Focus on harvest safety this fall

Farmers in the Southeast are in the thick of harvest season, making safety more important than ever. Round-the-clock work and pressing time commitments are characteristic of harvest. The stress of these can wear down a person’s mental alertness of safety measures. One must think of safety at all times during harvest season.
“The first step is identifying where the danger points are,” said William Birdsong, an Alabama Extension agronomic crops regional agent. “Consider these points as any moving parts, though some are more dangerous than others.”
Birdsong considers power take off (PTO) shafts to be one of the most dangerous of these points. PTO systems operate many different pieces of harvest equipment, emphasizing the importance of safety awareness when around these. The best way to keep safe when using equipment with a PTO shaft is to keep protective guards in place over them.
Machinery is one of the more daunting aspects of harvest safety and by far one of the most important. By knowing how to stay safe around machinery, the likelihood of accidents during harvest goes down greatly.
Birdsong said turning off machinery while working on it is crucial. When working on an implement raised by the lift arms of a tractor, it is important to note that it is being raised by means of hydraulics. Birdsong emphasized to always be mindful of the possibility that hydraulic pumps and cylinders could fail. Therefore, when getting underneath an implement, avoid getting in a tight spot, where it is possible to get trapped underneath the implement.
Another machinery safety tip to remember is not to start the tractor from the ground but from the seat of the tractor itself. This can prevent accidents from occurring in which farmers find themselves in front of a running tractor.
One of the most important aspects of grain bin safety is the rule that no one should be allowed in a grain bin or on top of grain without a safety harness and someone spotting with a rope.
When working in grain bins, avoid getting near augers that are in operation moving grain. Protective guards should be in place on grain augers to prevent injury. Turn off all augers before trying to clear on or around them.
Pressure from deadlines and progress goals are often characterizing this time of year. Because of this, the worst thing that a farmer can do is get in a hurry. For more information on harvest safety, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension office.

Wood Duck Mates Determine Migration Routes

(Billy Pope) Alabama’s most abundant duck, the wood duck, is not known for migrating long distances. Other than those wood ducks harvested in Alabama, most wood ducks banded in Alabama are taken in nearby states. However, exceptions to the rule exist, which include four woodies banded in Alabama that were harvested in Minnesota.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

In the waterfowl world, Alabama’s most abundant species, the wood duck, is not known for migrating long distances.

It turns out, the wood duck migration patterns follow a “boy meets girl” scenario. Boy meets girl; girl flies home; boy follows.

When the Minnesota waterfowl season opened, four wood ducks that were banded in Alabama were harvested more than 1,000 miles from home.

Seth Maddox, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Migratory Bird Coordinator, said one of the birds harvested in Minnesota was 6 years old, banded in 2014 as a hatch-year male. The other three were banded in recent years.

“What is interesting in our data is that our males, especially juvenile males, will pair up with migrant females and follow them back to their natal nesting ground,” Maddox said. “Our females tend to hang around where they were hatched. Whatever female a male pairs up with, he follows her.”

Alabama has been banding wood ducks since 1956. During that time, WFF has banded about 28,000 wood ducks. The band recovery rate is about 7.7 percent, which may seem low, but Maddox said that is about the national average for all banded waterfowl.

“We have recovered a little more than 2,100 bands,” Maddox said. “If you look at waterfowl overall, the band recovery is between four and five percent. Some birds are smarter than others, and others die before they are harvested. Recovery rate is pretty low for most species. About 50 percent of the wood duck bands are recovered in Alabama.”

Although the aforementioned birds traveled as far as Minnesota, Maddox said most wood ducks don’t make such a long journey.

“The states next to or near us harvest more than any other states,” he said. “We do get a good bit of band recovery in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi.”

While it’s fairly rare to have bands recovered as far away as Minnesota, Maddox said bands have been recovered in 30 different states since the program’s inception.

“We’ve had bands recovered from Maine to Florida, in Texas, North Dakota and three Canadian provinces – Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec,” he said. “More males are harvested out of state, which goes back to our males pairing up with migrant females. The males likely get killed near where the female is from or on the way back south during the next winter.”

Getting a firm count on the wood duck population is difficult for waterfowl managers because of the bird’s habitat preferences.

“We can’t count wood ducks from a plane like we do with other species,” Maddox said. “Wood ducks live in beaver swamps and wetlands. That’s why we have a banding program, so we can track harvest rates and survival and look at age ratios. With this data, we can assess what the population is doing so we can set seasons and bag limits because we can’t count them from the air.”

WFF’s banding work is conducted during the heat of the summer. Maddox said biologists look for a suitable clear spot on the edge of a pond or river. The ducks are baited with grain, and game cameras are erected to monitor the activity at the bait site over a two-week period.

A 30-foot by 60-foot rocket net is then set up and fired when the ducks congregate at the bait site. WFF officials remove the ducks as quickly as possible from the net and put them in crates before they start banding the birds.

“Our banding runs from July until the end of September each year,” Maddox said. “It’s a hot job, but it provides significant data. We age and sex the birds before we band them. We’re getting different ages because wood ducks in Alabama will nest up to three times a year. We’re getting adult males, adult females and three different ages of hatch-year birds.”

Maddox said mature wood duck hens will nest in February or March. The clutch of eggs will hatch in about 30 days.

“It takes about 45 days for those juveniles to fledge out and reach flight stage,” he said. “Then the hen will let that first clutch go, and she’s back on the nest.”

After WFF is finished with the banding efforts each September, the data is sent to the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Bird Banding Laboratory.

When hunters harvest a banded bird, the information should be reported to www.reportband.gov and it will enter the USGS’s band repository. The hunter will then receive a certificate of appreciation and information on where the bird was banded. WFF will receive a report from the USGS about where the bird was harvested.

“Overall, mallards are the most banded waterfowl species,” Maddox said. “You’re most likely to kill a banded mallard. Second most likely would be a banded wood duck.”

Alabama hunters will again have a daily bag limit of 6 ducks for the 2020-2021 season. That daily bag limit may include no more than 3 wood ducks, 4 mallards (no more than 2 of which may be females), 1 mottled duck, 2 black ducks, 1 pintail, 2 canvasbacks, 1 scaup, and 2 redheads. The daily bag limit for coots is 15 per day. The daily bag limit for mergansers is 5, only 2 of which can be hooded mergansers. The aggregate bag limit of 5 dark geese (Canada, White-Fronted and Brant) shall not include more than 3 Canada geese or 1 Brant. For light geese (Snow, Blue, Ross’s) the aggregate bag limit is 5. Possession limit is three times the daily bag limit.

Regular season dates for ducks, coots, mergansers and geese are November 27-28, 2020, and December 5-January 31, 2021. The Youth, Veterans and Active Duty Military Special Waterfowl Days are set for November 21, 2020, and February 6, 2021.

“Habitat conditions are looking good,” Maddox said. “It’s been a fairly wet spring and summer for us. There should be lots of water on the landscape and lots of food available. The hatch should have been good this year, so I think we’ll see plenty of wood ducks on Black Friday when the season opens this year.”

With the help of Ducks Unlimited (DU), Maddox said WFF is in the middle of a huge waterfowl habitat enhancement effort.

“This is the biggest undertaking of waterfowl projects the state’s ever done,” he said. “We started in 2019 and put together a list of 15 projects across the state. We’re going to put a little more than $1 million into habitat and restoration work on the wetland landscape in Alabama, from the Tennessee Valley all the way to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

“A lot of the projects involve replacing or restoring the water control infrastructure on some of our WMAs (wildlife management areas). We will restore some habitats that have been degraded over the years and putting that back in higher productivity for waterfowl. We will create a couple of new SOAs (Special Opportunity Areas) that will be available for limited-quota hunts for waterfowl in the future in Jackson County and Dallas County.”

Maddox said new pumps and water control gates are being installed at the Jackson County waterfowl area. New water control structures and levees are also under construction at the David K. Nelson WMA near Demopolis.

Survey work will be conducted for the projects that will begin next year at Swan Creek, Swan Creek Greentree Reservoir and in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. The work includes replacing dilapidated water control structures as well as aerial spraying of herbicides in the Delta to control non-native invasive species like Chinese tallow (popcorn) trees and giant cut grass to restore historical open wetlands.

“DU has assisted us with previous projects and is a long-term cooperative partner in conservation,” Maddox said. “In addition, a lot of this would not be possible if hunters weren’t purchasing state duck stamps over the years. We don’t get any General Fund tax dollars, so all of this work is paid for through license sales, duck stamps, Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration funds and partners like DU.”

“It’s good to see work being put on the ground through the use of these funds for the future of waterfowl in Alabama and waterfowl hunters across the state.”

Harvesting and Storing Pecans This Fall

By Victoria Dee

As leaves begin to darken and pumpkins decorate every doorstep, pecans are ripe and ready for harvest as fall settles in in the Southeast. These nutritious nuts are members of the hickory family and grow on towering shade trees commonly found in yards, orchards and pastures throughout Alabama. Though pecan harvest typically occurs from October to December, enjoying the bounty year-round is possible with proper harvesting and storing methods.

Harvesting Pecans

“Pecans are mature and ready to harvest any time after the shuck begins to open,” said Angela Treadaway, an Alabama Extension regional food safety and quality agent.

When these shucks are open, shaking or thrashing branches becomes an easy way to harvest nuts directly from the tree. Doug Chapman, an Alabama Extension regional commercial horticulture agent, offers another option for removal of pecans from tree limbs.

“While commercial growers use tree shakers, homeowners mostly can and do rely on natural drop from the tree,” Chapman said.

Beware of leaving nuts on the tree too long, however, as predators often want to harvest them for themselves.

If harvesting occurs early in the season, nuts will have a high moisture content, which would require drying before storage.

“Dry them in the shell in thin layers on elevated screens, or hang them in small mesh bags in a well-ventilated area at room temperature out of direct sunlight,” Treadaway said.

After approximately two weeks of drying, shell one or two and if the nuts are dry enough they should snap when bent. This indicates that they are ready for immediate use or for storage.

Storage

Because of their high oil content, pecans are perishable nuts. Proper storage is the best way to ensure good quality year-round.

“At home, unshelled pecans can be stored in a cool, dry place,” Treadaway said. “Shelled pecans should either be refrigerated or frozen.”

Storing pecans away from air and light is crucial. Vacuum sealed bags or jars allow for the best storage. After properly storing nuts frozen, thawing and refreezing can occur repeatedly for a period of two years without loss of texture or flavor.

Test stored nuts before using them in recipes. Rancid pecans have a bitter and oily taste. A dark color may also be a characterizing factor of rancid pecans. Make sure to discard any rancid nuts, as rancidity is not reversible.

More Information

For more information on harvesting and storing pecans, visit www.aces.edu or contact your local Extension Agent.

Don’t Get Complacent about Hunter Safety

(David Rainer) Hunters should always properly identify their targets and what is beyond before they put their finger on the trigger. Safety harnesses should be worn and be attached the tree at all times when climbing or descending. A rope should be used to hoist an unloaded firearm into an elevated stand.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Although the number of hunting accidents has held steady for the last several years, Captain Marisa Futral doesn’t want Alabama’s hunters to take anything for granted during the state’s lengthy hunting seasons.

Futral, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Hunter Education Coordinator, said accidents for the past five years have averaged about 20 per hunting season, which she considers encouraging but not the ultimate goal.

Of the 22 accidents during the 2019-2020 season, WFF staff had reports of eight non-fatal firearms accidents, one fatal firearms accident, 10 non-fatal treestand accidents and three fatal treestand accidents.

“Of our non-fatal firearms accidents, half of them were self-inflicted,” Futral said. “The other half was failure to properly identify the target. The one fatality was failure to identify the target during turkey season. We really need to emphasize properly identifying the target before you put your finger on the trigger.

“And don’t get complacent. One of the non-fatal firearms accidents occurred when the hunter tripped and shot himself in the foot. Hunters need to be constantly aware of the muzzle direction of their firearm. Of the 13 treestand accidents, the victims either weren’t wearing safety harnesses or they weren’t attached to the tree. You need to be attached to the tree the entire time you’re off the ground.”

Futral said she can’t stress that last statement enough about being attached to the tree with a safety line from the time your feet leave the ground climbing until your feet touch the ground descending.

“A wide variety of accessories is available to ensure you are attached to the tree at all times,” she said. “Harnesses are much more comfortable than they were 10 years ago. They are easy to put on and are lightweight.”

Of the three treestand fatalities, Futral said the cause of one accident in Jackson County could not be determined. One fatal accident occurred in Fayette County when the victim fell out of his stand, and the other fatality occurred as the hunter was climbing down out of the stand.

Several non-fatal treestand accidents involved failures of straps or other parts of the treestand.

“Always check the condition of your treestands before you attempt to climb,” Futral said. “Treestands left out in the weather can deteriorate quickly.”

WFF Hunter Education urges all hunters to follow 11 guidelines for using a treestand safely:

Always wear a safety harness, also known as a fall-arrest system, when you are in a treestand, as well as when climbing into or out of a treestand. Statistics show that the majority of treestand incidents occur while climbing in and out of a stand.

A safety strap should be attached to the tree to prevent you from falling more than 12 inches.

Always inspect the safety harness for signs of wear or damage before each use.

Follow all manufacturer’s instructions for use of a safety harness and stand.

Follow the three-point rule of treestand safety. Always have three points of contact to the steps or ladder before moving. This could be two arms and one leg holding and stepping on the ladder or one arm and two legs in contact with the ladder before moving. Be cautious that rain, frost, ice or snow can cause steps to become extremely slippery. Check the security of the step before placing your weight on it.

Always hunt with a plan and, if possible, a buddy. Before you leave home, let others know your exact hunting location, when you plan to return and who is with you.

Always carry emergency signal devices such as a cell phone, walkie-talkie, whistle, signal flare, PLD (personal locator device) and flashlight at all times and within reach even while you are suspended in your fall-arrest system. Watch for changing weather conditions. In the event of an incident, remain calm and seek help immediately.

Always select the proper tree for use with your treestand. Select a live, straight tree that fits within the size limits recommended in your treestand’s instructions. Do not climb or place a treestand against a leaning tree.

