquisition of almost 5,000 acres of Red Hills salamander habitat comes with many more benefits, including public recreational opportunities like additional hunting and fishing.

Representatives from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and The Nature Conservancy toured the Red Hills salamander’s specific habitat found only in steep bluffs in Alabama’s Red Hills region of Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Butler, Monroe and Wilcox counties.

“This acquisition by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) and Forever Wild through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the latest in the string of acquisitions that started a little more than 10 years ago,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner. “It now totals a little more than 11,000 acres. I think it’s important to note that we’re not done. Our staff in Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries and State Lands, through Forever Wild, is continuing to work with the Alabama Forestry Commission and others to continue to add to the critical habitat that is in public ownership here.”

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Blankenship said a tour of the complex this summer with WFF’s Chuck Sykes and Doug Deaton made him realize what makes the Red Hills region special.

“To get to see the steep hillsides that make the home of the Red Hills salamander and see how unique that habitat is here in Alabama was special,” Blankenship said. “This is a unique place.

“This project is proof that partnerships between state and federal agencies, conservation groups and industry are vital to conservation efforts throughout the country. We are grateful for the assistance Director Leo Miranda and everyone with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have provided to permanently protect this critical habitat and provide additional public hunting opportunities.”

Leo Miranda, Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the amount of the grant used for the addition to the Red Hills salamander habitat is unprecedented.

“This is the largest Section 6 (Recovery Land Acquisition) proposal that has been funded in this region,” Miranda said of the $9 million grant acquired through Endangered Species Act funding. “That’s a big deal. The Alabama Field Office staff are rock stars. We were able to get support all the way to Washington, D.C., and nobody had any hesitation on this project.

“We have a vision statement in our region. The first word in that vision statement is ‘together.’ Together is the only way we can accomplish projects like this. A big part of that vision is together we will connect lands and waters to sustain fish, wildlife and plants. That’s what we are doing here. How do we do it? By being visionary leaders, bold innovators and trusted partners.”

Other trusted partners in the acquisition include The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Resources and the Brown-Schutt Trust. The land acquisitions are known as the Red Hills Brown-Schutt Trust tract and the Red Hills Flat Creek Phase III tract. The tracts are located near the community of Franklin in Monroe County, Alabama, and join the 6,140-acre Forever Wild Red Hills Complex in the effort to increase the amount of protected salamander habitat.

Director Miranda said the Endangered Species Act provides benefits far beyond the species that are being protected.

“We use Endangered Species Act dollars to conserve land, but those lands are also supporting outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing,” he said. “Some people say those are incompatible – threatened and endangered species and hunting. No! They go together, and this area will be open in the near future to outdoor recreation and hunting. That is a top priority for me. These two activities are compatible and necessary, because if we don’t get people out enjoying nature by hiking, fishing and hunting – especially now with the COVID situation – we will not get those people to support what we do.”

The habitat protection also benefits other at-risk species like the Bachman’s sparrow, red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise, southern hognose snake, coral snake and eastern fox squirrel.

The Red Hills region’s steep slopes are covered in mixed hardwood and provide the shade and moisture needed for the salamander to survive. The translucent, purple-hued amphibian spends most of its time in a burrow, venturing out at night to prey upon small insects and earthworms. The Red Hills salamander, one of the largest lungless salamanders in the world, has been listed as federally threatened since 1977 and has been Alabama’s official amphibian since 2000.

“The Nature Conservancy has been working for 20 years with our partners to protect the unique habitat at the Red Hills of Alabama,” said Mitch Reid, the conservancy’s director in Alabama. “We are thrilled to celebrate the conservation of over 11,000 acres, and the opportunity to open this land to the people of Alabama. We look forward to continuing this work and to bringing new partners into this worthwhile project.

“One of the key messages here is that we can have conservation that is for people and nature. We talk about this not being over. One of the things I’m doing at The Nature Conservancy as state director is really trying to bring the focus of what we have here in Alabama to the international focus. The Red Hills is part of that. The Alabama River is part of that. The Mobile-Tensaw Delta is part of that. We’re really starting to leverage the international recognition of what this place means for the world.”

