1 month ago

Controlled burns top tool for wildlife, land managers

Social media has been filled with smoke and fire lately as many land managers, like the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), conduct controlled burns to enhance the flora and fauna throughout the state.

Steven Mitchell, the ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division Upland Bird Coordinator, said the Department, along with other land managers, often takes advantage of the downtime and prime weather conditions between the end of the white-tailed deer season and the opening of turkey season to conduct controlled (prescribed) burns throughout the state.

Mitchell said the WFF’s wildlife management areas (WMAs) are given a great deal of flexibility in their burn programs.

“For those WMAs that have the ability to apply prescribed fire, our staff has an established burn regime and is actively applying fire to the landscape for managing habitats,” Mitchell said. “When the weather conditions fit the burn prescription, our biologists and wildlife technicians work to conduct the fires within those parameters for a safe and effective burn. Our cooperative partners, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, work diligently as well on the National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges, respectively, to plan, implement and manage the prescribed burning efforts on those lands, some of which host WMAs. While we would like to only burn in the non-hunting months to not hamper hunters, limited weather conditions often require our staff, as well as other land managers, to take advantage of optimal conditions to burn when conditions are available. We do our best to communicate these efforts with our hunters and advertise on www.outdooralabama.com and our Facebook page when we’re conducting controlled burns.”

Mitchell said burns are conducted mainly during the time when plants are dormant, but, to achieve certain habitat objectives, many of our burns occur when plants are actively growing, termed a growing-season burn.

“Dormant season, winter and early spring, is when most of our burning occurs, but, at times where control of woody plants is desired, a growing-season fire is utilized as you get a different effect than in the dormant season,” he said. “You get a lot more control of woody vegetation with a growing-season fire, and it has the effect of opening the structure of the stand to more light and more beneficial growth of early successional plants. Burns can be conducted during the dormant season or growing season accordingly and, when used in proper scale and frequency, can attain a wide collection of land management objectives. Another added benefit of controlled burning is the reduction of fire hazards and fuel loads, lowering the chance of wildfires.”

Land managers who are burning for quail have additional factors to consider.

“If you’re focusing on quail management, distribution of burn units is even more important as they have a smaller home range,” Mitchell said. “Burning, while practically mandatory for bobwhite management, also removes cover and exposes the quail to avian predation. The primary raptor migration extends through March in many areas and can impact quail significantly if considerations for sufficient cover aren’t addressed.”

Mitchell said those burning in longleaf pine habitat need to have certain considerations of the new growth on the trees.

“You want to burn longleafs before they candle out and start putting on new growth,” he said. “The buds, sometimes termed candles, are more susceptible to fire damage during this candling period. Although the longleaf is a very fire-tolerant tree, it can be damaged during this time. After a year of growth, longleafs can typically tolerate properly applied fire. However, if specific burn parameters aren’t present to burn, significant damage can occur to the saplings, so these burns need to be conducted carefully. But it’s critical to get a fire in longleaf stands to suppress the competition from vegetation and other trees, including loblolly pine, especially if you’re managing for wildlife. You want to maintain that open understory. There’s not much better habitat than that provided by young longleaf stands for bobwhite quail. You can have nesting and brooding habitat in the same patch of trees.”

Mitchell said just about all wildlife benefit from controlled burns in one way or another, even including deer.

“Most people don’t think about deer benefitting from burns, but they do,” he said. “Of course, turkeys and quail benefit, as well as most game birds. Burning is the most economical and effective way to manage early successional habitat. After a burn, a lot of the plants that come back are the forbs and legumes and grasses, which are beneficial for most of our wildlife. There’s a lot of protein in native plants that grow back after a prescribed fire.”

Mitchell said studies have shown that turkeys and quail prefer areas with a burn management program, from freshly burned to areas that have burned within 3 years. After 3 years without a burn, the habitat becomes less preferred by turkeys and quail.

“If the area has a fire history that has been established and maintained, most of the turkey nests will not be in the areas that haven’t been burned within the past three years,” he said. “The nests are going to be in cover that was burned last year or the year before. The plant structure in those units that have been burned is their preferred habitat. You may have seen it with turkeys; the smoke hasn’t even cleared and they’re already out there scratching around.”

