Wildlife Heritage License Can 'Make a Difference'
By DAVID RAINER
Want to “make a difference” to conserve and protect Alabama’s abundant wildlife and natural resources?
That’s easy and costs a measly $10, according to Dr. John Borom of Fairhope, president of the Mobile Bay Audubon Society.
Borom, director of the Faulkner State Community College Fairhope Campus, said the vehicle that people can use to contribute to the conservation effort is the Wildlife Heritage License.
That license gives the holder privileges to hunt and fish – freshwater fish statewide with hook and line from the bank and to fish in Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries operated public fishing lakes (permits still required), hunt small game (except waterfowl) on wildlife management areas (permits still required) and use Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries operated shooting ranges. A resident who buys a hunting or fishing license would be entitled to limited privileges in addition to whichever basic privilege they purchased.
“When I was growing up in Fairhope, where Thomas Hospital is now used to be a corn field,” Borom said. “We used to have quail come up behind the house. Now we don’t have that any more. All we have to do is look out the window and see the growth. Things we used to take for granted are changing, changing at warp speed. Birds can’t vote. Red-bellied turtles can’t vote. So it’s up to people who want to maintain the quality of life we love to try to devise a way that we can help just a little bit. By all working together to acquire as much land as we can, it’s in our best interest, our children’s best interest and wildlife’s best interest.”
Barnett Lawley, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the Wildlife Heritage License provides a way for people who love nature to be good stewards of our great outdoors.
“The thing is everybody who enjoys the outdoors and wildlife doesn’t necessarily hunt or fish,” Lawley said. “This is an avenue for people who enjoy outdoors to contribute to conservation. The thing is we can get three-to-one matching federal funds to use to purchase habitat. And, the habitat that benefits the wild turkey also benefits the bluebird and the red-tailed hawk.”
The way the license was created allows Conservation officials to count it as a fishing or a hunting license.
“That $10 will go a long way,” Lawley said. “It will go for biology and habitat for all wildlife, not just huntable or fishable wildlife. Before, people who kayak or mountain bike or do whatever outdoors and wanted to participate couldn’t buy a hunting license without a hunter safety course. It’s not mandatory, but it gives people a way to contribute.”
Lawley said wildlife is being pressured because of rapid growth throughout the state, especially in the coastal region and along the Tennessee Valley Authority-managed waterways.
“It’s exploding,” Lawley said. “We’ve got to protect our lakes, estuaries and coast line. The money will be used for the whole state, improving and protecting our natural resources. In conjunction with what we’re doing with Forever Wild, we will be able to protect enough wild space for people to enjoy for years and years to come.
“What we have tried to do is create a positive situation that you can pass it on. The things you enjoyed – God’s creations. If we don’t protect and conserve, it will be gone. Look at the change in the last 20 years. These programs are so important for passing on values, passing on the appreciation of the outdoors, passing on the need to protect the habitat.”
Borom said Alabama’s environment is one of reasons for the rapid development.
“The hunters and anglers, people who like to boat or just watch sea gulls on Fairhope pier, it’s the environment that attracts people to Alabama,” Borom said. “Alabama is one of the last states to be ‘discovered.’ There is a price to pay for all this growth. If we’re not careful, we’re going to look around in a few years and say, ‘What happened?’
“This is a way for everybody to do a little bit and feel good about it. You can choose to buy a Wildlife Heritage License, if you want to. It’s just being a good citizen.”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey done in 2001 almost as much money is spent on birding ($626 million) in Alabama as hunting ($663 million). The Alabama Coastal Birding Festival, scheduled for Oct. 18-21 in Fairhope this year, attracted visitors from 18 states and Canada last fall. The North Alabama Birding Festival has also been created to take advantage of the opportunity to watch wildlife in an inland setting.
“The idea was, if you buy a track of land and it’s good for quail, it’s also good for warblers,” Borom said. “People can go and enjoy it, even if they don’t want to hunt turkey or quail or deer. We’ve got a lot of people in Alabama who just enjoy going out on the Alabama Birding Trails. The Alabama Coastal Birding Festival was started with the idea that the proceeds would go to buy land to help birds, because we know how this area is growing.
“I was fortunate to be on the Forever Wild Board for 11 years. With us already in the land acquisition business through Forever Wild, we thought if we could come up with a license, like so many other states have done, then we could bring on board more people, which would translate into more funds that the state of Alabama could use to buy more land and it would benefit everybody. Everybody realizes, when they stop and think about it, the importance of green spaces and acquiring the habitat, as much as we can.”
Borom said it is also imperative for people to teach their children to appreciate nature.
“As you get older it expands to non-game wildlife, expands to turtles, birds, butterflies, plants and all that stuff,” he said. “You know when you talk to older people, they say, ‘there used to be pitcher plants everywhere.’ The Nature Conservancy tells us now only three percent of the pitcher plant habitat is left.
“This is a way to make a difference. And you make a difference one decision at the time.”