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WFF's Weathers Credits Staff for Bradley Award


WFF Director Chuck Sykes, left, presents the NFWF Guy Bradley Award to Chief Michael Weathers as Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship and Conservation Advisory Board Chairman Joey Dobbs join the celebration. Photo by Billy Pope

By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Although he may rank in the stratosphere among his peers after receiving the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Guy Bradley Award earlier this year, Michael “Matt” Weathers prefers to keep his feet firmly grounded in Alabama’s fertile soil.

Weathers, the Law Enforcement Section Chief with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, became the first officer from Alabama to receive the prestigious award that recognizes his contributions to wildlife law enforcement in honor of Florida Game Warden Guy Bradley. In 1905, Bradley was the first wildlife enforcement officer killed while performing his duties of protecting wildlife. The award was established in 1988 to recognize the officers who have made outstanding lifetime contributions to wildlife enforcement, wildlife forensics and investigative techniques.

Instead of highlighting his contributions to enforcement efforts, Weathers wants to shine the spotlight on his Law Enforcement Section staff of about 150 employees, including about 130 Conservation Enforcement Officers (CEOs).

“I was honored and shocked I had been nominated for the award,” Weathers said. “It was meant to be a surprise. It certainly was. It’s an honor, but it doesn’t speak directly to me. It speaks more to the team that I’m a part of and that the accomplishments of our Section are impressive enough to garner an award. It really isn’t me. It’s a combination of the folks I work with every day and the officers who have made the programs we’re involved in the successes they are.”

Weathers said he wouldn’t have been considered for the award had it not been for the success of the programs and a deliberate effort to change the public perception of the CEOs and enforcement programs.

“I’m thankful for the team I have been a part of,” he said. “We have been really successful in initiating and creating new programs and improving programs we’ve had for years. We’re getting so much more contact with the public than what we once had.”

Some of the programs that constitute the day-in and day-out duties of the Enforcement Section not only include robust enforcement protecting the state’s wildlife resources but also Hunter Education Unit, Captive Wildlife Unit and numerous training programs. These specialty units and programs complete tasks like public shooting range and community archery park operation, inspection and licensing of captive held wildlife in the state and outreach programs benefitting all Alabamians.

Speaking of public shooting ranges, the Law Enforcement Section will again hold Night Vision/Thermal Open Range Nights at two public shooting ranges this year. These events are opportunities for the public to bring night vision and/or thermal sight-equipped firearms for a night of shooting.

“We have had strong demand for it since the first one,” Weathers said of open range nights. “We get phone calls every week about it. There are not a lot of places to shoot in the first place and very few places that will allow you to come out there and shoot at night. It is a good way to better use our ranges and give the public something there is a demand for. The goal of the open range nights is to give those people who plan to hunt the state’s special nighttime feral swine and coyote season a place to go and become familiar with their equipment in a safe environment.”

Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Public Shooting Range will hold these night-shooting events from 8 p.m. until midnight on July 13 and October 5 at 18936 Harris Station Road, Tanner, AL 35671. Cahaba WMA Public Shooting Range will hold these events during the same time period on July 20 and October 12 at 3956 Coalmont Road, Helena, AL 35114. WFF firearms instructors will staff the range to ensure the event is safe for all who attend. There is no charge for the events, but attendees are required to have a Hunting License or Wildlife Heritage License, which allows access to all WFF-operated shooting ranges for the entire license year.

“The open range nights are just one example of an overall effort to engage with the public and make them better acquainted with Conservation Enforcement Officers and the programs that the Department of Conservation and Natural resources has to offer,” Weathers said. “Our officers are constantly busy and constantly in contact with the public to become better known in the community. When you consider that only between 3% and 4% of Alabama citizens are engaged in hunting and 10% in fishing, the vast majority of our population won’t have a chance to interact with our staff or really understand what they do for every Alabamian regardless of whether or not they hunt or fish. Our outreach programs are the best vehicle to make our agency known to everyone.”

WFF's Rural Operations training teaches rescue squads and first responders man-tracking skills. Photo by Billy Pope

Weathers said one of the most successful ways that the Law Enforcement Section has interacted across the state is through the Section’s Rural Operations Program. This program teaches man-tracking and wilderness medical care to law enforcement, first responders and emergency personnel across the state.

“The Rural Ops team has taught dozens of courses to local law enforcement agencies and rescue squads across our state,” he said. “The tracking skills imparted during these courses have already been used numerous times to find lost children and those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This course is a way to take the specialized skills that a Conservation Enforcement Officer develops during their career and share them with other first responders. It’s a great way to show our utility to every Alabamian.”

Other outreach efforts are administered through the Hunter Education Program, Weathers said, not only conducting hunter education classes and certification but also the National Archery in Schools Program as well as the new Outdoor Alabama Academy programs that include basic training in hunting and firearms. Visit for more information.

“The Law Enforcement Section is responsible for the protection of the natural resources of the state,” Weathers said. “That is not just for hunters and anglers. Every Alabamian owns those resources whether they hunt or fish. They have a stake, and we are the agency tasked to protect those resources whether they know about us or not. Our outreach programs are critically important to the longevity of our agency.”

Weathers said having the support of Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship, WFF Director Chuck Sykes and ADCNR’s Conservation Enforcement Officers makes it easy to be successful.

“I’m fortunate to be involved with this agency at this time with all the things that are going on,” he said. “It’s the men and women of our Division and Section that are out there creating these successes.”

Director Sykes added, “Matt is very humble. He’s doing what a great leader does by giving all of the credit to his staff. But, make no mistake about it, he is more than deserving of this award, and it was my pleasure to nominate him.”  



WFF's Law Enforcement Section conducts Firearms 101 courses at the WFF's public shooting ranges. Photo by Billy Pope

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