June 5, 2014
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Alabama residents who have participated in the state’s alligator hunting seasons in the past will find several changes for the 2014 season.
First, for the first eight years the season has been existence, people could apply for an alligator tag as many times as they wanted as long as the application fee was paid each time.
This year, there will be only one application per person per zone allowed. Because the number of total applications will be reduced, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) had to raise the application fee to $22 ($20 application fee and $2 processing fee) to offset the cost of processing the applications, conducting the draw system and monitoring the season.
Second, there have been many frustrated individuals in the past who have applied many times for an alligator tag but have never been drawn. It was even more frustrating when one of their buddies got drawn on their first attempt. To make a random-draw system, which is inherently blind to what’s happened in the past, more fair, WFF officials will start awarding preference points, which will accrue each year the applicant is not drawn. Modeled after draw systems in other states, WFF Director Chuck Sykes and his staff recommended the preference-points system as the best way to make the selection process as fair as possible. Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr., and the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board concurred.
Chris Nix, a wildlife biologist who has been at the WFF district office in Spanish Fort for most of the alligator seasons, said he’s listened to the complaints from people who haven’t been drawn for an alligator tag, and he hopes the number of complaints in 2014 will be reduced substantially.
“I think this, across the board, will be the fairest system we could come up with,” Nix said. “We put a lot of thought into the whole process. I know people who have put in one time and been drawn, and I know other people who put in 20 times and haven’t gotten a tag. I think allowing only one application per person and having the preference points will help.”
Nix said WFF is still learning a great deal about reproductive success in certain areas, particularly around Lake Eufaula. That was the reason for the recommendations of a reduction in the number of tags and the 8-foot minimum length in the Southeast zone.
“We know now that we have some sensitive areas,” Nix said. “How sensitive, we don’t know. We’re still learning a lot in terms of reproduction. But we’re not seeing the reproductive success around Eufaula like we’ve seen in the (Mobile-Tensaw) Delta. We have not conducted a research project at Eufaula, but we (WFF personnel) have not visually seen the results of reproductive success, like seeing hatchlings in sufficient numbers. We are doing population surveys, and the numbers are starting to decrease around Eufaula.”
Nix said WFF doesn’t know if the decreasing numbers are caused by the hunt or by the number of nuisance alligators that have been removed by nuisance control agents that are sanctioned by WFF.
Nix does suspect the habitat around Eufaula is probably the limiting factor on the number of alligators.
“The habitat at Eufaula is more closely related to what you would find in the West Central zone along the Alabama River,” he said. “The habitat in the Delta is unique to our state. It’s kind of a snapshot of what you would find on a large scale in Louisiana. That’s why you find so many alligators in the Delta. The habitat is conducive to the survival and reproduction of alligators. We just don’t have a whole lot of that in the state.
“The West Central and Southeast zones are riverine habitat, while the Southwest zone is marsh habitat, which is more conducive to a higher population of alligators.”
The Southwest zone, which has been traditionally Mobile and Baldwin counties, was extended last year up the Tombigbee and Alabama river drainages to include the private and public waters in Washington, Clarke, and Monroe counties that lie east of U.S. Highway 43 and south of U.S. Highway 84.
The Southeast zone includes private and public waters in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell counties.
The West Central zone includes private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox, and Dallas counties.
“That was as far north as we were comfortable in going because we were getting real close to the boundary of a reproducing population,” Nix said. “That’s not to say you won’t see alligators north of there, but those are isolated animals and not part of a larger population that’s reproducing annually.”
Nix said the reason the Southwest zone was not expanded until last year was that WFF officials wanted to wait until the effects of several years of hunting on the population in the Delta could be determined. After officials determined the Delta population was stable, the zone was expanded.
Despite the larger territory, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta has not produced the largest alligators for the past few seasons. That crown has gone to the West Central zone around Miller’s Ferry.
“There is a smaller population in the West Central zone, so I don’t know that those gators are any bigger,” Nix said. “There are alligators that big in the Delta, but they don’t seem to be easily captured. There’s no reason for the alligators to be bigger in the West Central zone. I think it’s just the luck of the draw, being at the right place at the right time.
“I’ve seen alligators in the Delta that would rival anything that’s been killed. Biologically, there’s no reason for the alligators to be any bigger in the West Central zone.”
The alligator season in Alabama opened in 2006 with 50 tags in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. The number of tags for the Southwest zone for 2014 will be 150. The West Central zone will again have 50 tags, but the number of tags in the Southeast zone has been reduced from 75 to 40 for 2014 with an 8-foot minimum. Director Sykes said the minimum length requirement was instituted to protect the majority of the female population.
One thing Nix would like to see in the Southwest zone is for more hunters to venture south of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta into areas where many of the nuisance alligators are located.
“Last year we only had two alligators harvested from south of the Causeway,” Nix said. “I’m talking about Fish River, Dog River, Week’s Bay or any public and private waters in Mobile and Baldwin counties. That’s where the majority of our nuisance complaints come from. I’d much rather have a hunter go harvest a nuisance alligator than having to deal with the alligator ourselves.”
PHOTOS: (By David Rainer) Large alligators, like this one sunning at Lake Eufaula, are not uncommon in south Alabama, but the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division has decided to reduce the number of alligator tags in the Southeast zone to ensure the population remains healthy. The largest gator taken in Alabama since the season started in 2006 was the alligator taken by Keith Fancher and crew on the Alabama River in the West Central zone. The gator measured 14 feet, 2 inches and weighed 838 pounds. The successful hunting team included: (from left) Keith Fancher, Mike Bailey, J.C. Peeples, Stacey Peeples, David Hatchett and Mindy Hatchett.