Couple hauls in state-record buffalo fish while bowfishing

Nicki Greene with a 70.55 pound buffalo fish she recently captured while bowfishing. (Contributed)

When Adam Bearden and Nicki Greene are planning a date, there’s never any of the usual, “Well, what do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Picking the date activity is easy for this couple. They hop in the boat and go bowfishing for buffalo fish, members of the sucker family that are abundant in Alabama’s lakes and river systems, and carp, both common and grass carp.

One recent date night was special when Greene arrowed a state-record smallmouth buffalo that weighed almost as much as she does. The record fish hit the scales at 70.55 pounds.

On that record-setting night, Bearden said he steered the boat around a secondary point. He made a wide turn and came back past the point.

“As we were coming back in, that fish swam right across the side of the boat that Nicki was on,” Bearden said. “Nicki shot. Eric Pendergrass was with us that night and he shot about same time. Nicki’s arrow hit first and then his hit. We had two arrows in the fish back-to-back. They were fighting the fish and got it close enough for me to shoot the backup shot. You try to get as many arrows in the fish as possible because the arrows can pull out. If the fish gets down in the grass, you can’t tell where the fish is. If the line gets caught in the grass, it can pull the arrow out.”

With three arrows in it, the fish was soon in the bottom of the boat. And now it’s in the Bowfishing Association of America record book as the official Alabama bowfishing record for smallmouth buffalo. Bearden said sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between a smallmouth and black buffalo. Tissue samples have been sent to a lab to determine which species it is. The fish will be an Alabama record whether it’s determined to be a smallmouth or black buffalo.

Not bad for someone who only got serious about bowfishing 10 months ago when she and Bearden started dating.

“I had been bowfishing a couple of times with my brothers,” Nicki said. “I was talking to Adam, and he said he went all the time. I liked it when I went with my brothers, so I started going a lot more when I started dating Adam.”

Bearden said he got an early start with his bowfishing career, thanks to bowhunting legend Fred Bear.

“I started bowfishing before bowfishing became popular,” said Bearden, who has been bowfishing for about 14 years. “Some of my buddies and I got one of those Bear Archery kits that had a bow and spool for the line. We started bowfishing on a dam in a creek. The buffalos, between 10 and 15 pounds, would come up to the dam and we’d shoot them. ”

Bearden, who lives in Albertville, moved up to a bass boat with a trolling motor and started bowfishing with a spotlight on Lake Guntersville.

“We started shooting a lot more fish that way,” he said. “That’s when we started to find out better ways to do it. We got a 14-foot flat-bottom boat with a 5,500-watt generator that’s about as heavy as the boat. We mounted halogen shop lights all the way around it.”

Now he uses a light box with 20 LED lights on an 18-foot duck-hunting boat that is modified with a front deck and a bow rack. The boat sports a 90-horse main motor and a 25-horse kicker motor that is controlled from the front deck with a Powr-Tran electronic steering system.

Bearden said some bowfishermen use high-powered airboats that cost up to $70,000, but he insists that’s not necessary.

“You see these guys in the tournaments with the $50,000 to $70,000 airboats and people think that’s what you have to have,” he said. “Every tournament I get in, I fish the open division, the toughest division, in my 18-foot boat, and I finish in the top five in the Muzzy every year.

“You can buy a 14-foot boat with a 25-horse motor and put one of the forward steering units on it, and you would have a good chance to compete. It’s all about knowing where the fish are and how to fish for them. I want to get the message out that you don’t have to have all that stuff.”

Greene and Bearden, whose team name is the Scale Ignitors, shoot Oneida compound bows at relatively light draw weights of 35 and 45 pounds, respectively.

“We shoot 300-400 times a night so you don’t want something that will wear your arm out,” he said.

The Scale Ignitors compete in as many tournaments as possible, including the All-Out Carp out, Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open and Muzzy Broadheads bowfishing tournaments.

Obviously, competitors have to deal with the weather during the tournaments. When Greene and Bearden are going fun bowfishing, they pick their nights.

“The ideal weather is whatever is comfortable to you,” he said. “At different times of year, where we go depends on which fish are up and spawning. One night you can go and the weather conditions are right. That night you might fill the boat up and the next night they might not be there.

“It seems the bigger fish are out more in the wintertime. I think it has something to do with water temperature. Buffalo are pretty much a deep-water fish that like to stay in a certain temperature range. But the biggest thing is we don’t fish really shallow water much anymore. We fish open-water flats and humps more than back in the sloughs. Most people associate bowfishing with shallow-water sloughs, and that’s where a bunch of smaller fish are. That’s where you find most of the carp. But we’re looking for bigger fish.”

Water clarity has a lot to do with bowfishing tactics.

“Sometimes I’ve been able to see 15 feet down, and sometimes you may not be able to see but a foot,” Bearden said. “That’s one reason we use a kicker motor. Buffalo will usually run from that motor, and when it takes off it will come to the top of the water. Then we’ll chase them, running 6 to 7 miles per hour until we get a shot on top of the water.”

On the record-setting trip, Greene said she had no idea what to think when the big fish surfaced near her.

“I just shot,” she said. “And then I was focused on getting the fish in the boat. It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to think. I wanted to pick it up, but I couldn’t. Adam had to help me hold it.”

Greene, who lives in Douglas, said after shooting the bow several hundred times a night her arms are pretty worn out.

“I love it though,” she said. “When we go, Adam is usually the one who sees the fish first. He yells, ‘Shoot right there.’ Sometimes I see them, but most of the time I shoot wherever he points.”

Greene said they hit the water as long as it’s not too cold. They bowfished three nights during the Christmas holidays, but Greene does prefer warmer weather so they can go more often.

Greene admits the genesis of her relationship with Adam is not the norm for most couples, but their similarities made it a natural fit.

“One of the things that brought us together is we love to hunt and we love to fish,” she said. “With bowfishing, you do both. That makes it easy. We’re not arguing about what we want to do.”

David Rainer is public information manager and outdoor columnist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His column appears weekly in The West Alabama Watchman. 

State Parks offer quick getaway, perfect gift options for holidays

Billy Pope enjoys an Alabama State Park mountain bike trail. (Photo | David Rainer)

The 2016 fall season has been especially fruitful for the Alabama State Parks System. Starting with the overwhelming approval of Amendment 2 on the ballot in November to encouraging visitor numbers, enthusiasm abounds at State Parks.

And to keep that momentum going, State Parks is offering a substantial discount on overnight accommodations at 11 State Parks.

The Winter Overnight Specials in most of the northern Alabama State Parks provide a 25-percent discount on all overnight accommodations from Sunday through Thursday. The special discount runs all the way throughFebruary 28.

