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7 months ago

Black bear sightings likely to increase in Alabama

(David Rainer)

 

 

Interaction between humans and black bears saw an uptick last year, and that will likely be the trend for the near future, at least in one corner of the state, according to Dr. Todd Steury of Auburn University.

Funded by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s State Wildlife Grants Program, Professor Steury, along with graduate students John Draper and Chris Seals, recently completed a multiple-year study of the black bear population in Alabama.

The basic conclusions were that Alabama has two populations of black bears, one in northeast Alabama and one in southwest Alabama, and each population has a different legacy as well as likely future.

The population in northeast Alabama, with roots from the mountains of northeast Georgia, has the potential for significant expansion. Hence, the likelihood that black bear sightings will become more common in the future.

The population in southwest Alabama, which appears to be an encapsulated population, is relatively stagnant, but significantly more difficult to monitor.

“We think that most of Alabama, at one time, had black bears,” Steury said. “We believe two of the sub-species kind of met in Alabama, the American sub-species from the North and the Florida sub-species from the South. Of course, black bears were pretty much hunted to extinction in the state with one very small population remaining near Mobile.”

Steury said the Auburn study was prompted by the fact the black bears in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta hadn’t been studied since 1992 and by an increase in the number of bear sightings in the Little River area in northeast Alabama.

“In that study in the Delta in 1992, it was a very small population,” he said. “There was some concern about inbreeding because of how small it was. Part of our goal was to reexamine this population to see how they are doing. The other reason for the study was the increased sightings around Fort Payne, and we wanted to know if there is a viable population up there or just an occasional bear traveling through the area.”

Bear sightings in Heflin and Oxford made headlines last year and prompted residents in those areas to voice concerns about the animals being close to public recreation areas.

Steury said his team, which included Thomas Harms, WFF’s Large Carnivore Coordinator, used a variety of methods to gather bear data. The population density numbers were derived from a DNA study.

“We used two methods to gather the DNA information,” Steury said. “One was eco-dogs. These dogs are trained to find bear scat. We took them into areas where we knew there were populations of bears – Mobile, Saraland and the Celeste Road areas. The eco-dogs are expensive to run, but they can get us a lot of data. I think it was about 1,000 samples in two months of work.

“But the dogs are not cost-effective if you’re looking in areas where you’re not sure about the presence of bears. For that, we used hair snares. It’s basically a barbed-wire fence surrounding bait. The bear crosses the barbed wire to get to the bait and the barbs pull a little hair out. Then we get DNA from the hairs.”

Steury said the team erected hair snares in virtually every township in Mobile County, about half of Washington County and most of Baldwin County in the southern end of the state. In the north, hair snares were placed in almost all townships between Interstates 59 and 20. The National Park Service helped the team erect snares all over Little River National Preserve.

“We were sampling very widely,” Steury said. “We chose townships because that’s about the size of a male home range. Overall, we had about 300 hair snares in southwest Alabama and another 100-150 in northeast Alabama.”

After all the data was collected, the analysis started. The results gave researchers population numbers, genetic diversity, points of origin and connections to other bear populations.

Steury said the DNA data indicated that the population in northeast Alabama more than doubled, going from about 12 bears to 30.

“We know those bears came from north Georgia,” he said. “We originally thought they might be from central Georgia around Macon, but the DNA showed they came right down the mountain from Georgia.”

The results from southwest Alabama were not as conclusive because of the requirements to meet the DNA profiling.

“We only got a good estimate from 2015,” Steury said. “We estimated there were 85 bears, but the estimate said there could be as many as 165. So it’s still a fairly small population. Obviously, that is not a great estimate, but we’d be very surprised if there are 200 bears down there. They seem to be very localized between Wagarville and Chatom and the Celeste Road area northwest of Saraland.

“The interesting thing is Chris Seals, the graduate student working that area, said there are what he calls bear superhighways, these riparian areas, rivers and corridors where these bears move. So we can get a lot of DNA in those areas. So we’re very confident about the bears in those areas. But in those areas in between, it’s much harder for us to figure out how many bears are there.”

The story in northeast Alabama is that bears are finding suitable habitat to establish home ranges and expand the population.

