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.

3 days ago

Artificial reef teeming with life in Gulf of Mexico

(contributed)

An artificial reef created in the Gulf of Mexico four years ago appears to be teeming with life.

In 2016, two of Alabama Power’s retired boilers were sunk off the coast of Mobile County to improve the marine ecosystem. The giant steel structures previously used to turn steam into power have also proven to be a boon for offshore anglers.

“We put the reef down in the water that day, and it looks like you are just putting in something not useful and, now to see it flourish as a fish habitat and all the wildlife that’s there, it’s actually exciting,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president for Environmental Affairs. “It’s a great success, and we are so grateful for what everybody brought to the table to make it a success.”

For decades, thousands of man-made objects, like old ships and concrete bridge rubble, have been sunk off the Alabama coastline. The 200,000-pound boilers were sunk from a barge donated by Cooper/T. Smith Corp., a marine transportation firm headquartered in Mobile.

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Artificial reef off Alabama coast is full of marine life from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The state’s artificial reef zone stretches almost from Florida to Mississippi and out 60 miles from shore. The result is one of the country’s best places for offshore fishing.

“We have several thousand (artificial) reefs off the coast of Alabama, and we have the biggest and best red snapper fishery in the world,” said Chris Blankenship, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources commissioner. “We have built an incredible fishery off the coast of Alabama that is really unrivaled anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico or, really, in the country.”

The reefs have been a boon for the fish and the state’s economy.

“Every weekend that the red snapper fishery is open, as well as amberjack, gray triggerfish, vermillion snapper, there are people with thousands of boats that buy gas and bait and stay in hotel rooms. All of that adds to quite a big economic impact for the coastal areas of our state,” Blankenship said.

However, it’s not just anglers that are drawn to the reefs.

“A wide range of user groups can benefit from this reef – recreational anglers, commercial anglers and any kind of eco-tourism, things like scuba divers and underwater photography,” said Craig Newton, biologist with the Alabama Marine Resources Division.

The project is an example of what can be done when people work together for a common cause, planners say.

“What it does is allows all of us to maximize our resources to accomplish great things and do so in a way that our members and the people of Alabama can benefit,” said Tim Gothard, executive director of the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

The coordinates for the reef are 29 47.544, 87 59.104.

Find out more about the Marine Resources Division by visiting its Facebook page.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

3 days ago

Three Alabama lakes get spruced up with ‘The Preserves’ recreation sites

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Three new public recreation sites have been added at Lake HarrisLay Lake and Lake Martin as part of Alabama Power’s “The Preserves.”

These areas consist of trails, gazebos, benches, interpretive signs and pollinator plots. From hiking, and biking to bird-watching, The Preserves are core to the Alabama Power ideal of merging nature with crafting special places.

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“These lands allow people to explore, learn and grow a deeper appreciation of our state’s ecology and natural beauty. They allow our citizens to access and enjoy our lakes. They are inclusive and open to all,” said Ed Windsor, recreation development assistant with Alabama Power.

“The Preserves project is unique in that it gives us a chance to take existing areas around lakes and create a space for residents to not only learn about and enjoy nature but also make memories and see the importance of protecting our environment.”

Lake Harris now has The Preserves at Little Fox Creek, located off Alabama Highway 48 between Lineville and Wedowee. This site, already home to a public use boat ramp and Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail, will now feature an enhanced trail system totaling 5 miles. The site is managed in partnership with the Lake Wedowee Property Owners Association.

Additionally, the area will have two pollinator plots, interpretive signs, benches, a boardwalk and two gazebos for the public to enjoy.

The existing recreation area on Lay Lake, named Beeswax Creek Park, is located off Alabama Highway 145 in Columbiana on Beeswax Creek Park Road. Recent upgrades include a 2.75-mile trail system complete with a pollinator plot, an additional launching pier, interpretive signs, gazebos and benches. This site is managed in partnership with Shelby County Parks and Recreation Board.

Lake Martin’s new recreation area, Nature’s Way, is located on the southeastern corner of the reservoir, at the end of Old Tree Road in Dadeville. This area will feature a trail system totaling 4 miles with gazebos, interpretive signs, a boardwalk and benches.

These trails are open for hiking, running, bird-watching and biking. All these public recreation areas allow pets on leashes.

These sites come after the successful launch of three other new and upgraded sites last year.

Upgrades at Lake Logan MartinWeiss Lake and Neely Henry Lake have had a tremendously positive response from users.

“Continuing to provide these improvements in our communities is Alabama Power’s way of enhancing our state’s natural resources to give back in hopes that families will enjoy them more,” said Stephen Posey, recreation development assistant for Alabama Power.

The upgrades have been made possible through the help of businesses and contractors, like Foothills Contracting of Uniontown.

Alabama Power’s recreation team is working with Foothills Contracting to build the gazebos and kiosks for these public use areas.

“While traditionally used for fencing, this wood will provide a long-lasting structure with an incredible color and grain that will set it apart from anything else we have found in the state,” said Sage Coley, vice president of Foothills Contracting.

Foothills Contracting constructed the gazebos and kiosks with a unique and long-lasting type of wood known as Osage Orange.

“This was our first time building for a customer like Alabama Power, but it has been great seeing a company invest time and money to give back to the community and the kids. These playgrounds, trails and gazebos will be a great addition to the state’s lakes,” said Glynward Coley, owner of Foothills Contracting.

Alabama Power will continue to build The Preserves brand and make improvements to recreation sites on Alabama Power reservoirs. The Preserves project will focus on upgrades at more lakes in 2020, starting at Lake Jordan.

This story originally appeared in Shorelines magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 days ago

First wild Eastern indigo snake found in Alabama in 60 years

(Francesca Erickson, David Rainer/Outdoor Alabama)

Traci Wood admitted holding the snake almost made her come unglued. No, she wasn’t afraid of the snake she was holding. It was the magnitude of the moment.

Wood, the Habitat and Species Conservation Coordinator with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, had in her hands the first wild Eastern indigo snake documented in Alabama in more than 60 years.

“I’m not embarrassed to say that I was shaking when I held that animal,” Wood said. “This is a monumental benchmark in conservation for Alabama and the southeast region for this species. It’s a big deal, extremely big. It’s big for recovery efforts of a federally listed threatened species. It’s the first documentation of a wild snake in more than 60 years in Alabama. It’s proof that what we are doing through reintroduction is working and that captive snakes are acting like wild snakes after they are released.”

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Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources echoed the importance of the achievement.

“I am thrilled that we have documented wild reproduction of the Eastern indigo,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “It is great for the species, but I am also really happy for Traci and the staff who have worked for years to make this happen. They truly have a passion for their work, and I am so thankful for them.”

Technicians from the Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and the Auburn Museum of Natural History were out looking for documentation of indigo snakes as part of the long-term program to re-establish viable populations of Eastern indigos in their native habitat, mainly in longleaf pine forests in central and south Alabama.

“We try to document how long they are living, how far they are moving and how they’re doing healthwise,” Wood said. “The technicians were out and came across the snake as part of the monitoring effort. It was really no different than the monitoring we do for the released snakes. We’re out there assessing and trying to document their survival. There’s always the hope that we will find documentation of reproduction, and it finally happened.”

Wood said the technicians knew immediately what they had discovered when the snake was picked up.

“They knew because it was a hatchling-size snake,” she said. “It measured 2 feet in length, which is much smaller than the snakes we release from OCIC (Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation). It had no PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag or any indication we use in monitoring to indicate it was a released snake. Those released snakes are 5 feet in length or longer. They estimated the juvenile indigo at about 7 months old. It probably hatched in July or August.”

The Eastern indigo project started in 2006, and the program was able to start releasing captive-raised indigos in 2010 with 17 adult snakes released into the Conecuh National Forest. The goal is to release a total of 300 snakes to improve the chances of establishing a viable population. The project team has released 170 snakes to date. Wood said the decision-making and planning for indigo recovery through reintroductions started with late Auburn University professor Dr. Dan Speake in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It’s been a long process with a lot of sweat,” Wood said. “We have faced some criticism along the way. Then, when what you have hoped for happens, it’s extremely rewarding and overwhelming.”

During the early days of the indigo project, the released snakes were propagated from indigos that had been captured in the wild in Georgia. Partners in this project include Auburn Museum of Natural History, Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Zoo Tampa, Zoo Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army’s Fort Stewart, as well as the OCIC at the Central Florida Zoo, where the captive indigo breeding and health care are handled.

“We’re kind of at the halfway mark in the reintroduction,” Wood said. “It’s very exciting to see verification of reproduction at this stage of the project. It’s a huge testimony to the State Wildlife Grants program and working toward the recovery of a federally listed species. It is considered an experimental population. We were conducting research and making decisions that had never been done before with this species. It was a lot of groundbreaking work. Florida now has a reintroduction program, and a lot of their work is based on what we’ve done at Conecuh and lessons learned at Conecuh. Besides aquatic species, there isn’t another example of species recovery of a federally listed species through reintroductions.”

Wood said the lessons included that a learning curve is a given with a project of this magnitude and that 2-year-old snakes have a better chance of survival in the wild because they are less susceptible to predators.

“We also learned the target for the number of individuals to be released,” she said. “That is 30 individuals per year. We’ve learned that we had to establish a monitoring program that didn’t exist before. We learned it takes intense monitoring on the ground.”

One of the tools the monitoring team borrowed from the hunting community is the game camera. The game cameras have been stationed to monitor activity at gopher tortoise burrows, which are utilized by a number of animals, including indigos.

“We had to learn that a snake is not going to trigger motion sensitivity on the game cameras,” Wood said. “We set the cameras to capture a photo at intervals of 30 to 60 seconds to make sure we capture all the activity. That’s something we’ve recently started, and so far it’s proven to be very helpful. We’ve captured pictures of several indigos at burrows. The cameras are showing location, where they’re hanging out, how they’re using burrows and the fact adult snakes are surviving. We estimate that 60 to 80 percent of the snakes that we reintroduce will survive. That’s not bad at all after they’ve been in captivity for two years.”

Wood said it is not possible right now to estimate the total number of Eastern indigo snakes that are in the Conecuh habitat.

“These recaptures and verification of reproduction is data that will be useful in the future so that someday we may be able to predict how many individuals may be in the wild,” she said.

Wood said Eastern indigos were extirpated from the state and hadn’t been seen since the 1950s. Considered an apex predator, the snake plays an important role in the longleaf pine ecosystem. Eastern indigo snakes are the longest snakes native to the U.S. at more than 8 feet long. They prey on a variety of small mammals, amphibians, lizards and numerous species of venomous snakes, including the copperhead. Indigos are known to range far and wide during the warmer months and then seek refuge in the gopher tortoise burrows during the winter.

WFF’s State Wildlife Action Plan identifies 366 species that are in the category of greatest conservation need, according to Wood.

“Alabama is one of the most diverse states in the nation in terms of amphibians and reptiles,” she said. “Conecuh National Forest is the most biologically rich public land in the country.”

Wood is still having a little trouble grasping what happened recently at Conecuh National Forest.

“Physically holding a wild species that hasn’t been documented in Alabama in more than 60 years gives us high hopes for what we may see when we reach our goal of 300 snakes released,” she said.

