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Perdido River WMA - Hunting and So Much More
By DAVID RAINER
Not only did hunters and recreational users gain access to 18,000 acres of public land when the Perdido River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) opened last fall, it heralded an achievement that will mean so much more in the long term.
The Perdido River tract, located in Baldwin County, provides a link in a much larger endeavor that could ultimately provide a travel route for wildlife across southwest Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. “This is hugely important,” said Greg Lein of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ State Lands Division. “It starts the process that will begin a connection of coastal plains lands that will connect with the Mobile-Tensaw Delta so that animals like the black bear can travel across the Florida Panhandle, across the Alabama Gulf Coast to the Delta.”
State Lands currently owns/manages about 105,000 acres in the scenic and environmentally sensitive Delta. There is about a 25-mile gap between the Delta lands and the Perdido River tract. “The goal is to eventually connect the two,” Lein said. “That doesn’t mean we’ll own that land. We’ll work with private partners to try to obtain conservation easements that will provide that conservation corridor.
“The Perdido River tract is also extremely important because it is the watershed that improves the water quality for all of Baldwin County and all the industries that are connected to that water quality – recreational activities, fishing, people who just want to go to the beach. Plus, the tract provides habitat for the Atlantic white cedar along the river banks, the gopher tortoise, indigo snakes and, of course, longleaf pine.”
Last year 4,000 acres of the Perdido River tract were purchased through the Forever Wild program. An adjacent 14,000-acre tract became available from International Paper, and The Nature Conservancy stepped in to purchase the land and leased it to the state with plans to transfer ownership to State Lands when funds were available. Those funds became available in late December after the Forever Wild Board voted to purchase 9,304 acres with grants from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program and Coastal Estuarine Land Conservation Program, both administered by NOAA and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Lein said the division is exploring options to obtain federal funds to purchase the remaining 5,000 acres in 2007.
The Nature Conservancy’s Steve Northcutt said the conservation organization’s goals for the tract are the same as State Lands. “The ultimate dream is a conservation corridor for upland species,” Northcutt said. “Plus, this protects a 15-mile stretch of the Perdido River, which keeps this high-quality blackwater river intact. We’re already working on the east side of the river with the Conservation Fund and the state of Florida to protect that area. “The Perdido River tract already has pitcher plant bogs and some longleaf pine. Restoration of the longleaf pine is a big component to the property. Management for loblolly pine does not have a lot of benefit for the critters. Once we start restoring the longleaf pine, you’ll see a much better quality area for hunting, canoeing, kayaking and other activities. It’s a nice block of land for people to use.”
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Barnett Lawley said working with The Nature Conservancy is crucial to the preservation of undeveloped land of sizeable acreage. “The significance of the Perdido River tract is the partnership with The Nature Conservancy to tie up these large tracts,” Lawley said. “When these opportunities become available, The Nature Conservancy can hold the land to give us time to purchase it and then move on to find the next opportunity. Buying property through Forever Wild is a long process and we can’t move as fast as we want to. With this partnership, we’re able to take Forever Wild money and match it with other funds. That way we get more bang for our state dollars. The same thing happened with the Walls of Jericho in Jackson County. They’re great partners.”
The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division with Chris Nix as area manager will manage the Perdido River WMA. During International Paper’s ownership, the land was managed for pulpwood and saw timber. Hardwood stands are limited to the streamside management zones along the river and creeks.
“The majority of the tree species in the area is a pine and most of it is early successional pine that’s been replanted,” Nix said. “What we’re hoping to do as the harvest rotation is conducted, we’ll go back in and replant it. Numerous species benefit from the longleaf habitat and a lot of them are either endangered or threatened – hognose snakes, gopher tortoises, and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Longleaf pines thrive on a long harvest rotation and frequent prescribed fire, which allowed numerous forbs, grasses and legumes to grow in the understory. It was a thin understory with not many woody species, which is very important to these particular animal species.”
Longleaf pines also provide excellent habitat for the bobwhite quail, a species once widespread across Alabama but which has declined dramatically because of a variety of reasons, including a shift in land-use practices. “South Georgia was designated the quail capital of the United States and one of the reasons was because of the longleaf pine habitat,” Nix said. “The grasses that grow in the longleaf pine habitat are ideal for the bobwhite quail.”
With wildlife habitat declining across the nation, securing a sizeable tract of land in Baldwin County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the U.S., is a significant achievement, Nix said. “Longleaf pine habitat has dwindled almost to nothing in Alabama,” he said. “This part of the state was once dominated by longleaf pine. For us to get us a block of property this size that will allow us to restore it to its original habitat is very important.” Currently, the area will provide hunting for deer, turkey and a variety of small game like squirrels, rabbits and mourning dove.
The public has shown a great deal of interest in the new WMA, according to Nix. Deer hunts on the area are scheduled Jan. 12-13 and Jan. 19-20. A valid state hunting license, Wildlife Management Area license and Perdido River WMA permit are required. On days of regulated gun deer hunts, hunters also must acquire a daily permit at the check station near Barrineau Road. All deer harvested must be checked in and recorded at the check station. Visit https://www.alabamainteractive.org/dcnr/license/index.cgi online to purchase state hunting licenses and a WMA license. Go to http://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/land/wmamaps/perdidoriverwma.pdf to download a Perdido River WMA map.