Those traveling during the holiday season or people who just want to get away from all the hustle and bustle, can choose among Cathedral Caverns, Cheaha, Chewacla, DeSoto, Joe Wheeler, Lake Guntersville, Lake Lurleen, Lakepoint, Monte Sano, Oak Mountain and Rickwood state parks.

Obviously, accommodations vary from park to park. Campgrounds are the only available accommodations at Cathedral Caverns, Lake Lurleen and Rickwood. Cabins are available at Cheaha, Chewacla, DeSoto, Joe Wheeler, Lake Guntersville, Lakepoint, Monte Sano and Oak Mountain. Cheaha, DeSoto and Lake Guntersville also have chalets, while Joe Wheeler and Lakepoint have cottages available. The state parks with lodge accommodations are Cheaha, DeSoto, Joe Wheeler, Lake Guntersville and Lakepoint. Be aware that the lodge and restaurant at Cheaha will be closed Monday through Thursday from January 3, 2017, through March 1, 2017.

The online web reservations tool is not available for campground reservations for this promotion, so you’ll need to call the respective park office to make campground reservations. As usual, the Winter Overnight Specials discount can’t be combined with other discounts or packages.

If you’re a hunter who likes to explore Alabama’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), State Parks has a heck of a deal for you, too.

Hunters can rent lodge rooms at Cheaha (see note above), Lakepoint, Joe Wheeler, DeSoto and Lake Guntersville state parks for $49.95 a night. All you have to do is show your hunting license and your WMA permit to get the discounted rate.

DeSoto has an additional option with its Stay and Hunt Package, which is available through February 10, 2017, and again for turkey season from March 15 through April 30, 2017. Access to Little River WMA from DeSoto State Park is for purchasers of the package only.

The Stay and Hunt Package is available with two options. The two-person rate of $570.20 gets you three days and two nights in a log cabin or chalet with five meals included as well as three bundles of firewood. Grab a couple of extra hunting buddies and take advantage of the four-person deal for $739.79 for a log cabin or chalet for three days and two nights, six meals and three bundles of firewood.

Access to Little River WMA through DeSoto State Park is foot traffic only. Portions of the WMA are bow hunting only. Visit www.alapark.com/stay-and-hunt-package for links and detailed information about hunting on the Little River WMA.

A hunter’s special is also available at Blue Springs State Park in southeast Alabama within driving distance of one of the top WMAs in the nation for deer hunting. The Barbour County WMA has a nationwide reputation of providing quality deer hunting. Be aware that Barbour County has a special antler restriction in force in that each buck of the three-buck limit must have at least three points on one side.

Blue Springs, which is near Clio, offers up to a 70-percent discount to hunters. Cabins 1 and 2 can accommodate up to six hunters, while Cabin 3 can sleep four. A travel trailer that sleeps five is also available. Reservations can be made through the park office at (334) 397-4875 or email bluesprings.stpk@dcnr.alabama.gov for more information. The first night’s rent is due when the reservation is made.

If you like getting some exercise and experiencing the beauty of the Alabama State Parks, then consider ringing in the new year at one of four State Parks with a First Day Hike. The hikes on January 1, 2017, will take place at Cheaha, DeSoto, Gulf, Oak Mountain and Lake Guntersville. Park staff will guide the hikes as part of a nationwide program to hike state parks throughout the nation on New Year’s Day. Last New Year’s Day, more than 55,000 people hiked more than 133,000 miles during the program, which is promoted by the National Association of State Park Directors.

Speaking of hiking, it’s common knowledge that one of the main attractions for many state parks visitors is a place to enjoy nature and get some exercise to boot. The trails system has been a cornerstone of the State Parks System’s mission to offer outdoor recreational opportunities that include hiking, trail running and mountain biking.

The State Parks System also knows a lot of people are passionate about the trails system, which led to the creation of the Dirt Pass Trails Team, which will return for 2017. Those who wish to step up and contribute a little more to the trails program in Alabama State Parks can purchase a $35 annual Dirt Pass, with the proceeds being used to support the entire State Parks trails system. The Dirt Pass bracelets will be sold at the 10 participating parks, and you can go to www.alapark.com/Dirt-Pass to access the Dirt Pass online purchasing tool.

Another way to show your support for Alabama State Parks is by purchasing the new State Parks Supporter car tag. The Alabama Legislature approved the sale of the State Parks tag, starting January 2017. When your tag is up for renewal, request an Alabama State Parks car tag and 80 percent of the specialty tag fee will go directly to help fund the Alabama State Parks.

With the approval of Amendment 2, which passed with an 80-percent majority, the funding for Alabama State Parks is protected and cannot be diverted to any other form of state government. Amendment 2 makes the budgeting process for State Parks significantly easier. A stable funding platform also provides incentive for the many volunteers who assist State Parks staff to make the facilities attractive to visitors, who come from not only Alabama but all over the world.

If you’re absolutely stumped about what to get the nature lover in your family for Christmas, State Parks have the perfect, last-minute gift. An Alabama State Parks gift card is available at 20 State Parks and can open up recreational opportunities like the aforementioned hiking and trail riding to just taking time out of your busy schedule to relax and enjoy the natural beauty available in Alabama’s great outdoors.

Don’t have time to swing by one of the State Parks to get a gift card? Consider another Christmas gift option for the hunter or angler in the family. A lifetime hunting or fishing license is available for residents of Alabama, and the license remains valid even if the recipient moves out of state. If the gift of a lifetime license is for residents age 16 or older, the licenses can be purchased online at outdooralabama.com by clicking on the licenses link. The person’s driver’s license number, date of birth and demographic information must be provided to make the purchase. If the lifetime license is for someone under age 16 or who doesn’t have a driver’s license, you’ll have to go to the local probate office or apply by mail. Proof of residency is required.

David Rainer is public information manager and outdoor columnist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His column appears weekly in The West Alabama Watchman. 

New regulations attempt to prevent CWD outbreak in Alabama deer

Deer hunters who travel out of state to pursue deer, elk and moose as well as bowhunters in Alabama need to be aware of changes in regulations regarding those activities.

Bowhunters will find relaxed regulations, while hunters who harvest deer and other affected cervids in states with confirmed cases of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) will be under strict regulations on the importation of deer carcasses.

cwd-map-16

CWD has been confirmed in the dark green states and provinces.

Under the new regulations, hunters who harvest white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose in those CWD-affected states are not allowed to bring the whole deer carcass back to Alabama. Any deer body part that contains spinal or brain tissue is specifically banned from Alabama.