Never leave a treestand installed for more than two weeks since damage could result from changing weather conditions and/or from other factors not obvious with a visual inspection.

Always use a haul line to pull up your gear and (unloaded) firearm or bow to your treestand once you have reached your desired hunting height. Never climb with anything in your hands or on your back. Prior to descending, lower your equipment on the opposite side of the tree.

Always know your physical limitations. Don’t take chances. Do not climb when impaired by drugs, alcohol or if you’re sick or fatigued. If you start thinking about how high you are, stop climbing.

“It’s so easy to get complacent,” Futral said. “Your family wants you to come home from the hunt safely. Even if you’ve been doing this your whole life, take that extra minute to be safe. Make sure you’re hooked to the tree. Unload your firearm when you cross the fence. If you think it’ll be okay, ‘just this once.’ Don’t do it.”

The one firearm fatality occurred in Jefferson County when the hunter failed to properly identify the target during turkey season and shot a member of the hunting party.

Futral stresses the 10 commandments of firearms safety:

Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.

Control the muzzle of your firearm. Keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction. Never point a firearm at anything that you do not wish to shoot, and insist that your shooting and hunting companions do the same.

Be sure of your target and beyond. Positively identify your target before you fire, and make sure no people, livestock, roads or buildings are beyond the target.

Never shoot at water or a hard, flat surface. A ricocheting bullet cannot be controlled.

Don’t use a scope for target identification; use binoculars.

Never climb a tree, cross a fence or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm.

Store guns and ammunition separately. Store firearms under lock and key, and use a gun case to transport firearms.

Make sure your barrel and action are clear of all obstructions.

Unload firearms when not in use. Never take someone else’s word that a firearm is unloaded. Check yourself.

Avoid drugs and alcohol when hunting or shooting. Even some over-the-counter medicines can cause impairment.

Despite the accidents, hunting remains one of the safest recreational activities available. According to American Sports Data and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, hunting ranks lower than basketball, football, tennis, cheerleading, bicycling, golf, and even bowling in the total number of injuries per 100 participants.

Responsible hunters who mentor others in the aspects of safety, as well as the many volunteer hunter safety instructors around the state, have contributed to the high safety record for those who enjoy the great outdoors during the hunting seasons in Alabama.

New Indiana Bat Hibernaculum Discovered in Alabama

Indiana bat by Darwin Brack, Environmental Solutions and Innovations
Southeastern bat wing under UV light by Nick Sharp, ADCNR

Biologists have recently discovered a new Indiana bat hibernaculum (a shelter occupied by hibernating bats) in Alabama, bringing the known number of active Indiana bat caves in the state to four. The location is the southernmost known hibernaculum for the species across its range that extends north to Canada.


“The Indiana bat is exceedingly rare in Alabama, and this new discovery continues to improve our understanding of this endangered species in the state,” said Nick Sharp, Nongame Wildlife Biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “In 2017, researchers also discovered the southernmost known Indiana bat summer maternity colonies in the forests of the Oakmulgee Ranger District (Talladega National Forest) near Tuscaloosa.”


The newly identified hibernaculum is located in Shelby County, Alabama, and is closed to the public.


This is the same site where biologists identified a Southeastern bat infected by White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) in 2017. A specimen was collected at that time, and the infection was confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center. An ADCNR press release later that year announced the first Southeastern bat confirmed with WNS in the U.S., adding the species to the list of 13 other bat species known to be susceptible to the disease.


A separate bat research project conducted by the USGS National Wildlife Health Center has discovered that the WNS infected bat from Shelby County was misidentified in 2017. It is now believed the WNS infected bat was an Indiana bat. Additional research also suggests the Southeastern bat may be resistant to WNS.


Dr. Jeff Lorch with the USGS National Wildlife Health Center has developed methods to identify North American bats based on their DNA. Many bat species, including the group to which the Indiana bat and Southeastern bat belong, are challenging to identify based on their outward appearance. The use of DNA sequencing helps distinguish between bat species that outwardly look very similar.


When Dr. Lorch examined the DNA of the bat identified as the first Southeastern bat infected with WNS, he discovered its DNA matched that of Indiana bats and not Southeastern bats. He consulted with the biologists who collected the bat, but a re-evaluation of the bat’s external characteristics could not confirm the identity of the species.
In March 2020, biologists returned to the Shelby County location to conduct a new survey of its bat population. To assist in identifying Indiana bats, Darwin Brack, a field biologist with Environmental Solutions and Innovations in Ohio, also took part in the survey due to his extensive experience with the species.
The new survey identified 70 Indiana bats in the cave, the largest concentration of Indiana bats now known in Alabama. The Indiana bats were found in the same location where the WNS infected specimen was taken, in a cold-air sink within the cave. Southeastern bats were also present in the cave, but only found in an upper, warmer part of the cave. Gray bats were also hibernating in the cave.


“We now believe the bat confirmed with WNS was an Indiana bat and not a Southeastern bat,” said WFF’s Nick Sharp. “At this time, there is little evidence to suggest Southeastern bats are susceptible to WNS.”
Since the Southeastern bat was misidentified in 2017, WFF biologists have collaborated with Dr. Joe Johnson of Ohio University and Dr. Andrew Edelman of the University of West Georgia to investigate the susceptibility of Southeastern bats to WNS. Some bats can carry Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), the fungus that causes WNS, but not become infected with the disease.


In 2018, 62 bats from the Shelby County location and one other cave in the region were examined for the presence of Pd and WNS infection. The bats’ wings were photographed under a UV light, which causes tissue infected with Pd to fluoresce. The wings were then swabbed to collect DNA evidence of the fungal pathogen. Lab results from the swabs showed 56 of the bats tested positive for the presence of Pd. However, no bats exhibited fluorescence indicating WNS infection when photographed under the UV light, suggesting Southeastern bats may be resilient to WNS.


WNS has killed more than 6 million bats in North America. Before WNS was discovered in Alabama, more than 300 Indiana bats were known to hibernate within the Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge in Jackson County. In 2019, only 19 Indiana bats were counted at Sauta Cave.


The continuing effort to monitor WNS in Alabama is conducted through a collaboration between WFF and its partners including the USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Solutions and Innovations, Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Copperhead Environmental Consulting, Ohio University and the University of West Georgia.


The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Physically disabled hunt dates announced for field trial area

The M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area (FWFTA) in Hale County, Alabama, will host a series of deer hunts for hunters with physical disabilities from late November 2020 through January 2021. To register for the hunts, call (334) 289-8030 starting October 1, 2020.
“Access to outdoor activities such as hunting should be available to everyone who has an interest,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and Chairman of the Forever Wild Board of Trustees. “We are honored to provide hunting opportunities for all Alabamians including those with physical disabilities.”


Hunt availability is limited and will be assigned on a first come, first served basis. Hunters are limited to registering for only one hunt for the season and must bring an assistant to help with the hunt. Hunters will need a hunting license and Conservation ID number prior to registering.
FWFTA physically disabled hunt dates
November 25, 28
December 23, 30
January 2, 6, 9, 13, 16, 20, 27, 30


Hunters with physical disabilities are required to fill out a Disabled Hunter Permit Application prior to the hunt dates. The permit can be downloaded from the “Physically Disabled Hunting Areas” section of www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/where-hunt-alabama.


All deer harvested during the FWFTA physically disabled hunts must be reported via Alabama’s Game Check system. Hunters will have 48 hours to Game Check their harvest through the Outdoor AL mobile app or online at www.outdooralabama.com.


If you have questions about the FWFTA physically disabled hunts, please call or email Evan Lawrence with the ADCNR State Lands Division at (334) 353-7909 or Evan.Lawrence@dcnr.alabama.gov.


The M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area consists of 4,300 acres in Hale County and is managed as a nature preserve and recreation area. In addition to developing a sporting dog test ground and a youth hunting program, the ADCNR State Lands Division is currently restoring the tract’s native prairie grasslands and managing its numerous ponds for public fishing events.


The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

  • Weekly Column HeaderWFF Cautiously Optimistic About Spread of Silver Carp
  • By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR)
  • Chris Greene is cautiously optimistic that an invasive fish species that can wreak havoc on reservoir ecosystems has not expanded its range in Alabama’s waterways.The silver carp, which has done noticeable damage in Kentucky and Tennessee waterways, has been found in Alabama’s Pickwick and Wheeler reservoirs.Thankfully, the feared spread of the fish, highlighted in numerous YouTube videos for jumping when startled by boaters, has not materialized, said Greene, Chief of Fisheries for ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. Only Pickwick has a moderately abundant population of silver carp, and Greene hopes that population stays contained to that reservoir.“We’re relatively new to this situation,” said Greene. “Silver carp haven’t been in Alabama for very long. We’ve only had federal funding specific to Asian carp work since October of 2019, so we’re still in our first year of funding. So far, work has involved the acquisition of field gear, sampling equipment and staff training. We’re still awaiting our primary sampling boat, which we hope to get this fall and do more intense field sampling.”When the new boat arrives, Greene said it will allow WFF personnel to target the collection of silver carp to determine population dynamics.“We’ve been sampling with our standard shock boats,” he said. “The new boat will be more specialized with a rectangular frame and net attached to the front of the boat where you can actually trawl through the water. It will still have electrodes hanging down like a standard electrofishing boat. So, you’re moving through the water collecting carp in areas where they tend to congregate.“It’s a learning experience. We’re learning from other states like Kentucky and Tennessee. They have been doing this a whole lot longer than us. Hopefully what we learn from them will make our sampling more effective.”Because of the abundance of silver carp in their rivers and reservoirs, Kentucky and Tennessee rely heavily on commercial anglers to remove silver carp from their systems. Greene said those states even subsidize commercial anglers to remove silver carp to make it economically feasible.The good news for Alabama is silver carp have had a limited range since the first one was detected in state waters about five years ago.“Our limited field sampling has not yielded any silver carp outside of Pickwick Reservoir in Alabama,” Greene said. “From what we have been able to determine from angler catches, the farthest upstream location where silver carp have been confirmed by a commercial fisherman in Alabama is Wheeler Reservoir.“Angler reports have been infrequent in Alabama. Most of those have come from Pickwick Reservoir. So, we believe the leading edge of where we have a moderately abundant population is Pickwick.”Greene said WFF Fisheries encourages anglers to report any silver carp catches or sightings.“We ask any anglers who are out on the water to let us know if they see a silver carp,” he said. “They are our eyes out there. We can’t always be on the water, so we ask anglers who see any silver carp or bighead carp, please report those to asiancarp@dcnr.alabama.gov.”Greene asks that reports, locations and photos of silver and bighead carp be sent to that email address.In an effort to deter the spread of the invasive fish, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) issued a new Wild Baitfish Regulation that deals with the capture of live bait in Alabama waters and restricts the movement of that bait to other water bodies.“We enacted a regulation in Alabama to reduce the spread of Asian carp,” Greene said. “Young Asian carp closely resemble other live baitfish that are commonly used by anglers – skipjack herring, gizzard shad and threadfin shad. If we have anglers going out throwing cast nets and catching several species and taking these to other water bodies, it could increase the spread of Asian carp.”The regulation states that if anglers catch bait on a specific body of water, that bait cannot be transported live to another body of water. It also restricts the import of live, wild-caught baitfish from other states.The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is considering several methods to control the spread of Asian carp, including fish barriers at 10 locks controlled by the TVA. One type of fish barrier under consideration is a Bioacoustics Fish Fence (BAFF), which utilizes a combination of sound, light and air bubbles. This type of barrier is installed at Barkley Lock and Dam in Kentucky and is currently being studied for its effectiveness in deterring Asian carp. Other types of barriers used for Asian carp include the use of carbon dioxide or electricity. TVA is conducting environmental impacts on the deterrents to minimize the impact on native species.TVA is also considering adjusting river flow rates during potential Asian carp spawning periods, which are usually during high-water events. Studies have shown that Asian carp eggs are only semi-buoyant and will sink to the bottom and die with low river flow.“For those eggs to mature, there must be long stretches of flowing water from larger tributaries,” Greene said. “You have this series of dams on the Tennessee River, so it really doesn’t provide the habitat requirements for the eggs to mature and develop. But some of the major tributaries on the Tennessee River have long flowing stretches. The concern is if carp get up into these tributaries and we have a weather year with a good amount of rain, the potential does exist in certain places.”Silver carp have been compared to feral hogs in the damage done to an ecosystem. Feral hogs outcompete native wildlife for food and habitat resources. When silver carp become established in an area, they interrupt the natural food chain and native species end up negatively impacted.“Silver carp are filter feeders,” Greene said. “They are planktivores. They filter out plankton throughout the water column. This puts them in direct competition with baitfish and young game fish as species like bass and crappie are planktivores in their early life stages. There’s more competition at the base of the food chain. It also affects baitfish species as adults. You’ve only got so much biomass that particular water body can support. The more taken up by Asian carp, the less will be taken up by the native species.“The problem with silver carp is once they come into a water body, it becomes a management issue. You never really get rid of them. It’s like feral hogs. You just have to manage them. You can never fully eradicate them.”As the boaters and anglers saw in the aforementioned videos, silver carp also pose a safety issue for recreational activities on the waterways.“Once silver carp get scared, they jump out of the water, which can be hazardous for someone in a bass boat or on a jet ski,” Greene said. “It’s definitely a safety concern.”Alabama continues to work with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to collectively manage the spread of silver carp. Joining the fight on a larger scale is a multistate group called the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resources Association (MICRA), which includes the 28 states in the Mississippi River basin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Service, TVA, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and two Native American tribes are also members of the coalition.Several years ago, Tennessee Tech received federal funding to monitor numerous lakes, including Pickwick, for silver carp. One of the goals has been to catch silver carp and insert sonic tags to allow tracking of the fish’s movements.“Tennessee Tech is still doing the tagging studies, and they’ve even got detectors set up on some of the TVA locks in Alabama,” Greene said. “From my understanding, none of the silver carp they’ve tagged in Pickwick and other places have gone through any of the locks in Alabama. At least that was the case just a few weeks ago.“To date, we have not had any confirmed reports of silver carp in Guntersville Reservoir or Wilson Reservoir. We certainly hope it stays that way.”Greene said concerned anglers and those interested in mitigating the damage done by invasive species can help by purchasing the Alabama freshwater fishing distinctive license plates, which recently received a new design.“Proceeds from the sales of this license plate are earmarked for specific purposes, and one of those is the control of aquatic invasive species, including Asian carp,” he said. “We’re excited about this.”

