March 7, 2013

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Saving your money until you have enough for a worthwhile purchase is a wise economic policy that I wish I adhered to more often.

The first time I actually remember pulling that off was when I was 13. I mowed lawns in our small town all summer and when dove season was on the horizon, I had managed to save enough money to purchase my first shotgun, a Remington Model 1100.

Another savings plan that reached fruition with a significant purchase recently used money from the Alabama Waterfowl Stamp Program. The Wildlife Section of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division had stockpiled years of waterfowl stamp money to try to purchase land that would make a difference.

Late last year, the division purchased a 1,400-acre tract adjacent to the Lowndes County Wildlife Management Area (WMA), west of Montgomery.

“We’ve always been looking for a large project in Alabama to spend the money on,” said David Hayden, Wildlife’s Assistant Chief. “Although we’ve had a couple of opportunities before, this is the first one that actually materialized. This worked out really well in that it was on property adjacent to an existing management area, so there was the potential for management already there. This is a very valuable wetland, waterfowl habitat project.

“We’ve already had a site visit from a couple of people with Ducks Unlimited and some of our staff to start the assessment work on what management direction is needed to maximize the potential of the area.”

The waterfowl stamp was instituted in 1979 in Alabama with a $5 cost and $1 issuance fee. The cost has never changed. Through contract, one half of each year’s duck stamp goes to Ducks Unlimited to assist with agreed-upon waterfowl management projects on the breeding grounds in Canada. Other than that and some relatively minor expenditures, the stamp money has been building for more than 30 years.

“We wanted to wait until we had a project that was beneficial for waterfowl and wetlands for the long term,” Hayden said. “Even though a number of small projects came up over the years, scattered throughout the state, we never were able to find a larger project. Doing a 20-acre project here or a 10-acre project there, even though you might get benefit out of them, you don’t get as much long-term benefit for waterfowl and wetlands as you do on a large project. You just don’t get much hunter use or other recreational activity on the small projects.

“This project is 1,400 acres that will offer a wide range of benefits to the public. We already had a management area, so this just works perfectly into long-term planning and management.”

Hayden said the land had been held for about 15 years by two individuals who had managed it for deer and waterfowl hunting. Andrew Nix, the Wildlife Section’s forester, worked with the landowners to develop a plan to purchase, which was closed at the sellers’ request before the end of 2012.

“We pretty much depleted the money in the duck stamp funds,” Hayden said. “But we get annual sales, so it will start building back up right away. It’ll be a while before we’ll have a substantial amount back in it again. If we get another opportunity, we’ll have to look for additional matching funds. We were able to use matching funds from the federal government at three to one. If you can turn one dollar into four dollars, you’ve done well.”

The 1,400-acre tract is Alabama River bottomland with numerous sloughs and slight ridges. Some of the land in the area has been planted in pines, and some of the higher areas are planted in wildlife openings. The majority is wetlands with the typical shrub and scrub vegetation with some open water.

“It has some still water and backwater that should provide good habitat for waterfowl,” said Hayden, who said the report from last duck season was mixed with plenty of gadwalls but not many mallards. “I believe we’ll see a mixture of ducks. There will be a lot of wood ducks, but I anticipate mallards, gadwalls and other species as well. A good mast crop will attract ducks.”

Chris Jawoworski, the Lowndes WMA Manager, said the most attractive part of the addition to the WMA is that it will allow hunters to spread out across the property, which already has a good road system.

“Right now, I can’t put a number on the number of different duck holes it’s got,” Jaworowski said. “It’s got multiple swamp drainages. It’s going to double our duck-hunting opportunity at Lowndes. And it’s easy access, easy walking to get to multiple sites. Hunters can wade in with a half-dozen decoys and be hunting a pretty good site.

“There is some opportunity coming in off the river into one of the creeks just down from Prairie Creek Campground. There’s a boat ramp right at Prairie Creek (on Jones Bluff Reservoir). Coming out of Prairie Creek going away from the dam, it’s the first creek on the right.”

Jaworowski said the area is going to provide opportunities for much more that waterfowl hunting.

“There are also some great bowhunting opportunities, great squirrel hunting,” he said. “It’s got dove fields on it. Unfortunately, it also has hogs on it. It will limit what we can plant over there, but we hope to be able to control them. Turkey hunting will be good on the new land. There are some pretty pine stands that we’re about to do prescribed burns on, and turkeys love that.”

Jaworowski said the area has about a half-dozen swamp drainages that will give waterfowlers more room to hunt.

“The way it’s set up is you have a hardwoods ridge then a swamp drainage, a ridge, drainage and so on,” he said. “So if you’ve got a truck parked at the first drainage, you pull up to the fourth one or the fifth one. There are a lot of different holes to hunt. Where most places only have one or two, this property has probably seven or eight different drainages where you can waterfowl hunt. That’s why it’s so great. Instead of having everybody trying to pile into one spot, this offers multiple sites.”

Jaworowski said the new area has what it takes to attract big ducks like mallards, but it will all depend on the weather.

“On the right year, we should have mallards,” he said. “We just need that snow line to come all the way down to Tennessee. We managed to get a little hunting in in January. They managed to get some gadwalls, green-winged teal and wood ducks, but I didn’t see any mallards on the days I checked the bags.”

Jaworowski said the waterfowl hunting on the new area may be limited to two or three days a week, although the regulations have not been finalized.

“We probably won’t shoot the roost in the afternoon,” he said. “We want to limit the pressure so we don’t overshoot the holes.”

A WMA hunting guide will be published later this year with all the regulations regarding each management area. Hunters must possess a valid hunting license, a WMA license and a permit specific to the area to be hunted. Waterfowl hunters must possess both federal and state duck stamps and a Harvest Information Program (HIP) privilege.

The new addition now provides a total of about 13,900 acres in the Lowndes WMA. Jaworowski said some of the planned management for the new area will be planting of wildlife openings, prescribed burns and herbicide applications to open up more areas in the swamp drainages.

“This addition is going to provide some awesome, walk-in waterfowl sites,” Jaworowski said. “Squirrel hunters are going to love it because there are a lot of big, mature hardwoods. This will be an area where we provide a lot of hunting opportunities.”

PHOTO: (By David Rainer) Opportunities for Labrador retrievers to fetch ducks was increased recently when the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries completed the purchase of 1,400 acres that was incorporated into the Lowndes County Wildlife Management Area. A map of the area (/images/file/WMA-LOWNDES.pdf) highlights the addition.