“Alabama’s late to the dance, but we’re at least there now,” said Chuck Sykes, Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “We have now joined 36 other states with similar regulations. It’s been prohibited to bring live deer into the state for some time now. The intent of that regulation was to help prevent the potential to spread diseases. A dead deer can transmit diseases just like a live one. So this was just logical. We finally did something that should have been done a long time ago.”

Sykes said to be in compliance with the new regulation, hunters who harvest a deer in a CWD-affected state must debone the meat, cape the deer and cut off the skull plate with the antlers attached. That skull plate must be thoroughly cleaned of all brain material before it is imported into Alabama.

CWD is a disease similar to Mad Cow Disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep that affects deer, elk and moose. CWD is a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy that starts to debilitate the affected animal and results in death.

Thankfully, adjoining states have not had any confirmed CWD cases. However, the insidious disease has been confirmed in Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Ohio and numerous other states and parts of Canada. States with confirmed cases of CWD have been severely impacted by the disease.

“Unfortunately, that’s not that far away,” Sykes said. “The threat for us is the fear of the unknown. I just know what other states are going through. I know I don’t want the state of Alabama to have to go through it. I know people in Ohio and Arkansas, and it’s devastating to the way of the life, to the economy and to the resource. This is something that impacts me, too. I’ve hunted in Ohio. I’ve hunted in Texas. I’ve hunted in Missouri.

“No, you can’t just go kill a deer in those states, throw it in the back of the truck and come back to Alabama. That may be an inconvenience, but it pales compared to the inconvenience if CWD gets to Alabama.”

Sykes said some states with confirmed CWD cases have set up CWD containment zones where every deer harvested in those zones must be taken to a check station.

“Not only is that interfering drastically with what hunters are used to doing, but look at the budget drain it is causing the agencies that are having to devote all this time and manpower to check all those deer,” he said. “We don’t want it here. The only way to stop it is to never let it cross the border. This is one more step to help that.

“Remember, this is just from states with confirmed CWD cases. If you go to Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky or Florida, you’re fine. If the state has CWD, you can’t bring the whole deer back.”

Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) has been testing deer since the 2001-2002 season and none of the more than 5,000 deer sampled have tested positive for CWD.

“We sampled about 300 deer from the wild last year,” Sykes said. “All captive cervids over a year old that die, by regulation, have to be tested for CWD.”

Sykes has been traveling all over Alabama conducting seminars to help hunters understand the new regulations, including the Game Check harvest-reporting system, which is mandatory for the upcoming deer and turkey seasons. One thing he discovered during the seminars is that between 60 and 80 percent of the hunters in attendance said they hunted deer in states other than Alabama.

“With that many people hunting out of state, this is a serious, serious matter,” he said. “CWD never goes away. It is 100 percent fatal. If the deer gets it, it dies, plain and simple. If you get it, you never get rid of it, not just in the deer but the environment. It’s always there.

“When I say you never get rid of it, in Colorado where it was first found in captive mule deer, they killed all the deer and waited many years to put more deer back there, and CWD killed those deer, too. Once you get it, you never get rid of it. We don’t want it in Alabama, and the best chance to keep it out is to make sure it never crosses our border.”

Sykes said deer infected with CWD will exhibit symptoms similar to EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) – lethargic, a need to be around water, loss of the fear of humans and emaciated bodies. Hunters who see a deer that has any of those symptoms should contact WFF biologist Chris Cook at 205-399-5716.

On a more upbeat note, WFF has relaxed some of the regulations that govern the use of archery equipment to hunt deer. The minimum draw weight for bows has been reduced from 35 to 30 pounds. The restrictions on arrow length, broadhead weight or blade thickness have been removed. However, arrows must have a broadhead with at least two sharpened edges and a minimum cutting diameter of seven-eighths of an inch.

The revised regulation also states that crossbows must be equipped with a working safety and have a minimum peak tension of 85 pounds at normal draw.

“The technology has improved so that the kinetic energy and speed are there to hunt effectively and be responsible to the resource,” Sykes said. “Things are a lot different from when I started bowhunting with an old Bear Whitetail II. You had to get that thing up to the highest draw weight to get the arrow speed needed.

“These changes are just to make it as simple as possible and make it easier for anyone who wants to get into bowhunting and enjoy the outdoors. This could apply to anybody. My neighbor just had rotator cuff surgery, and he had to dial his bow down to where he could shoot.”

Speaking of new technology, one air gun company has produced a model that uses compressed air to propel full-length arrows at lethal speeds.

Sykes said those type weapons will fall under the air gun regulations and not archery. The air bows will be allowed during the air rifle and muzzleloader season and open gun deer season. Air guns must be at least 30-caliber to hunt deer and are legal during the same seasons as air bows.

David Rainer is public information manager and outdoor columnist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His column appears weekly in The West Alabama Watchman. 

New artificial reefs added to Alabama’s Gulf Coast

(WAW | Contributed)

(WAW | Contributed)

Another artificial reef was deployed off the Alabama Gulf Coast this week in Alabama’s vast artificial reef zone. While a reef deployment may not seem like news, this was indeed special because it could change the way industrial and corporate entities view options for recycling materials.

The new reef deployment was the result of a multitude of partners. Alabama Power Company provided a pair of boilers that had been taken out of service from plants in Washington and Mobile counties. Cooper/T. Smith provided a barge and transportation of the reef material. Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) and the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) worked as liaisons to start the process and complete the deployment.

“One thing I’m so excited about with this Alabama Power reef project is that it just shows that the more we’re involved with the community, community leaders and business leaders, there are a lot of great things we can do as partners,” said Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship. “Tim Gothard with the Alabama Wildlife Federation and Matt Bowden with Alabama Power are the ones who reached out to us with this idea. Then it grew with the work with Angus Cooper and Cooper/T. Smith. They had a barge that had neared the end of its useful life, and we needed a barge to transport the material to the deployment site.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities out there to get companies to rethink the ways they’ve always dealt with materials that have reached the end of their service life. The more we get involved with these organizations and companies, the more we can show them there are other opportunities to partner together. It’s good for the companies and good for the marine habitat. That’s why we think it’s important to get the word out about this project, because it can show what we can do with other private companies. I also hope this is a long relationship with Alabama Power as they continue to provide service for their ratepayers and, at the same time, enhance the environment.”

The new reef is located about 25 miles south of the Sand Island Lighthouse in a depth of about 120 feet in the Tatum-Winn North General Permit Area. The boilers are about 18 feet tall and about 40 feet long and weigh about 100 tons each. The barge is 195 feet long.

(WAW | Billy Pope)

(WAW | Billy Pope)

“A reef this size would take at least a dozen of our super pyramids,” said MRD Artificial Reefs Coordinator Craig Newton. “So this reef is a big cost savings for our artificial reef program. Alabama Power is experiencing cost savings as well because they don’t have to hire skilled personnel to disassemble the boilers and salvage them.”