Drew Nix, former WFF employee, and Steve Northcutt of The Nature Conservancy remembered the genesis of the Red Hills conservation effort.

“It all started after a Forever Wild Board meeting,” Northcutt said. “We were standing around talking about areas we needed to protect. We were discussing how we could get federal funds to help Forever Wild.”

Nix’s wife Ericha, also a WFF employee, started writing grant proposals for the acquisition of the Red Hills habitat, and that work culminated in last week’s celebration.

Director Sykes thanked all his staff for their contributions in making the conservation plan come to fruition.

“This is a big deal,” Director Sykes said. “Hopefully, one day when we get finished with this, we can delist a species. That is a milestone in anybody’s career. But, we are also able to provide additional public hunting and recreational access. This is a great win for this area. Outdoor recreation funds a lot of these counties. Like the Commissioner said, it’s not over. We have a lot more to do.”

Commissioner Blankenship added, “I think this is a great example of so many people of different walks of life and groups working together to do this. I think this is a great road map for what we can do in the Perdido River area, how we can do something in north Alabama in the Paint Rock River Valley as we continue to protect critical habitat in the state and provide more public access.”

For more information, visit https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/3250 or www.outdooralabama.com/salamanders/red-hills-salamander.

Learn more about the Forever Wild Red Hills Complex at www.alabamaforeverwild.com/red-hills-complex.

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 months ago

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant will help rare fish to thrive in Alabama

(Bernard Kuhajda/Contributed)

A tiny freshwater fish, recently rediscovered in Alabama, will get some help to survive, thanks to a grant from the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

For more than 50 years, the trispot darter had not been seen in the state. That is, until 2008, when scientists discovered a small population in St. Clair County.

The new grant, through NFWF’s Southeast Aquatics Fund, will be used in part to make habitat improvements along a creek where the fish lives. The grant will help support additional research to potentially identify other nearby sites where the fish may exist.

Alabama Power and its parent company, Southern Company, support NFWF and the Southeast Aquatics Fund. Alabama Power has actively participated, in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in efforts to enhance habitat for the trispot darter.

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Last year, FWS officially listed the trispot darter as a threatened species. The multi-colored fish, which grows to less than 2 inches in length, has long been found in parts of the Coosa River Basin in southeastern Tennessee and northern Georgia, but had not been seen in Alabama for decades.

“They’re very unique; they migrate like salmon,” Pat O’Neil told Alabama NewsCenter in 2019 when he was deputy director of the Geological Survey of Alabama (GSA). O’Neil rediscovered the trispot darter population in Alabama.

Trispot darters typically live less than three years. In winter and early spring, they swim upstream to spawn, moving from larger creeks and waterways into smaller tributaries and rivulets.

Last year, Alabama Power worked with FWS and other partners on a project to improve trispot darter habitat. It removed culverts underneath a road on company property that crosses a tributary of Little Canoe Creek in St. Clair County where the trispot darter lives. The culverts, which prevented the fish from moving upstream, were replaced with a bridge and the stream bed restored to a more natural state.

With support from the new NFWF grant, a similar culvert-replacement project, coordinated again by FWS, will move forward at another location along the tributary.

“The NFWF funding will allow us and other partners, including private landowners, to expand upon ongoing restoration efforts within the Big Canoe Creek watershed,” said Lee Holt, an Alabama-based biologist with the FWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. “Specifically, this effort will include working with the St. Clair County Commission and engineers to remove a fish passage barrier within known trispot darter habitat. Such efforts are only possible through much collaboration and cooperation with various partners, including county and state governments, utility companies and corporations, and private landowners.”

Jeff Powell, deputy supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alabama Field Office, said that “for the trispot darter, implementing recovery actions would not be possible without the support of these dedicated organizations.”

In addition, FWS biologists will conduct research to gain a better handle on the darter population in the area. Additional surveys will be undertaken in hopes of identifying locations where the darter may live or that could be suitable habitat for expanding the population.

“We are pleased to work with NFWF, the private sector and other federal agencies to implement conservation actions through the Southeast Aquatics Fund,” said FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith. “Conserving aquatic species and habitats in the southeastern United States is an important focus area for the service, and our collaborative work in Alabama’s Big Canoe Creek watershed and other areas will benefit species, habitats and people.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was instrumental in helping us improve fish passage for trispot darters on our property,” said Jason Carlee, Alabama Power environmental affairs supervisor. “It’s great to see other landowners working together to make life easier for this little fish.”

