Deer management workshop set for Aug. 18

An “Intense Deer Management Workshop” for Blackbelt area landowners is planned for Friday, Aug. 18, at the Blackbelt Regional Research and Extension Center in Marion Junction,

Registration will begin at 9 a.m., and the program will start at 9:20 a.m.

Program topics will include: Understanding the relationship between deer, deer populations and habitat, how invasive plants kill good habitat and what to do about them; habitat management to provide what deer need year round; the management of food plots, including what, when and where to plant; how to conduct camera surveys and interpret data, and the effectiveness of predation and predator management.

A registration fee of $20 is required in advance. Seating is limited, and lunch and breaks are provided.  To properly plan for lunch, please call and RSVP before the deadline of 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 16.

This program qualifies for Continuing Education Credits, (5) PLM hours, SAF and CFE, 3 hours CAT (1), and one hour of CAT (2) credits.

Forever Wild Field Trial Area accepting fishing reservations

The Forever Wild Land Trust announces that the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area in Hale County will be open for fishing to families and small groups on several Saturdays in upcoming months. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 334-624-9952 starting Monday, April 17, 2017. Two catfish and three bass and bream ponds are scattered around the property.

“We feel like having a family or group of friends make reservations is a good way to ensure that everyone has a safe, fun outing,” said Bill Mason, property manager. “We would particularly like to see youth have the opportunity to fish in these ponds.”

When reservations are made, each group will be assigned a pond along with details such as creel limits and what kind of tackle to bring. Ponds will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no cost to anglers, but anyone between the ages of 16 and 64 is required to have a fishing license. Fishing licenses are available online at www.outdooralabama.com/licenses.

Fishing will be from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the following dates:

  • June 10
  • June 24
  • July 8
  • July 22
  • August 5
  • August 19

The M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trail Area consists of 3,340 acres of pasture and a mixture of pine-hardwood forest purchased by the Forever Wild Land Trust in 2008. Historically, the property, known as the “State Cattle Ranch,” was a working cattle ranch and catfish farm operated by the Department of Corrections. The land is now being used as a Nature Preserve and Recreation Area with scheduled field trials and opportunities for hunting and fishing.

If Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations are needed, please contact Doug Deaton at 334-242-3484 or doug.deaton@dcnr.alabama.gov. Requests should be made as soon as possible, but at least 72 hours prior to the scheduled event.

The Forever Wild Land Trust was established by constitutional amendment in 1992 and reauthorized in 2012. Funding for this program is generated by the interest earned from offshore natural gas royalties deposited into the Alabama Trust Fund. For more information on Forever Wild, visit. www.alabamaforeverwild.com.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Modern trapping more about predator control than furs

At one time trapping was almost as common in the Alabama outdoors as hunting deer, turkeys and quail. Through the years, as fur prices declined and the animal rights movement grew, trapping became stigmatized. The result was the number of trappers dwindled to almost nothing.

Lately, there has been an uptick in trapping participation but not for the same reasons our fathers and grandfathers did it. The trapping market is now driven more by wildlife management rather than fur production.

“When the animal rights movement had a major campaign against wearing fur, people quit trapping,” said Chuck Sykes, Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. “Let’s face it. It’s hard work, too. People were trapping for subsistence. That’s how they made their living. Like hunters, they’re dwindling away. The numbers of trappers are not out there like in the ’50s, ’60s through the early ’80s.

“It’s that way with most outdoor recreational activities.”

Changes in the fur market certainly contributed to the demise of trapping, some of it driven by the lack of demand caused by the fur-shaming campaign.

“The market has changed a bunch,” Sykes said. “Even 10 to 15 years ago, you could make enough money off the furs to make it worth your while. The market fluctuates so much now that most of the quality trappers I know have to actually charge a fee on a per-day basis to justify them coming in and trapping. It has shifted from subsistence and making a little money to doing it strictly for wildlife management purposes, like reducing nest predators so that turkeys and quail can raise a clutch of eggs to limiting the number of bobcats and coyotes in anticipation of improving the fawn recruitment each year.”