To prepare for the deployment, Newton said holes were cut in the sides of the boilers to expose an array of small tubes inside the boiler.

“That’s really going to increase the surface area for encrusting organisms to attach to the reef,” Newton said. “It increases the complexity of the reef by providing refuge for small fish, and it’s really going to be easy to find on your bottom machine.

“Within days, the reef will have red snapper on it. Within months, it should have mangrove (gray) snapper on it. Then we’ll start to see the blennies and damselfish and all the little critters that will help support that ecosystem. By the time the season opens again on January 1 (2017), you could see amberjack on the reef because of the vertical relief.”

Blankenship said Cooper/T. Smith’s donation of the barge is a significant enhancement to the reef.

“The barge is part of the reef,” Blankenship said. “The barge and two 100-ton boilers will make a reef that’s going to be there for decades.

“This is the kind of partnership we’re looking for in our reef program. A company like Alabama Power

(WAW | Billy Pope)

(WAW | Billy Pope)

can realize some savings by partnering with us as they upgrade their equipment. That material doesn’t go to the landfill or get cut up for scrap. Instead, we use it for marine habitat. It’s really a win all around. We want to reach out to other companies that might have these same opportunities.”

Angus Cooper III of Cooper/T. Smith said during his time as AWF president, he was able to witness the work Alabama Power is doing to enhance wildlife conservation in the state.

“Alabama Power is truly one of the leaders in our state when it comes to water quality and wildlife conservation,” Cooper said. “We at Cooper/T. Smith are extremely excited to partner with them on this reef project, our first such collaboration. We look forward to seeing the success of this project, both to the ecosystem and in providing a source of outdoor entertainment for our community.”

Wes Anderson, a team leader with Alabama Power’s Environmental Stewardship Projects, said the boilers had reached the end of their useful service, and it was time to either scrap them or find another useful purpose for the material.

“We became aware of other possibilities through our work with Coastal Cleanup and Renew Our Rivers programs on the Alabama Coast,” Anderson said. “Some of our guys said, ‘We sank 60,000 Christmas trees in our freshwater impoundments. Why don’t we make some nice saltwater reefs with some of this salvage equipment?’ When we approached our bosses with the idea, they were very supportive and thought it was a great idea. We were able to show a cost savings for our ratepayers and a great addition to the marine environment.”

Alabama Power Vice President of Environmental Affairs Susan Comensky added, “Being involved in the construction and deployment of this reef is especially exciting for us at Alabama Power because it’s a first for us. In the past, we have simply disposed of old equipment like these boilers, so seeing them repurposed to create a habitat for marine life is very gratifying.”

AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard said the organization’s commitment to Alabama’s artificial reef program made it easy to help foster the partnerships that led to the deployment of the Alabama Power reef.

“We were just glad to be able to connect the dots between all the key players,” Gothard said. “It’s a great public-private partnership for Alabama Power Company to be alerted to a piece of equipment they were retiring and its possible use as an artificial reef. Then Marine Resources was able to evaluate the material to make sure it was suitable for an artificial reef. And, finally, Cooper/T. Smith was able to make transportation available and add a barge to enhance the whole project.

“To me, the exciting part is to see the public and private entities work together with the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to accomplish a project that will be great for the reef system. It will provide really great opportunities for our citizens and general public who like to fish our offshore reefs.”

The Alabama Power reef was deployed near the 70-foot Offshore Supply Boat Reef to provide additional habitat for species that anglers can target outside of the short red snapper season. MRD officials expect species like vermilion snapper and triggerfish will inhabit the reef as well as amberjack.

“The more diversified we can make the reef program, the more ecologically sound and more stable the reef system will be,” Newton said. “The size of this reef will make it better suited to handle storm events and other stresses that might happen.”

David Rainer is public information manager and outdoor columnist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His column appears weekly in The West Alabama Watchman. 

Alabama hunting season face changes for 2016

The Alabama hunting seasons for 2016-2017 are significantly different from the past, with changes in the season dates for several popular species and the adoption of the mandatory reporting of deer and turkey harvests through the Game Check system.

Some Alabama small-game hunters are already taking advantage of the changes. The seasons for squirrels and rabbits opened on Sept. 15 and run all the way through March 5, 2017. The daily bag and possession limits of eight of each species remain the same.2016-17-deer-zone-map_0

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division Director Chuck Sykes has been on a whirlwind tour of the state to help hunters become familiar with the changes for the upcoming seasons with specific instructions on how to comply with the Game Check requirements.

Sykes cautioned hunters about where they get their information on the upcoming seasons because of an abundance of misinformation that is being spread by uninformed individuals.

“There are a ton of misconceptions about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Sykes said. “Our hunting buddies can sometimes give us really bad advice. Most of the issues I’m dealing come from people who say, ‘My hunting buddy told me this,’ or ‘I heard this at the hunting camp.’ Please ask one of our officers or biologists, go to the outdooralabama.com website or pick up one of the hunting and fishing digests that are available all over the state.

“And let me get this out of the way: No matter what you’ve heard, no matter what you’ve read, or what your hunting buddy told you, you cannot hunt over bait this year. That legislation didn’t pass. The House (of Representatives) passed it, but it takes both houses of the Legislature to pass a bill. The Senate has to pass it as well. It didn’t make it through the Senate, so the regulation is still that supplemental feed must be at least 100 yards away and out of the line of the sight of the hunter through natural vegetation or naturally occurring changes in the terrain. So, make sure all of your hunting partners know the truth, because we don’t want any of them to get a citation due to misinformation.”

Speaking of Game Check, WFF recommended that the harvest information reporting system become mandatory to the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board, which unanimously passed the proposal. The change went through the legislative review process and became effective on July 19.

“Starting in October, hunters will have to report their deer and turkey harvests,” Sykes said. “This is a huge education process for us, our staff and the public. It’s my job to show the easiest way to comply that gives us the best data.”

game-check1-billy-pope

Hunters will be required to participate in Alabama’s Game Check for deer and turkey this season. The most convenient method is via smartphone app.

Sykes said 60 to 80 percent of hunters who have attended the more than 30 seminars he has conducted across the state have a smartphone, which is the easiest and most reliable way to report the harvest. The second way is to go online to outdooralabama.com and follow the prompts. The third way, which costs WFF money, is to call1-800-888-7690.

“In the three years we had the voluntary system, about 50 percent of the data we received through the phone service was inaccurate,” he said. “We couldn’t use it. So please help your kids and your buddies to go online or use the app to do the reporting.”