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

Alabama hunter grants wishes for kids

(Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic/Contributed)

Jeff Carter didn’t have a plan in 2011 when he started Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic, an organization that takes sick kids on a weekend hunting trip in northwest Alabama.

“At that time I really didn’t know what it looked like,” Carter said. “The Lord put it on my heart and he called me to do this. We stepped out on faith.”

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Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic grants wishes for kids from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Carter’s faith paid off. The event, now in its ninth year, has grown from a hunting trip for one child into an extended weekend experience for three kids at a time. The kids are selected through the United Special Sportsman Alliance, all recovering from a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, or a life-altering disorder like autism.

“This is just an opportunity that God has given us to be able to give these kids and their families a chance to get away and get their mind off of a lot of what they’ve been dealing with,” Carter said.

Beau Terry, 18, is one of the young people hunting in this year’s classic. Terry said he was thrilled to get the chance.

“It’s kind of like having a lot of uncles around,” Terry said. “It means a lot.”

In addition to the hunting trip, the kids are given hunting clothes, a DVD video of their weekend and a canvas picture. Carter said their smiles are a blessing to him and his volunteers.

“It’s awesome,” Carter said. “When God calls us to do something, there’s no sense in worry about how much and how, just step out on faith and roll with it because he’s got it figured out already. He will provide.”

For more information about the Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic, visit the organization’s Facebook page here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 weeks ago

Alabama Bass Trail 100 registration opens June 1

(Billy Pope/Outdoors Alabama)

Tournament bass anglers who are ready to step up in competition need to mark their calendars for June 1, 2020, and set the alarm clock to 6 a.m. That date and time is when registration opens for the newest bass trail in Alabama aimed at serious tournament anglers.

The creation of the Alabama Bass Trail 100 was announced last week at beautiful Lake Guntersville State Park, overlooking the site of one of the three tournaments on the Alabama Bass Trail (ABT) 100 for 2021. The new trail is open to only 100 boats.

Those anglers who are fortunate enough to grab a slot in the new series will vie for $100,000 in total prize money for each of the three events, with $25,000 going to the winning boat.

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ABT Tournament Director Kay Donaldson said the entry fee per event is $1,000, and anglers must sign up for all three events to participate. No single entries are allowed.

The first ABT 100 tournament is scheduled for Lay Lake on the Coosa River on January 9, 2021. Lake Eufaula on the Chattahoochee River in southeast Alabama will be the site of the second event on June 5, 2021, followed by the trail finale at Lake Guntersville on the Tennessee River on November 20, 2021.

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, represented Gov. Kay Ivey at the trail’s unveiling and conveyed the Governor’s love of the outdoors.

“Gov. Kay Ivey is a huge supporter of hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation,” Blankenship said. “As a matter of fact, we were at an event about a month ago, and right before it was my time to speak, she tugged on my shoulder and said, ‘Remind me to ask you something before we leave.’ She wanted to talk about bass fishing on Lake Jordan. She’s a huge supporter of fishing in our state.”

Blankenship said he is blessed to be the Conservation Commissioner of a state with such outstanding natural resources and fisheries.

“Outdoor recreation is a $14 billion industry throughout our state,” he said. “Alabama has great fishing, both saltwater and freshwater. Just fishing has a $2 billion economic impact on our state. That’s a lot of money from people out enjoying themselves. We have such a great bass fishery here in our state, from the lakes on the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, the Tennessee River lakes, like here at Guntersville, the Tombigbee River, Smith Lake, Lake Eufaula, the Alabama River, and the place I’m most familiar with, fishing for bass in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. We have unique bass fisheries from one end of our state to the other. That’s where I think the Alabama Bass Trail is so impressive. It allows people from our state and from out of state to experience the different kinds of fisheries and the different places that make up our great bass fisheries here in Alabama.”

The original Alabama Bass Trail started seven years ago with the idea of promoting bass fishing across the state with Northern and Southern divisions. That tournament trail has become so popular that the slots open for the 2020 ABT were filled in hours.

“The Department works well with the Alabama Bass Trail on multiple fronts,” Blankenship said. “The Alabama Bass Trail works with the Department to provide information for the B.A.I.T. (Bass Anglers Information Team) to provide a clear picture on what’s happening on the lakes where they hold the tournaments. Several of our staff members have been at Alabama Bass Trail events and have witnessed the extraordinary lengths the tournament officials go to to ensure the health and live release of thousands of tournament-caught bass. These efforts are important to maintain the healthy fisheries of our lakes.”

“Tournaments like this highlight the fisheries and bring more people to our state to buy fishing licenses and tackle and those type things,” Blankenship said. “That money is used by the Department to go back into building the high-quality fisheries and install boat ramps and public access areas around the state. We have more than 150 boat ramps in the state that the Department maintains or partners with cities and counties to manage. I really want to say thanks to those cities and counties that partner with us. Now we’re looking at building new ramps with big bass tournaments in mind. Kay has been very helpful in discussions about what works better for bass tournaments and helps get boats in and out of the water, parking and what helps facilitate attracting some of the largest fishing tournaments to our state. We appreciate the Alabama Bass Trail and its leadership. All that plays a role in attracting great tournaments to our state. We want everybody, when they come here, to have a good time and enjoy their fishing so they’ll want to come back and so they’ll tell other people about what great bass fisheries we have here in Alabama.”

When the ABT was just a lofty idea, Lee Sentell, Alabama Tourism Director, provided the catalyst to make the tournament trail a reality.

“I’m a member of an organization called Travel South USA, which is the 12 southern states’ tourism departments,” said Sentell, who recognized the ABT as the 2018 Tourism Organization of the Year in Alabama. “Every year I get more questions from my counterparts from throughout the South who will say, ‘Now, how did that Alabama Bass Trail thing get started?’ I tell them some people had a great idea and great vision. Great things happen when you have great talent, great resources and people who want to make a difference and bring more anglers into our state. I just want to say a big congratulations to the Alabama Bass Trail and Alabama Mountain Lakes (Tourist Association). It’s hard to believe this has been going on for seven years. But, it’s exciting.”

Sentell recalled a meeting with Don Logan, one of the people who brought BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society) back to Alabama, and Alabama Mountain Lakes about starting the Alabama Bass Trail. The meeting was not progressing well until Sentell stepped up.

“I said the Alabama Tourism Department will put $200,000 a year for three years into the Alabama Bass Trail, and Alabama Mountain Lakes is going to run it,” Sentell said. “They couldn’t say no to that. So, what you are doing and where you’re going next is thrilling. This is a state that is blessed with many natural wonders, and our lakes and rivers and fisheries are one of the most important aspects of the quality of life in our state.”

Donaldson said at a meeting in August 2019, the ABT board voted unanimously to pursue the idea of a new tournament series, which would become the Alabama Bass Trail 100.

“The popularity of Alabama Bass Trail was never more realized than last August, when we sold out the 225 boats for the Southern Division in three hours and our Northern Division with 225 boats in 17 hours,” Donaldson said. “People often ask how we pay back 100 percent. It’s because of our wonderful sponsors. Our title sponsor again is Phoenix Boats.”

Guntersville Mayor Leigh Dollar said she is excited that Guntersville was chosen as the final tournament of the 2021 season.

“The Alabama Bass Trail has always been a great asset to our community,” Dollar said. “They bring lots of people. It’s great publicity. We love our anglers.”

Eufaula Mayor Jack Tibbs, an avid bass angler who competes in the ABT South Division, echoed Dollar’s sentiments.

“The Alabama Bass Trail is a great tournament trail already,” Tibbs said. “This is just going to be an expansion of what they already do. It’s going to be great for Eufaula. We’re excited.”

Donaldson said registration is open to all anglers with no priority registration for current ABT anglers. Only one pro angler is allowed per boat. Visit www.alabamabasstrail100.org for details and rules. Tournament information will also be available on Facebook and Instagram at albasstrail100.

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

Fishing at public lakes to begin in February

(Alabama Newscenter)

Alabama’s fishermen will be able to resume fishing on state-owned lakes beginning February 1, 2020, the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries division announced on Friday.

The state of Alabama owns 23 lakes that it stocks with fish like bream, largemouth bass, channel catfish and crappie. For nominal fees, any interested angler can cast a line and enjoy a day on the lake. One of those lakes — Washington County Public Fishing Lake — will remain closed for all of 2020 while it is restocked.

“Alabama’s public fishing lakes are a great family fishing destination,” said Jonathan Brown, public fishing lake biologist for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF)

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The operating costs of Alabama’s public fishing lakes do not come from the state’s general fund budget. The state’s anglers cover the cost through the paying of license fees, targeted taxes on outdoor equipment and fishing permits.

“Not only do the lakes offer great fishing, they have concession buildings with snacks, drinks, restrooms, and personnel who can provide fishing advice,” concluded Brown.

More information on where the public fishing lakes are, and how interested anglers can use them, can be found on the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ website.

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

2 weeks ago

Birmingham duo to become first high school team allowed to fish in Bassmaster Classic

(H. Thornton/YHN)

BIRMINGHAM — Grayson Morris and Tucker Smith, who have won back to back B.A.S.S. high school national championships, will be the first high school duo allowed to fish at the Bassmaster Classic.

The announcement was made in front of a raucous crowd in Briarwood Christian School’s (BCS) auditorium on Thursday morning. Smith recently graduated from BCS while Morris is still a student at the school. They were joined for the announcement by their boat captain J.T. Russell, who is a BCS alum.

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Grayson Morris, who said he had been fishing since he was five years old, told the media that he “had no idea” when asked if he knew about today’s recognition from Bassmaster.

“When they made the announcement I was super surprised,” he added. “I can’t wait till March.”

In 2020, the Bassmaster Classic will be in Birmingham from March 6-8. It is the competition’s 50th anniversary. The fishing will take place on Lake Guntersville. Morris and Smith will be participating, but not as official competitors.

“I remember watching the Bassmaster Classic on TV when I was a little boy, and now I get to go out there and do that,” Morris happily told Yellowhammer News.

Academy Sports and Outdoors is giving the duo’s boat a new coat of paint for the special occasion.

“I think it looks good. It will look good out there at the Bassmaster Classic,” he said of the freshly-painted boat.

“To be the first high schooler’s, that’s a great honor,” Smith told reporters after the event. He also thanked his coaches for making everything possible.

“It’s going to be crazy to fish against those guys,” he said of the anglers he will be sharing a lake with come March.

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

2 weeks ago

Alabama hunter grants wishes for kids

Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic is a hunting event for kids recovering from life-threatening illnesses or dealing with autism. (contributed)

Jeff Carter didn’t have a plan in 2011 when he started Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic, an organization that takes sick kids on a weekend hunting trip in northwest Alabama.

“At that time I really didn’t know what it looked like,” Carter said. “The Lord put it on my heart and he called me to do this. We stepped out on faith.”

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Carter’s faith paid off. The event, now in its ninth year, has grown from a hunting trip for one child into an extended weekend experience for three kids at a time. The kids are selected through Make-A-Wish and the United Special Sportsman Alliance, all recovering from a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, or a life-altering disorder like autism.

“This is just an opportunity that God has given us to be able to give these kids and their families a chance to get away and get their mind off of a lot of what they’ve been dealing with,” Carter said.