Sykes said the use of trapping in wildlife management strategy has been increasing the last few years. The number of fur catchers’ licenses sold the past three years has been consistent at a little more than 1,000 annually.

“I think it’s pretty widespread,” he said. “It’s happening all over the country. Emphasis on deer management and turkey and quail management is a big thing. For people who own or manage property who are putting in the time through habitat work to produce food plots, supplemental feeding programs and herd management through selective harvest, trapping is just another tool in their arsenal of managing their property with predator control.”

Sykes said the raccoon, in particular, provides a double threat for those who are trying to supplemental feed and provide protection for ground-nesting birds.

“You can look at raccoons on a couple of different levels,” he said. “If you’re on a supplemental feeding program, you’re putting a bunch of feed into non-target animals instead of your deer. Raccoons are also out there raiding quail and turkey nests. It’s a double whammy when you’re looking at deer management and turkey management. This small predator can have a drain on your wildlife population as well as your budget when it comes to habitat management work.

“If I had to pick one animal that I would like to lower the numbers on property I manage, it would be the raccoon.”

In the hierarchy of animals that wildlife managers target, next up would be the coyote, an animal that is fairly new on the scene in the South. When I was growing up, we never encountered a coyote and never saw evidence of tracks or scat. Now, coyotes can be found from the densest thickets to big-city urban settings.

However, Sykes cautions against tunnel vision when it comes to coyotes.

“I think coyotes have become the scapegoat of the world right now,” he said. “Everything is caused by coyotes. In some places that I have managed, every fawn that a coyote took was one less that we had to kill during hunting season to deal with overpopulation.

“On the flip side, there are some places where I do think they are having a very adverse effect on deer numbers. If people have reduced the number of deer on their property through hunting, and then you have a high predation rate, you can get into a trap that’s hard to get out of.

“If your deer numbers are already low because of your management practices or it’s just the part of the world you’re in, coyotes can have a significant impact. And the impact of coyotes has really just happened in the last decade or so where the coyote numbers have become significant in this part of the world.”

Sykes also cautions that trapping to remove predators is not a “one and done” proposition. It takes vigilance, and timing also makes a difference.

“The biggest thing people need to know is that predator control is just like yard maintenance,” he said. “You cut your grass every two weeks even though you know it’s going to grow back. When you remove predators, you’re not eliminating them. You’re creating a void at strategic times of the year. For your ground-nesting birds, you want to remove the predators in February and March. For your fawn recruitment, you want to remove the predators in August and September in most of Alabama. You’re creating a void to give those little critters an opportunity to get on their feet. Predators are going to come back. If you’ve got quality habitat and you’ve got food, they‘re going to come back.

“It’s the predator-prey cycle that we studied in college. If you go in and eliminate raccoons and coyotes on a 1,000-acre piece of land, the food source is going to go up. There are going to be more rabbits. There are going to be more rats. There is going to be more forage for the raccoons. So the next pair of predators that wanders in, their reproductive rate is going to go up because they are in such good shape and there’s so much food. It’s a constant cycle.”

Sykes said landowners and leaseholders who are considering adding trapping to their wildlife management repertoire should consider starting right away. But he cautions that plunging haphazardly into the practice, especially for the wily coyotes, could be more detrimental than helpful.

“Now is the prime time to be knocking the raccoon numbers down,” he said. “Raccoon trapping is easy with the dog-proof designed traps (requires raccoon to reach into cylinder to trigger trap). Several manufacturers now produce this style trap that’s really made it quite easy to control raccoon numbers

“Coyote trapping is more labor intensive. It’s takes a better skill set. It’s an art as much as it is a science. And you can do as much damage as you do good. I know everybody’s got to learn. But if you create trap-shy animals, they’re going to be a lot harder to catch, and they’re going to train their little ones, too.”

Sykes suggests watching YouTube videos on trapping techniques, reading books on trapping and going to trapping workshops conducted by Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries to learn how to reduce predator numbers.

“Learn as much as you can so you can be effective when you go out,” he said.