“This little fish has a big spot in my heart,” said Jesalyn McCurry, Southern Company environmental stewardship program manager. “Protecting nature and communities are important to Southern Company, which is why we support on-the-ground conservation like this project for the trispot darter.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 months ago

Last-minute Christmas gifts for outdoors enthusiasts

(Outdoor Alabama/Contributed)

Buying Christmas gifts for those who love the outdoors can be a daunting task simply because we tend to already be outfitted for every excursion into the woods or on the water.

If you’re struggling to find that perfect gift, here are a few suggestions that might not have come to mind.

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Alabama State Parks Gift Card

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alabama State Parks system has provided a welcome respite, with ample ways to enjoy our state’s great outdoors. In fact, 11 State Parks have been awarded the TripAdvisor’s “2020 Travelers’ Choice Awards” because of the great reviews.

One of the best ways to share our great parks is to purchase a gift card that can be used at most parks in a variety of ways. The cards can be used at Alabama State Parks campgrounds and gift shops. You can reserve campsites or reserve boats, canoes or kayaks for your outdoors adventures.

You can purchase the gift cards at most Alabama State Parks, or you can go online to https://www.reservealapark.com/AlabamaWebHome/Giftcards/Giftcard.aspx and make the purchase with a credit card. When you click on the gift card link, you will be required to set up an online account to make a purchase.

Black Belt Bounty

In terms of coffee table books, Black Belt Bounty is a gift that deserves prominent display all year-round. The award-winning book, commissioned by the Alabama Black Belt Adventure Association (ALBBAA), celebrates the Black Belt’s rich hunting and fishing heritage and gives an in-depth looks at all that makes the region so special.

The deluxe hardcover book was awarded first place in the Industry Public Relations Category from the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association’s (SEOPA) annual Excellence in Craft awards. It took third place in the Outdoor Book Category by SEOPA. The Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) presented Black Belt Bounty with their featured award for the Best of Industry Public Relations.

The Black Belt includes Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox counties. The region is known for its fertile soil and abundant outdoors opportunities for hunting, fishing and exploration.

Black Belt Bounty chapters include First Hunters and Gatherers; Traditions and Rites of Passage; The Land and Water; Conservation Partners and Practices; Field Trial History; Champion Trainers and Dogs; Photographic Essays: Seasons of Whitetail and Wild Turkey Rituals; Fishing for Bass, Crappie and Catfish; Faces of the Black Belt; Sustainable Living; Wild Game Recipes from Celebrity Chefs; and Signature Dishes from Hunting Lodges.

Visit https://alabamablackbeltadventures.org/blackbeltbountybook/ to purchase Black Belt Bounty.

Full disclosure: I provided three features for the book but don’t receive any compensation from book sales.

Memories of Spring

One of the best turkey hunters I’ve had the pleasure to share the turkey woods with has penned a remarkable memoir of his life chasing the majestic bird. Ron Jolly provides his perspective of spending nearly six decades hunting and videoing wild turkeys across the nation. Memories of Spring shares what drives hunters in their pursuit of this wily bird as well as the memorable turkeys that cause hunters every emotion from jubilation to sweat-inducing nightmares.

Not only is the book an essential read for anyone who pursues wild game, but the book is filled with photos from his award-winning photographer wife, Tes Randle Jolly.

Jolly’s previous boss, Will Primos of “Primos Truth About Hunting” fame, said about the book, “Memories of Spring just may be the latest and greatest insight into turkey hunting that members of the Tenth Legion will salute.”

You can order Memories of Spring from Amazon or send check or money order to Jolly’s Outdoor Visions, 204 Fast Lane, Tuskegee, AL 36083. You can message Ron D. Jolly or Tes Randle Jolly on Facebook for more details.

Ron has also teamed up with another legendary turkey hunter, Preston Pittman, to produce a commemorative Memories of Spring box call. The first run of 200 calls has sold out, but you might be able to get a second edition with a birdseye maple chassis and walnut lid when they return to production this week.

