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CAB Issues Include Turtle Threat, Deer Season

February 9, 2012
 
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

In its first meeting of 2012, the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board fielded a wide range of comments from the public that included everything from a heartfelt “thank you” for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) tornado relief effort and concern about the taking of freshwater turtles in Alabama waters to an impassioned plea from a teenager in support of dog deer hunting.

Chiquita Baker of Franklin County wanted to make sure the board knew about the ADCNR’s role in the aftermath of last year’s devastating line of tornadoes that swept through the state on April 27.

“I just wanted the board to be aware of how grateful our community is for the help from the conservation department,” Baker said. “It was wonderful.”

After Charles Winkler testified about the harvest of freshwater turtles by an individual from Florida in Covington County, Craig Guyer, Auburn University biological sciences professor, warned that unless the regulations are more restrictive the turtle population could suffer.

The larger freshwater turtles are sold to foreign markets, mainly Asia, for food and medicinal purposes. Florida has banned the harvest of wild turtles, and Georgia recently added restrictions to its turtle regulations. Guyer said he was in favor of a total ban on the harvest of wild turtles and asked the board to open discussions on the matter.

“The single worst thing you can do to a turtle population is to allow the oldest individuals to be harvested,” Guyer said. “And that is the group of turtles that is in value to the foreign markets.”

Jim Godwin, zoologist with the Alabama Natural Heritage Program at Auburn, has studied turtles in Alabama for the past 15 years and echoed Guyer’s concern.

“Adjacent states have tightened up their regulations, and if we don’t do something similar, we are going to see a significant decline in the turtle population in Alabama,” said Godwin, who also cited the overseas pet trade. “There are two very important areas in the world for turtles. One is Southeast Asia. The other is the Southeastern United States. Alabama is in the middle of this incredible turtle diversity. We have more turtles in Alabama than in any place in North America and any place in South America. We ask that Alabama tighten its regulations so commercial harvesters won’t look at Alabama where there’s more freedom to come in and take what they want.”

Gary Moody, Chief of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Wildlife Section, said his staff is aware of the concerns about the turtle harvest and is working on proposed regulations to present to the board.

Taylor Gilbert of St. Clair County and William Smith of Talladega testified against the extension of deer season into February.

“As it stands now, rabbit hunters basically have a one-month season, the month of February,” Gilbert said. “All the deer leases and deer hunters don’t want rabbit hunters around during deer season. If they extend the season, it’s going to do away with the small-game hunters.”

Jack Williamson of Conecuh County offered the counterpoint for a February season, advocating that hunters in south Alabama do not get to hunt during the rut. Williamson, however, thinks the deer season is long enough. He wants to start the season later or shut down deer season during December to be able to extend the season into February.

“I’ve talked to people who are willing to give up the whole month of December to be able to hunt in February,” Williamson said. “Or we could give up two weeks in order to have two weeks in February. I do not want an extended season. I think it would be detrimental to the deer herd.”

Steve Pierce of Covington County reported seeing several deer with the antlers removed and the carcass discarded, which evoked a strong response from Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr.

“As deer hunters, we need to police ourselves,” Guy said. “So, if you know who does that kind of thing, you report them. It’s not helping what we’re all about when you’ve got people who are creating a worse public image for us.

“They’re throwing carcasses on the side of the road, and then the news stations are reporting it. It comes back to all of us. I saw a report on a major news channel in Montgomery, and it embarrassed me. I want to encourage anybody here who is aware of that going on to report it to our officials. If you know these people, make them feel badly. Make them not to want to do it anymore.”

During the discussion about dog deer hunting, teenager Kaelyn Fillingim of Coffee County grabbed the microphone out of its stand and proceeded to treat the board and audience to a passionate defense of the dog deer hunting tradition at Victoria Hunting Club. She articulately expressed how much the dogs and method of hunting mean to her family and friends, and how much effort had been made to ensure their beloved dogs did not stray onto adjoining property through the use of expensive tracking collars and other equipment.

Don Knight, president of the Alabama Dog Hunters Association, had the misfortune to follow Fillingim but used her as an example of how dog deer hunting gets the youth involved.

“If you don’t get to the kids when they’re between the ages of 8 and 15, you’re going to lose them,” Knight said. “A ‘trophy’ hunt for our club is very simple. When I have a granddad, a dad, a son and daughter all there hunting together, that’s a ‘trophy’ hunt, period.”

The proposed seasons and bag limits for the 2012-2013 seasons were presented to the board. Changes include extending trapping season, eliminating the bag limit on raccoons on private and leased lands, as well as reducing the bag limit on smallmouth bass to five fish per day.

Marine Resources also presented proposals that would establish a bag and size limit for sheepshead of 10 fish per person per day with a minimum fork length of 12 inches. The creel limit for red grouper would be increased to four per person to match federal regulations. Also, cast netters would be allowed to take up to five gallons of shrimp in open waters.

Two board members indicated they would propose motions at the next meeting, which is set for March 10 in Montgomery. Bob Shipp of Mobile said he would tender motions to make the Florida pompano a game fish and to increase the minimum size on tripletail (blackfish) from 16 to 18 inches total length. Grady Hartzog of Eufaula said he would propose that Coffee County and a portion of Elmore County be put on the permit system for dog deer hunting.

PHOTO: (By David Rainer) Former board member Gaines Smith, who recently retired as head of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, was honored before the recent board meeting with a plaque presented by Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr.

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