Beau Terry, 18, is one of the young people hunting in this year’s classic. Terry said he was thrilled to get the chance.

“It’s kind of like having a lot of uncles around,” Terry said. “It means a lot.”

In addition to the hunting trip, the kids are given hunting clothes, a DVD video of their weekend and a canvas picture. Carter said their smiles are a blessing to him and his volunteers.

“It’s awesome,” Carter said. “When God calls us to do something, there’s no sense in worry about how much and how, just step out on faith and roll with it because he’s got it figured out already. He will provide.”

For more information about the Pine Hills and Oak Hollars Child Classic, visit the organization’s Facebook page here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Dwindling loggerhead shrike numbers concern researchers

(Bill Summerour/Outdoor Alabama)

Appearing like a miniature version of a mockingbird, the loggerhead shrike looks like any other songbird until you find evidence of the shrike’s lethal side.

“Some people call them butcher birds or French mockingbirds,” said Eric Soehren, biologist and manager of the Alabama State Lands’ Wehle Land Conservation Center in southeast Alabama. “They may look similar to a mockingbird, but they are very different in many ways. The shrike is a predatory songbird. They prey on a variety of small animals and can even kill birds heavier than they are. Many times, you’ll see their larders, which is where they have skewered their prey on a thorn or barbed wire. That’s where the butcher bird name comes from. It’s a songbird, but it’s an efficient killing machine.”

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Although common in the mid-20th century, the loggerhead shrike has become a species of greatest conservation need because of declining numbers throughout its range. Soehren said the bird has a very wide distribution across the continent, but numbers in latitudes north of a Missouri-Kentucky-Virginia line have plummeted. Where it used to be a common species, the birds are now only found in small and isolated populations.

Fortunately in the South, sizable numbers of these birds still remain, despite not being as numerous in places like Alabama and Mississippi.

In response to that decline, the Loggerhead Shrike Working Group was formed by researchers in Canada and the United States, made up of specialists who have studied the shrike as well as personnel from the non-game sections of state conservation agencies.

“One of their primary tasks is shrike conservation, monitoring trends, habitat management on conservation lands on a state-by-state basis,” Soehren said. “Places like Indiana, West Virginia and Virginia have contributed to this for quite some time. However, states in the Southeast have not been a part of this until more recently.”

Soehren said the group’s goal is to identify the problems affecting the shrike and why the species is declining. He said it’s likely a combination of impacts, like habitat alteration, pesticides and nest predation.

“The group is trying to use modern science on a comprehensive scale to identify these needs,” he said. “One of the biologists in Virginia reached out to us in Alabama and asked if we would participate in the group, first because we have a lot of shrikes, relatively speaking, and because they didn’t have a lot of representation in the Southeast.”

To further involve Alabama, the technical working group asked that the annual meeting be held in the state. That meeting was held last spring at the Birmingham Zoo. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was represented by Soehren, along with Carrie Threadgill and Mercedes Bartkovich from Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Non-Game Wildlife Section.

“One of the fundamental things of monitoring wildlife is to mark individuals, whether by banding, ear-tagging or radio collars in animals like deer,” Soehren said. “The idea is to see what happens to that individual animal during a course of time – their movements, their habitat use, longevity and survivorship. This has been going on all over the state.

“One of the things we’re looking at is the movements of the species. They are short-distance migrants. Birds that breed in the northern limits of their distribution range migrate south in the winter. A lot of the birds that come into north Alabama in the fall and winter are northern birds.”

Soehren said several state agencies have made a significant effort to band as many shrikes as possible. While the members of the working group are actively monitoring, the group also depends on the public to help with the effort.

“The idea is if you see a banded bird, report it,” he said.

A banding scheme with different color combinations was devised to provide re-sighting opportunities for researchers and casual observers. Birds banded in each state are assigned unique colored bands, making it easy to determine where the bird originated. A master list of color combinations for bands is compiled and managed by the group for identification.

“If a bird is sighted with color bands, there is a master list that can be used to say, ‘Oh, this bird was spotted in Alabama but banded in Virginia,” said Soehren, who said the master list is reserved for the researchers.

Another aspect of the banding is being able to identify individual birds during the breeding cycle, like a paired male and female.

“A lot of the loss is likely happening at the nest,” Soehren said. “Pairs are nesting, raising young, but one of the critical aspects is that recruitment is falling below critical mass. It looks like a lot of the birds are not surviving through the first year. They may fledge, but they’re just not surviving. To better understand what’s going on, the birds are banded and monitored through the entire nesting process. It’s kind of a laborious effort, but if you have a good eye for finding nests, it will help us monitor these nests through the duration from nest building to fledging, and watching what the fledglings do afterwards.”

The working group is also collecting feathers and blood samples for genetics work to study the complexity of shrike populations across the continent.

“Understanding what population is where and how populations are mixing has conservation merit and bearing,” Soehren said. “If a population is found to be genetically unique, it deserves more immediate protection efforts than the populations that are more widespread and common.”

The working group is also developing models for locality and habitat use that will provide information on the areas more likely to harbor shrikes so state agencies can prioritize conservation efforts.

“We’re at the beginning stages of better understanding shrikes in Alabama,” Soehren said. “We’re kind of limited by the number of people who can work with this species. The public can go out and identify these birds. What’s really been nice is eBird (ebird.org), which has been a wonderful tool. People provide sightings at specific locations. That provides a snapshot of distribution, not only in Alabama, but around the continent.”

Soehren already knows that shrike populations have significantly declined in north Alabama, compared to the numbers seen in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Something is going on in the Tennessee Valley region compared to the rest of the state,” Soehren said. “Places like the Black Belt region and along the Gulf Coast still have sizeable numbers of shrikes.”

Despite limited resources, members of Alabama’s shrike group go out and opportunistically capture shrikes under agency permits.

“We’ve taken the approach that we’re going to band birds where there are a lot of birds present,” Soehren said. “We’re going to band in areas where people can re-sight these birds and report them. We’ve talked to birders about adopting areas to monitor banded shrikes. A lot of times, they already know where paired birds nest. If the birds are banded, these birders can be our eyes and share that information with us because we do not have the staffing resources to monitor consistently. We have to rely on others to help us with that information.”

One of the hotspots for shrike activity is Dauphin Island, the barrier island south of Mobile. Dauphin Island has a dedicated birding community, and the island has numerous bird sanctuaries. Lakepoint State Park near Eufaula is also another location with a significant shrike population.

“Birds banded at Dauphin Island are a good example of the public helping with the monitoring,” Soehren said. “There are about four or five nesting pairs on the island, so there are quite a few shrikes down there.”

Soehren was on the island for an Alabama Ornithological Society meeting and took the opportunity to bring his trapping gear.

“I was able to capture and band two birds really quickly,” he said. “We banded them in October. Since that time, we’ve had two separate birders report them to the Bird-Banding Lab (www.reportband.gov), which is what you’re supposed to do when you see a banded bird.”

Although Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count has recently been completed, Soehren said anyone can help give the agencies a picture of the local bird populations during the winter.

“The Christmas Bird Count provides overall population information and reveals changes in distribution and abundance over time,” Soehren said. “Many species have declined significantly, some meriting listing on the Alabama State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). But there are also examples of increases. The North American waterfowl populations have increased over 50% since 1970 due to a lot of the management efforts throughout their range. Revenues derived from the sale of duck stamps and hunting licenses have been reinvested in land conservation. We have bigger bag limits and longer seasons as a result. What’s great about the Christmas Bird Count is it’s open to anybody and everybody interested in birds. It’s not just for experienced birders. Everybody can get involved. If you’re a retiree just watching feeders, it all goes into the big pot of information. It helps us at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource s in our effort with non-game species.”

Visit www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count for information on how you can participate next winter.

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

B.A.S.S., Alabama Power break ground on Smith Lake pavilion

(James Overstreet/B.A.S.S.)

Work has started on a new public-use weigh-in pavilion at Smith Lake, which is part of a partnership between B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power.

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance volunteers recently broke ground on the project at Lewis Smith Lake Dam Boat Ramp in Walker County.

The pavilion will feature holding tanks for fish, which reduce stress and increase survival rates. The covered pavilion will provide shade for tournament weigh-ins.

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“This pavilion will provide a much-needed place for organizations to hold their weigh-ins, from local bass clubs to the largest Bassmaster Open tournaments,” said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland.

Gilliland thanked Alabama Power for its support of the project. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources also donated engineering expertise.

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance volunteers are handling construction and say the project is an opportunity for their members to partner with the community.

“We’re proud to partner with B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power on this project, which will benefit Smith Lake anglers for years to come,” said Union Sportsmen’s Alliance Conservation Manager Robert Stroede. “Our union volunteers are passionate about the outdoors and conservation, and they enjoy sharing their time and trade skills giving back to their communities.”

“As part of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and a high school fishing coach, I am proud to see this project underway and excited about the positive impact it will have on the fast-growing high school fishing circuit,” said Casey Shelton, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers System Council U-19.

In 2014, B.A.S.S., Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Shelby County and volunteers from Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation teamed up to open a similar weigh-in pavilion at Beeswax Landing on Lay Lake.

“We are thrilled to work with B.A.S.S., the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the local community to construct this pavilion that will enhance this access point on Smith Lake,” said Zeke Smith, Alabama Power executive vice president of External Affairs. “We look forward to it opening and playing a part in showcasing the state of Alabama’s beautiful waterways.”

The project is expected to be completed in early spring.

“This is a great example of a diverse group of entities coming together to achieve one goal,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “We are proud to be a part of this project and continue our mission of accessibility to the natural resources of our great state.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

WFF’s Rut Map gives hunters useful planning tool

(Alabama Outdoors/Contributed, YHN)

Depending on where they pursue white-tailed deer, hunters in Alabama may be experiencing a wide range of deer breeding activity from pre-rut, and peak rut to post-rut.

Studies by wildlife professionals indicate that rutting activity is most closely associated with the heritage of the deer in a particular area. The diversity of breeding activity, known as the rut, is a result of stocking efforts early in the 20th century, when deer populations in Alabama were in dire straits. Overharvest and a lack of game management had isolated deer to pockets around the state, mainly in southwest Alabama.

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Restocking efforts included trapping and relocating deer from southwest Alabama, mainly from the Clarke County area, as well as bringing in deer from other parts of the United States. Deer were transported from Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.

For the most part, the transplanted deer maintained their native rutting activity, which means Alabama hunters can hunt the rut in one part of the state or another for most of deer season.

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has developed a resource that provides a quick guide for expected rutting activity in your particular area. The Alabama Deer Rut Map, available at www.outdooralabama.com/sites/default/files/Hunting/Deer%20Hunting/2019%20Alabama%20WFF%20Deer%20Rut%20Map.pdf provides a user-friendly way to find the timetable for rutting activity around the state.

WFF Director Chuck Sykes said the rut map was produced by WFF staff under the direction of Deer Program Coordinator Chris Cook and Assistant Wildlife Chief Amy Silvano.