“The bears are breeding,” Steury said of northeast Alabama. “We have seen numerous examples of sows with two or three cubs on our game cameras. We feel like the population there is going to grow, and there are still bears coming in from Georgia.

“We’re going to have more bears up there. There is lot of great habitat in Jackson County and Talladega National Forest. It’s just a matter of time for the population to expand.”

The prognosis for the southwest Alabama bear population is not so optimistic.

“The habitat in southwest Alabama is disappearing,” Steury said. “And, the population is not growing like it should. That is the next question we have to answer. We have some hypotheses. Those bears seem to be having good litters, but Chris is not seeing those cubs make it to adulthood. One of the aspects we’re exploring is den sites. When you think of bear dens in cold weather, what do you think about – caves or holes in the ground. In north Alabama, you’ve got bunches of caves or holes in the ground.

“In southwest Alabama, bears don’t have that. We will occasionally see denning in tree roots. What we see a lot of are nests. What we don’t know is how much protection from the elements and predators those really provide. Is the reason cubs are not making it to adulthood that they don’t have good dens?”

Another concern of the researchers is the lack of new genes in the southwest population.

“The genetic diversity in the southwest is really bad,” Steury said. “It’s worse than any bear population in the Southeast United States. Normally, to differentiate between brothers and sisters, you need eight chunks of DNA. We couldn’t tell the difference between brothers and sisters with our eight chunks of DNA. It took 14 to 15 chunks of DNA to tell the difference between brothers and sisters in that population. So they’ve got really low genetic diversity. We don’t really know how low that genetic diversity has to get to affect the population. We’ve captured a lot of bears, and we haven’t seen any deformities or other effects.”

The other conclusion derived from the DNA studies is the connection of the specific populations with other populations in the Southeast.

“The northeast population is still pretty well connected with the north Georgia population,” Steury said. “The southern population does not appear to be connected with bears from Florida or western Mississippi. The DNA suggests there is basically no movement of bears into the southwest population. Bears come from Florida. We know because we track them. But they seem to get to the rivers in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and turn around and go back.

“We do catch and collar bears. The largest bear we have caught weighed 308 pounds. Chris said he has seen one that he estimates at 400 pounds. But most of our bears average 150 pounds.”

When it comes to bear-human interactions, Steury said a mailer was sent out to judge the public perception of bears.

“What we found out is that people like bears,” he said. “They want to have bears in Alabama. Generally, they were not supportive of lethal management controls except in extreme situations, where there was clear danger to people.”

Steury said it is rare when large predators do anything other than flee when they come in contact with humans.

“They can’t risk being injured,” he said. “If they’re injured, they can’t hunt. They can’t feed themselves and they’re going to die. They have no idea how hard or easy we would be to kill. They have no idea how dangerous we are, which is what basically keeps us safe.”

Steury said the sightings that happened in Oxford and Heflin last year were young male bears that had been kicked out of the mom’s territory. Those 2-year-old males were roaming to find new home territories.

“They can cover thousands of miles,” he said. “That’s why we see bears where they’re not supposed to be. They are juvenile males that are exploring for a place to settle down. The thing is they never stay around. When I got the call from Heflin about what they should do, I told them to just leave it alone. In a day or two, it’ll be gone.

“If they get into somebody’s food or people start feeding them, that’s when they become problems.”

Rep. Martha Roby: Pro-growth policies are working in AL-02 communities

Over the last year and a half, Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration have worked tirelessly to unleash our economy and foster growth right here in the United States. Since November of 2016, 3.7 million jobs have been created, and one million of those came after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act became law. Unemployment numbers are at the lowest point they’ve been in decades. Job openings are at a record high – 213,000 jobs were added in June alone. Also last month, there were 6.7 million job openings, which marks the first time since the year 2000 that the number of job openings is larger than the number of people unemployed.

As you may know, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act roughly doubled the standard deduction while lowering tax rates. Because of this historic tax reform, 90 percent of Americans have seen bigger paychecks this year. Plus, more than four million Americans have seen increased wages, bonuses, and expanded retirement options.