Youth Hunt Dates Announced for Forever Wild Field Trial Area

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) State Lands Division announces the youth deer and duck hunt schedules for the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area (FWFTA) in Hale County. The hunts will take place late November 2020 through January 2021. Registration will open September 14 through November 1, 2020. Hunters will be selected via a computerized, random drawing after registration closes.

“I am thrilled that we will have an opportunity again this year to introduce youth to the great deer and duck hunting on this Forever Wild property,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner and Chairman of the Forever Wild Board of Trustees.

Brandon Smith from Jemison, Alabama, took his 12-year-old son, Cade, on a FWFTA youth deer hunt in January 2020. The time spent in the outdoors with family was a highlight of their experience.

“Cade loves the outdoors, hunting and fishing,” Smith said. “He was chosen for a youth deer hunt at the Field Trial Area and was able to take an 8-point buck. Spending time outdoors with my kids is all about making memories. This hunt was definitely a memory maker.”

Smith said they plan on hitting the woods again this fall.

Youth Deer Hunt Dates
• November 25, 28
• December 23, 30
• January 2, 6, 9, 13, 16, 20, 27, 30

Youth Duck Hunt Dates
• November 28
• December 23, 30
• January 2, 6, 9, 13, 16, 20, 27, 30

To register for a hunt, visit https://publichunts.dcnr.alabama.gov/Public/AvailableHunts during the registration period listed above.

Registration for the FWFTA youth hunts is only available to parents or adults who are at least 21 years old and have a Conservation ID number. A hunting license is not required at the time of registration. However, if selected during the random draw, you must have a valid hunting license to accept the hunt permit. If selected for a hunt, you will receive an email requesting that you validate/accept the permit. Once the permit is accepted, you will receive an email with the hunt details.

To participate in the youth hunts, youth hunters must be age 15 or younger and accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old (or a parent). Adults must have a valid state hunting license and applicable duck stamp, if duck hunting. Hunters must obtain their license and duck stamp (if duck hunting) before the hunt since they will not be available on-site. Licenses are available for purchase at various retailers throughout the state or online at www.outdooralabama.com.

All deer harvested during the FWFTA youth hunts must be reported via Alabama’s Game Check system. Hunters have 48 hours to Game Check their harvest through the Outdoor AL mobile app or online at www.outdooralabama.com.

In addition to being required when registering for the FWFTA youth hunts, a Conservation ID number is the fastest and easiest way to report a deer or turkey harvest. This number is unique to each hunter and can also be used to purchase future licenses, obtain Harvest Information Program (HIP) permits, register for Special Opportunity Area hunts and more. For information about how to obtain a Conservation ID number, visit www.outdooralabama.com/hunting.

For more information about the hunt details or registration process, call Evan Lawrence with the ADCNR State Lands Division at (334) 353-7909, or email Evan.Lawrence@dcnr.alabama.gov.

The M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area consists of 4,300 acres in Hale County and is managed as a nature preserve and recreation area. In addition to developing a sporting dog test ground and a youth hunting program, the ADCNR State Lands Division is currently restoring the tract’s native prairie grasslands and managing its numerous ponds for public fishing events.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Registration for Sandhill Crane Season Opens on September 8

Photo: (Left to right) 
Jud Easterwood, Courtenay Conring, and Norman Haley

Last year, Alabama saw its first sandhill crane hunting season in more than 100 years. The season returns for 2020-2021 with 400 permit holders having the opportunity to hunt sandhill cranes in north Alabama. Registration for the permits opens on September 8.

Norman Haley from Scottsboro, Alabama, has hunted sandhill cranes twice in Tennessee and was excited to have the opportunity to do so in his home state during the 2019-2020 season.

“Sandhill crane hunting is very unique,” Haley said. “The anticipation of seeing the birds approach from a distance is exciting. The slow and graceful circling as they land in a field is a sight to see.”

Today, that sight is more common in north Alabama thanks to the state’s conservation efforts and hunters who purchase their hunting licenses.

In the early 2000s, sandhill crane seasons in the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways were under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). By 2010, USFWS approved a sandhill crane management plan that included a hunt plan for the Mississippi Flyway, which includes Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. Kentucky opened its season in 2011. Tennessee’s season soon followed in 2013. Alabama’s season opened in 2019.

“I’ve now been able to take part in the first modern day sandhill crane seasons in Tennessee and Alabama,” Haley said. “It’s nice to know that hunter dollars and conservation efforts have brought sandhill cranes to sustainable and harvestable levels in the state. Alabama’s sandhill crane season is just another example that conservation works.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) receives no funding from the state’s general fund. The WFF’s Wildlife Section is primarily funded through a portion of hunting license sales that is matched on a three-to-one basis by the USFWS through the federal Pittman-Robertson Act. Alabama State Duck Stamp sales are also matched through the same process, but earmarked by state law to be utilized for wetlands and waterfowl conservation.

“Monies from these two revenue sources directly benefit sandhill cranes by providing habitat protection, management and restoration work in the areas of Alabama that cranes utilize as migration routes and wintering habitat,” said Seth Maddox, WFF Migratory Game Bird Coordinator. “Over the long term, conservation of habitat has played an integral part in the population growth of sandhill cranes.”

Those conservation efforts have benefited both sandhill cranes and hunters in Alabama like Haley.

“There was a time I thought the only way I would be able to hunt sandhills was by taking a trip to Texas or Oklahoma,” Haley said. “Now that I can hunt them in my home state, I don’t ever see myself passing up the opportunity as long as it’s available.”

Registration for Alabama’s 2020-2021 sandhill crane hunting season will open at 8 a.m. on September 8 and run until 8 a.m. on September 29, 2020. The WFF will conduct a computer-controlled random draw of 400 sandhill crane hunting permits on Tuesday, September 29, 2020, at noon Central Time. To register, visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/sandhill-crane-hunting-alabama during the dates listed above. A $10 registration fee applies.

Registration is limited to Alabama residents 16 or older or Alabama lifetime hunting license holders. Applicants must have their regular hunting license and a state waterfowl stamp to register.

If drawn, hunters must complete an online test that includes species identification and regulations. After passing the test, WFF will issue the permit and tags to the hunter. In addition to a hunting license and state duck stamp, hunters must also acquire a federal duck stamp and Harvest Information Program certification, and, if hunting on a Wildlife Management Area (WMA), a WMA license.

The season is restricted to north Alabama and consists of two segments. The first segment runs from December 4, 2020, to January 3, 2021. The second segment will be January 11-31, 2021. The daily, season and possession limit will be three birds per permit. Hunters can harvest all three birds in one day if they choose. Both state and federal wildlife refuges are closed to sandhill crane hunting.

For more information about Alabama’s 2020-2021 sandhill crane hunting season, visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/sandhill-crane-season.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visitwww.outdooralabama.com.

Unofficial 2020 West Central Alabama River Zone Gator Hunt results

“19 0f the 50 tags were filled on the first weekend,” stated Big Daddy Lawler. Follow BDL at gettinoutdoors@frontier.com, www.gettinoutdoorsradio.com and www.facebook.com/gettinoutdoors/
Night 1 – 08/13/14/2020
01 – Jamie Tyree, Range Al. – PBC – 12’ 1”, 531 lbs. Male
02 – Dewitt Carter – Claiborne – 11’ 1”, 362 lbs. Male
03 – John Goff, Clanton – PBC – 8’ 10”, 176 lbs. Male
04 – J.C. Peeples, Wilsonville – Liddell’s Slough – 7’ 6”, 95 lbs. Male
05 – James Glasgow, Haleyville – Bogue Chitto – 10’ 3”, 270 lbs. Male
06 – David Perry, Lincoln – Bells Landing – 6’ 11”, 75 lbs. Male
Night 2 – 08/14/15/2020
07 – Bo Pierce, Camden – River – 9’ 1”, 201 lbs. Male
08 – Kevin Jenkins, Linden – Liddell’s Slough – 7’ 9”, 88 lbs. Female
09 – Mark Beatty – River – 7’ 1”, 85 lbs. Female
10 – James Phillips – Mill Creek – 7’ 9”, 108 lbs. Male
Night 3 – 08/15/16/2020
11 – Keith McKenzie, Mobile – False Creek – 13’, 689 lbs. Male
12 – Dent Ramsey, Monroeville – Gator Slough – 10’ 4”, 273 lbs. Male
13 – Douglas Taylor – Holly Creek – 8’ 4”, 141 lbs. Male
14 – Brent Baker – River – 7’ 3”, 87 lbs. Male
15 – Jerald Burnette – Gold Mine – 7’ 8”, 109 lbs. Female
16 – Ryan Summerford – Paradise Point – 8’ 5”, 132 lbs. Male
17 – Travis Bennett, Wetumpka – RCSP Slough – 7’ 2”, 81 lbs. Male
18 – Casi Vaughn, McCalla – Gold Mine – 5’ 8”, 38 lbs. Female
19 – Bo Holland, Waverly – 6 Mile Creek – 9’, 204 lbs. Male

Advisory Board Approves Snapper Extension, Tables Turkey Changes

(David Rainer) The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board approved a three-day extension of the red snapper season in October. The Board tabled a motion that would change the season dates and season bag limits for wild turkeys. Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said a multi-million-dollar expansion at Meaher State Park in Baldwin County will start later this year.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board approved a three-day extension of the red snapper season and tabled a motion to change the season dates and bag limit for wild turkeys at its recent meeting in Mobile.

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), recommended a three-day extension of the red snapper season, which the Board approved unanimously. The extra red snapper days are set for October 10-12. The Board also voted to give the Commissioner leeway to adjust those dates should inclement weather interfere with the planned extension.

“We saw an increased participation in red snapper season,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “People couldn’t play travel ball. They weren’t going to Disney World or going on family vacations. Consequently, we saw increased participation on all weekends of the red snapper season. Because of that, we closed the season on July 3 as we were approaching the quota on red snapper. After checking the data and seeing the final landings, we have about 128,000 pounds of red snapper quota left.”

The Commissioner said the approved extension is the Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Columbus Day weekend.

The Board heard a presentation from Mike Chamberlain, the Terrell Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management at the University of Georgia, about the decline of wild turkey populations in the South. Chamberlain’s presentation was the same one given to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which wanted to see data on how harvest impacts the population dynamics.

“Arkansas’ turkey population has been declining for a number of years,” Chamberlain said. “The trajectory of the population in Arkansas is almost identical to the trajectory of the population in Alabama, except that Alabama is about seven or eight years behind.”

Chamberlain, who is studying wild turkeys in numerous states from Arizona to North Carolina, said gobbling activity begins about 45 days before the peak of nesting.

“Gobblers become receptive well before the hens do,” he said. “We know two things drive gobbling activity. One is hen availability. As hens become less available, gobbling increases. The other is competition amongst themselves. If your buddy is gobbling, you gobble.

“What we see is that a lot of gobbling in March corresponds to no breeding activity. We also see that gobbling really picks up when hens start to nest.”

Chamberlain said what we’re dealing with in the South is an increased harvest of gobblers and a survival rate of hatchlings that is not high enough to sustain the population.

“What we see is a slow, gradual decline across all the states in the Southeast,” he said. “The survival rate of a clutch is 1 to 1½ poults per hen. That is not sustainable. So, it makes sense that the populations have slowly declined.”

Chamberlain also said his studies indicate that about 80 percent of the harvest occurs before the peak of incubation.

“If you remove four toms from 2,400 acres, gobbling decreases four-fold,” he said.

Chamberlain pointed out that the reported harvest on the opening weekend of Alabama’s 2020 season was 43 percent higher than the harvest from 2019, a trend that held true throughout the Southeast.

“We know that early in the season, the dominant birds are the ones being shot,” he said. “So that 43 percent disproportionately affects the older, dominant birds.”

Chamberlain said the result of taking the dominant birds out of the population is an increase in the length of nesting activity. Instead of most of the egg-laying occurring within a few weeks, he said the hatching of the eggs is now stretched out over as much as 100 days.

“If all of these hens drop their clutches within a couple of weeks, they will hatch about the same time,” he said. “By scattering them across the landscape across 100 days, you give predators the advantage. With all the eggs hatching at one time, predators can’t possibly find all of them. If you stretch it across three months – rat snakes, raccoons, horned owls – you’re giving them an advantage.

“The science suggests the activity we’re doing is contributing to this prolonged nesting effort.”

Board Chairman Joey Dobbs asked Chamberlain if he had suggestions on how to stop the decline of the turkey population in Alabama and the Southeast.

“There are some things we can control and some things we can’t,” Chamberlain said. “This bird, uniformly across the Southeast, is dealing with habitat issues – declining quality, fragmentation, urbanization. We have diseases that are popping up that are affecting the birds. We have predator communities that are much more diverse than they were. We can’t control any of that because most turkeys live on private land.

“What we can control is what we know impacts this bird. That is harvest. We’ve known this since the mid-’90s.”

After Chamberlain’s presentation, a motion was made to change the dates and bag limit for Alabama’s turkey season with a starting date of April 1 through the first Saturday in May with a season bag limit of three birds. The current regulations open the spring turkey season in most of the state on the third Saturday in March with a season bag limit of five birds.

Before the vote, Board Member Patrick Cagle offered an amendment to table that motion until the February 2021 Board meeting to ensure hunters in Alabama would not run afoul of a new regulation with the current regulation already printed in the Alabama Hunting & Fishing Digest. The Board unanimously approved the amendment to table the motion.

When asked for a recommendation on turkey season by Chairman Dobbs, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes said the decline in Arkansas’ turkey numbers is an ominous indication of where Alabama is headed without change.