“The map is based on historic stocking information, the herd health assessment we do in the spring and our fetal collections,” Sykes said. “Basically, you can look at that map, and, unlike most other states, we have multiple ruts based on our historic stocking. If you go hunt in Illinois, every deer in the state will be rutting the first 10 days to two weeks of November, depending on where you are in the state and the gene source of that herd. In Alabama, you can hunt the rut in November, December, January and February.”

Sykes said that provides Alabama hunters a unique opportunity to hunt the rut for most of deer season if they follow the map and are willing to travel to different parts of the state. Although hunters may have their own definition of the rut, whether it’s building scrapes or bucks chasing does, Sykes said the map is based on fetal studies that pinpoint when the does were actually bred.

“That map corresponds with a ton of public hunting land,” he said. “Some of the WMAs (wildlife management areas) have bonus bucks where it doesn’t count against your state three-buck limit. Some of the WMAs that have that early rut will actually have a couple of days of gun season before regular gun season comes in. There’s a lot of opportunity for someone. Honestly, you can use that map to plot your hunting for next year. You can look at the map and see when the rut is expected at the Oakmulgee and Choccolocco WMAs or Bankhead National Forest, and you can plan you some time off to hunt those WMAs during that time period. You don’t have to all your time off during January. You can take some in November, some in December and a little more in January, and you can hunt three different peak ruts.”

I received an email recently from a hunter who, after looking the rut map, wondered if he could have deer on his hunting property with different genetic backgrounds. The answer is yes.

Sykes has a perfect example of one location where deer rutted at different times on the same piece of property. Before he became WFF Director, Sykes managed a hunting plantation in Lee County on the Georgia border.

“On one piece of the property, the deer had come over from Georgia and rutted the first week of December,” he said. “Across the road on the other side of the property, it was the traditional, late-rut Alabama deer. So you could hunt the peak rut on that one 5,000-acre piece of property multiple times. You had the rut the first week of December. Then the does that didn’t get bred during that first cycle came back in during the first 10 days of January. Then the Alabama deer kicked in about the 15th to 20th of January. Even before the February extension, we could actually hunt three different phases of the rut on that one piece of property.”

Social media has once again this season been filled with photos of huge bucks that have been taken across the state, several from some of the more popular WMAs.

Sykes said most likely those big deer were taken in areas other than food plots.

“From my personal experience, we had a bumper acorn crop,” Sykes said of his hunting land in west central Alabama. “Until last week when the (Tombigbee) river came up, the deer weren’t using the food plots much. They were staying in the woods because they had plenty to eat. From what I understand, it was hit or miss throughout the state. In the areas with really good acorn crops, the people who went in the woods to hunt killed some really good deer.”

Sykes said he wouldn’t be surprised if the deer activity shifted toward the wildlife openings in the next few weeks.

“We’ve had so much water lately, and the acorns are being thinned out, so I think the activity around the food plots will kick in a little stronger,” he said. “But I’m excited about that tremendous acorn crop. The turkeys ought to be fat as pigs come springtime because they had plenty of acorns to fatten up on. And the wood ducks too. In fact, I took Syd (his dog) and killed a limit of wood ducks on a water oak flat that was under water. It was full of acorns and full of ducks.”

Thankfully, very little news has developed on chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer so far this season. CWD-positive deer have been confirmed in Mississippi and Tennessee, but Alabama is making every effort to keep the disease out of the state through strict enforcement of the ban on the importation of deer carcasses.

Alabama hunters still have the opportunity to have their harvested deer sampled at locations around the state. WFF has set up freezers in strategic locations to accept the samples. Visit https://www.outdooralabama.com/cwd-sampling for a list of freezer locations.

The instructions to have the animal tested are:

  • To prepare the sample for drop off at one of the self-service locations, hunters must first remove the deer’s head leaving 4-6 inches of neck attached.
  • Once the head is removed, place it in the provided plastic bag and tie it closed. For bucks, antlers can be removed at the base of each antler or by removing the skull plate before bagging the head.
  • Complete all sections of the Biological Sample Tag and attach it to the bag with a zip tie.
  • Remove and retain the bottom receipt portion of the Biological Sample Tag before placing the bagged head in the freezer.

Hunters will receive the results of the samples within three to four weeks.

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

AmeriCorps volunteers make improvements at Lakepoint State Park

(David Rainer, Kenny Johnson/Alabama Outdoors)

During this season of giving, one group of young adults donated their time, energy and work ethic to the Alabama State Parks System to help with improvements at Lakepoint State Park north of Eufaula.

As part of the AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) program, a team of young adults ages 18-25 made improvements to the bathroom facilities at the campground at Lakepoint.

AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs made up of three primary programs that take different approaches to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. Members commit their time to address critical community needs like increasing academic achievement, mentoring youth, fighting poverty, sustaining state and national parks, preparing for disasters and more.

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According to the AmeriCorps website, the program works with numerous people and groups in the following ways:

AmeriCorps members help communities recover from the damage caused by natural and other disasters.

AmeriCorps members build affordable housing units for families to increase economic opportunity for those living in poverty.

AmeriCorps members facilitate mentorship programs to connect students with community members who can help with academic performance and college preparation.

AmeriCorps members remove trash and other man-made debris from local ponds to promote environmental sustainability.

AmeriCorps members encourage community members to donate fresh produce to local schools to promote healthy futures and reduce childhood obesity.

AmeriCorps members assist veterans and military families in filing for benefits claims so that they get access to the resources they need.

Tasha Simon, Natural Resource Planner with the Alabama State Parks Division, said AmeriCorps NCCC, which focuses on young adults to promote team-building, made a visit to Alabama to explain the role of the program’s service units. Simon quickly realized how State Parks could benefit from having one of the teams donate their time and effort to make one of the parks better.

After going through the tedious application and screening processes, Simon got word that Alabama had been selected from among 50 applicants for an AmeriCorps NCCC team.

“Our project entailed restoring the exterior of the bathhouses in the picnic area of the park. Exterior siding was removed and replaced with more-durable concrete board,” Simon said. “The Lakepoint staff was excited about the scope of work completed and the quality of the work performed by the team. We all hope to have more opportunities to work with AmeriCorps NCCC on future projects in the State Parks System.”

Simon said State Parks’ experience with AmeriCorps NCCC shows this is a team full of young, service-oriented people. It allows them to do service work all over the United States and in other areas. This particular team has just come from Puerto Rico where they helped that country rebuild from the destruction of Hurricane Florence.

“This allows young adults to learn new skills so they can take those skills into their life and kind of figure out where they’re going with those skills,” Simon said. “Our staff at Lakepoint mentored them on how to use small power tools. They had never used those before. We gave them some training, and they will be able to take those skills to their next project.”

Simon was especially impressed with Eric Cullen, the team leader from Bayou One, which is based in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

“Eric has got his stuff together,” she said. “Eric has great potential in his career path.”

Cullen, who is from Albany, N.Y., said he was pleased to dispel the stereotypes of the South during his AmeriCorps NCCC work, and he especially enjoyed the mild weather. The AmeriCorps program also gave him the opportunity to expand his experience outside of his field of study.

“I was two years out of college,” Cullen said. “I had finished my bachelor’s degree. I had worked in the private sector. I was thinking about grad school. I had some friends who had done AmeriCorps. To be honest, I wanted to stay out of the office as long as I could, dodge the cubicle for another year. I thought about working with my hands for a good cause. I’m learning good construction skills. It’s not completely altruistic and selfless. It’s definitely skills I can use at my home.”

The team members who were able to finish out the project with Cullen in December were Eric Bataluna from Idaho, Julia Raup-Collado and Amy Skotek, both from Pennsylvania.

“Everyone I’ve worked with just likes helping other people,” Cullen said. “In our last project we were doing construction with people who haven’t had a functioning roof in two years. In the case of Lakepoint, it’s nice to get a project where we can get it done. It’s such a beautiful place. Some mornings when we get here, the fog is lifting off the water. We couldn’t ask for a more scenic location to be working.”

Simon said she hopes this isn’t the last State Parks will see of the AmeriCorps NCCC teams.

“We have submitted applications for AmeriCorps NCCC’s fourth round,” she said. “If we are awarded a second team, it would be the end of February through May. They will probably continue with general projects that we have at Lakepoint. That could renovate the docks or the decks on the cabins and cottages.”

In addition to learning the benefits of working together as a team, the AmeriCorps NCCC members receive other benefits such as student loan deferment, skills and training, a living allowance, limited health benefit options, an education award upon completion of service to help pay for college, graduate school, or vocational training, or to repay student loans, and career opportunities with leading employers from the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

Eufaula Mayor Jack Tibbs was especially appreciative of the AmeriCorps NCCC volunteer effort.

“It is an honor for our city to host you during the service project here at Lakepoint,” Tibbs said. “Lake Eufaula and Lakepoint State Park are so important to our way of life here in southeast Alabama, and to have an AmeriCorps team here is just amazing. This was a perfect opportunity for the team members to meet young people in our community and show what is possible through volunteerism and public service.”

Visit www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/americorps-programs/americorps-nccc for more information.

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

1 month ago

Alabama increases checks for Chronic Wasting Disease after multiple instances found in Mississippi, Tennessee

(OutdoorAlabama/YouTube)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is upping the amount of deer to be checked for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), especially in northwest Alabama, after deer in Mississippi and Tennessee have recently tested positive for the deadly disease.

Chuck Sykes, director of the ACNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, told the MGM Advertiser that CWD was “three to five years” from showing up in the state and threatening a big chunk of the state’s hunting industry.

Alabama’s hunting industry has a $1.8 billion annual economic impact, per the Hunting Heritage Foundation.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Chronic Wasting Disease affects North American cervids like deer, elk and moose. It is always fatal to the infected animal. CWD affects the brain, spinal cord, lymph node system and many other tissues in susceptible species.

The ADCNR’s website says that CWD is not known to be capable of infecting humans, and while “a variety of species can be experimentally infected with CWD, there is currently no evidence that the disease can be spread naturally from cervids to livestock.”

Alabama deer hunters can find a location to drop off samples for testing at these locations. The sample dropped off must include the head of the deer.

Hunters who drop off a deer for sampling should receive their results in three to four weeks.

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

Adams stays on top of Eufaula’s Wintertime crappie

(David Rainer/Alabama Outdoors)

Of all the outdoor experiences my mother, now 86, enjoyed the most, it was watching a cork disappear as a slab crappie grabbed the minnow at the end of the line.

As is normal procedure, I check in on her every few days, and she wanted to know what I’d been doing.

“Catching crappie,” I said.

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“I didn’t think you could catch crappie this time of year,” she responded.

“Well,” I said, “You haven’t been crappie fishing with Tony Adams.”

Adams is the fish-catching wizard who can catch crappie any time of year on his home impoundment – Lake Eufaula.

Although Eufaula is known as the “Bass Capitol of the World,” Adams spends most of his time on the water catching crappie.

When most folks in the outdoors community are in the woods chasing whitetails or cottontails, Adams is locating the likely spots where crappie congregate this time of year. He uses his Humminbird Helix 12 bottom machine (manufactured in Eufaula) to locate the fish on the spots he has found over the years. He uses the side-scanning feature to locate the spot and then switches to down-scanning to pinpoint where the fish are located on the structure.