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Thanks to tax reform and our efforts to spur economic growth, Americans are working and businesses are growing – and Alabama’s Second District hasn’t missed out on the momentum. Since the enactment of our tax overhaul last year, several businesses have announced they are opening branches in our district, expanding existing ones, offering pay increases to employees, and more. I would like to take this opportunity to briefly share some of the great economic news we’ve received so far.

Most recently, Alabama manufacturer Sabel Steel, which has locations in Montgomery and Dothan, announced they will provide pay increases to all employees, invest in new equipment, expand existing facilities, and hire additional workers thanks to tax reform. I believe the company’s CEO Keith Sabel said it best himself: “There’s optimism. With the previous administration, we were hammered by rule changes and regulations. It was like trying to drink water out of a firehose. The change in policy under President Trump was enormous, and the attitude among businessmen and especially other steel manufacturers has been incredibly optimistic. Tax reform and other policies psychologically have made an enormous difference.”

James Hardie Building Products announced plans to open a new manufacturing plant in Prattville. This project is the largest industrial development in Autauga County in 50 years, and it will have a significant economic impact on the area.

U.S. firearms maker Kimber Gun Manufacturing also announced a project in AL-02. By early 2019, the company will open a $38 million production facility in Troy that will create more than 350 high-paying jobs over the next five years.

Also in Troy, Rex Lumber Co. will soon open a state of the art sawmill operation that will employ more than 100 people. This $110 million investment will create quality employment opportunities and a significant new timber market in Pike County.

In Coffee County, Wayne Farms has announced a $105 million expansion at their Enterprise fresh processing facility. This investment will bring a strong economic boost to the area.

Last, but certainly not least, Great Southern Wood Preserving based in Abbeville recently announced it will use savings from the tax overhaul to invest in additional employee benefits, including lower health care costs, more paid time off, and a new scholarship program. In addition, the company has given pay increases to employees across the board.

So you see, thanks to our pro-growth policies and a commitment to fostering economic growth in this country, Americans are confident in our economy – and rightfully so. Hardworking people in our very own communities have already benefited tremendously as a result of these important efforts, and I am eager to see this positive forward momentum continue for all Alabamians.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

Listen to the craziest case Jonathan Cooner has ever worked…. WOW

Alexander Shunnarah “Shark of The Week”, Jonathan Cooner came to the studio with some great stories. Jonathan started it off by talking about his time with the law firm and the number of phone calls they get and how he started off. Jonathan told the guys a story about “A toddler and a mechanical bull.”  Jonathan went into depth about what it means to be a member of the Shunnarah Law Firm and even gave his wife and daughter a shoutout.

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Subscribe to the Yellowhammer Radio Presents The Ford Faction podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

2 hours ago

Coal company executive, Alabama attorney convicted of bribery

A prominent Alabama attorney and a coal company executive have been convicted on federal charges involving bribery of a state lawmaker.

The verdict against Joel Gilbert, a partner with Balch & Bingham law firm, and Drummond Company Vice President David Roberson was announced Friday after a four-week trial. Jurors found them guilty of conspiracy, bribery, three counts of honest services wire fraud and money laundering.

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Prosecutors said the two men bribed former state Rep. Oliver Robinson to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s expansion of a Superfund site, and also to oppose prioritizing the site’s expensive cleanup. Robinson pleaded guilty last year to bribery and tax evasion. He has not yet been sentenced.

A third defendant, Balch attorney Steven McKinney, was dismissed from the case one day before closing arguments began.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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3 hours ago

Yes, we DO get along!

I don’t remember the airline or where the flight was headed. But I will never forget the woman seated next to me.

During the course of our brief conversation, I mentioned that my family lives in Orange Beach, Alabama. Her eyebrows furrowed as she received that fairly innocuous information. Without hesitation, however, she said, “I wouldn’t live there in a million years.”

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I was taken aback, but smiled gamely, and asked, “Really? Why’s that?”

“I just couldn’t take the rain,” the woman told me.