Speaking of trapping education, trapping expert and former WFF biologist Mike Sievering will hold a youth trapping workshop Feb. 17-19 in Spanish Fort and an adult trapping workshop Feb. 25-26 in Lowndesboro. A fee will apply for participation.

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/trapping for more information on trapping with the workshop schedule and information on a fur catcher’s license if you participate in commercial trade.

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. 

Oyster shell recycling program off to hot start

By using the discarded shells from restaurants through the Oyster Shell Recycling Program to replenish the reefs, Alabama oystermen will be able to take advantage of the increased production of the popular mollusk. (Photo | David Rainer)

Oyster consumption has been occurring along the Alabama Gulf Coast for millennia with the Indian Shell Mound on Dauphin Island as historical evidence.

Fast forward to the 21st century and dining on oysters has increased exponentially. Instead of creating shell mounds, the Alabama Oyster Shell Recycling Program is designed to use the discarded shells in more creative and productive ways.

With the Alabama Coastal Foundation leading the way, a group of individuals and organizations started devising a plan to recycle the shells. Those involved included Chris Sherrill with the Flora-Bama Yacht Club, Chandra Wright with the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, Alabama Marine Resources Division Director Chris Blankenship and Judy Haner with The Nature Conservancy.

“We’ve needed an oyster shell recycling program in Alabama for a while,” Blankenship said. “We have been meeting to put together a shell recycling program that would work long term.

“There was an opportunity to get a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to implement a pilot program to get this started. The Alabama Coastal Foundation stepped up as the lead agency and received the grant to begin a two-year pilot program to demonstrate the effectiveness of a shell recycling program in Alabama.”

Mark Berte, Executive Director of the Alabama Coastal Foundation, said the grant from NFWF is for a two-part process – education and sustainability.

“Our whole mission is to improve and protect Alabama’s coastal environment through cooperation, education and participation,” Berte said last week at Gulf Shores. “And this program is all of the above. We work with restaurants to educate them that what they thought was trash is actually a valuable natural resource. The more shells we collect, the more shells we can get back into the water that will allow more oysters to grow and complete a nice, positive cycle.”

The first phase of the shell recycling program went into effect in the fall of 2016 with six restaurants along Battleship Parkway (Causeway) at the head of Mobile Bay.

“Those restaurants are all close together, so it was easy for Republic Waste Services to run the route, pick up the shells and do the hauling,” Blankenship said. “The shells are trucked to our Marine Resources property in Gulf Shores, where the shells are stored and seasoned so they can be used in several different projects, from replenishing reefs to grow more oysters to shoreline stabilization projects.

“There will be myriad uses for the shells, including oyster gardening. The important part is they are not going to a landfill. Now they’ll be going back in the water to grow more oysters.”

Larval oysters, known as spat, must attach to a hard surface to grow, and recycled oyster shells can provide an abundance of this vital structure.

Last week, the recycling program expanded with an additional collection route in the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area, which puts the total number of restaurants involved in the recycling program at 13.

“The program has gained a lot of good public support,” Blankenship said. “We’re really glad this has taken off. The program is growing.”

A celebration of the expanded program was held at two locations on the Alabama coast last week, including the Original Oyster House in Gulf Shores.

Joe Roszkowski, co-founder of the Original Oyster House restaurants, said the number of oysters that go through their restaurants will quickly add up.

“We serve quite a few oysters,” Roszkowski said last week at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “In fact, we serve about 5,000 pounds a week in the summertime; that’s are quite a few shells. We know what oysters mean to the community and sponsor the oyster trail and Mobile’s oyster gardening program. We learn how oysters impact our environment, our community and, of course, our health. For years these dedicated scientists, environmentalists and educators have worked to get oyster shells back in the water. We’re so fortunate to be given the opportunity to help pilot Alabama’s first oyster shell recycling program at our location on the Causeway.

“This program aligns with our core values of stewardship and will enhance the oyster population and help prevent coastal erosion. Best of all, this program will bring attention to how important it is to get the shells back to the reefs instead of the landfill.”