“I find structure in 15 to 20 feet of water,” said Adams, who manages the Eufaula Marvin’s building supply store when he’s not catching crappie. “When I see the fish on the Humminbird, I’ll drop down a minnow anywhere from 8 to 10 to 12 feet, depending on where the fish are holding.”

Adams uses 10-foot B&M poles and spinning reels with 6-pound-test, high-viz line. When the fish are deeper in the winter, he uses a No. 2 gold hook and a split-shot pinched 12 to 18 inches above the hook. If it gets a little windy, he’ll use a second split-shot to keep the bow out of his line.

The reason he uses the high-viz line is because it’s a lot easier to watch during the sunny, clear days.

“Obviously, you watch your rod tip, but I also watch that line,” Adams said. “Sometimes crappie will bite and come up with it. You can tell by the slack in the line that you’ve got a fish.”

When Adams hits the lake, he always has a bait bucket or two with plenty of minnows.

“In the summer, I’ll tip a jig with a minnow and bounce it off the bottom,” he said. “In the winter, I just use a minnow.”

Adams prefers to hook his minnow through the bottom lip and through the hard cartilage on the front of the head to allow more action from the bait.

“In the wintertime I try to keep the bait right at about the depth the fish are holding,” he said. “Then we just wait to see that rod tip bounce or go down and then pull in a slab.”

Of course, the weather plays a significant role in his fishing success during the winter, especially the wind. The cold doesn’t bother him. He just adds more clothes. It’s the wind that dictates his strategy.

“During the winter, the less wind there is, the better the fishing I can do,” he said. “You have to keep the bait in front of the crappie most of the time. The fish are in big schools on the structure. The more time you can have that minnow in front of the crappie, the better your chances of catching them.”

Adams said the wintertime pattern kicks off on Lake Eufaula around the first of December, and crappie will remain on structure until the weather starts to warm in February.

“In the middle of February, they’ll start moving into the mouths of the creeks to do some pre-spawning,” he said. “We’ll start catching a lot more fish in the creeks. Then when they move up to spawn, we’ll catch a lot of fish in the creeks. That’s when I start throwing jigs around the grass, the rocks and bridge pilings. I’ll be shooting (casting underneath) docks because the fish are getting shallow. On Lake Eufaula, it seems the bigger fish come up first. In the spring, sometimes they’re in 12 inches of water all the way down to 5 feet of water. Some of them spawn in 5 feet of water. Sometimes they’ll spawn deeper than at other times.”

Adams will do two things while the crappie are in their transition period from spawn to summer. He catches plenty of catfish, but he also makes sure plenty of structure will be available to fish for the summertime and wintertime patterns.

“While the fish are spawning, I’ll put structure out in deeper water,” said Adams, who uses mainly bamboo but will also sink crepe myrtles and small cedars. “I’ll take a 5-gallon bucket, fill it about halfway with water. I’ll pour in some concrete mix. I’ll have the bamboo already trimmed at the bottom and start sticking it into the concrete. I’ll make sure the bamboo is sticking in every direction. Then I’ll look for spots where the new structure will cover about half the water column. If I’m going to put it out in 20 feet of water, I’ll have the bamboo about 10 feet tall. ”

“Right about Memorial Day is when the crappie are back on that heavy structure in the middle of the lake,” he said.

On our trip last week, we hit the lake with a cold front approaching. It was the kind of day a bass fisherman dreams of – cloud cover with mild temperatures and the barometer falling. Those conditions usually put the bass species into a feeding frenzy.

We found out that doesn’t translate to crappie fishing. With a light fog and heavy cloud cover, the fish weren’t really in a biting mood. We’d catch two or three fish in one spot and then have to move to find a few more.

Then – cue the Hallelujah Choir – the sun broke through the clouds, and the bite began in earnest. Within six or seven minutes, we had put 10 nice keepers in the boat. That trend continued until the approaching front forced us back to the boat ramp.

“My favorite time to fish is when the sun is shining,” Adams said. “I think the fish get tighter to the structure. I also think maybe the sun shining may give that minnow a different kind of look in that deep water. That sunshine seems to kick off the bite. We definitely did a lot better when the sun was shining.”

Back to the wind, which will determine whether it’s worth launching the boat on certain days.

“On a real windy day, it’s hard to crappie fish,” he said. “Based on where you are in the lake, if you have 6- to 7-mile-per-hour winds, it could be white-capping. That will mean 15-inch to 2-foot waves. That minnow is moving up and down with the waves, which is not natural. With the crappie not as aggressive in the wintertime, they’re not going to bite something moving like that. I’m looking for 5 miles an hour or less. Calm is even better. Cold is not a problem. You can drop that minnow right in front of his face. It may take him a few minutes to hit it, but he will eventually hit it.”

Although we didn’t use any types of bobbers to catch the fish, I’m sure my mom won’t mind when I fry her up a batch of fillets from the 38 crappie we put in the ice chest.

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

McFarland Memorial Trail opens at Lake Lurleen State Park

(Alabama State Parks Foundation/Contributed)

Lake Lurleen State Park in Coker officially opened its newest trail on Thursday, named the J.W. “Bill” McFarland Sr. Memorial Trail to honor the late Tuscaloosa businessman, public servant and philanthropist.

McFarland’s family donated funds to the Alabama State Parks Foundation for the construction of the half-mile trail, which connects to the 9-mile Tashka Trail, the park’s longest. The park now has eight trails open for hiking and biking, totaling just over 27 miles.

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“The Alabama State Parks Division is honored that Mr. McFarland’s family wanted to support Lake Lurleen State Park and the Alabama State Parks Foundation with this gift,” said Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship. “‘Partners Pay the Way’ is more than a slogan for our parks. We are thrilled that this family saw Lake Lurleen State Park as a fitting place to honor their father, husband and brother.”

McFarland’s brother and longtime business partner, Ward, represented his family at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the trail. “My brother loved Lake Lurleen State Park and we are happy that his name will forever be attached to this trail where so many visitors will be able to enjoy the outdoors,” he said.

Billy McFarland Jr. said, “We are glad the Alabama State Parks Foundation is now working with the State Parks Division to help improve all of our parks. We certainly encourage others who have made special memories with their families in the parks to consider becoming a supporter through the Foundation.”

J.W. “Bill” McFarland Sr. was born in Tuscaloosa, where he attended school and graduated with honors from the University of Alabama in commerce and business administration. In 1973, he assumed the position of vice president of Ward McFarland Inc., a real estate development and investment firm founded by his father, the Hon. Ward Wharton McFarland. In 1986, he was the Republican nominee for the United States House of Representatives from District 7.

In 1987, Gov. Guy Hunt named him to his cabinet as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Mental Health. During his two years of service, McFarland successfully lobbied for the passage of a $100 million bond issue – the largest mental health bond issue ever in the state – that enabled countless mental health facilities across the state to renovate and improve their level of care.

He was a founding member of the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission, appointed by six Alabama governors, both Republican and Democrat, to the then three-state body. McFarland was instrumental in inaugurating the Gulf Coast Limited Amtrak Service that served Alabama and for working to maintain rail service in Tuscaloosa.

McFarland was an officer in the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, was president of Volunteers of America of Alabama and served on the Shelton State Foundation, Friends of Bryce Hospital and numerous other civic and community organizations.

Design and construction of the trail was done by members of the West Alabama Mountain Bike Association, Alabama State Parks North Region Trails Coordinator, Northwest District Superintendent Chad Davis and the staff of Lake Lurleen State Park. WAMBA has built and maintains all the trails in the park.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

ADCNR officers help spread Christmas cheer at Academy Sports

(Billy Pope/Alabama Outdoors)

Imagine elves filling baskets with goodies to load on Santa’s sleigh and you get a snapshot of what it looked like last week when Academy Sports + Outdoors provided Christmas cheer for numerous youngsters who needed that encouragement the most.

At Academy stores across Alabama, youngsters were chosen to go on shopping sprees with a budget of $150 each, assisted by first responders from the local area. In two locations, Huntsville and Foley, Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) enforcement officers assisted the kids in choosing the items that were loaded into the shopping carts.

Into the baskets went bows and arrows, footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, clothing, athletic shoes, candy canes and more. The youngsters proved more than adept at keeping track of just how far that gift card would go, counting down until the funding was exhausted.

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“Academy Sports + Outdoors is excited to partner with first responders across the state of Alabama to help 150 children enjoy more sports and outdoor fun this holiday season,” said Rick Burleson, Academy’s Regional Marketing Specialist. “As the shopping destination with the most fun gifts and gear, we look forward to making the holidays merry for our local communities across Alabama.”

Chris Blankenship, ADCNR’s Commissioner, said the shopping events presented a special opportunity for outreach to the younger generation.

“I appreciate Academy Sports + Outdoors for sponsoring this program,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Opportunities like this where enforcement officers can interact positively with citizens, especially youth, are so valuable for building trust on both sides. Our Conservation Enforcement Officers participate in many programs to promote hunting and fishing for youth. This is just another example of the good people we have in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“In the photos, you can really see the joy in the faces of the kids, the officers and the employees of Academy Sports + Outdoors. The giving spirit of Academy, our officers and the community is evident in the outpouring of support for this program. With this scene replicated at hundreds of Academy stores all over the country, good relations with law enforcement are being built nationwide and will pay dividends for many years to come. My desire to work in conservation came from encounters such as this with Marine Resources conservation officers when I was a kid. You cannot underestimate what effects the little things like this will have on a person and a community.”

At the Foley event, Conservation Enforcement Officers from the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division and the Marine Resources Division aided 10 youngsters from the afterschool program at the John McClure Snook Family YMCA in Foley.

Melissa McGhee, associate branch director of the Foley YMCA, said the youngsters ranged in age from 5 to 13.

“All the kids we chose are highly scholarshipped kids,” McGhee said. “They just don’t have a lot. For three of them, this is their Christmas. This was such an honor to be picked for this. When I talked to some of the parents, they just started crying because this is what their kids are doing for Christmas.”

Jason Ford, Academy Store Director in Foley, said providing a venue for officers and youngsters to interact in a positive way during the holiday season was well worth the effort from Academy and the associates who also assisted during the shopping sprees.

“We love that we can reach out to people in our community who are less fortunate,” Ford said. “But it also strengthens the bonds between our first responders and our community. Right now, we can use that unity more than ever. To be able to impact the community in such a positive way really goes a long way in warming my heart, and hopefully seeing the kids gets some good Christmas presents and develop some goodwill with our law enforcement.”

WFF Conservation Officer Steve Schrader wore a perpetual smile while he helped a young lady fill her basket with gifts from shoes to candy cane-shaped containers filled with M&Ms.

“This has been great,” Schrader said. “My shopper has been very generous and has bought more for her family than herself. I hope she now sees us (enforcement officers) more friendly than the other side of the fence. They can see us as real people, too. I think it went really well.”

At the event in Huntsville, Beth Morring with the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Alabama echoed the need for the sponsored kids to find out more about the ADCNR enforcement officers and what those officers actually do.

“Before they started shopping, we asked the Conservation guys to explain what they do every day,” Morring said. “The officers told them how they protected the wildlife and help those who fish and hunt and enjoy the outdoors. It was neat because our kids probably never knew these men and women existed. It was a learning experience just to meet these officers, which was great.”