I was silent for a beat or two, looking into the woman’s eyes, mentally scrambling to figure out what I had missed. She also continued to look at me, waiting I suppose, for a response. When none tumbled from my lips, she leaned in my direction somewhat aggressively and as if she were talking to an idiot, being forced to explain something obvious and simple, said, “The Rain. Your rain. It rains all the time in Orange Beach. I could never live in a place like that.”

I nodded as if I understood and asked how many times she had been to Orange Beach.

“Twice,” she told me. “Once for three days and another time for a whole week. We never saw the sunshine. It rains constantly in Orange Beach.”

I’ve thought about that woman off and on for years. It was such a ridiculous exchange that I’ve never really decided if it was funny or just stupid.

Obviously, it rained the only two times she ever visited. Now, I don’t study weather patterns, I don’t know Jim Cantore, and I haven’t stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in a long time, but I’m fairly certain that it rains every day somewhere! In a lot of places, I’ll bet it even rains for a week at a time! And who, over the age of six or seven, has not seen it rain during a vacation?

Yeah, I’m sorry, but for a person to single out a week and a half and believe they can accurately extrapolate the cloud and moisture conditions that visitors to Orange Beach can expect for the rest of forever…is nuts. It’s beyond nuts.

Except that you and I virtually do the same thing almost every day.

We allow the media to dictate what we believe is “happening everywhere.” In print, online, and on television, we allow our fears to be stoked and our thoughts to be directed. By consuming “overlarge” portions of what they are serving, we encourage the news media’s overwhelming coverage of All Things Horrible.

Understand, I am not blaming the media for what they do or how they do it. I’m not even suggesting they do anything differently. Would it have any effect if I did? (The correct answer is “no”.)

Neither am I suggesting that racial anger, regional bias, political selfishness, or deranged behavior do not exist. But if you and I begin our day with the news and check in on the news several times during the day, then end our day with the news, it doesn’t take long for us to become convinced that what we see in the news is an accurate portrayal of society. And it’s
not.

Consider the fact that there are 19,519 towns and cities in America today. There are another 16,360 unincorporated townships. We have a population of 326 million people. All those people have access to multiple channels and online entities. They are available to us 24-hours a day. And they use those twenty-four hours every single day to keep us “informed” about exactly what is happening—not just in America, but in the whole world…

So here’s a question: If things are as bad as many of us have begun to believe, what are all those news outlets leaving out?

Shouldn’t there be at least enough bad stuff to fill twenty-four hours without repeating the same things again and again?

But as far as I can tell, when something crazy happens, not only does every channel “break” the same news, they “report” it over and over for days on end.

Look, we do care about what’s happening nationally. You and I care about race relations and politics and schools and statues and prison reform and the Boy Scouts and killer lettuce and whatever the heck that goofy looking psycho in North Korea will do next…

But I have to believe that you and I would rather put more time and constructive thought into our own families and communities. Yet, even those subjects—when they are mentioned at all—are delivered by most of our national media drenched with the overarching message: People who are different from each other in visible ways do not get along.

My point is a simple one. I’m convinced that we get along better than some folks would have us think. I’ve been watching this whole thing for quite a while now. I travel extensively and am through airports, in hotels, visiting cities, their suburbs, and exploring small towns.

I don’t always fly. I drive—sometimes long distances—and stop often to talk with the people I meet. I’ve spoken to and talked with the students on more than 400 college campuses, eaten at great restaurants, not so great restaurants, and locally favorite restaurants in every corner of this nation.

I have spoken to audiences in all fifty states and each of our nation’s territories. I have spoken to convention halls filled with men and arenas with thousands of women. I have spent time with the men and women who serve on military installations around the world.

I have watched people pull together during times of enormous stress. I have witnessed families with nothing to spare, give generously to families with nothing at all.

And after all that, I must say that I’m not sure why the media appears so determined to convince us that we do not get along…(the only possible answer is “ratings”) but assuming their efforts will not stop, we need to recognize the effect it has on us and at least stop bathing in the information.

We understand what drives television ratings. We know what sells newspapers. I wonder however, if we understand the strategy the media employs in order to attract enough viewers to stay on the air?