“I would ask the Board to move the season starting date to as late as possible with a three-bird bag limit,” Sykes said. “I think Dr. Chamberlain showed that Arkansas is in a bad way right now. We’re headed in that direction. The sooner we can take proactive solutions, the better. I don’t want to kick this can down the road any farther. Thank y’all for saying you will take this up at the first meeting of 2021 and make a decision. It’s time.”

During the meeting, Commissioner Blankenship provided an update on the effects of COVID-19 on the ADCNR’s operations.

“I think our people are doing their best at social distancing and maintaining the safety guidelines,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Our State Parks stayed open the entire time, dealing with the public every day, as well as our officers and staff in the field. I really appreciate their work during this time. It’s been a testament to our employees and their passion for what we do. Governor (Kay) Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris felt like outdoors recreation was essential. I think it has been essential for people being able to get out and enjoy the outdoors when so many other things were closed. We’ve seen increased occupancy at our State Parks campgrounds and day-use facilities, our waterways and fishing lakes, our Forever Wild trails, and our WMAs (wildlife management areas). They were highly used.

“I think it shows the beautiful resources we have in our state, the wildlife and the diversity of the areas. I think people realized how fortunate we are and what a great state this is to live in. I think people got out and went to places they’ve never gone before. I think that has been good for not only physical health but mental health as well.”

Commissioner Blankenship also reported an increase in license sales, which is the main source of income for the ADCNR.

“Our hunting, fishing and Wildlife Heritage licenses were up a good bit,” he said. “Our non-resident licenses were down, as you can imagine with the travel restrictions.”

Commissioner Blankenship said a marketing campaign was initiated to target those individuals who may not hunt or fish but appreciate the diversity of wildlife and natural wonders Alabama offers.

“We are trying to increase participation in license sales for people who utilize areas of the state that don’t require a license,” he said. “They don’t hunt or fish, but they birdwatch or hike or take advantage of the recreational opportunities on the property managed by the ADCNR. We marketed our Wildlife Heritage License to the birdwatching community. We increased that license’s sales by more than 33 percent last year.

“Our new licenses are on sale now. One of the things we added this year was packages. If you want to hunt deer, you can select a hunt package. If you want to fish freshwater, you can select that package. If you want to fish saltwater, you can select that package. We wanted to make it easier for the public to go online and purchase licenses.”

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/license-packages for the license packages available.

Scaup Limit Reduced to One; Sandhill Registration Opens Soon

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

North America’s waterfowl breeding population annual survey is another aspect of the outdoors that has been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

Seth Maddox, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Migratory Bird Coordinator, said virus-related travel restrictions would not allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to conduct the aerial survey of the prairie potholes regions of Canada and the Midwest U.S.

“It’s going to be an interesting season,” Maddox said. “With COVID ongoing, they didn’t fly the breeding population survey in Canada and the northern U.S. The border was closed, so we don’t have a good estimate of what the waterfowl population looks like.”

Maddox said waterfowl specialists will have to depend on weather conditions and long-term datasets to take an educated guess on waterfowl populations.

“It’s been a fairly wet spring and summer across the U.S. prairies, which makes for really good breeding habitat,” he said. “But it has been fairly dry in the Canadian prairies, which will impact the breeding habitat there.

“We’ll see what the fall flight looks like. It may be a little below what we’ve seen in the past few years as far as population numbers. So, it will be an interesting year. I think the numbers will be fine. They may just be a little lower than the previous few years.”

Maddox said the waterfowl seasons in the flyways are set a year in advance. While this season’s bag limits and dates have minimal changes, he said the 2021-2022 season framework may be affected.

“This season, the only significant change is a reduction in the bag limit for scaup (bluebills),” he said. “Based on the 2019 population, scaup dropped into the restrictive package, which allows for a 45-day season with a two-bird daily bag limit and then a 15-day season with a one-bird daily bag limit.

“In Alabama, we decided to go a little more restrictive and go 60 days with a one-bird daily bag limit. That makes our regulations a little easier for our hunters to interpret. And it makes it easier for our Enforcement Officers as well. We didn’t want to put any hunters in a situation where they might be over the limit. We’re working on the harvest strategy at the Flyway level to get that changed so we won’t have season-within-a-season limits.”

For the 2020-2021 season, Alabama hunters will again have a daily bag limit of 6 ducks, which may include no more than 4 mallards (no more than 2 of which may be females), 1 mottled duck, 2 black ducks, 1 pintail, 3 wood ducks, 2 canvasbacks, 1 scaup, and 2 redheads. The daily bag limit for coots is 15 per day. The daily bag limit for mergansers is 5, only 2 of which can be hooded mergansers. The aggregate bag limit of 5 dark geese (Canada, White-Fronted and Brant) shall not include more than 3 Canada geese or 1 Brant. For light geese (Snow, Blue, Ross’s) the aggregate bag limit is 5. Possession limit is three times the daily bag limit.

Regular season dates for ducks, coots, mergansers and geese are November 27-28 and December 5-January 31, 2021. The Youth, Veterans and Active Duty Military Special Waterfowl Days are set for November 21 and February 6, 2021.

After a successful season last year, Alabama again will offer a limited sandhill crane hunt in north Alabama. The limited quota sandhill hunts will have 400 permits with 1,200 tags. The daily bag limit is 3. The season possession limit is 3. Sandhill season dates are December 4-January 3, 2021, and January 11-31, 2021.

“We had a good opening season for sandhill cranes,” Maddox said. “We harvested 291 birds, which is about 24 percent of the allocated tags. We’ll be doing the same thing this year.”

Registration for a sandhill crane permit will open September 8 and the random drawing for permits will be held after registration closes at 8 a.m. on September 29.

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/sandhill-crane-hunting-alabama for the link to apply for a sandhill permit. A $10 registration fee applies.

“Last year’s sandhill season was very positive, overwhelmingly positive,” Maddox said. “Everybody seemed to have a good time. Several hunters managed to fill their bag limits. People are excited to have the opportunity to chase this bird in the field again this year in Alabama.”

Maddox said the sandhill crane population in the U.S. has been steadily increasing over the past few years. However, the number of sandhills that end up in Alabama is directly related to the weather, just like ducks.

“The colder it is, the more birds show up in Alabama,” he said. “We had a good number of sandhills show up last year, but with colder weather, we’ll have more birds show up.”

Maddox said the bulk of the sandhill population spends summers in the northern U.S. states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec.

“Like ducks, sandhills only want to move as far as they have to, so the more snow cover up north, the better it is for Alabama,” he said. “Sandhills are feeding in dry or slightly wet agricultural fields. Snow cover pushes them farther south.

“We have really good habitat in Alabama for sandhills. Most of our sandhills winter on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and along the Tennessee River. But there is a decent population on Weiss Lake on the Coosa River.”

Maddox just hopes the weather conditions change for the 2020-2021 seasons after two years of less-than-average waterfowl hunting success.

“Last season looked a lot like the previous season,” Maddox said. “It was a pretty warm, mild winter here in Alabama. And, it was pretty mild in most of the country. We never saw that late good push of ducks that we are used to when we have cold weather. So, it made duck hunting fairly tough.

“It was a fairly wet winter across the Midwest and southern United States. There was a lot of water available on the landscape that provided a lot of available habitat for birds to spread out. It was almost a mirror image of the previous season.”

Maddox said the most recent quality duck season in Alabama occurred during the 2017-2018 season.

“That was a really good season,” he said. “We had a lot of cold weather that pushed down. We had a stretch of below freezing temperatures in Alabama. We really need that in the North and Midwest to put ice on the landscape to minimize the open water. And we need snow on the landscape to cover the available food and push the birds further south into open water and good habitat.

“Overall, it’s looking pretty good for this season. As long as we stay with average rainfall, we’ll have good habitat for migratory birds that make it here this fall and winter.”

For some early waterfowl action, don’t forget about the Special Teal Season, which runs September 12-27, 2020, with a daily bag limit of six birds.

Also, the early season for geese runs September 1-30 and then October 12-24. During the September season, hunters can take five dark geese per day, but only one Brant is allowed in that bag limit. The bag limit for light geese is five per day for the entire season.

Wild petunias bloom in Coatopa

This wild petunia was found in Coatopa by Connie and Marianne Boutwell. Ruellia humilis, the wild petunia, is a larval food plant for the buckeye and several other butterfly species, according to wildflower.org. It grows in several states as far south as Florida, and all the way north to Wisconsin. It’s found all the way east from United States eastern coast to as far west as Texas. The purple blooms blossom from May to September.

Sunset taken August 19, 2020. We want your outdoors photos!
Got a deer, fish, critter, or huge or unusual vegetable photo? Lovely sunset/sunrise or hiking shot? Snap a picture and email us. It’s free to submit and we’ll not only feature it in the paper, but also on our awards winning outdoors page on www.moundvilletimes.net.
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Registration Now Open for Alabama’s Adult Mentored Hunting Program

The archery skills Connie Chow developed at an Adult Mentored Hunting Program (AMH) workshop helped her harvest her first deer during an AMH hunt. Registration is now open for this fall’s AMH workshops.

Learning to hunt may seem out of reach for those who didn’t grow up with hunting as part of their family tradition. For those individuals, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) created an Adult Mentored Hunting Program (AMH) to teach about consumptive outdoor recreation, put wild game on the dinner table and potentially revive or initiate that family tradition.

A variety of interests can spark a non-hunter’s desire to hunt. For Connie Chow of Madison, Alabama, it was her experience attending last year’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) event that lead to her first hunt through the AMH program.

“While at BOW, I witnessed the excitement of a squirrel hunt,” Chow said. “The experience seemed so exciting and rewarding for the hunters that I wanted to take part in a hunt at some point. The self-sufficiency that comes with hunting was very appealing.”

Like others who take part in Alabama’s AMH program, outdoors recreation was not a regular part of Chow’s childhood. She had been fishing and camping a few times, but never hunting.

“The Adult Mentored Hunting program was an excellent introduction to hunting in an encouraging atmosphere,” she said. “You not only learn about hunting but also about conservation, nature and wildlife. My family was also able to join me for some of the activities. It was a chance to introduce them to some of the experiences as well.”

Chow put the hunting skills she learned at an AMH workshop to good use on the first day of her mentored hunt when she harvested a buck using a crossbow.

“The different components of the program give someone who is completely new to hunting the chance to learn new skills then apply them immediately,” she said. “The experience has definitely made me interested in exploring more outdoor activities like fishing, camping and clay target shooting.”

Chow will utilize her new hunting skills again this fall during a dove hunt on WFF’s Portland Landing Special Opportunity Hunting Area in Dallas County, Alabama.

To be eligible to attend a three-day Adult Mentored Hunt for deer or turkey, participants must be at least 19 years of age, possess a valid driver’s license and be new to hunting or have limited hunting experience. Participants must also attend at least one daylong AMH workshop to be eligible for a three-day hunt. After attending a workshop, participants will be notified by email if they have been randomly selected to participate in an AMH hunt.

The daylong AMH workshops will take place throughout the state this fall. The workshops provide participants with an opportunity to learn hunting basics, firearm safety and handling, where to hunt, and the equipment and gear needed. The workshops will conclude with a small game hunt. The necessary equipment and gear will be made available at no cost to the participants.

The first workshop of 2020 will take place at the Autauga Wildlife Management Area near Prattville, Alabama, on October 3. This workshop will focus on how to hunt deer with archery equipment.

As a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, workshop participants and WFF staff are required to wear a facial covering and maintain a distance of 6 feet from others when possible. Participants are not required to wear a facial covering while hunting.

There is a $20 registration fee for the AMH workshops. Online registration for the workshops is currently open. To register, visit www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/adult-mentored-hunting-program.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Extension offices serving as drop off points for mystery seed packages

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System is partnering with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) to assist in collecting unsolicited seed packages being sent to Alabama residents from China. The packages often indicate that they contain jewelry rather than seeds. ADAI field inspectors are currently collecting these seed packages to test their contents for unknown compounds, noxious weed seed and invasive species.
Gary Lemme, Alabama Extension director, said each county Extension office will serve as a drop off point for residents who may have received these mystery packages containing seeds.
“This partnership will allow inspectors at ADAI to process the seed samples more quickly,” Lemme said. “Alabama Extension is proud to take part in this process to continue serving Alabama residents.”
Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate said, “We appreciate Extension’s offer to assist our department by providing a designated drop off point in each county. We will continue to collect packages as along as we receive reports that they are being delivered to Alabama citizens.”
Those who have received unsolicited seed packages should not open the package containing the seeds or plant the seeds. Deliver these packages to the county Extension office nearest you. Find the address and contact information to county offices in the Alabama Extension directory at www.aces.edu/directory. When you deliver the package, professionals at that office will assist in filling out the ADAI Unsolicited Seed Package Report. (www.agi.alabama.gov/reportseeds).

Youth Dove Hunts Provide a Gateway to the Outdoors

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) provides several youth dove hunt opportunities throughout the state each fall. A simple hunting setup combined with a fun, family-friendly atmosphere makes WFF’s youth dove hunts an ideal way to introduce young people to the outdoors.
Registration for this year’s hunts will open at 8 a.m. on August 10, 2020. Although the hunts are free, online registration is required. Locations and hunting slots will be filled on a first come, first served basis. For most of the state, the hunts begin on September 5. For more information including a complete hunt schedule, visit www.outdooralabama.com/youth-hunting/youth-dove-hunts.
“The pandemic has shown us that access to outdoor recreation is more important than ever,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner. “We are happy to be able to provide that access this fall through a variety of hunting opportunities across the state including our Youth Dove Hunts.”
To participate in the hunts, youth hunters must be age 15 or younger and accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old (or a parent) who has a valid state hunting license, a Harvest Information Program (HIP) validation and a Conservation ID number.
Alabama’s youth dove hunt events are held in open fields and staffed by WFF personnel, which encourages a safe, secure environment for both parents and participants. Before each hunt, a short welcome session with reminders on hunting safety will be conducted. All hunters are encouraged to wear eye protection and earplugs when hunting.
“As a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we are asking that all participants and our staff wear a facial covering during the registration and safety briefing when they are within 6 feet of a person who is not a member of the same household,” said Seth Maddox, WFF Migratory Game Bird Coordinator. “Participants are not required to wear a facial covering when in their hunting location or while hunting.”
Doves are migratory and covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has special rules and regulations that apply to dove hunting which all hunters must follow. To review the Alabama Cooperative Extension System recommendations for plantings related to dove management, visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/mourning-dove-hunting-alabama.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Private Anglers To Get One More Opportunity at Red Snapper

David Rainer) The Alabama Marine Resources Division determined about 100,000 pounds of red snapper remain in the 2020 quota and plan to extend the season by one or two days this fall. The planned 35-day season was cut short because of the increased number of boats fishing for Alabama’s premier reef fish.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Just when it appeared that the 2020 red snapper season was a wrap, private recreational anglers are likely to get one more opportunity to fish this year.