Morring said 10 kids from the Seminole Boys and Girls Clubs in Huntsville were chosen for the event.

“These were the kids who needed it the most,” she said. “With $150 to shop, we did kind of steer them during their shopping, as did the officers. We started with shoes first and then went to get some essential clothing. They were able to get a goodie or two as well. It was a great time, and everybody wanted new shoes. These kids were predominantly from the public housing area where the club is located, and they were thrilled to get some new, shiny tennis shoes. In fact, some of them wore them out of the store that day, which was fabulous.”

Morring said the event was much more than just a shopping spree for the kids.

“To watch them interact with the officers and for our children to see men and women who serve and protect us, that they are good people,” she said. “Many of our children don’t have as positive an exposure with first responders sometimes. For them to be able to meet these first responders who can talk to them and realize these are dads and moms and husbands and wives – just regular people even though they might be in a uniform. So that positive interaction was so important. That was really impactful for our children.”

Morring said it was great to see the officers meet the kids on the same level.

“I loved watching these big grown-ups with these little children and them kneeling down on the floor to help them try on shoes,” she said. “Not to mention for our children, it was the first time they were able to walk into a store and have a budget for gifts where they got to make the decisions and choices. To watch these kids whose families struggle financially, for them to have $150 and then think about family members before themselves is admirable and amazing in light of their circumstances.”

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

Are we running out of resources?

(BOEM/Flickr)

Thanksgiving began as a celebration of nature’s bounty. Nature’s bounty includes natural resources. Despite reports to the contrary, Cato Institute research demonstrates that we still have plenty of natural resources. Human ingenuity and nature’s generosity explain why.

That we must run out of oil, natural gas, and other resources seems obvious. Since we cannot manufacture deposits of oil, copper, zinc or other resources, these must surely get used up one day, right?

News stories repeat this refrain. Fifteen years ago, news abounded of the end of cheap oil. We appeared to be running out of oil and natural gas during the energy shortages of the 1970s. Oil reserves were supposed to be gone by 2013.

Yet we still have plenty of energy and minerals; U.S. oil production hit an all-time high in 2018. What happened? I’ll consider two factors.

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Reported resource reserves are proven reserves, or deposits of a known location, size, and quality. Dividing proven reserves by annual use gives the number of years of oil, copper, or whatever remaining. We have an estimated 53 and 46 years of oil and copper left.

Proving the location and quality of reserves takes work. As economist M. A. Adelman emphasized, proven reserves are produced. Investing in proving reserves not needed for 100 years will lose money. We have found only a tiny fraction of the resources estimated to be in the Earth’s crust. New reserves will be found as existing ones are used. We might have 50 years of reserves remaining for decades.

New and better methods of extraction increase effective reserves. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have unlocked shale oil deposits. Earlier steam injection increased production from existing fields.

Second, things only become resources when people figure out how to use them to produce goods and services. Saudi Arabia’s oil deposits generated no wealth for centuries. Knowledge is the ultimate source of value in our economy, and the mind is the source of knowledge. As economist Julian Simon put it, humans are the “ultimate resource.”

Usually, more than one formula or process can produce a good. When we are cooking, we can usually substitute for a missing ingredient and produce a tasty dish. We can use less of a resource if needed, or substitute something else; in the 1800s, people switched from whale oil to kerosene for lighting homes. We need not run out of resources because we can use alternatives if s specific mineral or fossil fuel runs out.

Because reserves poorly measure resource availability, Cato’s index uses prices instead. Economic theory tells us that prices should reflect the best guesses concerning future discoveries, improvements in extraction, and emerging substitutes. If we are truly running out of something, its price should increase sharply.

This was the basis for Julian Simon’s bet with Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich. In 1980, Simon let Ehrlich pick five resources that he thought were most likely to become depleted. Ehrlich selected chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten; by September 1990, the prices had fallen and Simon won.

The new Cato measure is accordingly called the Simon Abundance Index and uses fifty commodity and resource prices. Price comparisons over time require adjustment, most importantly for inflation. But since earnings rise in a growing economy, the Index also adjusts for income. This puts commodity prices in terms of time, say the number of hours of work required to buy ten gallons of gas.

Simon Index prices fell 65% between 1980 and 2017 adjusting for inflation and earnings. When adjusting only for inflation, prices fell 36%. Over these years, world population increased by more than three billion persons. Markets found enough new reserves to accommodate population growth.

Limits exist to nature’s bounty, our ability to harvest this bounty and for substitutes for resources. And we must consider fossil fuels’ impacts on pollution and climate change. Still, the Simon Index shows that we are not running out of resources. Because knowledge creates natural resources, we can potentially maintain a growing economy for generations to come.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

2 months ago

ADCNR named Agency of Year at Sportsmen’s Caucus Summit

(ADCNR/Contributed)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently received special recognition by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation with the presentation of the State Agency of the Year Award at the 16th Annual National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Sportsman-Legislator Summit in Greensboro, Georgia.

“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is honored to recognize the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) as the State Agency of the Year,” said Jeff Crane, CSF President. “The DCNR has been a consistent supporter of CSF, NASC, and the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and, through this support, the Caucus in Alabama has grown tremendously to become a strong and effective voice for sportsmen and women. CSF thanks Commissioner Chris Blankenship, Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes for their continued support and steadfast dedication to Alabama’s vast natural resources.”

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Hosted by the CSF, this year’s Summit brought together 50 legislators and leaders from state fish and wildlife agencies to discuss the theme “Partners Advancing America’s Conservation Movement: NASC, Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Industry and NGOs.” Topics discussed included promoting hunting and fishing, boating access, chronic wasting disease (CWD), the spread of invasive Asian carp and a variety of other issues affecting sportsmen and women.

“This is the largest gathering of pro-sportsmen legislators who come together to discuss issues that are of great importance to our hunting and angling traditions,” Crane said. “The 16th Annual NASC Summit was successful in that it brought together our bipartisan caucus leaders and members, fish and wildlife agency leaders, NGO (non-governmental organizations) representatives, and leading industry partners to focus on how to advance opportunities for sportsmen and women and to ensure sound, science-driven conservation policies are enacted.”

DCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship said he was elated that the Department was awarded the CSF’s State Agency of the Year.

“We were very happy that we were recognized for multiple initiatives by the Department,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Foundation noted several reasons for the recognition, starting with Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon and all the work that has been done with red snapper. Alabama has been the leader in securing the state management of red snapper. The work we did in Congress helped inform the legislators on the issues on the Gulf Coast with the short seasons. We were able to work with the congressional delegations in Washington to implement the exempted fishing program (EFP) for the past two years and then win approval of management for the long-term.”

The EFP was in effect for the 2018 and 2019 red snapper seasons. Each of the Gulf states was given a snapper allocation, and each state managed its allocation.

Alabama’s quota was slightly more than a million pounds of red snapper in each of the two years of the EFP. The timely data from the mandatory Alabama Snapper Check program allowed Marine Resources to manage to the quota each year.

This year the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passed regional management of red snapper. That amendment is awaiting the signature of the Secretary of Commerce and will go into effect for 2020 and beyond.

“The Foundation also recognized the work that Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes is doing with Senator (Doug) Jones (D-Alabama) and Senator (Cindy) Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) concerning funding for CWD research as well as the work Chuck is doing as the president of SEAFWA (Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies) on a myriad of hunting and fishing initiatives,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We have also worked with Senator (Richard) Shelby (R-Alabama) and, to a lesser extent, Senator (Lamar) Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Senator (Mitch) McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Asian carp issues. We want to reduce Asian carp populations in Tennessee and Kentucky rivers and keep them contained in the rivers upstream that flow into Alabama.”

WFF’s Sykes said a great deal of the recognition from the CSF was due to Alabama’s willingness to meet and discuss the issues that are facing the nation’s sportsmen and women.

“The Department has allowed me to come to the CSF’s Summits to share a variety of programs we are doing,” said Sykes, who also serves on the executive committee of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “I’ve spoken at three of the last four events. The hunting and fishing days that the Department has promoted were mentioned as well as our CWD response plan and major educational campaign. The Foundation said they appreciated the time I had taken to come and participate in roundtable discussions with legislators around the country on important issues, from funding to our R3 efforts.”

The R3 effort stands for recruitment, retention and reactivation. Those R3 activities try to recruit new participants or increase participation rates of current or lapsed outdoor enthusiasts.

Sykes also said the Foundation recognized the contributions of the WFF’s Special Opportunity Area (SOA) and adult mentored hunting programs, programs in the Alabama Black Belt and the promotion of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Day annually to help educate legislators on outdoors issues and improve Caucus participation and increase Caucus membership.

“Our legislators were happy to see the Department recognized,” Sykes said.

Commissioner Blankenship said the State Lands Division, under Director Patti McCurdy, contributed through its efforts to expand public boating access in Alabama. McCurdy has worked with the staffs in D.C. to continue to promote recreational access funding in Coastal Alabama. Through several funding sources, improvements to boating and angling access are planned for Bayou La Batre, Dauphin Island, the Intracoastal Waterway in Baldwin County, and the Middleton Causeway site on Battleship Parkway at the north end of Mobile Bay, Foley and Daphne.

Commissioner Blankenship also cited the work of Bee Frederick, who was the CSF’s representative in Alabama until recently, for holding annual events in Montgomery to promote the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.

“Bee was very helpful in getting the legislators more involved in hunting and fishing issues and helping us provide the scientific and management information to make informed decisions,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Caucus’ legislative agenda has been very helpful for the Department and people who hunt and fish in Alabama. The award highlights the work we do in Washington and in Montgomery with the Alabama Legislature. I think those relationships we built in Washington and here at the State House are very valuable when issues come up that affect sportsmen and women. We can pick up the phone and discuss the issues with the legislators or their staff. I think we have built a great amount of trust that we will provide them with balanced information so they can make good decisions.”

Other than naming the Alabama DCNR as State Agency of the Year, the CSF handed out several other awards at the Georgia Summit.

The Friends of NASC Award went to Shimano American Corp. and Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever.

NASC Heritage Awards were presented to Rep. David Wilson (CT), Sen. Mike Bell (TN), Sen. Mark Allen (OK), and Rep. Casey Snider (UT).

During the Summit, CSF announced the signing of a partnership with Birmingham-based B.A.S.S. to further conservation efforts. Safari Club International (SCI) was also recognized for its long-standing financial support of NASC and the annual summit.

Founded in 1989, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation was formed to work with Congress, governors, and state legislatures to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting and trapping.

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

2 months ago

Hunting and fishing boost Black Belt economy

Quail hunting is one of the staple activities at numerous hunting lodges in the Alabama Black Belt. (Alabama Outdoors/Contributed)

With other areas of Alabama enjoying an economic boon in manufacturing and industry, one well-known area of the state has discovered its treasure lies in its fertile soil and natural resources.

The Alabama Black Belt’s treasure is found in its abundant wildlife and fisheries with the multi-species hunting and angling opportunities and the significant economic boosts those provide.

At a press conference and book-signing event held at the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery last week, the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) revealed the results of a study on the economic impact of hunting and fishing in the Black Belt, a swath of counties that cuts across the middle of the state.