There is one major rule governing that strategy and it is this: If there is no large and wide-spread amount of anger and outrage to show the public, we will seek out the largest that can be found at the moment. Even if the only anger and outrage we find is a small and contained amount, with proper camera angles and specific wording by the reporter, it can be presented as an example of “what is happening everywhere.”

Except that it’s not.

What is happening almost everywhere? Folks are being polite. They are being considerate.

Yes, especially in the south.

I was checking out of the Bay Minette, Alabama Wal-Mart last week. As the cashier scanned my items, a forty-ish-year-old guy in a ball cap leaned around me, apologized for the interruption and spoke to the cashier. The following, word for word, is exactly what each of them said to the other.

Man: Excuse me, ma’am. When you get a chance, I need some help in the Photo department.

Cashier: Sure. (She turns to speak to a manager several lines away…) Miss Dana! Miss Dana, there’s a gentleman who needs help in Photos.

Man: (walking away) Thank you, ma’am.

Cashier: You’re welcome, sir.

I have to say, I smiled. I was proud of us. Yeah, us. You know…America. The South. Alabama. Baldwin County. Bay
Minette. Us!

Oh sure, I was proud of the cashier and the man. But they are us. It is, after all, how most of us act. Especially in Orange Beach. Even when it rains.

One more thing about the cashier and the man in the ball cap….Seeing them act with such respect towards each other really made my day. It crossed my mind to hug them. But I didn’t. I didn’t even know their names…

So I just took their picture. For US!

Let’s all do our part this week and continue to “Get Along.”

Perform an act of kindness or “Notice” a good gesture—then let me know about it in the Comments section of my website or on Facebook or Instagram.

I would love to continue to hear about how we are continuing to get along.

Andy Andrews is hailed by New York Times reporter as “someone who has quietly become one of the most influential people in America,” Andy Andrews is the author of multiple international bestsellers including The Traveler’s Gift and The Noticer. He is also an in-demand speaker, coach, and consultant for the world’s largest organizations.

5 hours ago

From Cheaha to Meaher, state parks diversity abounds

From a shaded retreat on John’s Bay in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta to the boardwalk atop the highest mountain in the state, the Alabama State Parks System offers an incredible diversity of nature’s wonders to explore.

Just north of the point where the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and Mobile Bay converge, Meaher State Park offers a respite from the hustle and bustle that can be seen in the distance on the Bayway crowded with frustrated travelers.

Tall pine trees blanket the 1,300-acre park that borders the Delta’s biologically rich John’s Bay to the south and Ducker Bay to the east.

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According to Anna Bryant, Meaher’s new park superintendent, visitors head to the park with their travel trailers in tow, attracted to the shade on the water’s edge.

A native of Auburn, Bryant came to love the area while teaching environmental education for two conservation organizations and jumped at the Meaher job about a year ago.

“I enjoy being in the outdoors,” Bryant said. “I love the water. I didn’t grow up near the beach. But the water and flora and fauna here at Meaher is a very therapeutic place for me. That is a bonus of this job for me.”

Callie Thornton, the assistant park superintendent at Cheaha State Park, finds her therapy in the mountains, and Cheaha, completely surrounded by the Talladega National Forest in northeast Alabama, is the perfect location for her.

Already a dedicated backpacker before she took the job at Cheaha a year ago, Thornton now gets to share her love of hiking with an abundance of park visitors and fellow hikers.

“What attracted me to Cheaha was the mountain and the Pinhoti Trail,” said Thornton, the former Town Clerk at Rockford, Ala. “I wanted to be able to teach others how to backpack, the importance of being outdoors and inspiring others to love the outdoors.

“I’ve been backpacking for about 12 years now, doing anything and everything adventurous. I’ve done more than 1,000 miles backpacking, so now I teach backpacking courses. And a lot of people are scared of camping. My goal is to teach people to not be afraid of being in the outdoors.”

Thornton’s instructions include camp cooking, first aid, what’s needed in your backpack and, possibly more important, what’s not.

“I’ve been able to get my backpack down to 27 pounds for a seven-day trip,” she said. “If people will bring me their backpack, I will go through it and divide and conquer, as I say. I advise them on what kind of gear they need as far as shoes and clothing. A lot of people think they need to take multiple days of clothes. If you pick the right gear, you might need an extra pair of socks, but you don’t need anything else.