Scott Bannon, Director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD), said the preliminary harvest numbers for the private recreational sector indicate about 100,000 pounds remain in the quota of 1,122,622 pounds.

The red snapper season for private recreational anglers (which includes state charter vessels) was originally set to last 35 days, beginning the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. However, the season had to be shortened to 25 days to ensure the quota was not exceeded.

Bannon said he and Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, are discussing options that would provide the best opportunity for private anglers to catch Alabama’s premier reef fish species.

“The private recreational angler season went really well even though we closed a little earlier than we anticipated,” Bannon said. “The data showed a tremendous number of people took advantage of the season, especially with the opening earlier on May 22.”

When the data from the season was analyzed, Bannon said a significant uptick in participation was quickly evident.

“The average vessel trips for the season were 713 trips per day,” he said. “That means a lot of people went fishing compared to the last two years, which had an average of about 530 vessel trips per day.

“I think people took advantage to go snapper fishing when they could not participate in other activities. They could not get on cruise ships. They couldn’t go to Disney. People were not playing travel sports. Boating was considered a safe outdoor activity, so I do think the COVID-19 pandemic affected the snapper season. I think it prompted more people to go snapper fishing than we had in the past.”

Bannon said the snapper season might have ended even a little earlier had it not been for Tropical Storm Cristobal, which significantly limited fishing on the third weekend of snapper season.

“Even after the second weekend, I had people tell me about the high number of boats they were seeing offshore,” he said. “They said there’s no way we’re going to make it to July 19. My thoughts were that as the season progresses the fervor dies down in July, and fishing gets a little tougher. Again, with not having other activities available, the weather outside that Cristobal weekend was really good and people went fishing.”

Bannon said anyone interested can visit www.outdooralabama.com/2020-red-snapper-landings-summary and view the catch data as well as the chart that shows the angler participation rate compared to the average wave height. The catch data in the chart has been updated to include additional reports.

“You can see in the chart that the wave height and catch effort are directly related,” he said. “The Cristobal weekend slowed down the catch effort. You can also see the weekend days had much higher catch effort.”

For the first time since the five Gulf states were granted control of red snapper management in 2018, Alabama added Mondays to the weekend to try to spread out the effort and provide more opportunities to fish.

“I think adding Mondays was a success,” Bannon said. “Some people felt that had a negative impact and reduced season length because of the Monday fishing. But if you add up all of the Monday effort, it is barely more than our peak Saturday. Mondays did exactly what we hoped it would do. It provided opportunities to avoid the Saturday chaos, allow people who work weekends an opportunity to go, and allow people who were on vacation who had to travel on Saturday to have an extra opportunity.

“And, if you were local, the feedback I got was they took advantage of Mondays instead of trying to fish on Saturdays when the effort was so high. They didn’t fish any more because it was open on Mondays; they just fished a different day.”

With the snapper season closing after July 3, red snapper had to be replaced with lane snapper for the 87th Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo at Dauphin Island later in July.

“I know there was disappointment that we didn’t have red snapper for the Alabama Deep Sea Rodeo, being the nation’s largest fishing tournament,” Bannon said. “With all of the other challenges the rodeo had with the COVID-19 issues and all the events that were cancelled, I think they had the best event they could under the circumstances.”

With three years of state management data and the 2020 data on Monday fishing, Bannon said the MRD staff will analyze those numbers to determine season dates for 2021.

“Our goal is to make accurate season predictions,” Bannon said. “Again, the pandemic did have an impact, and we don’t know where we will be next year with COVID. We will work with the Commissioner to see what kind of season we will have moving forward.”

The other sector that takes advantage of the state’s great red snapper fishing is the Alabama charter boat fleet, which still operates under federal management through NOAA Fisheries. The charter season opened on June 1 and ran straight through August 1.

“I think the charter season went really well, especially considering that, when the coronavirus first hit, a lot of people were canceling trips early in the year,” Bannon said. “As boating was considered a safe activity, many of the boats adjusted their capacity so people felt comfortable and safe. They lost the Cristobal weekend just like everyone else, but they got to fish pretty consistently for the 62 days they were open. From my discussions with the captains, they considered it a very good season considering the COVID circumstances.

“And I think they’ll have a good fall season as people still have limited outdoor activities. The charters will target other fish, like amberjack, which is scheduled to be open until October 31. They can also catch vermilion snapper (beeliners) and other reef fish species as well as king mackerel.”

Bannon was encouraged by the variety of sizes of red snapper that inhabit Alabama’s unparalleled artificial reef zones.

“We saw in our preseason data that we had a large number of smaller fish, which we attribute to a strong year-class of fish,” he said. “Those younger fish will crowd those reefs. What you should see in the next year or two, those fish will be growing up around those reefs and then dispersing. We should be able to follow the year-class and see how it works out over the next few years.

“We are comfortable with the amount of fish harvested in our reef zones from all sectors. Our surveys help ensure we are making appropriate management decisions to make sure our fishery is sustainable.”

One of the ways MRD conducts those surveys and other management practices is through a variety of funding sources, one of which is the Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement that was implemented for the 2020 season. Bannon said 22,755 endorsements were obtained. The funds will be used for reef fish management.

“I feel like we had really good compliance on the Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement,” he said. “This year, our Enforcement Officers were just making people aware they needed the endorsement, which helps us identify just how many people are participating in the fishery in addition to providing funding for all aspects of reef fish management. Next year, a person may receive a citation for not having it.

“Also, for the fishing seasons after January 1, 2021, we’re adding greater amberjack and gray triggerfish as mandatory species for recording in Snapper Check. They are two valuable species to Alabama anglers, and we want to develop better landings data.”

CDC investigating outbreak of salmonella from backyard poultry

By Justin Miller
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced they are currently investigating outbreaks of Salmonella infections linked to backyard poultry flocks. As of July 28, the CDC reports 938 cases across 48 states—including Alabama. Of the cases reported, 28 percent of them are children under the age of five.


It is critical for backyard poultry producers to follow biosecurity procedures. These procedures protect both the growers and the birds from illness.


“Having a good biosecurity program provides a measure of protection to both the grower and anyone they come in contact with because they are not spreading disease,” said Kristin Woods, an Alabama Extension poultry science regional agent.


Read Alabama Extension’s recommendations on a good biosecurity program in full in the publication Biosecurity for Backyard Poultry Flocks.
Woods said when it comes to people that do not own poultry, there are still ways they can come in contact with birds.


“Even if you do not raise your own birds, you may still come in contact with backyard poultry in some way,” Woods said. “Chicks and ducklings at farm supply stores as well as a friend’s backyard operation are great examples of this contact.”
According to Woods, if people do happen to come in contact with live poultry, there are some simple steps they should follow to protect themselves.


After touching poultry or their environment, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. Using hand sanitizer is a secondary option. Adults should help young children properly wash their hands. Wash or sanitize shoes that come in contact with the poultry environment so the feces is not tracked into a car or home. Do not eat or drink where you keep the poultry. Do not kiss the birds or snuggle them up against your face.
For the most current information on this outbreak, visit the CDC’s website. For more information on backyard poultry, visit www.aces.edu.

Commissioner Rick Pate shared test results of unsolicited seed packages delivered to Alabamians from China

Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate shared test results of unsolicited seed packages delivered to Alabama residents from China today. Last week, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) received hundreds of reports from citizens who received packages of seeds from China they did not order.
ADAI has received 385 reports of unsolicited seed packages delivered in Alabama so far. ADAI field inspectors have collected 252 samples with over half of the recipients reporting they ordered seeds online in the past year. Packages have been marked “China Post” and “untracked.” Several packages indicate contents are “jewelry”.
Samples were analyzed for identification and tested for unknown compounds, noxious weed seed, and invasive species. Seeds identified so far have been 50% flower seeds, 41% vegetable seeds and 9% herbs. Of the 17 samples tested for dangerous compounds, none have been detected.
Packages have been reported in 56 counties. Top counties include: Baldwin, Jefferson, Mobile, Montgomery, Madison, Shelby, Tuscaloosa, Houston, Lee, Cullman.
Please follow these instructions if you receive unsolicited seed packages: Report at www.agi.alabama.gov/reportseeds or call 334-240-7304. DO NOT open the seed packets. DO NOT plant the seeds. DO NOT discard them. Keep packaging, including the mailing label.

WFF Reminds Alligator Hunters of No-Cull Regulation

(David Rainer) Alligator hunters must secure an animal with a snare around the head or one of its legs before it can dispatched. After the gator is dispatched and brought on board, the temporary tag must be attached to the tail. WFF Biologist Roger Clay measures the distance between the alligator’s eyes and nostrils, which correlates to the overall size of the animal.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

With Alabama’s 2020 alligator season only a couple of weeks away, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division wants to remind those lucky tag holders about the no-cull rule in effect.

With the exception of the Lake Eufaula Zone, tag holders are not allowed to release an alligator after it has been captured. The exception for the Lake Eufaula Zone is because it is the only zone that has a minimum size length, which is 8 feet total length. In this zone, only alligators that are under 8 feet in length may be released after capture. In all other zones, culling is completely prohibited.

“Many folks who have been going to classes for years and are now getting the training online understand about culling,” said WFF Director Chuck Sykes. “However, I think some hunters have abused our leniency in enforcing the regulation. We just want to make sure that everybody is aware that culling is not a legal practice. This is not a fishing trip where you practice catch-and-release. This is a cold-blooded animal that expends a great deal of energy during the fight and that could end up as an unexpected mortality.

“When you have 5,000 or so people apply for one of these coveted tags, we don’t want people abusing the process and making it look like a catch-and-release fishing tournament. We just wanted to clarify that culling is not allowed.”

Wildlife Section Chief Keith Gauldin said this regulation has been in effect since Alabama’s 2018 alligator season.

“Just as you don’t capture and release any other game animal, hunters are not allowed to practice releasing alligators unless they are hunting in the Lake Eufaula Zone, where there is a minimum harvest length of 8 feet,” Gauldin said. “A captured gator is your gator, so be sure to review the training videos on the website. The videos give you helpful tips on how to judge the size of an alligator.”

Gauldin said there is a direct correlation between the distance from the gator’s nostrils to its eyes and the total length of the animal. If the distance from the nostrils to the eyes is 10 inches, the estimated total length of the alligator would be 10 feet. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/alligator-hunt-tag-training-videos for the six training videos and one that explains the no-cull regulation.

Tag holders must abide by the rule that applies when an alligator is “captured.”

“In the past, we have seen individuals on social media posting alligators that they have captured, taken pictures of and then released,” Gauldin said “We don’t want hunters to cause any undue stress on these animals.

“By regulation, an alligator is considered captured once it is secured with a snare around a leg or the head and is secured boat-side and in control. It must be immediately dispatched and the temporary tag applied. We want to stress that before hunters pursue an alligator and throw a hook at it or any of the legal means of catching an alligator, they should view that gator and estimate its size closely. They need to make sure that’s the one they want to harvest.”

Gauldin said another rule that will be closely enforced has to do with boats providing assistance during the pursuit of an alligator.

“When hunting parties have multiple vessels involved, only the boat with the tag holder can have the capture equipment in it,” he said. “The other vessels that are assisting can only have spotlights but no capture equipment.”

Capture methods are restricted to hand-held snares, snatch hooks (hand-held or rod/reel), harpoons (with attached line), and bowfishing equipment (with line attached from arrow to bow or crossbow). The use of bait is not allowed.

Gauldin said the WFF’s Enforcement Section will be out in full force during the alligator season to ensure the regulations are followed.

“There is a high likelihood hunters will be checked by a Conservation Enforcement Officer at least on one of the nights of the season,” he said. “It’s a good idea to put all of your identification, hunting license and alligator tag in a Ziploc bag for easy access instead of having to dig it out of your wallet at one o’clock in the morning. Have that ready for presentation when you get checked. It will make it easier for our officers and make for a more timely check for the hunters.”

Gauldin also wants hunters to refrain from consuming alcohol during the hunts.

“We want hunters to have a good time but a safe time,” he said. “Combining alcohol and alligator hunting is not a good idea.

“And make sure everyone has a PFD (personal flotation device). It’s a good idea to have that PFD on if the boat is under throttle, especially at night. Obstructions are much harder to see at night. We just want them to have a safe hunt.”

The Alabama alligator season is broken into five zones throughout south Alabama, the traditional range of alligators in the state.

The zone where Alabama’s first season originated is the Southwest Zone, which has the most tags (100). The Southwest Zone includes all of Mobile and Baldwin counties north of I-10 and 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 2020 season dates are sunset on August 13 until sunrise on August 16 and sunset on August 20 to sunrise on August 23.

The Coastal Zone (50 tags) was created last year to address the rising interaction between alligators and the human population along the Coast, where WFF receives most of its nuisance alligator complaints. The Coastal Zone includes the private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties that lie south of I-10. The 2020 season dates are the same as the Southwest Zone.

The Southeast Zone (40 tags) covers the private and public waters in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, and Russell counties, excluding Alabama state public waters in Walter F. George Reservoir (Lake Eufaula) and its navigable tributaries. The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 8 until sunrise on September 7.

The West Central Zone (50 tags) includes private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox, and Dallas counties. The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 13 to sunrise on August 16 and sunset on August 20 to sunrise on August 23.