Even those hunters who are exempt from having a license, those 65 or older or 15 and younger or residents hunting on their own property, will still have to report their harvests. Those hunters will have to go online and obtain a HELP (Hunter Exempt License Privilege) number. It is free, like the HIP permit required to hunt migratory birds, but it will be required to access the Game Check system.

After the hunter accesses Game Check with a hunting license or HELP number, the information that is required is the county where the deer or turkey was taken, whether the turkey was an adult or jake, whether the deer was a buck or a doe, the date and whether the animal was taken on public or private land.

Sykes said hunters who use Game Check through the Outdoor Alabama app can kill the proverbial two birds with one stone. If the app is used, it will comply with both the requirement that the harvest is recorded before the animal is moved and the reporting regulation for Game Check.

Those who do not use the app must write down the kill information on their harvest records before the animals are moved and then must obtain confirmation numbers from Game Check within 48 hours. The harvest information for both bucks and does is required this year.

Sykes also recommends that hunters take the time to get a Conservation ID number that will shorten the online reporting process and reduce the number of errors of entering hunting license numbers.

Because the Game Check system became mandatory, WFF was able to expand the hunting seasons for deer. The gun deer season was extended statewide to Feb. 10. There will be no December closure for the upcoming season.

“A lot of changes hinged on whether Game Check became mandatory,” Sykes said. “On July 19, we were able to determine the deer seasons dates. Hunters can hunt deer statewide until February 10. It’s not a mandate. You don’t have to do it. But if you choose to do so, you can. There will be no closure in December. We are setting a season framework where landowners and managers can more effectively manage the deer on their property.

“Archery season in the South Zone will start on Oct. 15 instead of Oct. 25 like it has been the past couple of years, but the first 10 days will be buck-only to stay in line with our fetal data.”

Another change for deer season is in Zone C (see map), where hunters had requested a reduction in the number of antlerless hunting days.

“The habitat is a lot more open with a lot of agricultural fields and small wood lots,” Sykes said. “The hunters and our biologists were reporting that deer numbers were down. So, we reduced the firearms season for antlerless deer in that zone.”

The antlerless season in Zone C on privately owned or leased land is Nov. 19-Nov. 27 and Dec. 23 through Jan. 2. On open-permit and public land, the antlerless season in Zone C is Dec. 23 through Jan. 2.

“If you hunt in that area or own property in Zone C and you have a bunch of deer on your place, it’s not a problem,” Sykes said. “Get with our technical assistance guys and get signed up on the Deer Management Assistance Program. If you need to harvest more does, they will write you a permit to do so.”

Dog deer season is set for Nov. 19 through Jan. 15 statewide, except for Talladega National Forest, which will have a reduced number of days and dog deer hunting must end at noon.

Legal shooting hours for deer were also clarified. Instead of “during daylight hours,” the regulation now reads 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.

For those worried about coyotes, Sykes said there is no closed season on coyotes. Night hunting permits for coyotes will be issued on a case-by-case basis. There are also no closed seasons on raccoons and opossums.

David Rainer is public information manager and outdoor columnist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His column appears weekly in The West Alabama Watchman. 

Falconry allowed in select state parks for squirrel and rabbit seasons

Jeff Fincher leads a group on a hunt through the Grampian Hills of Wilcox County, Ala., on Feb. 27, 2016. (WAW | Stewart Gwin)

Jeff Fincher leads a group on a hunt through the Grampian Hills of Wilcox County, Ala., on Feb. 27, 2016. (WAW | Stewart Gwin)

In an effort to expand recreational opportunities in Alabama’s state parks, the parks system will allow falconry in the following parks this fall: DeSoto, Joe Wheeler, Lake Guntersville, Lakepoint, Chewacla, Buck’s Pocket, Lake Lurleen, Monte Sano, Oak Mountain, Paul Grist, Wind Creek, Frank Jackson, Cheaha and Cathedral Caverns. Park entrance fees will apply.

Falconry will be available in the parks listed above only during squirrel and rabbit seasons, which run from Sept. 15, 2016, to Mar. 5, 2017. Participating falconers are required to check in with the individual park’s management to learn about recommended hunting areas and other falconry program guidance.

“Parks is happy to offer this new hunting opportunity as a pilot project for the 2016-17 seasons,” said Forrest Bailey, Natural Resource Section Chief for Alabama State Parks. “After this first season, we will review the feedback from both falconers and the parks. Based on that information we hope to offer more falconry opportunities in the coming years.”

Alabama falconers must have a valid state hunting license and falconry permit. Falconry permits are issued by the state, but also operate under federal guidelines related to migratory birds.

Falconry is one of the world’s oldest forms of hunting. It involves pursuing wild game in its natural habitat with a trained bird of prey. In Alabama, the most commonly used bird is the red-tailed hawk and squirrel is the most commonly pursued game animal. There are currently 58 permitted falconers in the state.

For more information about Alabama State Parks falconry opportunities, call Forrest Bailey 334-242-3901 or Roger Clay with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries at 251-626-5474. Information about obtaining an Alabama falconry permit can be found at www.outdooralabama.com/resident-commercial-hunting-licenses.

Hunting licenses are available for purchase at probate offices, license commissioners, and many bait and tackle stores. Licenses are available online 24 hours a day at www.outdooralabama.com/alabama-license-information.

The Alabama State Parks Division relies on visitor fees and the support of other partners like local communities to fund the majority of their operations. To learn more about Alabama State Parks, visit www.alapark.com.

Lifetime hunting licenses present issue with new mandatory Game Check

Since the lifetime hunting and fishing licenses became available in Alabama several decades ago, more than 80,000 people have taken advantage of this opportunity.

It wasn’t until the Game Check harvest reporting system was implemented three years ago that a problem with the lifetime licenses surfaced. It seems a large number of duplicate numbers are among those 80,000 lifetime licenses. This causes a major problem when the holders try to use Game Check, which will be mandatory for the upcoming hunting seasons.

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has been hard at work trying to find the duplicate numbers and notify the license holders when possible.

“Of the 80,000 some-odd lifetime licenses, about 48,000 had duplicate license

Lifetime hunting licenses with duplicate license numbers have created an issue when hunters report their game via the mandatory Game Check in Alabama. (WAW | Contributed)

Lifetime hunting licenses with duplicate license numbers have created an issue when hunters report their game via the mandatory Game Check in Alabama. (WAW | Contributed)

numbers,” said WFF Director Chuck Sykes. “The reason we discovered the duplicates was we had people who called us and told us they had tried to use the voluntary Game Check to report a harvest and it wouldn’t let them do it. It turned out to be a two-fold problem. A lot of the lifetime licenses didn’t have the number of characters needed to access the system. If it was bought 20 years ago, it may have only six digits where it needs 10 to enter the system. The second issue was the database couldn’t identify it to a specific hunter because more than one person might have that license number.