Mitchell said when areas that have burned get rainfall, the new growth could be popping up within a couple of weeks, and within a month enough cover is available to hide the animals. He said most wildlife habitat is on a one- to three-year burn rotation with the shorter frequency yielding more forbs and grass and less of a woody component and vertical structure. He said burn frequency is site specific.

“On poor soils, you might need to wait three years between burns,” he said. “In rich, heavy soils, ground cover may get too dense too quickly. You may need to tighten that interval or stay on that two-year burn cycle. When conducted properly, burning improves plant species composition and structure for ground-nesting birds. It reduces that litter layer. It increases the bare-ground component for wildlife movement and foraging. It promotes a lot of flowering and seed production, which increases insect abundance. For your young quail chicks and turkey poults, insects are crucial for their survival in the first couple of weeks to a month after they hatch out.”

Another aspect of fires that Mitchell said is often overlooked is that the activity may reduce nest predation.

“On upland areas with a good fire rotation, you’re going to reduce the woody or hardwood component and dense vegetation conditions that the predators like to hunt and keep them in hardwood bottom,” he said. “It reduces time the predators are in upland areas where turkeys and quail are nesting.”

Mitchell said the scale of the area to be burned is also important, with 50 acres considered about the ideal size. If the fire is too large, the turkeys and quail will use the area less.

“You want to burn in a checkerboard pattern to maintain an interspersion of burned and unburned habitat,” he said. “It’s been shown that turkeys don’t use burned areas over 250 meters from the edge of an unburned area until later when cover grows back to a certain level. If you can’t burn in a checkerboard pattern, burn in a linear shape so the wildlife will have access to adjacent unburned cover.”

Mitchell said land managers must give a lot of consideration to neighbors, roadways and whether the land has proper fire breaks and other safety aspects before trying to conduct a controlled burn. Humidity also plays a big factor on whether to burn. If the humidity falls below 30 percent, Mitchell said burning can become a little more dangerous. Many other parameters are also considered to safely and effectively conduct a controlled burn, and it is crucial to have the proper training.

“You need to know what you’re doing,” he said. “There are classes you can take. The Alabama Forestry Commission offers a four-day course for burn manager certification where people get a higher level of fire education and become much more comfortable with applying fire to their property.”

Mitchell considers a proper burn regime one of the most beneficial practices wildlife managers can utilize.

“For wildlife management, prescribed fire is the most effective and cost-efficient tool in the toolbox,” he 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.

12 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers: ‘Shameful’ Pelosi blocking Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act — ‘Simply supporting infanticide’

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03) on Wednesday released a scathing statement regarding House Democrats blocking consideration of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

Rogers announced that he has signed onto a discharge petition that would force Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to bring this legislation — H.R. 619 — up for a vote in the House.

“As a father of three children and a Christian, this legislation is so important to me,” stated Rogers, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

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All six Alabama Republicans in the U.S. House are cosponsors of H.R. 619, which was was introduced by Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) in January. The bill would ensure any baby born that survives an abortion would receive the same standard of medical care as a baby born under normal circumstances.

“I will never understand how any human would not support caring for a tiny, living baby that survives an attempted abortion,” he continued. “Anyone who is okay with not helping these babies is simply supporting infanticide. I will always stand up for the rights of the most innocent among us, and it’s shameful that Nancy Pelosi will not even bring this critical legislation up for a vote.”

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

13 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes bill banning biological males from competing in female sports

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed HB 391, which would would prohibit biological males from competing in public school female sports — and vice versa.

The legislation, which only applies to public K-12 schools, would prohibit competition by one gender against another, unless the event specifically is intended to include both genders.

HB 391 was carried in the Senate by Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) and is sponsored by Rep. Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle).

“A public K-12 school may not allow a biological female to participate on a male team if there is a female team in a sport. A public K-12 school may never allow a biological male to participate on a female team,” says the amended version of the bill passed by the Senate.

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In sports where there are not separate competitions for females and males, such as football, both genders would still be able to participate together.