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

“You may not know that hunting and fishing in the Black Belt generates $1 billion of economic impact and provides thousands of jobs throughout the 23-county area,” said Thomas Harris, ALBBAA president and founder. “There are over 11 million acres that are truly unique in this country with its abundance of wildlife, culture and heritage. These assets are on the ground and under our feet. Our mission has been to energize these assets and recruit these eco-tourism dollars to the region. This is a rural economic development program that is working. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a leadership team and dedicated team of board members who are passionate about promoting and branding nationally the Alabama Black Belt Adventures as the premier destination for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.”

Alabama State Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said the impact ALBBAA has on the area has been “tremendous.”

“Being a son of the soil, I want to thank the Black Belt Adventures for their dedication to the area known as the Black Belt,” Sen. Singleton said. “While we may not be inundated with a lot of industries with smokestacks, we are inundated with a successful industry called wildlife. As an avid hunter and fisherman myself, I enjoy the Black Belt as much as those who travel to the Black Belt to enjoy our rich culture. We look forward to hunters and fishermen who come into our area to visit our lodges, who come into the area to see and visit our historic civil rights sites. We welcome them to the area. We love to hear about that $1 billion industry in the Black Belt.”

ALBBAA commissioned Southeast Research to study the economic impact of outdoors activities in the Black Belt. The research company derived its economic impact report from data from a national study from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Sportfishing Association. Hunting and fishing license holders who had shared their email addresses with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) were also polled by the research company.

The study revealed that spending by sportsmen and women in the Black Belt supports 24,716 jobs, resulting in salaries and wages of $364 million, state and local taxes of $62 million, a $28 million contribution to Alabama’s Education Trust Fund, and a total economic impact of more than $1 billion.

“Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation are part of the way of life in Alabama, and especially important in the Black Belt,” said ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship. “I have enjoyed participating on the Board of Alabama Black Belt Adventures to promote this portion of Alabama. These 23 counties contain some of the best hunting land anywhere in the United States. It produces big bucks and turkeys, as well as big bass and crappie in the lakes and waterways. There are some pretty special small towns and special people in the Black Belt. I hope more people will venture out into this beautiful part of Alabama and visit the small-town shops and eclectic restaurants and attractions that really show some of the best of Alabama.”

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes grew up in the Black Belt and has witnessed its emergence as the destination of choice for hunters and anglers.

“Some of my fondest childhood memories are of hunting with my father in Choctaw County,” Sykes said. “Those early years hunting and fishing in the Black Belt shaped me into who I am today. That love of hunting and the outdoors fueled my desire to attend Auburn University and pursue a degree in Wildlife Science. Since that time, I’ve dedicated my career to managing wildlife, either through one-on-one landowner consultations or now in my current position. Not only is hunting a way of life and a time-honored tradition, but I’d bet many of the little towns in the Black Belt would dry up and go away without hunters and fishermen.”

Statewide in Alabama, outdoor recreation supports 73,553 jobs, providing $1.1 billion in salaries and wages, $185 million in state and local taxes and $84 million for the Alabama Education Trust Fund. The total economic impact of hunting and fishing in Alabama is $3.2 billion.

Pam Swanner, ALBBAA Executive Director, debuted two new 30-second television advertisements that will reach a quarter of the nation’s households. Gray Television, which acquired Raycom Media early this year, will continue Raycom’s partnership with ALBBAA to air Black Belt tourism commercials on almost 150 affiliates.

Dr. David Bronner, Chief Executive Officer of Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), said the television market has been a boon for the Black Belt, and he wants to continue that outreach through the RSA-controlled print media.

“We were at 12½ percent of the American population, but now we’re up to 25 percent,” Dr. Bronner said. “With Gray Television, you (ALBBAA) are in more than the Southeast. You’re actually in Alaska. You’re in Hawaii. Right about 25 percent of the American population sees you daily. What we want to work on more is our newspaper group. We have 100 daily newspapers in 22 states, from Massachusetts to Texas basically. We can put full-page ads in those pages. We’ll be glad to help with that. For many decades we have tried to do things to impact the Black Belt. It’s extremely difficult. We’ve funded a couple of pulp mills, but when Thomas came to me with this idea, I knew it was something really special. He brought with him Mr. Deer (Jackie Bushman) and Mr. Fish (Ray Scott) – those two guys did our first ads. But I came to thank you, because doing something for the Black Belt is so meaningful for the entire state.”

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) said the Alabama Black Belt is special to him for a variety of reasons.

“I love the outdoors,” Lt. Gov. Ainsworth said. “I love Alabama, and I love the Black Belt. I have stories that are personal to me. I was fortunate to kill my first deer with my dad, hunting in Linden, Alabama, when I was 5 years old. I killed my first deer with a bow, hunting in Wilcox County when I was 12. I got to watch both of my sons shoot their first deer in the Black Belt. When you talk about the Black Belt, it’s very personal to me. Being in the hunting industry and traveling around the country, people know about the Black Belt. Just like South Dakota is known for pheasants or other places are known for great fishing. They know about the Black Belt because of what the Association has done. I want to thank Dr. Bronner for helping us get the word out. It’s a huge industry, and we need to continue to promote it. We want to do everything we can to make sure the hunting and fishing industries in the Black Belt continue to be vibrant.”

To celebrate ALBBAA’s 10th anniversary, the new coffee table book “Black Belt Bounty” was unveiled at the press conference. Numerous contributors, including James Beard award-winning Alabama chefs Chris Hastings and David Bancroft, celebrity chef Stacy Lyn Harris, wildlife artists, wildlife photographers and outdoors writers, were on hand for a book-signing event for the deluxe hardcover book that highlights and commemorates the outdoor traditions and culture of the Black Belt. Full disclosure: I had the honor to contribute three stories for the book.

Visit alabamablackbeltadventures.org/blackbeltbountybook/ to purchase “Black Belt Bounty.” It would make a perfect Christmas gift.

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

2 months ago

Study: Hunting, fishing had $3.2 billion impact on Alabama in 2018

(Brittany Dunn/Alabama NewsCenter)

Hunting and fishing in Alabama during 2018 had a $3.2 billion economic impact on the state, according to a new report.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ABBAA) shared that number and others during a news conference Wednesday in Montgomery. Pam Swanner, director of ABBAA, said the report underscores the economic importance hunting and fishing has on Alabama’s economy, especially in rural Alabama’s Black Belt region.

“When we create jobs in this rural area of our state, it releases a tax burden on the rest of the state of Alabama,” Swanner said. “We think we’ve got a great product.”

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Hunting, fishing created $1.1 billion impact on Alabama in 2018 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The report, which Southeast Research compiled for ABBAA, found:

  • Spending by sportsmen and women supports 73,553 jobs
  • Salaries and wages — $1.1 billion
  • State and local taxes generated — $185 million
  • Contribution to Alabama Education Trust Fund — $84 million
  • Total number of hunters – 535,000
  • Total number of anglers – 683,000
  • Hunters spent more than 14.3 million days hunting in Alabama
  • Anglers spent close to 10.9 million days fishing in Alabama
  • Alabama residents accounted for almost 91% of the total spending on hunting and fishing in the state.
  • TOTAL 2018 ECONOMIC IMPACT — $3.2 BILLION

The report also detailed the impact hunting and fishing in the 23 counties of south Alabama known as the Black Belt
had on Alabama’s economy in 2018. More than 40 percent of all those who hunted in Alabama in 2018 were hunting in 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. Other Black Belt hunting and fishing impacts include:

  • Sportsmen’s spending in the Black Belt supports 24,716 jobs
  • Salaries and wages — $364 million
  • State and local taxes generated – $62 million
  • Contribution to Alabama’s Education Trust Fund – $28 million
  • Hunters and anglers spent an estimated 6 million days hunting and 2.3 million days fishing in the Black Belt
  • More than 4 of 10 (42%) of the hunting days in Alabama occurred in the Black Belt. This proportion was higher among non-resident hunters, with about two-thirds (66%) of their hunting days being reported in the Black Belt
  • More than 2 of 10 (21%) of the state’s total fishing days occurred in the Black Belt. This proportion was higher among non-resident anglers, with close to 3 of 10 (29%) fishing days reported in the Black Belt
  • Combined direct spending by resident and non-resident hunters in the Black Belt is estimated at $540 million, accounting for almost 42% of the total spending on hunting in Alabama
  • Combined direct spending by resident and non-resident anglers in the Black Belt is estimated at $166 million, representing almost 21% of the total spending on fishing in Alabama
  • Total visitors – 363,900
  • Total room nights – 2,890,000
  • Number of nights commercial lodge – 57,200
  • Number of nights in a hotel – 276,900
  • Number of nights in campground – 433,100
  • Total lodging tax collection — $1.4 million
  • TOTAL 2018 ECONOMIC IMPACT — $1.1 BILLION

ABBAA founder and president Thomas Harris said the report clearly shows ABBAA is a boost to rural Alabama.

“Our mission is to recruit these eco-tourism dollars to the region,” Harris said. “It is truly a rural economic development program.”

ABBAA also announced two new TV commercials are now airing on 150 TV stations around the country, thanks in large part to financial support from the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA). David Bronner, CEO of the RSA, said nearly 25% of the country’s TV viewers see these TV commercials each day.

“When Thomas came to me with this idea, I knew it was something that was really special,” Bronner said. “For many decades, we’ve tried to do things that impacted the Black Belt. It’s extremely difficult. Your effort to do something for the Black Belt is so meaningful to the entire state. Thank you.”

ABBAA, a not-for-profit organization, was created in 2009 to market the region to outdoors enthusiasts across the nation. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said more people outside of Alabama talk to him about Black Belt hunting and fishing.

“They know about the Black Belt,” Ainsworth said. “It’s because of a lot of hard work this association has done and the leadership of Dr. Bronner and making sure we had the means to get out this message.”

To celebrate the association’s 10-year anniversary, ABBAA unveiled “Black Belt Bounty,” a new book celebrating the Black Belt’s hunting and fishing heritage. Among the contributors to the deluxe hardcover book are James Beard award-winning Alabama chefs Chris Hastings and David Bancroft, celebrity chef Stacy Lyn Harris and several wildlife artists, photographers and outdoor writers.

“The book is awesome,” Swanner said. “If you have anyone in your family that enjoys hunting or fishing, this is a must for their Christmas stocking.”

Swanner said the book was made possible through financial support from Alabama Power, Thomas and Cindy Harris, Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Alabama Conservation and Natural Resource Foundation, Alabama Wildlife FederationPowerSouthUniversity of Alabama Center for Economic DevelopmentUniversity of West AlabamaSumter County Nature TrustAlabama Farmers Federation, and John Hall and Company. To order your copy or to find a retail location near you, visit alabamablackbeltadventures.org/blackbeltbountybook.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama’s Fears fuels fire for dutch oven revival

(Alabama Outdoors/Contributed)

Now that the weather has finally cooled, the outdoors takes on a whole new appeal for many in Alabama. Hunting and camping are likely on the agenda, and being able to feed a delicious meal to a group of hunters or campers can often hinge on your upbringing.

If you’re like J. Wayne Fears, who calls Tater Knob in Jackson County, Alabama, home, it means breaking out the cast iron, just as his ancestors did while trapping and living off the land in north Alabama.