“So we had to figure out a way to solve that problem. The first step was to let people know about the issue with the old licenses and give them an opportunity to have a new license issued. We’ve always allowed people who have lost their lifetime license to get a new license for $5, or, if it was damaged, they could send it in and we would issue a new one at no charge.”

The new system also affects those lifetime license holders whose licenses are in perfectly good shape and in their possession, but they don’t have the number of digits required to enter the Game Check system.

“We have been going back through the license sales and cross-referencing,” Sykes said. “I’ll use myself as an example. I bought my lifetime license in 1992. I tried to utilize Game Check and it wouldn’t let me. So I got a new license with a unique number. There were a lot of people like me. I still get a HIP (Harvest Information Program) license for doves and waterfowl. I buy a Wildlife Management Area license. I buy a trapping license and a state duck stamp. I asked our IT department to cross-reference those licenses with my old lifetime license number. This cross-referencing allowed us to identify those lifetime license holders that we previously had no contact information to reach these individuals.”

After several months of work, Sykes said the IT staff has been able to reduce the number of duplicate licenses in half, but almost 25,000 are still out there.

“Another way we decided to attack this issue – other states already have this – is to issue hunters an individual number that follows them throughout their lives,” he said. “It’s called a Conservation ID number.”

With Game Check mandatory this year, anyone who harvests a deer or turkey must report it through Game Check, including those who are exempt from buying a license – hunters under the age of 16 or over 64 and those who hunt on their own property. To access the Game Check system, those exempt from buying a license must acquire a H.E.L.P. (Hunter Exempt License Privilege) number each year or get a new Conservation ID.

“For example, if you have a 10-year-old child who hunts, they’ll need a way to access the mandatory Game Check system if they harvest a deer or turkey,” Sykes said. “They have to get a H.E.L.P. number each year until they can buy a license. The Conservation ID is a six-digit number versus a 16-digit number. So it’s a lot easier to enter and remember. So for that child’s lifetime, all they will have to remember is their date of birth and that six-digit Conservation ID number. It’s going to simplify the process greatly. Once they get the Conservation ID number, they never have to do it again.”

For those with the lifetime licenses without the required number of digits, WFF is offering two ways to remedy that situation. First, they can get a new lifetime license, or they can go online and create a Conservation ID and use that number to access the Game Check system.

“There is a lot less room for error with a six-digit number versus a 16-digit number,” Sykes said. “Our most common error comes in entering that 16-digit number. And it’s the most time consuming as well. You’ve got to pull your license out and enter that long number. So, right now, you enter a six-digit number and you’re in the system.”

Sykes encourages people to take advantage of the Conservation ID because there is no guarantee that the number will remain at six digits.

“I hope so many people take advantage of the Conservation ID that we may have to go to seven digits,” he said. “But, right now, we’re starting with a simple, six-digit number. If you use the Outdoor Alabama app on your smartphone to use Game Check, it will cut your reporting time down from about two minutes to 45 seconds.”

Purchasing a hunting license online or through the Outdoor Alabama app has another benefit as well.

“What we learned going around the state doing the Game Check seminars is that between 75 and 80 percent of the people who attended have smartphones,” Sykes said. “If you buy your license online or through the app, you do not have to carry a paper license. When I go to the woods, I might forget my bow release or binoculars or ammo, but I’m going to have my smartphone in my pocket. Now you can have everything on your phone. That includes your license information and your harvest record on your phone. I can prove I have a hunting license. I can prove I have a harvest record. I can prove I have Game Check.”

Some critics of the Game Check system insisted the reason for Game Check was to increase the number of tickets issued by the WFF Enforcement Section. Sykes said nothing could be farther from the truth.

“People don’t realize that almost our entire budget comes from license sales,” he said. “Only about 2.2 percent of our budget comes from fines. We hope we don’t have to write tickets for Game Check violations. We’re just trying to make it as simple as possible to be in compliance and for us to have access to data we need to make sound wildlife management decisions.”

Go to https://game.dcnr.alabama.gov/ and look at the top of the page in the far right corner for Conservation ID. Click on that link and enter the information that will allow you to create a Conservation ID. If you just purchased the license online, you will need to wait about 30 minutes for that information to be updated in the system to be able to create the Conservation ID.

David Rainer is public information manager and outdoor columnist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His column appears weekly in The West Alabama Watchman. 

Roland Cooper, a Wilcox County economic asset, set to reopen

Roland Cooper’s campground is nestled under tall pine trees. (Photo by Kim G. Nix)

Roland Cooper’s campground is nestled under tall pine trees. (Photo by Kim G. Nix)

The folks who love the outdoors in the middle of the Alabama Black Belt have experienced a wide range of emotions in the past year concerning one of the area’s iconic destinations. Those emotions have gone from disappointment and frustration to hope and, now, celebration.

Roland Cooper State Park near Camden was a casualty of funding shortfalls during last year’s budget crisis. The park has been shuttered, but the Alabama State Parks system hoped to find a qualified company to sign a contract to operate the park.

Much to the folks in west central Alabama’s delight, Recreation Resource Management was awarded the contract to operate the park, and the Arizona company is fast at work to try to get the park, located on the banks of the scenic Miller’s Ferry Reservoir on the Alabama River, open for Labor Day.

Kelly Ezell, State Parks’ Central District Supervisor, said Recreation Resource Management (RRM) operates more than 150 campsites in 11 states and has the expertise to make Roland Cooper successful.
Of course, Ezell said the park’s reopening couldn’t have happened without the cooperation of a number of entities.

“RRM is there working right now,” said Ezell, who also is Oak Mountain State Park Superintendent. “We’ve worked with the city (Camden) and county (Wilcox). They’ve helped us to get things back in shape. We’ve had crews from other state parks in there, removing some trees and limbs. We want to get it cleaned up so it will be opened back up by Labor Day.”

Although the park has only been closed a little more than 10 months, Ezell said the lack of maintenance causes any property to suffer deterioration.

“We’re just trying to get the grounds back in shape,” she said. “Nobody has cut the grass. We tried to get down to Roland Cooper to check on things about once a month, but it’s not like having a crew on the ground to take care of the everyday upkeep. Almost a year is a long time for something to sit idle, and a lot of things happen.

“Right now, we’re making sure all the water and electric are working at the campsites. We’ve been very fortunate to have the City of Camden and Wilcox County to help us get everything in shape.”
Ezell said the state’s equipment has been moved to a secure area to make room for RRM’s equipment in the maintenance building, and that the six cabins are being cleaned and the maintenance brought up to standards.

