2 years 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.”

5 hours ago

State Sen. Figures: ‘I didn’t ask’ to be on ATRIP-II — ‘Very ironic I end up’ on it

Last week when State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) was dismissed by Gov. Kay Ivey from the ATRIP-II committee and was replaced by State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile), it raised a few eyebrows.

The consensus was that Elliott was being punished for his outspoken opposition to the Alabama Department of Transportation’s proposed I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge, which was in part to be financed by a toll.

During an appearance on this weekend’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television “Capitol Journal,” Figures reacted to her appointment by Ivey. She noted the nature of these appointments and that she also lost an appointment when Lt. Will Ainsworth took her off of the Joint Transportation Committee earlier this year and said it was a result of comments she had made “at the microphone.”

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“He’s not the only one that’s been taken off of a committee,” she said. “It happens all the time. It happens in the House. It happens in the Senate. It goes back and forth, and that is the governor’s prerogative to do such.”

Figures had not taken an outspoken position on the I-10 bridge project but said that she did not think the burden should be put on local residents in Mobile and Baldwin Counties.

“I don’t think it should be the responsibility of the citizens of Mobile and Baldwin Counties to pay for that I-10 bridge,” Figures said. “It is an interstate. I think it should be the state and the federal government that should bear the cost of it. At the same time, if we are to pay for it, let the people decide if that’s what they really want since they say it’s in the very high percentage rates of local citizens using that bridge. It’s a lot to work out. But I’m a consensus builder, and I’m going to work with the governor to try to do that.”

The Mobile County Democrat said she was grateful for the appointment by Ivey, adding that she would bring “diversity” to the ATRIP-II committee.

“I was very humbled and honored when she called and asked me to serve,” she said. “It really was to my surprise that there was not a Democrat nor an African-American legislator on the ATRIP-II committee. Now there’s definitely diversity. Of course, there is an African-American — County Commissioner Tony Cherry from Butler County is on that committee. So, I was very pleased to add that diversity. I want to take to that committee a voice for the voiceless if you will. We have a number of counties in this state that don’t have the resources or revenues to give that skin in the game, if you will, in terms of matching funds. But then, they have priorities, too. And we are supposed to be about protecting the health, safety and welfare of all of our citizens. So that is the voice I want to bring to that committee.”

Host Don Dailey alluded to the “irony” of Figures appointment, particularly given Figures opposed the Rebuild Alabama Act passed earlier this year, which resulted in a hike of the state’s gas tax. She acknowledged the irony, but said she did not actively seek a spot on that committee.

“I stand by that vote,” she said. “I voted against it. I did tell the governor that I would vote if she would expand Medicaid because this state did not expand Medicaid, therefore they left $1.3 billion on the table along with 30,000 jobs. It chose not to expand Medicaid. Had we expanded Medicaid, we would not have needed this gas tax. And to me, this gas tax is a very expensive and regressive tax, which will be on the backs of people who can least afford it.”

“Let me just say this: I didn’t ask to be on this committee,” Figures added. “And it is — it is very ironic I end up on the committee that decides it. But you know, for me — I’m a very spiritual woman of deep faith. God is in control. I was asked to be on it and although I voted against the tax, I want to be that voice for the voiceless.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

5 hours ago

VIDEO: Ivey punishes toll opponents, ongoing impeachment talks, Madison shows the state how to raise taxes and more on Guerrilla Politics …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Should Governor Kay Ivey be punishing toll opponents like State Senator Chris Elliot (R-Daphne) for their disagreements?

— Why not just admit that Democrats are trying to impeach President Donald Trump?

— Why did 70% of voters in Madison say “YES” to a new tax increase?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by State Senator Sam Givhan to talk about road projects and how Alabama Department of Transportation and Governor Ivey move forward after their big defeat.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” where he argues that companies banning their customers from carrying weapons in their stores aren’t really doing anything but chasing good press by placating a mob and their media.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=461031881151175

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

8 hours ago

Itty Bitty Bakers makes cooking fun and informative for Alabama kids

It starts with a special ingredient – in this case, registered dietician and educator Jessica Hamby.