As of the end of last week, more than 650,000 oyster shells had been collected.

Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said the 2010 oil spill is a reminder that we should never take our environment for granted.

“This is an important first step forward,” Mayor Craft said. “This is what I think we learned, or should have learned, from the oil spill. When the oil spill happened and we couldn’t fish in the waters, eat the seafood or enjoy the environment, what happened was that nobody came. They don’t come here because they like the mayor or Gulf Shores. They came here for the environment. Because when it couldn’t be used and enjoyed, people didn’t come.

“If you connect those dots, what is the most important thing we need to do to maintain the quality of life in our community that is so special? That is to protect the environment. Part of that environment is having oysters that we enjoy eating. Our challenge here by recycling oyster shells is to recreate the reefs and grow more oysters.”

Blankenship said the goal of the program is to eventually get all of the oyster shells that are discarded at restaurants along the Alabama Gulf Coast.

“Right now, we want to get at least the top half of the oyster that doesn’t go to the table,” he said. “We’re working with the restaurants to collect the bottom half of the shells from the table so we can get all the oyster shells.

“Nothing grows oysters as well as oyster shells.”

Blankenship said the program set a conservative goal of collecting 2.7 million shells, but it should easily exceed that number.

In two years we’ll be well over the goal with the way the program has started,” he said. “The ultimate goal would be to make the recycling program self-sustaining after those two years, after the consumers and restaurants see the value of recycling those oyster shells. Instead of having the grant help pay for the transportation of the shells, the money the restaurants pay for the shells to go to the landfill can be used in the recycling program. Restaurants pay by the ton to haul off waste. Oyster shells that go in the trash count toward that tonnage. The goal is to get the restaurants to separate out the shells, and instead of hauling them to the landfill, they would go to the Marine Resources Division to be recycled.

“The value of the shells that can be used for restoration projects would make this self-sustaining after two years.”

Blankenship predicts the consumption of oysters along the Alabama coast will continue to grow, which will mean more shells for recycling.

“Oysters are becoming more popular,” he said. “There used to be a limited number of people who ate oysters. Now it’s becoming a much more popular seafood item.

“With the growth of the oyster aquaculture industry in Alabama, we only see that market getting stronger.”

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 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.”

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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. 

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. 

Youth, physically disabled hunt dates announced for Field Trial Area

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) announces the youth deer and duck hunt schedules at the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area (FWFTA) in Hale County. The hunts will take place in late-November 2016 through January 2017. Registration will open September 1.

In addition to the youth deer and duck hunts, the FWFTA will host hunt days for hunters (of any age) with physical disabilities. The hunts will take place on the youth deer hunt dates. Registration for the physically disabled hunting days will open October 1.

To register for the hunts, call or leave a message for Bill Mason with the ADCNR State Lands Division at 334-624-9952. When registering please include a first choice and alternative date for your hunt. Reservations will be filled for the selected dates in the order they are received. If you have questions about the location or hunt details, call the number listed above or email Bill.Mason@dcnr.alabama.gov.

Youth deer and physically disabled hunt dates:
• November 23 and 26
• December 21 and 31
• January 11, 14, 18, 15 and 28

Youth duck hunt dates:
• November 26
• December 21 and 31
• January 11, 14, 18, 15 and 28

To participate in the youth hunts, hunters must be age 15 or younger and accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old (or a parent) who holds a valid state hunting license and a Harvest Information Program (HIP) stamp. Hunters must obtain their license and HIP stamp before the hunt since they will not be available on-site.

Each hunt date can accommodate four youth deer hunters, two groups of youth duck hunters, and three hunters with physically disabilities. The duck hunting groups can consist of one adult and three youth hunters or two adults and two youth hunters.

Hunters with physical disabilities are required to fill out a Disabled Hunter Permit Application prior to the hunt dates. For more information on the permit process, call the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries at 334-242-3465 or visit www.outdooralabama.com/ physically-disabled-hunting- and-fishing-trail.