“I had a friend with me on one trip who had 60 pounds in her backpack. She was really suffering. While we were on the trip I went through her bag. When we got to the next station, I told her to take this and that out and put it in the hiker box or mail it home. I’ve learned through experience about a lot of things, like blisters and how to deal with them and how to protect your feet. A lot of it is simple stuff that I want to pass on to make the person’s trip a lot better the next time around.”

At one time, Cheaha was the southern terminus of Thornton’s beloved Pinhoti Trail. That terminus has since been moved about 60 miles south to Flagg Mountain. The Pinhoti Trail covers about 170 miles in Alabama and 166 miles in Georgia before it connects with the Appalachian Trail. Hikers can also gain access to the Eastern Continental Trail that transits the entire eastern U.S.

Thornton, also president of the Alabama Pinhoti Trail Association, hopes to bring more exposure to Alabama’s Pinhoti segment.

“We don’t get a lot of publicity on the Alabama Pinhoti Trail,” she said. “Georgia’s trail gets a lot, but Alabama’s doesn’t. It could be a big tourism booster for Alabama.

“My goal is to raise the awareness of the Alabama section of the trail. People don’t know that it also is a connector from Key West (Fla.) all the way to Maine.”

On a hot summer day, a bonus of being at Cheaha is the weather.

“It’s about 10 degrees cooler on the mountain,” Thornton said. “Sometimes it’s more than that, depending on the wind. When I got here last May (2017), I was freezing to death. We can sit in the restaurant and see the weather around us. If I see a storm coming and we’ve got people in the pool, I can go get them out. The good thing is, most of the time, the bad stuff goes around us.”

Another attraction for Cheaha visitors is the solitude of the mountain, which is 2,407 feet above sea level, the highest in the state. A variety of accommodations await, from cabins and chalets to improved and primitive camping.

“A lot of people come to Cheaha to disconnect,” Thornton said. “If you want to get away from it all, if you want to get away from your telephone, your Wi-Fi, this is where you come. Once you come around the curves on (Hwy.) 281, you lose your connections. I just got a call from a man who said he was ready to get away from work. People disconnect and they go hiking, swimming and enjoy the restaurant. They come to hike. They come to see the wildlife, the deer and turkeys. We have a lot of birdwatchers who come to the park. We have gem-mining for the kids and a lot of interpretive nature programs for the whole family.”

Now hop in your vehicle, come down the mountain and head south about 260 miles to Meaher State Park to experience Alabama’s coastal plains and the expansive Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Meaher offers 61 improved campsites, 10 improved tent sites, a couple of primitive tent sites and four cabins. Two more cabins will be available later this year.

Bryant said Meaher appeals to campers in a couple of different ways.

“We’re kind of a quiet park,” she said. “We don’t have a pool or tennis courts or facilities that some of the bigger parks have. The fact that people can come and relax, see the sunsets and see the water is a big attraction for our overnight guests. But we also have a lot of day visitors who love to fish. We have a fishing pier and a boat launch. They can canoe and kayak or take their motor boat into the Delta or Mobile Bay. We also have the Gateway to the Delta boardwalk that allows visitors to see the Delta from a different perspective.

“Part of the draw is we have easy access to the Delta and being able to stay overnight between Mobile and Baldwin counties.”

Because of its size, Meaher doesn’t have a park naturalist, but Bryant has been able to utilize the environmental programs from Gulf State Park and 5 Rivers – Alabama Delta Resource Center, which is located directly across the Mobile Causeway from Meaher.

“The last program we had was a reptile show that 5 Rivers conducted,” Bryant said. “They brought native snakes and turtles to show our guests.”

Bryant will soon be involved in a park expansion, thanks to a $3.5 million award from the Deepwater Horizon’s oil spill through the RESTORE Act.

“Our hope is to expand not only RV sites but add a couple more cabins and possibly another fishing pier,” she said. “We’re still in the process of finalizing our plans. We want to offer our visitors a gamut of options from just relaxing to enjoying the Delta.”

Visit here and this link 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.