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Advisory Board Puts Tallapoosa on Permit System

By DAVID RAINER
 
In its first meeting of 2011, the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board heard praise for the three-buck limit and the Forever Wild Program and listened to several deer hunters plead for an extension of the season into February. At the meeting in Montgomery, the board also voted unanimously to put Tallapoosa County under the permit system for dog deer hunting.
 
Many board members from the different districts across the state reported significant positive feedback for the three-buck limit. Grady Hartzog of Eufaula said landowners have been elated with the number of big bucks being seen.
 
Dr. Warren Strickland of Huntsville also said hunters in north Alabama were very happy with the three-buck limit.
 
“We had a very productive deer season with lots of praise for the buck limit,” Strickland said. “The hunters are ecstatic about the deer they’re seeing now.”
 
During public testimony, a number of speakers asked the board to consider extending the deer season into February to allow hunters to take advantage of rutting activity. Strickland voiced his opposition because of the impact on another user group.
 
“As board members, we represent everyone – not only deer hunters but small game hunters, as well,” he said. “That’s one of the things that has changed my thinking about extending the deer season. The squirrel hunters and rabbit hunters have to be represented, as well. The only month they have to hunt (outside deer season) is February. If we go into February (with deer season), we take that away from them.”
 
After the testimony was finished, Hartzog asked the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division to look into what impact a February season might have on the deer herd, estimated at 1.5 million animals. Other board members expressed reservations about extending the season into February.
 
“I’d like to get a report from the biologists about it,” Hartzog said of a February season. “If it biologically makes sense, I don’t see why we can’t look at that further.”
 
During the deer season that ended Jan. 31, there were 14 tree stand-related accidents with four fatalities. Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. cited those accidents and reiterated the need to adhere to hunter safety rules. None of the hunters killed were wearing a safety harness.
 
“What’s sad about that – of the people who got killed, none had gone through the hunter education course,” Guy said. “Safety should be your first priority when you’re out there in the woods hunting – for you and your children.
 
“Let’s look for zero fatalities during hunting season. I know we can do that. Some of the accidents were simple things like they didn’t replace the straps on their stands and they didn’t have their harness on. Those straps can get rotten over the years. And if you’re not using your safety harness, you see what can happen.”
 
In business related to hunting and fishing licenses, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) and Marine Resources asked the board to approve a 0.99 percent increase in hunting and fishing licenses. When the first license increase in decades was passed by the Alabama Legislature in 2007, it included a provision that would allow licenses to be raised according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). According to WFF Assistant Director Fred Harders, the increase of less than one percent would result in an increase of 10 cents on a resident freshwater fishing license and increases of 20 cents each for a resident all-game hunting license and a resident saltwater fishing license.
 
Harders also pointed out several changes proposed for the 2011-2012 seasons and bag limits other than date changes. The WFF recommendation are: liberalized unantlered deer harvest in Jefferson, Lawrence, Limestone, Morgan and Shelby counties; establish an alligator hunting season in Dallas, Monroe (north of U.S. Hwy. 84) and Wilcox counties; restrict harvest of walleye in certain waters; remove the exception for three sauger under 14 inches in total length in the creel limit; open spring turkey season in a previously closed area of Cullman County; and remove the deer and wild hog closures on Tuesdays and Thursdays on National Forest Service land in Calhoun, Clay and Talladega counties.
 
Marine Resources asked the board to consider a saltwater angler registry regulation that would put the state in compliance with the National Marine Fisheries Service requirement. Marine Resources’ Acting Director Chris Blankenship said failure to comply would force Alabama saltwater anglers to purchase a federal license that could cost up to $50. However, because Alabama already has a saltwater license, Blankenship said compliance could be attained with a regulation that required three user groups to register at no cost. The three groups are anglers 65 and over, lifetime license holders and those who fish on licensed private piers.
 
New board member Bob Shipp of Mobile also provided a report from the Gulf Coast concerning the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
 
“There is still some oil coming up, especially on Dauphin Island,” said Shipp, head of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama. “But, I think all of us – my colleagues – are cautiously optimistic. The habitats seem to be very healthy. Our contention is that even if we lose a year-class of crabs or shrimp, if the habitats are healthy, the species are resilient. So, things look good. Most of the finfish look to be in good shape. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet next week in Biloxi to set the snapper season. I think the snapper stocks are stronger than they’ve ever been in our history. The quota has been raised a little. I think we’ll have a snapper season of June and July and then maybe the weekends in the fall, like last year.
 
“We’ve been out with our research vessels and put cameras down on our bottom habitats offshore and they all look good. The fish are healthy. There’s no reason to avoid Gulf seafood. There’s more snapper off Alabama than there’s ever been, especially off our coast. Alabama has only four percent of the coastline in the Gulf, but we catch 40 percent of the red snapper.”
 
In other matters, Hartzog made a plea to all those in attendance at the State Capitol Auditorium to get behind the effort to renew the Forever Wild program, which uses money from oil and gas exploration royalties to purchase land for public use.
 
“When Forever Wild was passed it was passed by an 83-percent vote on the constitutional amendment,” Hartzog said. “The survey we are doing now shows that percentage has actually increased. We are going to introduce legislation this year to renew Forever Wild as is. I want you to take it as a personal initiative to contact your legislators and tell them how important Forever Wild is to you and the State of Alabama, because the Forever Wild program is for all the people in Alabama, not just a select few. For this state to continue to provide its citizens with the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, this program is imperative, because the state does not have the money – without this program – to acquire land for the people of Alabama. Without this program, you and your kids’ abilities to enjoy the outdoors will be limited.”

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