Mandatory reporting of all deer (and turkey) harvests through Alabama’s Game Check system will be in effect for the 2016-17 youth and physically disabled hunting dates at FWFTA. Hunters will have 48 hours to report their harvest through a mobile app, online at www.outdooralabama.com, or by phone at 1-800-888-7690.

Information required to Game Check a harvest includes the date of harvest, the type of animal (deer or turkey), sex of deer (or age of gobbler), county of harvest, public or private land, and a hunting license or H.E.L.P. (Hunter Exempt License Privilege) number.

Hunters are encouraged to utilize Game Check via the Outdoor Alabama mobile app or go online to report their harvest. Reporting via the mobile app can be completed offline regardless of cellphone or data coverage. Just input the information and the app will automatically submit it when cellphone or data coverage is restored. The phone number is provided as a service for hunters who do not have internet access.

Besides providing a convenient way to report your harvest, a smartphone with the Outdoor Alabama app will be accepted in lieu of a paper harvest record. Hunters who plan to Game Check online or by phone are still required to possess a harvest record and hunting license during their hunt.

To learn more about Alabama’s Game Check system, visit www.outdooralabama.com/ gamecheck.

The M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area consists of 4,300 acres in Hale County and is managed as a nature preserve and recreation area. In addition to developing a sporting dog Field Trial/Hunt Test grounds and a youth hunting program, the ADCNR State Lands Division is currently restoring the tract’s native prairie grasslands and managing its numerous ponds for future public fishing.

ADCNR does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, age, gender, pregnancy, national origin, genetic information, veteran status, or disability in its hiring or employment practices nor in admission to, access to, or operations of its programs, services, or activities.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Mandatory game check starts this fall in Alabama

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Mandatory reporting of all deer and turkey harvests through Alabama’s Game Check system goes into effect this fall. Hunters will have 48 hours to report their harvest through a mobile app, online or by phone. Long-term harvest data will be used to guide the state’s deer and turkey management programs.

This spring, Alabama’s Conservation Advisory Board (CAB) recommended mandatory reporting via the Game Check system if the statewide deer season was extended to February 10, with no closed period in December, and a bucks-only archery season was implemented in the South Zone (Zone B) from October 15-24. These changes will be in effect this fall as Alabama joins 47 other states with a mandatory harvest reporting system.

“We live in a data-driven world,” said Chuck Sykes, Director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “That applies to wildlife management as well. Over time, the information collected though Game Check will give us a better understanding of Alabama’s deer and turkey populations, which will ultimately benefit hunters for generations to come.”

There are three ways to Game Check a harvested deer or turkey: through the Outdoor Alabama smartphone app available at www.outdooralabama.com/mobile-apps, online at www.outdooralabama.com/gamecheck, or by calling 1-800-888-7690.

Information required to Game Check a harvest includes the date of harvest, the type of animal (deer or turkey), sex of deer and age of gobbler (adult or jake), county of harvest, public or private land and a hunting license or H.E.L.P. (Hunter Exempt License Privilege) number.

Hunters are encouraged to utilize Game Check via the Outdoor Alabama mobile app or go online to report their harvest. Reporting via the mobile app can be completed offline regardless of cellphone or data coverage. Just input the information and the app will automatically submit it when cellphone or data coverage is restored. The phone number is provided as a service for hunters who do not have internet access.

Besides providing a convenient way to report your harvest, a smartphone with the Outdoor Alabama app will be accepted in lieu of a paper harvest record. Hunters who plan to Game Check online or by phone are still required to possess a harvest record and hunting license during their hunt.

“It’s a very simple process and takes just a few minutes to use Game Check,” Sykes said. “With multiple reporting options and a reasonable time frame to input the data, there are no barriers to using the system.”

To educate hunters in Alabama about Game Check, WFF is holding seminars about the program throughout the state this summer and fall. Topics to be covered include how to check your game, why the data is important, how data collection benefits hunters and additional changes to the upcoming season. For more information about Game Check and to view a seminar schedule, visit www.outdooralabama.com/game-check-seminar-series or call WFF at 334-242-3465.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.