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division has used Roland Cooper as the weigh-in site for the annual alligator hunts in the West Central Zone. Although the park is not officially open, State Parks is continuing to allow the gators to be weighed in during the transitional period.

Ezell said Roland Cooper has quality amenities for those who enjoy the outdoors in a rural setting, especially with the quick access to the great fishing offered on Miller’s Ferry.

“The boat launch and the pier at Roland Cooper are basically brand-new,” she said. “There’s a brand-new bath house there. We’ve got a lot to work with and build on at Roland Cooper.”

Ezell said in addition to the City of Camden and Wilcox County, the Wilcox Area Chamber of Commerce has been a constant advocate for the re-opening of the park.

“I think it was such a shock to the area when it closed,” she said. “The park was a very important asset to that area. I think everybody is very invested in getting it open and functioning.”

Hunter Hines, President of the Wilcox Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees with Ezell’s assessment.

“This is about as good news as we could have for our area,” Hines said. “The park is second to none in terms of economic impact for our area. We can’t host a fishing tournament with over 50 boats without the park. It’s hard to put a dollar amount on the economic impact we’ve lost in the last 10 months.”
Hines said areas with large cities aren’t impacted as much by park closures as a rural area like Wilcox County.

“Think about the campers and cabins, not to mention the fishermen, who came to this area and spent their money buying gas and groceries in our little, small community,” he said. “That kind of impact is huge for us and is detrimental when it’s not there.

“Now we’ll be able to get back to marketing little ol’ Camden to the big bass tournaments, fishermen and people who love the outdoors.”

Alabama Bass Trail Program Director Kay Donaldson said the park has been used during its closure for some fishing tournaments. “The willingness of the state park to give the city of Camden the opportunity to continue hosting fishing tournaments while the park was closed was outstanding.” She said. “It was vital to the community to keep those dollars flowing to the gas stations and stores from tournament anglers.”

Hines said there will be a grand re-opening ceremony at Roland Cooper from 3-7 p.m. September 11 with a “Music in the Park” theme. Visitors are urged to bring lawn chairs to enjoy the music and meet the new park managers.

James “Big Daddy” Lawler has been promoting the outdoors in west central Alabama for more years than he would readily admit. He hosts a weekly radio show called “Gettin’ Outdoors Radio with Big Daddy Lawler” that airs from 7-9 a.m. on Saturdays.

“Opening the campgrounds and cabins back up at Roland Cooper is huge,” Lawler said. “You just don’t have much lodging in what I call the rural South, which fits our area to a tee. Because of the uncertainty of being able to use the boat launch at the park, we lost the stop on the Alabama Bass Trail, which was a huge economic loss for our area. Opening the park back up will give us an opportunity to attract those big bass tournaments again with the use of those facilities.”

Lawler, who recently received the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Communicator of the Year award, said the Camden area can’t worry about what was lost during the park’s closure, only what the re-opening will mean.

“We can’t look back,” he said. “We’ve got to look ahead. This company (RRM) is very experienced at running venues like this, and I think they’re going to be an asset to the area.”

Lawler said as the nation becomes more urban, there is a renewed appreciation for rural areas that allow visitors to reconnect with nature.

“Being away from everybody is an advantage for us,” he said. “Everybody in the big town wants to come to the rural areas. I’ve been saying this for 35 years; What we have to offer in Wilcox, Marengo, Monroe and Dallas counties is the most diversified natural resources in the nation. And when I say natural resources, I’m not just talking about the hunting and fishing. I’m talking about the birding, native wildflowers and the red hills salamander areas. There is so much we have available.

“I tell everybody, nobody is passing through Wilcox County. We’re not close to the interstate or a big highway. People have got to be coming here for a reason. And Roland Cooper State Park is huge reason to come here.”

David Rainer is public information manager and outdoor columnist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His column appears weekly in The West Alabama Watchman. 

AWF holds Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet

Alabama Marine Resources Division Director Chris Blankenship received the inaugural Fisheries Conservationist of the Year at the recent Alabama Wildlife Federation Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet in Prattville. Presenting the award, from left, are Horace Horn with PowerSouth Energy, AWF President Angus Cooper III, Susan Comensky with Alabama Power Company and Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. Blankenship was cited for his work to improve red snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico. (Contributed Photo)

Alabama Marine Resources Division Director Chris Blankenship received the inaugural Fisheries Conservationist of the Year at the recent Alabama Wildlife Federation Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet in Prattville. Presenting the award, from left, are Horace Horn with PowerSouth Energy, AWF President Angus Cooper III, Susan Comensky with Alabama Power Company and Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. Blankenship was cited for his work to improve red snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico. (Contributed Photo)

While reviewing the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards late last year, the AWF Board and Tim Gothard, AWF’s Executive Director, realized there was a gap in the awards coverage.

Despite having a dozen awards, from Conservationist of the Year to Air Conservationist, not one of those awards was specific to an area near and dear to the hearts of almost all Alabamians who love the outdoors – fisheries.

Hence, the inaugural AWF Fisheries Conservationist of the Year award was presented last week to Chris Blankenship, Director of the Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, during the annual awards banquet in Prattville.

“We created the fisheries category during what we call the off-season,” Gothard said. “We realized that with all of our categories, there was really no category to focus on the fisheries conservation work that goes on in the state. We could have folded it into the wildlife, but fisheries is really not wildlife in the official terminology.

“We felt like the whole fisheries arena, both fresh and saltwater, and all that good work done in that field deserved a category unto itself.”

Gothard said the fisheries award can go to any individual, group, institution, government agency or non-governmental conservation group.

“We look at any contribution to fisheries in the state, whether it’s an agency person, like Chris, or a professor working at a university, or it could be a private organization like the CCA (Coastal Conservation Association) or homeowners or boat owners group who are promoting fisheries conservation in Alabama,” he said. “Because of his efforts to ensure access to Alabama’s red snapper fishery, we felt like Chris was deserving of the initial fisheries award.”

Blankenship has been Marine Resources Director since 2011. Not only has theMarine Resources Division significantly increased marine habitat during his tenure, Blankenship has made numerous trips to Washington, D.C., to address Congress on the red snapper fishery and what it means to Alabama’s economy and recreational and commercial fishing opportunities.

“I’m excited to receive the AWF Fisheries Conservationist of the Year award,” Blankenship said. “But mostly, I think it’s validation of the good work our staff does that is really making a difference for marine resources in coastal Alabama. I have long enjoyed attending the AWF banquet each year, and I’m so proud of the work many people do to enhance the outdoors in Alabama. I’m honored to receive one of those coveted statues.

Alabama Marine Resources Division Director Chris Blankenship received the inaugural Fisheries Conservationist of the Year at the recent Alabama Wildlife Federation Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet in Prattville.