Tenth Legion

That quote from Primos referred to this seminal turkey book from Colonel Tom Kelly, who lived in Mobile and Spanish Fort, Alabama, for most of his life. Kelly wrote Tenth Legion in 1973, and it remains one of the essential reads for turkey hunters today.

This is the way the 93-year-old Kelly, considered the poet laureate of all turkey literature, describes the book: “None of the characters in this book are in any way fictional or imaginary. All are real people who have been known to the author for years. Statements made herein concerning timber, people, or the physiological processes of turkeys are matters of opinion and subject to discussion.

“Statements made herein concerning the thought processes of turkeys, or of deer hunters, are known scientific facts and are not open to question. The author declines to debate the accuracy of these with anyone. He is, however, perfectly willing to fight about them.”

You can order a signed copy of Tenth Legion, 40th Anniversary edition from https://www.tomkellyinc.net/product/tenth-legion-white-edition/ .

Gaston Custom Calls

When it comes to waterfowl calls, David Gaston of Thomasville carries on the tradition of custom-built calls that he learned to build and tune from legendary call-maker Alvin Taylor of Clarendon, Arkansas.

Gaston makes duck calls out of acrylic and wood, although the wood calls are in high demand and are often sold out. If inventory doesn’t show up on https://www.gastoncustomcalls.com/, contact him at gastoncalls@gmail.com or call 251-769-2744 to find out what is in stock.

Hunter Safety System

Be sure the folks on your Christmas list have the proper safety equipment for hunting season, and that means quality harnesses and lifelines.

Hunter Safety Systems, an Alabama company, started making harnesses in 2001 and has an impressive variety of safety harnesses for every need. The company also developed the Lifeline that keeps the hunter attached to the tree at all times.

Visit https://huntersafetysystem.com/ and get free shipping with orders over $35.

ADCNR Lifetime Licenses

If you’re still stumped, head to https://www.outdooralabama.com/license-information and consider purchasing a lifetime license as an ultimate Christmas gift. Click on the lifetime license link for the pertinent information, including the proof of Alabama residency.

License costs are based on the recipient’s age. Those under 2 years old or 50 years and older receive the best prices. For instance, those in that age group can buy a lifetime freshwater fishing license for $178.75 or you can go all out with the hunting, state duck stamp, freshwater and saltwater fishing for $987.70. If you’re between the ages of 12 and 49, that combination package is $1,486.35, still a considerable savings over a lifetime of buying annual licenses. Lifetime licenses are available for individual activities or a variety of combinations.

Time is running out, so get that order in as quickly as you can and have a Merry Christmas!

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 months ago

2020 Alabama red snapper season closed for private anglers

(D. Rainer/Contributed)

After completing a review of the extended fall weekend private angler red snapper season, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has determined that the private angler red snapper quota for the 2020 season has been met.

Therefore, Alabama waters will remain closed to private angler and state-licensed charter red snapper fishing until the 2021 season is established, a Tuesday release announced.

For the 2020 season, NOAA Fisheries allocated Alabama 1.12 million pounds of red snapper for private anglers.

“This has been an interesting year for red snapper fishing,” stated Scott Bannon, director of ADCNR’s Marine Resources Division.

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“The season started out with an amazing amount of effort due to favorable weather, with the exception of Tropical Storm Cristobal, and we closed earlier than anticipated,” he outlined. “It was determined that there was enough quota remaining to have limited fall weekend fishing which was something many anglers had previously asked us for. The weather did not cooperate with three more hurricanes impacting Alabama during the fall reopening and it took an additional 17 days to use the quota.”

Chris Blankenship, ADCNR commissioner, said in a statement, “Once again, Alabama’s private recreational anglers have benefited from the state management of private angler red snapper.”

“We are able to monitor the harvest accurately and in a timely manner allowing anglers maximum opportunities to fish the Alabama quota. Under federal management we would have been tied to the harvest of all of the Gulf states and we could have seen a much shorter season this year,” Blankenship continued. “The federal system definitely would not have been able to make adjustments week to week and may not have been able to keep anglers from fishing over the quota, as we have done.”

Additional red snapper landing information for Alabama’s 2020 season is available here.

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