“This bill is significantly important to protecting the integrity of women’s sports,” stated Gudger. “Our sisters, daughters and granddaughters deserve to compete in fairly organized sports without being put at a disadvantage. I appreciate Representative Stadthagen for having me carry this bill in the Senate, and I commend him for his diligent work on this critical issue.”

More than a dozen states are considering similar restrictions on high school athletes to prevent what they view as an unfair advantage in competition.

The Senate’s vote on HB 391 was on party lines, 25-5. This comes after two Democrats supported and one Democrat abstained in a committee vote on the bill just two weeks ago. View a tweet thread from Thursday’s Senate debate here.

HB 391 now heads back to the House for concurrence or nonconcurrence. It originally passed the lower chamber in a bipartisan 74-19 vote.

“It is unreasonable for biological males to compete against females in high school sports,” Stadthagen commented. “Allowing this to happen does not put female athletes on a fair and level playing field with their biological male counterparts, and that is what this bill aims to resolve. I was pleased to hear that my colleagues in the upper chamber value the integrity and justness of female sports, and I thank Senator Gudger for handling this bill in the Senate.”

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

14 hours ago

Senate passes Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed SB 358, which would create the Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), the bill would outlaw state and local governments — including law enforcement agencies thereof — from enforcing any federal firearms act, law, order, rule or regulation that becomes effective after January 1, 2021.

The party-line vote by the Senate was 22-5.

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“I took an oath of office when sworn into this body to defend the Constitution of this country and this state,” stated Allen. “As an elected official, I will do everything in my power to preserve the rights of Alabamians, especially those granted by the Second Amendment, and I will always push back on any proposals that seek to limit the freedoms bestowed upon us.”

“The Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act ensures the people of Alabama are protected from any unnecessary overreach by the federal government and is meant to be a check on proposals that infringe on our right to self-defense coming from the Biden Administration or the Democratic controlled Congress,” he continued. “SB358 is about safeguarding our God-given rights to protect our families and homes. The Second Amendment says the right to bear arms shall not be infringed upon, and with this piece of legislation, Alabamians can feel confident that their rights are being protected.”

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) argued that SB 358 would violate the Supremacy Clause. The Democrats said the act, as a result, would ultimately be ruled unconstitutional by the judicial system after costing the State of Alabama significant money to defend it in court.

“We don’t need a ‘Second Amendment Preservation Act’ in the state of Alabama,” said Singleton. “The constitution does that already.”

He noted “the bill really does no harm,” before adding that he does not like the message it sends.

You can view a tweet thread on Senate debate regarding SB 358 here.

The Alabama Senate’s vote came after President Joe Biden last week began rolling out executive orders on gun control.

RELATED: Speaker Mac McCutcheon: As Biden attempts to roll back Second Amendment freedoms, Alabama House Republicans stand in the breach to protect them

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

16 hours ago

Tim Vines confirmed as newest Auburn University trustee

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama CEO Tim Vines as an at-large member of the Auburn University board of trustees.

He will complete the final three years of the unexpired term of Gen. Lloyd Austin, who resigned from Auburn’s board in January after he was confirmed as the nation’s secretary of defense.

Vines has worked at BCBS of Alabama since 1994. He rose through the management ranks at Blue Cross until he was elected to his present position in 2018. The LaFayette native graduated from Auburn’s Harbert College of Business in 1988 with a degree in finance. He was also a member of the Auburn baseball team.

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“In addition to his business and management credentials, the Trustee Selection Committee nominated Tim Vines for the position because of his dedication to Auburn University and its students,” stated Wayne Smith, who serves as board president pro tem.

This dedication includes Vines giving an annual scholarship to the Harbert College of Business. He is an Auburn Alumni Association lifetime member, a member of the James E. Foy Loyalty Society and a member of the 1856 Society. The Birmingham Auburn Club awarded Vines its 2019 Distinguished Auburn Alumnus Award.

He also served as the 2018 Auburn University summer commencement speaker, where he encouraged graduates, “Serve well by serving others. In life or in your chosen profession, ask what you can do to help others. … Whatever you do, make sure you do it with excellence.”

Vines’ term will expire on February 8, 2024.

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

17 hours ago

Alabama State Parks launching historic corporate giving, improvement campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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