Alabama Marine Resources Division Director Chris Blankenship received the inaugural Fisheries Conservationist of the Year at the recent Alabama Wildlife Federation Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet in Prattville. (Contributed Photo)

“One of the things I’m proud of is the artificial reef work. We already had a great program, but I think we’re taking it to the next level with our offshore and inshore programs. The establishment of the new reef area between 6 and 9 miles will be a great addition to the program and will be a great legacy for people who work for Marine Resources.”

Blankenship said one thing he’s most proud of is the State of Alabama’s lead role in working with the federal government and Congress to try to remedy the mismanagement of red snapper.

“It’s a heavy lift to try to do anything in Congress or make changes in the federal government policies, but I think we’re making good strides,” he said. “We’ve gone about it in a very logical and thoughtful way, and I hope we’re going to have some success in the very near future. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished on red snapper.”

Alabama Senator Richard Shelby was presented the Legislative Conservationist of the Year for his work on red snapper, and he inserted language in the Congressional Omnibus Appropriations bill that extended Alabama’s coastal waters boundary from 3 miles to 9 miles for fisheries management.

Dr. David Thrasher of Montgomery was named AWF Conservationist of the Year. Thrasher, a pulmonary and critical care physician, also holds a bachelor and a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries biology from Auburn University. Thrasher, past AWF president, and current vice president of the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation, makes his property in Macon County available to Auburn students for research projects.

The Judicial Conservationist of the Year award went to Justice Jim Main of Montgomery for his work to resolve issues regarding oil and gas royalties and the prevention of proposed closings of the Blakeley and Saint Stephens parks. Main, a supporter of the Forever Wild program, has property in Bullock County that is designated as a Treasure Forest.

Conservation Communicator of the Year James “Big Daddy” Lawler of Camden has shared his love for the outdoors through his radio program, “The Gettin’ Outdoors Radio Network.” Lawler has a special love for his family’s Grampian Hills property outside Camden and the abundant outdoors experiences, including fishing, hunting, birding, hiking and biking, in Alabama’s wildlife-rich Black Belt.

Conservation Educator of the Year Doyle Keasel of Auburn has been an educator for 35 years, the last 13 of which have been in a partnership position with the AWF and Alabama Cooperative Extension System. That partnership has supported the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program, Discovering Our Heritage Program and Conservation Education Teacher Workshops. More than 4,500 educators have received natural resources-based training through Doyle’s workshops.

Water Conservationist of the Year Dr. Pat O’Neil of Tuscaloosa, Deputy Director of the Geological Survey of Alabama, has made significant discoveries and advances in identifying and protecting Alabama’s water resources. O’Neil has also pioneered work in the aquatic organisms in the Coosa and Tallapoosa river systems, Mobile-Tensaw Delta and coastal rivers and streams. O’Neil co-authored the comprehensive book “Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin.”

Forest Conservationist of the Year Jimmy Bullock is Senior Vice President of Forest Sustainability at Resource Management Services in Birmingham. Bullock is responsible for sustainable forest policies and is at the forefront of the restoration of longleaf pine in Alabama. He is one of the leaders of The Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Conservation and Restoration Initiative.

Luis “Wicho” Hechavarria Jr. of Orrville received the Wildlife Conservationist of the Year award for his wildlife conservation efforts on nine tracts of land in Dallas County, where he intensively manages for white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, bobwhite quail and waterfowl.

Greg Gilliland of Munford, recipient of the Conservation Enforcement Officer of the Year award, has served as an officer with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division in Talladega County since 2003. In addition to enforcing the wildlife and fisheries laws, Gilliland contributes to community outreach programs that involve youth, as well as churches, schools and concerned landowners.

Hunter Safety Instructor of the Year Mike O’Neal has been teaching young and inexperienced hunters for more than 20 years. O’Neal has conducted more than 50 hunter education classes that have led to the certification of thousands of students since 1993.

Air Conservationist of the Year award went to the Georgia-Pacific Naheola Plant in Choctaw County. The integrated pulp and paper mill has implemented eco-friendly initiatives in the plant that have saved more than three million kilowatts of energy, reduced sulphur dioxide emissions by 20,000 pounds and nitrogen oxide emissions by 14,000 pounds annually.

Land Conservationist of the Year Blythe Cotton Company is a family farming operation in Town Creek that grows cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans on 3,500 acres. The Blythe family incorporated a no-till conservation method to reduce soil erosion from 15 tons to one ton annually.

David Rainer is public information manager and outdoor columnist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. His column appears weekly in The West Alabama Watchman. 

West Central Alabama Alligator Hunting Season – Unofficial Results – Weekend One

The 2016 Alabama Alligator Hunting season opened last weekend, beginning Thursday night at 8 p.m. and ending Sunday morning at 6 a.m. Hunters were able to hunt from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. nightly. The West Central region covers private and public waters from Dallas County south to the Highway 84 bridge in Monroe County. A total of 17 gators were harvested in the opening weekend. All harvests were weighed in at Roland Cooper State Park on the banks of the Alabama River in Camden.

The season continues this weekend nightly from Thursday through Sunday morning. The West Alabama Watchman will partner with James ‘Big Daddy’ Lawler of the Gettin’ Outdoors Radio Network to bring you coverage.

Thursday Night Results

Nick Cochran (Alpine) – 8′ 8″, 191 lbs., F

Tyler Johnson (Scottsboro) – 7′ 5″, 105 lbs., F

Gator Mike Gifford – (Eufaula) – 7′ 6″, 141.5 lbs, M

James Lee Coe (Columbiana) – 7′ 9″, 130 lbs., M

 

Friday Night Results

Jake Rosser (Stevenson) – 7′ 2″, 85 lbs., M

Wesley Ann Terry (Camden)- 12′ 4 1/2″, 547 lbs. M

Karl Breland (Huntsville) – 7′ 9″, 149.5 lbs., M

Larry Hatchett (Shelby) – 11′ 3″, 449 lbs., M

Neal Posey (Selma) – 11′ 4″, 420.5 lbs., M

Jacob Walker (Pike Road) – 6′ 8″, 75 lbs., F

Ethan Tyree – 10′ 10″, 318 lbs., M

 

Saturday Night Results

Joseph Gann (Trussville) – 7′ 7″, 100 lbs., M

Dudley Oglesby (Ozark) – 8′ 3″, 156 lbs., F

Jarrod Pettie (Andalusia) – 11′ 2″, 380 lbs., M

Brian Robertson (Vinemont) – 6′ 2″, 61 lbs., F

Jessica Guy (Dickerson) – 12′ 6″, 562 lbs., M

Louie Wallace (Thomasville) – 5′ 11″, 39 lbs., F