Combine with the children willing to learn and participate. Flavor in a mix of art, crafts, reading and hands-on learning. Then top off with the capable hands of proven instructors and assistants, and you have Itty Bitty Bakers.

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Hamby started Itty Bitty Bakers in 2018 to bring her own love of cooking with healthy and fresh ingredients to children in her neighborhood. The belief was that if the children had a hand in preparing healthy foods, they would be more inclined to try and then enjoy foods that are better for them.

It worked. Hamby, who has a master’s in health education, created a curriculum that reinforces the recipes and helps teach children about where food comes from, how ingredients are used to make a dish and how cooking can be a fun and creative outlet for people of any age.

Itty Bitty Bakers has the recipe for making cooking fun and educational for kids from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

What started as a couple of summer camp classes quickly grew into monthly classes and then multiple classes for students of different ages.

“It really took off,” said Melissa Carden, an instructor with Itty Bitty Bakers. “It seemed to be something that the community really had a need for. There was always a demand.”

Today, the program has two instructors, teaching assistants, a team of youth helpers and even students from the University of Alabama nutrition program who intern during the summer.

At one recent bakers camp, the students picked basil, used it in a recipe, learned about growing fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables during story time, colored pictures of herbs and even took recipes and basil seeds home with them. The basil was used to make basil-cheddar biscuits, which they got to enjoy during snack time.

Each class and camp teaches children to be comfortable in the kitchen, builds on their understanding of where food comes from and encourages creativity.

“It’s really fascinating how much they enjoy the hands-on – the mixing, the pouring – every child gets to add at least one ingredient to the recipe,” Carden said. “It’s fun to see how capable they are. They’re capable of a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for.”

Itty Bitty Bakers offers classes for preschoolers, grade schooler and pre-teens. There are camps during the summer, classes during the school year and special workshops throughout the year. Prices vary and registration is done online. Itty Bitty Bakers will even organize parties.

Itty Bitty Bakers can be found online, on Facebook, on Instagram and Pinterest.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

Birmingham’s Alie B. Gorrie puts spotlight on disabled performers in new Amazon series

When Alie B. Gorrie moved to New York in 2015 after graduating from Belmont University, she was not unlike other young performers trying to find their way in the big city.

Armed with a resume that included shows at Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre Company (RMTC), Gorrie taught yoga and worked part-time as a teacher, all the while auditioning for (and getting some) roles at theater companies in the area.

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But look at Gorrie’s resume, and you’ll see something listed that provided some extra challenges. Under “Special Skills,” she notes that she’s “legally blind/visually impaired,” having been diagnosed at an early age with low vision.

“When I moved to New York, casting directors would say, ‘Why is one of your eyes crossed?’,” Gorrie says. “I didn’t expect to hear that after singing a song. … I’ve faced having to learn how to speak about it and articulate what I needed around it very quickly.”

Gorrie is not alone, and her latest project showcases other performers dealing with their own disabilities in the arts world. Gorrie co-hosts and co-produces, with Kallen Blair, “ABLE: a series,” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. There are eight 15-minute episodes, each of which focuses on a performer with a disability, including recent Tony Award winner Ali Stroker, who is in a wheelchair.

The series was conceived after Gorrie saw a musical called “Sam’s Room” off-Broadway.

“I‘ve never been so moved by something,” she says of the show about a teen with non-verbal autism. “I had this impulse to buy 10 tickets and invite people I knew to see the show.”

One of those people was Blair, who has a brother with non-verbal autism.

“After the show, she was weeping, and she said that it was the first time she had seen her brother represented so well in a story,” Gorrie says. “That got us started in these inclusion discussions.”

Later, when Gorrie was working in California and Blair in Boston, Blair sent her an email.

“She pitched a documentary series shedding a light on inclusion in theater,” Gorrie recalls. “I said, ‘Yes, yes, sign me up.’”