The Lake Eufaula Zone (20 tags) includes Alabama state public waters in Walter F. George Reservoir (Lake Eufaula) and its navigable tributaries, south of Highway 208, Omaha Bridge (excluding Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge). The 2020 season dates are sunset on August 14 until sunrise on October 5. The Lake Eufaula Zone is the only zone that allows daytime hunting.

Alabama’s alligator harvest numbers have been consistent at between 65 and 70 percent of the available tags since the program’s inception.

And one never knows when another monster gator will be hauled in that rivals the current world record of 15 feet, 9 inches and 1,011.5 pounds that was harvested in 2014 by Mandy Stokes of Camden.

Alabama Department of Public Health issues 2020 fish consumption advisories

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) annually updates fish consumption advisories based on data collected the preceding fall by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).
ADEM, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources collected samples of specific fish species for analysis from various waterbodies throughout the state during the fall of 2019 (522 samples; 46 collection stations). ADPH assessed the analytical results to determine whether any of the tested contaminants in the fish may give rise to potential human health effects.
Fish consumption advisories are issued for specific waterbodies and specific species taken from those areas. In reservoirs, advisories apply to waters as far as a boat can be taken upstream in a tributary, that is, to full pool elevations.
Newly issued advisories will be represented as the safe number of meals of that species of fish that can be eaten in a given period of time, such as meals per week, meals per month or do not eat any. A meal portion consists of 6 ounces of cooked fish or 8 ounces of raw fish.
New and updated consumption advisories issued for the 46 bodies of water tested can be found on the ADPH website at https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/tox/assets/al-fish-advisory-2020.pdf
The advice contained in this release and complete listings of the posted fish consumption advisories are offered as guidance to individuals who wish to eat fish they catch from various waterbodies throughout the state. No regulations ban the consumption of any of the fish caught within the state, nor is there a risk of an acute toxic episode that could result from consuming any of the fish containing the contaminants for which the state has conducted analyses.
A fish consumption advisory can be issued for one or more specific species of fish within a waterbody or an advisory can be extended to include all fish species within that waterbody. When excess levels of a contaminant are found in a specific species of fish, an advisory is issued for that specific species. For example, if an advisory had been issued for largemouth bass and not for channel catfish, it would be advised that individuals should not eat largemouth bass, but consumption of channel catfish is permissible without endangering health. When excess levels of a contaminant are found in multiple fish species sampled from a specific waterbody, a Do Not Eat Any advisory is issued. Consumption of any fish from a specific waterbody under a Do Not Eat Any advisory may place the consumer at risk for harm from the contaminant.
If a species is listed in the advisory, it is prudent to assume that similar species with similar feeding habits should be consumed with caution. For example, if black crappie is listed and white crappie is not, because they are in the same family, all crappie would fall under the listed advisory.

New On-Line System Available for Consumers to Report Unsolicited Seed Packages from China

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) continues to collect reports from citizens who received unsolicited packages from China containing seeds. ADAI has established an on-line reporting system for Alabama residents who received suspicious seeds they did not order. Please visit www.agi.alabama.gov/reportseeds and provide the requested information. At the end of the on-line form, consumers will be given directions on how to store the seeds properly until contacted by ADAI.

Currently there is not any evidence indicating this is something other than a “brushing scam” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.

ADAI is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and is testing their contents for unknown compounds, noxious weed seed, and invasive species. This testing will determine if they contain anything that could negatively impact U.S. agriculture or the environment.

Please remember to hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from ADAI contacts you with further instructions. DO NOT open the packaging or plant the seeds.

For more information, contact ADAI’s Ag Compliance section at 334-240-7304.

Unsolicited Seed Packages from China Delivered to Alabama Residents

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) has received multiple reports of “unsolicited” China origin seeds being delivered to residents across the state through the United States Postal Service (USPS).  The packing is often mislabeled as “jewelry.”

So far, residents from several other states including, Arizona, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Washington State have reported receiving suspicious packages of seeds. This practice is known as agricultural smuggling. 

“We urge all residents to be on the lookout for similar packages. These seeds could be invasive or be harmful to livestock,” said Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate.

Currently, we are asking recipients of “unsolicited seed” to follow the instructions below:

1). DO NOT plant the seeds and if they are in a sealed package, do not open the sealed package. Also, DO NOT dispose of the seeds.

2). Report suspicious seed deliveries to USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and maintain the seeds and packaging until USDA provides further instructions. This may be used for evidence. 

Call 1-800-877-3835 or email to SITC.Mail@aphis.usda.gov. For more details visit https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/planthealth/import-information/sa_sitc/ct_antismuggling.

USDA will be releasing official guidance (including additional instructions for reporting unsolicited seeds). These instructions will be shared as soon as possible.

Alabama Agriculture Feeling Effects of COVID-19

By Justin Miller
Practically every industry has been affected by COVID-19 in some fashion. Professionals from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University’s College of Agriculture recently performed a survey to evaluate the impact of the disease on the Alabama agricultural industry.
Adam Rabinowitz, an Alabama Extension farm and agribusiness specialist, said the online survey recorded a total of 181 responses, with responses being recorded from all agricultural related sectors in Alabama.
“A total of 72 percent of the respondents classified their business as production agriculture,” Rabinowitz said. “The second largest category were those classified as other. Many of these specified themselves as involved in the landscaping and turf industry, as well as farmers markets.”
Survey Showed Mixed Results
The results from the survey show some mixed effects from Alabama producers. While many of the producers reported no change for their business operations, 41 percent reported that they have experienced an altered customer base. Additionally, 26 percent of those surveyed said they had to alter products or services.
“Some of the businesses reported that they have had even more substantial impacts,” said Rabinowitz, who is also an Auburn University assistant professor of agricultural economics and rural sociology. “From a long-term perspective, almost 30 percent of them indicated they have experienced long-term cash flow disruptions.”
The survey asked participants to compare their total sales revenue since the coronavirus began impacting them with that same period in 2019. The results were as followed:
producers of field crops reported a 26 percent decline in sales revenue
forestry and timber (including pine straw) reported a 15 percent decline
beef cattle producers saw a 25 percent decline
aquaculture producers (primarily food fish producers) reported a 27 percent decline
poultry producers reported an 8 percent decline
“People must remember that while these broad categories show significant decreases in revenue for many sectors, the impact is not uniform across all commodities,” Rabinowitz said.
Participation in Government Assistance
The survey also assessed the participation of Alabama producers in government-related relief programs. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) was the most popular program recorded with 43 percent saying they are participating. As of July 6, the USDA Farm Service Agency received a total of 8,971 applications from Alabama producers. A total of $56.4 million in payments were approved.
Participants reported that they have utilized other programs. These include the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, with 42 and 12 percent participation rate respectively.
“The survey also asked those who were not participating in any programs what their reasons were for not participating,” Rabinowitz said. “People reported a combination of insufficient benefit levels, a need for additional information and business ineligibility as reasons for non-participation.”
Participants who reported that their business is not eligible for CFAP, also reported a 39 percent decline in sales revenue.
More Information
A full report of the findings from this survey is available in Assessment of COVID-19 Impacts on Alabama Agriculture. For more information on the impacts of COVID-19 on the agricultural industry, visit www.aces.edu or contact a member of the farm and agribusiness management team.

Outdoor Alabama photo contest opens August 3

The 2021 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest will begin accepting entries on Monday, August 3, 2020. This year’s contest is a joint project between the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and the Alabama Tourism Department. The deadline to enter is October 31, 2020.
A major change to the 2021 photo contest is a focus on traditional photography techniques and the use of hand-held cameras. No cellphone, smartphone, game camera, or drone photography will be chosen as winning photos for nine of the 10 categories. Smartphone and tablet photos will be accepted in the Young Photographers category.
The photo contest is open to state residents and visitors alike, but qualifying photos must have been taken in Alabama in the past two years. Any amateur photographer not employed by ADCNR is encouraged to enter.
A total of eight photos per person may be entered in the following categories. You may enter all eight in one category or among several categories.
2021 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest Categories: Alabama state parks; birds; bugs and butterflies; cold-blooded critters; nature-based recreation; scenic; shoots and roots; sweet home alabama; wildlife; young photographers (ages 17 and under.) First, second, third and one honorable mention will be awarded in each category. Winning images will be featured online and in an exhibit traveling to various venues across the state during 2021. Art teachers are encouraged to incorporate participation in the Young Photographers category into their art instruction this fall. An exhibit of the 2020 winning photos will be on display at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort, Alabama, in early August 2020. To view the winning photos online, visit www.flickr.com/photos/outdooralabama/albums/72157712962216382. For complete 2021 category descriptions and contest rules, visit www.outdooralabama.com/outdoor-alabama-photo-contest.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Luke Smelly of Greensboro is Alabama Catfish Farmer of the Year for 2020

After graduating high school, Luke Smelley went on to study cattle management and later combined that knowledge with his extensive catfish farming experience from his childhood. Luke was able to build a cattle and catfish farming operation close to his home in Greensboro. Over the course of 10 years, he and his family have grown from 120 cows and 250 acres of water to 425 brood cows, 500 stockers and 600 acres of water for catfish. Luke received the prestigious Alabama 2019 Outstanding Young Farm Family award. Luke and his wife, Lana, were married in 2008. They now have five children, ranging from ages 2 through 11, and they all actively work together on the family farm. When they’re not working, they stay active in their church, enjoy the outdoors, take family trips and give back to their community.
Read Luke’s recipe and more about Terry and Will at https://www.uscatfish.com/catfish-farmers-of-the-year-2020

Attracting Garden Pollinators During Late Summer

By Katie Nichols
Pollination is one of the most common concerns when planting spring and early summer gardens. Oftentimes people forget about pollinators as the season heats up and the garden withers. So, just how can gardeners take better care of pollinators through the summer months?


Dani Carroll, an Alabama Extension home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, said there are several ways to ensure pollinators are active in a growing space. By simply observing a garden or flowerbed for a short period of time, one can determine whether pollinators are—or are not—present.


Carroll said pollinators are like humans. These insects need three major things – food, water and shelter. Gardeners often forget pollinators prefer an assortment of foods and do not feed on the same thing repetitively. Incorporating a variety of flowers and herbs can help provide pollinators with options to keep them coming back to the garden for more.


“Everyone is familiar with honeybees as pollinators,” Carroll said. “But, if you don’t live next door to a beekeeper, there are other native pollinators gardens can attract.”


There are thousands of pollinators regularly contributing to garden pollination. Squash bees, sweat bees, leaf cutter bees, bats and butterflies all play a small role in the fruitfulness of productive gardens. Many native bees, aside from honeybees and bumble bees, can pollinate the plants that are not self-pollinating and require assistance to bear fruit.
While there are plants that are totally dependent on pollinators, such as cucumbers of the cucurbate family, there are also self-pollinated plants, such as tomatoes. Each of these benefit from pollinator activity. The buzzing vibration helps shake pollen loose for tomatoes, while the cucurbate family relies fully on the services of a pollinator to carry pollen and bear fruit.



One of the larger aspects to carefully consider is pesticide use. Carroll said there are times when pesticide use can be helpful, but as most gardeners know, it can also be harmful. Monitoring the crop is an easy way to determine a good time for application. When flowers are open and pollinators are out, refrain from using pesticides. Pollinators are generally inactive at night making it a good time to apply chemicals.


There are also several easy ways to get rid of pests without using pesticides.
“Monitoring is a very effective way to determine whether to use a pesticide,” Carroll said. “If there are only two aphids, it is very likely that native beneficial insects will take care of the problem. With pests like the tomato horn worm, simply picking the worm off of the plant is an easy and effective way to protect the crop.”


When caring for garden pollinators during the summer, Carroll said it all comes back to the necessities—food, water and shelter.
“Alabama has been known to face drier than usual weather pattern during the hot, summer months,” she said. “It is important to remember that bees need water too.”


Providing a water source is a good way to care for garden pollinators during the hot summer months. Caroll said a birth bath or shallow pan filled with water will work well.


“Add a few rocks to provide a landing pad for the bees to perch on,” she said. “Just remember to change the water a couple of times per week to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.”


Find more information on gardens and garden pollinators by visiting the Alabama Extension website www.aces.edu.

Residential Wildlife Sightings Up During COVID-19

COVID-19 has altered nearly every aspect of day-to-day activity. Many changes to human habits were expected. However, many communities have experienced a surge in wildlife sightings as animals venture out in search of alternative food sources.
Rodent Sightings Surge
Urban areas, especially, have seen an increase in rodent sightings since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Less human presence due to lockdowns and social distancing has allowed rodents to move more freely,” according to Norm Haley, a forestry, wildlife and natural resources regional agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
Quarantining, in addition to the closures of many restaurants and businesses have triggered a dip in the rodents’ normal food supply. These two factors led to an increase in rodent sightings, as well as aggressive behavior.
Preventative Measures
In order to take preventative measures, it is important to consider location and which wildlife species may be a cause for concern. Groups of raccoons, opossums or striped skunks that have become dependent on human food waste may turn to a yard or home due to restaurant closures.
“To help ensure these animals don’t become a problem, keep trash tightly sealed or only put out on the morning of pick-up,” Haley said. “Keep all pet food and bowls inside, as even the oils and grease left behind on an empty bowl will attract wildlife. Homeowners should also monitor the outside of their home for signs of wildlife presence or damage.”
Increase in Wildlife Sightings?
While reported rodent sightings have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, Haley said many wildlife sightings are the result of humans having more time. The shift to working from home has allowed humans to see the coyotes, fox, deer and birds that typically appear after the work day begins.
“Many animals acclimate to human patterns and pressures,” Haley said.
So, as human patterns return to normal—wildlife patterns should, too.
More Information
For more information, visit Alabama Extension at www.aces.edu to learn more about protecting your home and yard against wildlife.
Additionally, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning about aggressive rats due to COVID-19.

