By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
While Governor Kay Ivey and Dr. Scott Harris, Chair of the Governor's COVID-19 Task Force, work hard alongside other state, national, and private enterprise leaders to mitigate the effects of the novel coronavirus and bring its spread to a conclusion, it is important that people maintain the social distancing and other health recommendation standards.
“We take these precautions and recommendations very seriously at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,” said Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship. “We know many Alabamians want to get outdoors during the spring and enjoy some recreational opportunities that can refresh in these challenging times; just remember, we must do so safely.”
Not only does our state have some of the best fishing opportunities in the nation, both freshwater and saltwater, but the spring turkey season is also about to open in most of the state.
If hunting or fishing is not a preference, consider the beautiful natural hiking trails and camping facilities available at Alabama State Parks close to where you live, not to mention the natural beauty on the Forever Wild tracts available to the public. Visit www.alapark.com and www.alabamaforeverwild.com for the many options available.
“I know with the children out of school and many parents home as well, people will want to do things together as a family," Blankenship continued. "Many will want to take the youngsters who are out of school to explore our state’s great natural wonders, but please do so responsibly.”
Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes said this is a perfect opportunity for those who love the outdoors to adhere to the “social distancing” guidelines.
“I fully expect Alabama hunters and fishermen to take advantage of the social distancing prescriptions by all the coronavirus experts, and I expect many of them will get outdoors, either on the water or in the woods,” Sykes said. “Turkey season in most of the state comes in Saturday (March 21). Fishing is phenomenal from what I understand.”
Sykes said WFF’s operations will be minimally impacted by the measures instituted to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“It’s going to be business as usual for us except in our offices,” he said. “I don’t want people to think that the game wardens are going to be sitting at home, not doing anything. Our staff basically has been practicing social distancing for years. They work by themselves for the large part. They work outside. The only thing the public will see different from Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries is our district offices and the Montgomery offices will be closed to public walk-in traffic. But we will still have a skeleton staff to take phone calls and answer Game Check questions, which will be forwarded to officers and biologists in the field. Other than some headquarters and district office staff continuing their work from home, it’s going to be business as usual providing services to the public.”
Sykes took his own advice last weekend for the turkey season’s special youth weekend and headed to the woods. As with most hunting experiences, some folks had good luck while others did not.
“The results were site-specific, as they are most seasons,” he said. “Some youth did well; some didn’t. I went this weekend with a friend and his son, and we heard a couple of turkeys gobble once or twice apiece, and that was it. I talked to some people whose turkeys gobbled good, and they had a productive hunt and killed turkeys. That’s just the way it is. I was glad it wasn’t raining, and it wasn’t 25 degrees, like it had been for the past couple of years.”
This year’s regular turkey season is opening on the third Saturday of March in most areas. This opener is the latest possible opening date, and Sykes said that was done for a specific reason.
“The date was moved to give the birds more time for breeding activity before the season opens,” he said. “A lot of the latest research is showing that we may be harvesting too many gobblers too early in the breeding process.”