Each episode features one guest interviewed by Gorrie and Blair. The guests include Evan Ruggiero, a dancer who lost a leg to cancer at age 19; John McGinty, a deaf actor who starred on Broadway in “Children of a Lesser God”; and Danny Woodburn, an actor with dwarfism known best for his role on the sitcom “Seinfeld.”
The two interviewed Stroker prior to her Tony nomination and win for “Oklahoma!”

“She is the one who is truly paving the way for disabled artists everywhere now,” Gorrie says.

Gorrie and her family created Songs for Sight, an event that raises money for the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The fundraiser, which has included performers such as Vince Gill, Sara Evans and Grace Potter, celebrates its 10th anniversary with a free concert at Red Mountain Theatre Company in October.

Gorrie really found her calling at RMTC, where she performed for a number of years. She counts RMTC Executive Director Keith Cromwell among those who helped her realize she could pursue a performing career while dealing with her vision issues.

“It took me a while to find teachers and mentors who knew how to not make too big a deal out of it while also not ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist,” Gorrie says.

Cromwell is one who recognized Gorrie’s talents early on.

“When you meet ‘special,’ it has no age, it’s timeless,” he says of Gorrie, who is now 26. “As I watch her grow into a magnificent adult and amazing artist who is changing the world, I could not feel more privileged to witness her advancing her cause, her art, her center – the truth of who she is.”

That’s really what’s at the core of “ABLE,” too, as artists talk about embracing their disabilities and finding opportunities to shine, even though it’s still an uphill battle to get casting directors to cast disabled actors.

Gorrie and Blair are already planning Season 2 of “ABLE,” looking to focus less on individuals and more on theaters and other groups that are embracing inclusion of disabled performers.

“We want to go to theaters and film sets and do documentary-style episodes going into the places that are inclusion champions,” Gorrie says.

“ABLE: a series” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 hours ago

Alabama Habitat for Humanity chapter builds 14 homes in 1 week

To say Tonya Torrance is happy would be an understatement.

“It feels great. It’s a feeling that can’t be explained.”

Torrance and her family are one of 14 families who received a new home Thursday as part of this year’s Home Builders Blitz from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The chapter chose to celebrate its 14th anniversary by building 14 homes, a new record according to chapter President and CEO Charles Moore and a task that requires a tremendous amount of organizing and planning.

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“We knew if we followed that plan and stuck to schedule with everybody doing their part, we could complete it on time,” Moore said. “We have hundreds of volunteers helping us, along with skilled tradesmen, professional homebuilders and many more behind the scenes helping with meals and sponsorships. Some of the big corporations in Alabama, such as Wells Fargo and Alabama Power have been with us year after year, as well as the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders — we couldn’t do it without our home builders who volunteer and give us this week of their time and help direct the house that they’re building.”

One of those home builders for this year’s blitz was Danniell Burton, a superintendent and project manager at Taylor Burton Company. Burton grew up helping his dad at Habitat builds, but this was his first year leading a build. He said the experience of building Torrance’s home was awesome.

“It gets stressful throughout the week — tons of subs and your mind is going a bunch of different ways, but to be done with it is awesome,” Burton said. “Seeing the homeowners’ faces walking in and just getting done with it is such a relief.”

Torrance said working with Burton was great.

“He didn’t ask for nothing he wouldn’t do,” Torrance said. “I love him.”

“It really does feel great,” Burton added. “As you make progress every day and seeing their faces is just a great feeling. You work late hours but the drive home at night you realize what you got done for the day and knowing they’re happy is what it’s all about.”

Moore said seeing people come together to help each other is what makes him most proud of the blitz builds.

“There’s no way we could do this without people pitching in to help,” Moore said. “We like to see ourselves as coordinators, as people who bring people together to help make it happen. We recognize that without the volunteers, without the financial support, without all of the folks that make this happen, that this would not happen.”

To learn more about the Home Builders Blitz program from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity, visit habitatbirmingham.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)