Hiking with Hailey’ Explores Alabama’s Great Outdoors

Courtesy of WSFA-TV) Hailey Sutton of WSFA-TV takes in the panoramic view from Cheaha State Park. The Chewacla Falls at Chewacla State Park was featured in one of the “Hiking with Hailey” episodes. Sutton explores the many features of Rickwood Caverns State Park.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
For someone who really doesn’t care for insects, Hailey Sutton has put her fears behind her to share Alabama’s great outdoors via her increasingly popular “Hiking with Hailey” segments on Montgomery’s WSFA-TV.
Sutton, who hails from Red Oak, Texas, has been in Alabama for less than a year after her first TV gig in Montana.
The weekend sports anchor at WSFA, Sutton has a background in soccer rather than the outdoors. Despite her lack of outdoors experience, she pursued an idea of hiking through numerous Alabama State Parks and other natural wonders. That concept blossomed into weekly episodes that may turn out to be more than the summertime feature she originally envisioned.
“This whole series is kind of funny,” Sutton said. “I don’t really like to be dirty, and I’m terrified of bugs. Living in Alabama, this has been challenging. My first job was in Montana, and their bible up there is the outdoors. I had wanted to do a similar series in Montana, but I just didn’t have the resources.
“When I moved here, I saw all these different parks. I was able to pitch the idea to my boss, and then the coronavirus happened. That kind of gave me a chance to step away from sports since they haven’t had as many sports going on.”
Sutton admits the series has caused her to expand her horizons to provide her viewers with snapshots of the beauty of Alabama.
“It was a refreshing way to push myself out of my comfort zone,” she said. “In this past weekend’s episode at Cheaha State Park, our guide had us eat a leaf. If you had told me three years ago that I would be on TV eating plants for my job, I would have LOLed. But it’s been really fun to do something different and push myself.”
The Cheaha State Park episode, where Park Naturalist Mandy Pearson got Sutton to sample a leaf from the sourwood tree, was the sixth in the series that started at Oak Mountain State Park.
“Cheaha was awesome,” Sutton said of the park that sits atop the highest mountain in the state. “I’d seen pictures and videos of Cheaha, but pictures and videos can’t do justice to how cool it is to get up there and be able to see all the way to Birmingham, which seems crazy to me.
“I’ve just been blown away by how diverse Alabama is. What we have focused on each week is trying to show something every week. We started out at Oak Mountain, which is the largest state park (9,940 acres) in Alabama. So, if you’re looking to get a little bit of everything, that’s a great place to start.”
Sutton decided to downsize the next week with a visit to the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Alabama Nature Center at Millbrook.
“Obviously, the Alabama Nature Center is smaller, but they do a lot of programs to educate kids about nature,” she said. “I thought that was really neat, especially during the summer, highlighting that this is still something available to do with your kids.”
Sutton and crew then visited Wind Creek State Park, the 1,445-acre park on the banks of scenic Lake Martin in east central Alabama.
“Wind Creek was really neat because you’ve got the forest and the lake atmosphere,” she said. “That was really cool.”
Next up was a visit to 696-acre Chewacla State Park and its iconic waterfalls that were formed when Moore’s Mill Creek was dammed to create Lake Chewacla.
“I had been to Chewacla once before,” Sutton said. “It’s just so funny. You hop off I-85 and you’re right there at the park. That’s one of the things our guide, Joshua Funderburk, said was one of the things that make this park so interesting is you’re in the middle of Auburn, but you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere when you’re there.”
Sutton found her trip to Rickwood Caverns State Park, just north of Birmingham, to be one of the most enjoyable for a variety of reasons.
“Rickwood was awesome,” she said. “That may have been my favorite place. One, it was cool in the caverns. It was 60 degrees, so it was nice to not be sweating. The other thing is it was so ‘otherworldly.’ It was just so different from anything I had ever seen.”
Sutton highlighted all of the amazing features of the caverns with their numerous formations estimated at 260 million years old. She also discussed the exit from the caverns and the number of steps involved.
“It was crazy,” she said. “Going into the cave, it’s not 110 steps down to get to the features. It was a gradual descent. Then our guide told us, ‘Oh, by the way, to get out you have to go up 110 steps. We had to sit for a couple of seconds after we got done with the steps.”
Designed to give a glimpse of the great outdoors before her busy season started, the series surprised Sutton with how quickly it gained a widespread following. She said the impact of the coronavirus will likely dictate what happens next.
“I guess it just kind of depends on what happens to football season,” she said. “It was originally a summer project. But, if there’s no football, it will depend on how busy my schedule gets. I don’t know if we have a timeline on it. To be 100 percent honest, I didn’t know it was going to be as popular as it has become. I guess as long as people are watching…”
Sutton said she is amazed at how quickly word has spread about the “Hiking with Hailey” series.
“We have people reaching out to us on a regular basis asking us to come to their park,” she said. “We had to make a list of all the places we would like to go. If we have to stop, then there’s always next summer or later in the year. It’s been good.
“There are so many parks and forests to explore. I’m really excited that we’re going to Bankhead National Forest in a couple of weeks.”
Visit www.wsfa.com/authors/hailey-sutton/ and scroll to find each episode of “Hiking with Hailey.” The episodes are also on the “Hiking with Hailey” Facebook page.

New Deer Zones, Early Dove Season and the Return of Sandhill Crane Hunting for 2020-2021

Photo by Michael Padgett

he 2020-2021 hunting season will bring big changes for white-tailed deer hunters in a few parts of Alabama with the creation of two new deer zones. The newly created zones D and E will allow hunters to gun hunt before and during the peak of the rut (deer breeding season) in those locations.

Zone D includes areas in Cullman, Franklin, Lawrence and Winston counties. Zone E includes areas in Barbour, Calhoun, Cleburne and Russell counties. Archery season for zones D and E will open on October 1, 2020. Gun deer season for antlered bucks will open in both zones on November 7, 2020. Antlered bucks can be taken in zones D and E through January 27, 2021. The unantlered deer harvest dates differ between zones D and E, and both zones close to unantlered deer harvest earlier in January.

Archery deer season opens in zones A, B and C on October 15, 2020. For complete deer season dates and zone information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/deer-season.

In Alabama, the peak of the rut varies throughout the state. This is due, in part, to deer restocking efforts that occurred decades ago. Deer population data collected over the last 25 years by Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) biologists is leading to a better understanding of the state’s deer population. That data is also providing improved hunting opportunities, including the fine-tuning of the state’s deer hunting zones to allow hunters to hunt the peak of the rut statewide.

“The creation of these new deer zones highlights the hard work of our wildlife managers and the importance of harvest data provided by Alabama’s hunters,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “The Department strives to offer the best hunting opportunities available, and I’m happy to announce the new deer zones.”

Hunters are reminded to record their deer harvest before moving the animal using a paper harvest record or through Game Check in the Outdoor AL smartphone app. If using the paper harvest record in the field, hunters must still report their harvest within 48 hours through Game Check using the Outdoor AL app or online at outdooralabama.com.

DOVE SEASON COMES EARLY THIS YEAR
Dove season for the North Zone will open on Labor Day weekend this year, a week earlier than in previous years. Both the north and south zones feature split seasons.

This year’s North Zone dove season will open on September 5 and run through October 25 for the first segment. Hunters on opening day can hunt from noon until sunset. After opening day, hunting is allowed from one-half hour before sunrise until sunset. The second segment runs November 21-29, and the final segment is set for December 12 through January 10, 2021.

The South Zone season opens on September 12 and runs through November 1. The final two segments mirror the North Zone dates. The daily bag limit is 15 birds of either mourning doves or white-winged doves or a combination of the two.

Registration for the state’s youth dove hunts will open in August 2020. For complete dove season dates and zone information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/mourning-and-white-winged-dove-season.

SANDHILL CRANE SEASON RETURNS
Sandhill crane hunting returns for the 2020-2021 season. Last year saw the first sandhill crane season in Alabama in more than 100 years.

The season is by limited quota permit only – prospective hunters must apply online. Registration is currently closed but will open this fall with an associated registration fee. The permits will be chosen by a computer-controlled random draw in October 2020. A total of 400 permits will be issued.

The season dates are split into two segments with the first running from December 4 to January 3, 2021. The second segment will be January 11-31, 2021. The daily, season and possession limit is three birds per permit. Hunters can harvest all three birds in one day if they choose.

For complete sandhill crane season dates and zone information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/sandhill-crane-season.

TURKEY SEASON OVERVIEW
For most of the state, the 2020-2021 turkey season will run March 20 through May 2, 2021. Zone 4 (Clarke, Clay, Covington, Monroe, Randolph and Talladega counties) has both a fall and spring season. The fall season in Zone 4 runs November 21-29, and December 12 through January 1, 2021.

Spring turkey season will be delayed for research purposes on the following Wildlife Management Areas: Barbour, J.D. Martin-Skyline, Hollins, Oakmulgee, Lowndes, Choccolocco and Perdido River. The delayed season will run March 27 to May 2, 2021.

Hunters are reminded to record their turkey harvest before moving the animal using a paper harvest record or through Game Check in the Outdoor AL smartphone app. If using the paper harvest record in the field, hunters must still report their harvest within 48 hours through Game Check using the Outdoor AL app or online at outdooralabama.com.

Special youth hunts will take place on the Saturday and Sunday the week prior to all opening days of the spring season. For complete turkey season dates and zone information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/turkey-season.

ADDITIONAL SEASON INFORMATION
All other hunting seasons including waterfowl, feral pig, bobwhite quail, squirrel, rabbit, trapping information and more can be found on the seasons and bag limits page of outdooralabama.com or in the 2020-2021 Alabama Hunting & Fishing Digest (now available).

Alabama’s recreational hunting and fishing licenses expire annually on August 31. The presale for 2020-2021 licenses will open on August 24, 2020. Licenses can be purchased from various vendors throughout the state or online at outdooralabama.com.

ADCNR is once again offering hard card licenses for the 2020-2021 season. For an additional $5 fee, purchasers can select from six new designs including white-tailed deer, wild turkey, wood duck, crappie, redfish and a “We the People…” design featuring the Second Amendment.

HUNTER RESOURCES
WFF’s Adult Mentored Hunting (AMH) program was designed for those new to hunting or interested in learning how to hunt. The program provides new hunters with a one-on-one hunt under the guidance of a veteran mentor. To apply for an AMH hunt, you must be at least 19 years old, have a valid driver’s license and be new to hunting or have limited hunting experience. More information about the AMH program can be found at www.outdooralabama.com/mentored-hunting-program.

Alabama is rich in natural diversity with more than 1.3 million acres of public hunting land and some of the most liberal seasons and bag limits in the nation. Public land hunting opportunities in the state include Wildlife Management Areas, Special Opportunity Areas, Physically Disabled Hunting Areas, Forever Wild land, U.S. Forest Service land, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, Tennessee Valley Authority land and several National Wildlife Refuges.

While hunting is one of the safest outdoor recreational activities, each year unnecessary hunting accidents happen and some are fatal. ADCNR reminds hunters to practice hunter safety including routine treestand maintenance and safety checks, always using a full-body safety harness when hunting from a treestand, wearing hunter orange and practicing firearm safety. For additional hunter safety tips, visit the hunter education section of outdooralabama.com.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

No Live Auction for 2020 State Lands Hunting Leases

(Courtesy of Marty Pasley) Marty Pasley leases land through the Alabama State Lands Division and is happy to see deer regularly on the property. Pasley main reason for leasing the land is to take his grandson, Will Simmons, hunting. Pasley’s family has been able to regularly harvest deer on the property.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) will conduct its hunting lease program without a live auction for 2020.

Patti Powell McCurdy, State Lands Director, implemented a program in 2010 that aligned all leases under State Lands’ control to operate on a five-year public bidding cycle. State Lands would kick-off a new cycle by advertising an Invitation for Bids listing all the tracts available for leasing.

Until this year, potential lessees could submit sealed written bids, but they also had the opportunity to continue bidding at a live auction.

“We had an auctioneer conducting the bidding,” McCurdy said. “If we received written bids on a tract, the highest written bid then became the new minimum at the live auction. Like any other auction, people would be raising their hands and yelling out bids. It was fun to watch.”

McCurdy said when it came time to send out the 2020 Invitation for Bids, the uncertainties related to COVID-19 presented hurdles that made it unrealistic to try to hold a live auction.

“We held off a bit in hopes that we could find a way to successfully include a live auction component,” she said. “We never really got there. The last thing I wanted was for a hunter to drive several hours and then be unable to bid at the live auction because of capacity limitations or other restrictions. I ultimately decided to move forward the best way we could. So, for the 2020 cycle, State Lands will only be accepting written, sealed bids.”

However, with the 2020 cycle providing avid hunters an opportunity to submit bids for 145 tracts across 30 counties, there is still plenty to get excited about this year.

McCurdy said the hunting lease program expands the many excellent public hunting opportunities currently offered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on the state’s wildlife management areas (WMAs), Special Opportunity Areas (SOAs) and various Forever Wild Land Trust tracts.

“The leasing program gives individuals the opportunity for a totally different hunting experience – a very personal one,” she said. “Not everybody has access to family land or a hunting club. This gives the public an opportunity to lease a tract and enjoy it with family and friends. Our bidders range from hunting clubs to grandparents looking for a place to take their grandkids hunting. I suspect we might also have a few bidders who just want a place to get away and enjoy all by themselves. It’s just a different experience we can offer the public.”

One happy lessee is Marty Pasley, who leases a tract in central Alabama. Pasley said the lease allows him to take his 9-year-old grandson hunting anytime he is available.

“This has been great for me and my grandson,” Pasley said. “It’s been a godsend for me because it’s close to home. It’s been the greatest experience in the world with the way State Lands did everything they said they would do.

“It’s been a great setup to take kids. Almost every time we go, we see deer. I’ve really been blessed to be able to lease this property.”

While Pasley leases for his family, hunting clubs also participate in the program.

“It’s been fantastic for us,” said Brian Fulkerson, who leases land in south Alabama. “If I need any support, they (State Lands) are fantastic. We’re on the QDMA (Quality Deer Management Association) program, so we take care of our deer.

“I know they didn’t have a choice on the bidding process. Sealed bid is okay with me.”

Interested bidders can go to www.outdooralabama.com/hunting-lease-bid-2020 to see the 2020 Invitation for Bids, a “Complete Listing of 145 Hunting Lease Tracts” (ranging from 43 acres to 1,400 acres), maps for each hunting lease tract, and a sample hunting lease.