What Fears finds interesting is that a new generation is discovering the benefits of cast iron.

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“Millennials are discovering the advantages of cooking on cast iron,” said Fears, a certified wildlife biologist and prolific outdoor writer. “My grandma knew that. Lodge (Manufacturing in Tennessee) had to build another foundry because of the popularity of both the cast iron skillet and the cast iron dutch oven.”

When it comes to cast iron dutch ovens, two different models are available for distinctly different purposes. The flat-bottom dutch oven is made to be used on conventional stovetops, while the dutch oven with legs is designed for outdoor cooking at campfires with coals from the fire or charcoal briquets.

“For camping, you need a dutch oven with three legs and a recessed lid,” said Fears, who held a seminar recently at the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association annual conference. “The legs keep the bottom of the dutch oven off the coals, so you don’t burn everything. It has a recessed lid so you can put coals on top to use it for baking.”

Fears honed his dutch oven expertise during numerous years of overseeing hunting operations all over North America, including the western U.S., Canada and Alaska.

“Especially in our remote camps, we depended on dutch ovens to do a heck of a lot of our cooking,” he said.

If you’re planning a hunting or camping trip, or just cooking on an outdoor campfire, Fears recommends certain cast iron cookware to achieve a delicious meal. If you expect to draw a crowd when the smell of the cooking spreads, Fears recommends a No. 12 dutch oven. The No. 12 is the diameter in inches of the pot. Fears said you might need more than one, possibly in different sizes.

“It depends on what you’re cooking, whether it’s a stew and a pan of biscuits. You’re going to need one for each,” he said. “For the stew, I’d recommend a No. 12, and a No. 10 dutch oven so you can cook some cathead biscuits. If you’re going to make a cobbler, you’re going to need another No. 10. You can cook all three, and all of your meal will come out at the same time.”

Fears also recommends that you don’t look for the cheapest dutch oven you can find.

“I want to stress to get a quality dutch oven,” he said. “There are so many dutch ovens made overseas that are pitted or they’ll shatter if you drop them. If you get good quality cast iron, it can be a lifetime investment. In fact, a lot of my dutch ovens are in their third generation.”

Fears doesn’t discount the value of cooking with coals from the campfire if you’re in remote locations. However, if you can take a sack of charcoal briquets with you, your meals will likely be more palatable.

“Charcoal is just better as far as consistency and heat control,” he said. “Most people who cook with dutch ovens can go either way. With a little practice and good hardwood coals from the campfire, you can cook just as good as you can with charcoal. But most people who are just camping will use charcoal briquets because it’s a lot easier to fool with and the temperature is more consistent on top and on bottom.”

Contrary to what you may have seen in western or pioneer movies and TV shows, veteran dutch oven cooks have more heat on top than on bottom.

“You want to use twice as many coals on the lid as on the bottom,” Fears said. “You’re cooking down more than you’re cooking up. Most people, when they first start, they want to stick a dutch oven right in the middle of the campfire and put a few coals on top. Generally, they’ll burn everything on bottom, and it’ll still be rare on top. That’s why you have the lipped cover so the briquets won’t roll off of the top.”

Fears admits to making a “world of mistakes” while learning the fine art of dutch oven cooking and says adjustments have to be made depending on conditions.

“You may have a recipe that says cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes,” he said. “Well, 45 minutes in a dutch oven in Ely, Minnesota, is different than 45 minutes in Montgomery, Alabama. The wind, humidity and outside temperature have effects. You have to learn to see how the conditions affect the cooking. You’ve got to be patient and, every now and then, take a peek at what’s going on in the dutch oven so you can learn what you’re doing. And I rotate the lid about a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so that if you have any hotspots, you’re moving them around.”

Fears also said not to skimp on the amount of charcoal you light when you start cooking.

“Always have plenty of coals,” he said. “If it’s cold, like it is now up on Tater Knob this time of year, you need to have more coals waiting when the first ones are burned up.”

Fears also recommends a pair of heavy-duty gloves because just about everything you touch will be hot. He also recommends lid lifters that are capable of lifting a dutch oven filled with venison stew that might weigh 40 pounds.

“A coat hanger is not going to quite get the job done,” he said.

Fears has also learned that one of the best ways to use a dutch oven is to use it as just that, an oven. He takes a wire rack and places it in the bottom of the cast iron and uses a heavy-duty aluminum pan that fits on top of the wire rack to cook the food.

“The food doesn’t come in contact with the cast iron, and it saves you a ton of time for cleanup,” he said. “Having said that, the easiest way to get started with a dutch oven is to go to the supermarket and get a peach cobbler mix and two cans of peaches. Follow the instructions on the box and cook several cobblers in your dutch oven. You can learn more cooking cobblers than you can anything else. Once you have mastered peach cobbler, move up to stew or chili. Then when you get that mastered, you might want to make sourdough cathead biscuits. It’s not difficult. You just have to get out and actually do it. Anything you can cook in your oven at home, you can cook in a dutch oven. But I burned a lot before I figured it out.”

Fears’ “Lodge Book of Dutch Oven Cooking” is about to be translated into a fourth language. It’s filled with cooking tips and recipes.

“The book is selling really well in Japan right now,” Fears said. “They’re cooking a lot of rice dishes, and it’s easy to burn rice if you’re not careful.”

Of course, when the meal is done, it’s time for cleanup. One cardinal rule prevails when cleaning cast iron.

“Never use soap,” Fears said. “You can get these pot scrubbers that look like chain mail that work really well. If your cobbler spills over, pour hot water in it and hit it with that chain mail scrubber.”

For those looking for Christmas gifts, other than his book, Fears recommends a wire rack, heavy aluminum pan, chain mail scrubber, whisk broom for removing ashes from the lid, a small fireplace shovel to move coals around and a quality lid lifter.

“And wear some good boots or shoes,” Fears said. “No sandals or flip flops. If you do, you’re going to have some interesting scars on your toes.”

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 county-by-county rankings of largest deer now available for free online

(OutdoorAlabama/YouTube)

Alabama Whitetail Records on Wednesday announced that it has launched a website and phone app allowing hunters to view where each submitted deer ranks across all 67 Yellowhammer State counties.

AWR functions as a state record book for measuring and scoring antlers in Alabama. Previously, these rankings only included deer with large antlers and were only viewable through the hardcover books periodically published by the organization.

Now, all deer are being included in the county-by-county rankings regardless of size. All of the measurements, rankings, pictures and hunting stories are accessible online for free through the new website and phone app.

“We have been working toward this goal for about five years now,” explained Michael Smith, one of the directors of AWR, in a statement.

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“Phase one was building a museum where people could stop in and view some of these wonderful deer,” he outlined. “We finished that in Thomaston, AL, a couple of years ago. Since then our focus has been on bringing the entire records system and rankings to all of the hunters and supporters in the most accessible way possible. We also decided to open up the county rankings to all deer regardless of what size they are. We feel this is a way for everyone to participate and to create a comprehensive database of deer records for each county. We are particularly excited about the great response we are receiving from youth hunters that love having their buck scored and pictures entered into the county rankings.”

Hunters wanting to have their buck scored can utilize the various official stations throughout the state to do so. Hunters can register on the Alabama Whitetail Records website and will be directed to the nearest scoring station.

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

2 months ago

Renew Our Rivers removes 316,000 pounds of trash from Alabama lakes and rivers in program’s 20th year

(Renew Our Rivers/Contributed)

Renew Our Rivers volunteers removed more than 316,000 pounds of trash and debris from Alabama lakes and rivers in 2019.

More than 4,500 volunteers participated in a cleanup this year, which was Renew Our Rivers’ 20th anniversary. The 2019 campaign went out with a bang and ended with some of the largest cleanups of the year.

One of those was on Lake Demopolis on Oct. 4-5, which witnessed a record turnout.

“We had an excellent turnout this year, and we are so excited to see the Renew Our Rivers program continue to grow in our community,” said organizer Jesse Johnson.

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More than 100 volunteers worked in Demopolis to remove over 23,000 pounds of debris from the lake and surrounding areas.

“This is truly such a community effort. We couldn’t continue to make such a difference without the continuous support from our partners and volunteers,” Johnson said.

The final cleanup of 2019 was held the first weekend of November on Lake Martin.

Despite chilly conditions, more than 220 volunteers turned out to help. Many of those were students, including Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Camp Fire girls, third- and fourth-graders from Stephens Elementary School and student-athletes, clubs and organizations from Central Alabama Community College.

Lake Martin Resource Association president John Thompson said 650 large bags of trash were removed from the shoreline as well as 300-plus bags of litter from nearby roadways.

“This is the 15th LMRA Renew Our Rivers, and each year the participation has grown and the results have increased,” Thompson said. “Lake Martin is without a doubt the cleanest lake in the South, and with the continued help from all these committed, dedicated volunteers, we will be able to keep it that way.”

Since Renew Our Rivers was founded in 2000, more than 120,000 volunteers have removed almost 16 million pounds of trash from waterways across the Southeast.

“We had an increase in the number of volunteers and pounds of trash removed in 2019 from the previous year,” said Mike Clelland, who coordinates Renew Our Rivers for Alabama Power. “We hope to continue that momentum into 2020 and beyond.”

A full calendar of 2020 cleanups will be available in January. To see how you can get involved in the campaign, visit alabamapower.com/renewourrivers.(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama scientist helping oysters grow stronger shells

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

A marine scientist at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) has figured out how to help oysters grow heavier and stronger shells, a discovery he says will help oysters rebuild their habitats across the Gulf Coast.

Dr. Lee Smee is a senior marine scientist and chair of University Programs at DISL. His team has discovered an oyster builds stronger, heavier shells when it believes predators are nearby.

“For a little ball of snot, they’re pretty smart,” Smee said.

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Dauphin Island Sea Lab scientist helping oysters grow stronger shells from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Smee’s recent findings determined the simple presence of crab urine is enough to trigger an oyster to build a stronger, deeper shell — a shape that increases their chance of survival by up to 15%.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do some chemistry and figure out what the actual molecules are going to be that drive the patterns,” Smee said. “We also know they respond if other oysters are being injured or killed. So, if a crab is eating another oyster, or if you just take an oyster and crush it up, they respond to that as well.”

Smee says he is working with oyster farmers to do more testing on the predator cues. Once he determines which molecules trigger the best reaction in the oysters, he hopes a chemical can be mass-produced and deployed in oyster reefs around the Gulf Coast.

“We want to do the chemistry and figure out what the chemicals are and hopefully that will lead to the hatchery being able to say, ‘add this and this’ to the water,” Smee said. “Then, we want to do this on a big scale and see if it really matters for restoration.”

Smee said he hopes his research will help restore and strengthen oyster habitats across the Gulf Coast.

“Oysters are one of the most important species in the Gulf of Mexico,” Smee said. “They are foundation species. They protect shorelines. They build habitat for other species and protect us from storms and coastal erosion. They filter water. A lot of things we like, like blue crabs and different fish species, count on them for habitat. But, the oysters in Alabama have been disappearing. Harvesting of on-bottom oysters has been closed for a couple of years. We’re hoping our research takes some steps forward to rebuild the fishery and recover some of those important aspects that oysters provide.”

(Courtesy Alabama NewsCenter)