“I encourage everyone to first read the Invitation for Bids very carefully,” McCurdy said. “It is the official document detailing all requirements related to submitting a bid that must be followed so that the bid can be accepted by State Lands.”

Perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to submit a bid will close on July 30 at 3 p.m., the deadline for all sealed bids to be physically received at the State Lands Division office in Montgomery.

“It’s the responsibility of each bidder to make sure it reaches our office on time,” McCurdy said. “We cannot accept any bids for any reason after the deadline in the Invitation for Bids. Bidding starts at the tract-specific minimum bid amount noted in the Complete Listing.”

Each bid submitted must also include a certified or cashier’s check (no cash or personal checks) for the required bid deposit for that tract. McCurdy said the required bid deposit amount can also be found on the Complete Listing.

“We can’t consider any bid that is not accompanied by the bid deposit,” she said. “Again, it is just so critical to read and follow all the instructions in the Invitation for Bids. Successful bidders will have the bid deposit applied to the first year’s rent. Bid deposits submitted by unsuccessful bidders will be returned.”

“After the bid opening on the following day, hopefully by close of business, the highest bids for each tract will be posted at the same website link (see above),” McCurdy said.

In the event of a tie, State Lands will contact the tied bidders regarding the process for those bidders to continue the competition and arrive at the highest bid.

“If a successful bidder fails to execute the lease within the required 30-day period, we can contact the next highest bidder,” McCurdy said. “So, even if you are not the highest bidder initially, you could still have a chance to lease the tract you want.”

Interested bidders should also take the time to review the sample lease. McCurdy said it is important to be sure you are willing to comply with the lease provisions throughout the five-year lease period, before submitting a bid.

“One requirement is to maintain general liability insurance,” she said. “A successful bidder must also submit a list of the proposed hunters who will be on the tract. We do check those hunters for a record of game violations. Lessees are also required to provide some landowner assistance and generally return the tract to State Lands in as good or better condition than they found it.”

The hunting lease program is just one example of how State Lands fulfills its responsibility to manage a variety of state-owned land for the purpose of generating revenue.

 “Like any business that manages real estate as an asset, State Lands is charged with trying to find ways to make these tracts a revenue-generating asset for certain state agency beneficiaries,” McCurdy said. “To some, this might sound like an unexpected role for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, but really it’s not. Employing proven conservation principles and implementing best management practices has always been directly linked to the resulting productivity of land. While you might see a one-time generation of revenue, you will never achieve the goal of perpetually generating revenue unless you take proper care of the land over the long term.

“So, these leases are truly a win-win for the state and hunters. They generate revenue for various state agencies, like the Department of Education and the Department of Mental Health, and at the same time allow State Lands to offer a unique hunting opportunity to anybody willing to participate in the bid process.”

Auburn University wildfire expert discusses wildfire season and how landowners can better prepare

As most of the United States enters the wildfire season, Auburn University wildfire expert John Kush comments on what can be expected and how landowners and managers can help reduce occurrences and damage.

What is the best way to prepare land to help prevent forest fires in the future?

The best way to prepare land to help prevent forest fires is to reduce the fuel load that is present. Fire needs three things: oxygen, heat and fuel. There is very little we can done about those first two factors, but we can work on the fuel. Good portions of the South see fire every year through people conducting prescribed fires. Often the goal is to improve wildlife habitat, recreation and aesthetics, making forest management easier. Fires make this happen, but they also reduce the fuels available to burn. The smaller amount of fuel available to burn, the less intense the fire. If fire is not an option, there are mechanical means to reduce/remove the fuel, but these can be very expensive. The situation in California is one where fuels have accumulated over the past several decades due to a lack of prescribed fire management and people building homes/communities within forested habitat. Once a fire starts where the fuels are heavy and draped in trees and shrubs, they are very difficult to contain and dangerous to fight.

There are ways homeowners can work toward reducing the wildfire risks their homes face by making them “Firewise.” The National Fire Protection Association has some excellent information on its website to assist homeowners.

How does this forest fire season look when considering the current amount rainfall across the U.S.?

The fire season is very dynamic and can change in a matter of a few days. Just five to seven weeks ago, the Gulf Coast was experiencing drought conditions, while in Auburn we had nearly 10 inches of rain in April alone. Several fires were occurring from east of New Orleans, along the Gulf to central Florida. The rains arrived and right now there is little threat of wildfires in the Southeast. When you talk about the western U.S., their fire season typically runs from June to October. It can start earlier and go later depending on the weather conditions that year. Currently, Alaska is experiencing as many wildfires as is happening in the western states of New Mexico, Arizona and California. As the summer goes on, the threat of wildfires will move north, into the Rocky Mountains and then the Pacific Northwest. The problem in the western U.S. is the low humidity, sometimes in the single digits. Once the relative humidity drops below 20 percent, fires can easily ignite and spread, driven by winds that can be fairly common.

A good source to review is the National Interagency Fire Center’s website which has wildfire predictions. An excellent source of information about fire weather for Alabama can be found on the Alabama Forestry Commission site.

If you are interested in current drought conditions and the potential wildfire risk, check the

Keetch-Byram Drought Index and the Fire Danger Rating, both on the Wildland Fire Assessment System site.

Predictions for drought this summer are also available on the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center’s site. If you are interested in seeing where wildfires are currently happening in the U.S., visit the USDA Forest Service’s Active Fire Mapping Program site.

What is the annual economic damage caused by forest fires?

The annual economic damage caused by wildfires will depend on the length of the wildfire season and the proximity of the fires to homes/communities. The annual losses have been estimated to range from $63 billion to nearly $300 billion. In general, economic losses from wildfires will increase each year with expected changes in climate, becoming warmer and drier, leading to extended wildfire seasons. In addition, people will continue to move out into the wildland-urban interface making it more difficult to fight wildfires when they start.

What are the most common causes of the fires?

The most common causes of wildfires are human-related. Estimates have this as high as 85 percent. Many of them are unintentional, the result of burning debris, unattended campfires, careless disposal of cigarettes, malfunctioning machinery and more. And then you have the intentional act of arson. The major source of a natural cause for a wildfire is lightning strikes. 

What is something that would amaze us about forest fires?

In addition to fire being beneficial to many ecosystems and species, fires move faster when traveling uphill. A fire tornado can form when winds around a fire begin to spin. A large enough fire can produce its own weather system. Some species of pine trees need forest fires. The heat allows them to release seeds from their otherwise tightly sealed cones. Another benefit is that areas managed with fire have fewer ticks and chiggers than would otherwise.

About John Kush:

John Kush (retired) served as a research fellow in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in forest science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and his master’s and doctorate, both in forest ecology, at Auburn. He conducted research for over 39 years with a focus on stand dynamics, fire effects and restoration and he taught several classes related to forest ecology. He currently teaches a forest fire management class and several classes in the restoration ecology graduate certificate program at Auburn.

North Zone Dove Season Opens on Labor Day Weekend

(David Rainer) Alabama’s North Zone dove season opens on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Alabama’s dove regulations cover mourning doves and white-winged doves. Hunting doves is a great way to introduce youngsters to the outdoors.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes wants to make sure dove hunters are not caught flat-footed this September when the season opens earlier than usual.

The North Zone dove season will open on Labor Day weekend this year, a week earlier than most people are accustomed to. Sykes wants to get the word out well ahead of the season.

“Most people, me included, typically think dove season opens in the North Zone the first Saturday after Labor Day,” Sykes said. “That’s the way it’s been most years. There have been a few times since 2000 that the season has come in the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.”

Because of a variety of opinions about when Alabama’s dove seasons, North and South zones, should be set, WFF officials decided that a survey inviting public input would be the best way to accommodate the majority of dove hunters.

“With anything we do, you’ve got some people who want the season to start early,” Sykes said. “You’ve got some who want to start late. Some want to hunt in October. Everybody has their own idea about what they want dove season to be, or any season for that matter. What that survey showed was that the majority of people wanted it to come in as early as it could in September. They wanted as many weekends and holidays as possible included where they would have opportunities to go.

“With Labor Day falling later this year, we had to decide if we wanted to push the season to September 12 in the North Zone or if we wanted to have it Labor Day weekend. There’s pros and cons to both sides, but we looked at what that survey said. The majority said they wanted it early, so we gave them the earliest date possible. We were also giving them an extra weekend and giving them a holiday. Those were all three things that ranked extremely high on our survey.”

The North Zone 2020-2021 season is set to start on September 5 and run through October 25 for the first segment. Hunters on opening day can hunt from noon until sunset. After opening day, hunting is allowed from one-half hour before sunrise until sunset. The daily bag limit is 15 birds of either mourning doves or white-winged doves or a combination of the two. The second segment is November 21-29, and the final segment is set for December 12 through January 10, 2021.

In the South Zone of Baldwin, Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Mobile counties, the 2020-2021 season opens on September 12 and runs through November 1. The final two segments are the same as the North Zone.

“We know we can’t make everybody happy,” Sykes said. “This isn’t something we took lightly. This isn’t something we didn’t deliberate. And it definitely wasn’t something where we didn’t listen to the hunters’ opinions. Basically, this is what the majority of the people who took the survey said they wanted.

“My biggest concern is that I didn’t want people to be caught off-guard. I wanted them to have plenty of time to make their plans for Labor Day weekend or vacation.”

Sykes also pointed out that hunters don’t necessarily have to plan a hunt on opening day, but it is available if wanted. Some may choose to wait until the following weekend.

Sykes and WFF Migratory Bird Coordinator Seth Maddox said the window for planting crops like corn, grain sorghum or sunflowers for doves has passed, but there is a short window for browntop millet remaining.

“You might be able to get some browntop millet in the ground in the next couple of weeks, but the time for other crops has passed,” Maddox said. “If you don’t have anything planted, the best thing to do is to bush-hog or burn off a field and prepare it by disking so that you have a well-prepared seed bed, and then top-sow some winter wheat. You can begin that as early as August, and you are allowed to plant up to 200 pounds of wheat per acre on a well-prepared seed bed.”

Anyone with questions can visit the ACES (Alabama Cooperative Extension System) website at https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/forestry-wildlife/mourning-dove-biology-management-in-alabama/ to learn more about allowed agricultural practices for dove hunting are listed.

“We see it every year,” Sykes said. “Yes, you can plant for erosion control. You can plant for winter grazing. There are agricultural practices that are legal, but simply going into a pasture and top-sowing wheat is not an accepted agricultural practice. Disking a field and spreading cracked corn is not an accepted agricultural practice.

“The ACES website explains in great detail what agricultural practices are allowed so that you will be legal and have a successful dove hunt.”

Landowners and dedicated dove hunters sometimes make the extra effort by adding fake power lines to attract the birds. Maddox recommends giving the birds as many places to roost and loaf as possible.

“Don’t cut down dead trees near a field,” Maddox said. “They like to have those loafing trees to sit in and check out the field before and after they eat. If you can provide a water source for them, that can make a big difference. And make sure your seedbed is disked well. Doves don’t have strong legs to scratch at the ground like turkeys do to uncover seeds. Doves are also attracted to freshly turned soil. It exposes seeds that didn’t sprout and bugs they eat as well. They pick up bits of grit for their crops to help grind the seeds. Doves are definitely attracted to a freshly plowed field.”

Dove hunting is one of the most popular outdoor activities in Alabama and the nation.

“Most people wouldn’t know that doves are the most hunted and harvested game in the United States,” Maddox said. “In our most recent survey, we had about 36,000 hunters with 200,000 days in the field and a harvest of more than 1 million birds. Most hunters don’t hunt but five or so days a year, so that’s a lot of birds harvested in the first couple of weeks of the season.”

Maddox said the annual harvest has no impact on the overall U.S. dove population of about 250 million birds.

“Doves nest seven or eight times a year here in Alabama,” he said. “They are a short-lived bird with a high rate of reproduction, so we’re not hurting the population at all. This renewable and sustainable resource continues to offer abundant opportunities to Alabama hunters.”

Prediction Low for Pine Beetles in 2020

Good news for forest landowners – Alabama is predicted to have a low number of southern pine beetle (SPB) infestations in 2020, according to the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC). More specifically, high risk counties are expected to have no more than six to nine SPB spots. The overall prediction for the state is that Alabama has a 16 percent chance of having any SPB spots this active season.  

“Southern pine beetle is one of the most destructive forest pests in the southern and eastern United States,” said Dana Stone, AFC Forest Health Specialist. “They will attack most species of pines, but the most vulnerable are dense, mature stands of loblolly, shortleaf, and/or Virginia pines,” Stone continued. “The location and intensity of SPB outbreaks varies from year to year, and infestations are based on many factors. Condition of the pine stand is one factor. Other contributing factors are extended adverse environmental conditions and SPB population levels.”

Since 2018, an updated analytical model has been used to predict infestation trends more accurately. Each year, a spring SPB pheromone survey is conducted to monitor population levels. Several southeastern states participate in the annual survey, including Alabama. Traps are deployed in several counties throughout each state, generally from late February to early March, and remain in place from four to six weeks. Baited with a lure – SPB pheromone (frontalin and endo-brevicomin) and a polyethylene blue sleeve (primarily alpha-pinene) – the traps are checked once a week by retrieving the insects from the traps’ collection cups and counting the number of adult southern pine beetles as well as their predators, clerid beetles. After the survey period, the traps are removed from the site. The results of the number of SPBs and clerid beetles caught each week are used to obtain population levels and predict infestation trends for each state.

The 2020 survey data was collected and submitted by AFC and other agency employees in Alabama and analyzed by researchers from Bates College, Dartmouth College, and the USDA Forest Service. This analysis does not include data from the National Forests in Alabama, so the final report is not complete. While a preliminary summary was determined for the region, this information is by no means absolute confirmation of what will occur across the state.

Identifying Potential Tree Hazards in Your Backyard

Trees are a coveted asset in the yard—that is until the trees present a hazard. Recognizing these potential tree hazards in the early stages could save a tree, as well as your wallet.

One of the first major signs of a hazard is a tree with a recent lean. Trees can lean naturally; they might be growing towards the light or away from other trees and structures.

Beau Brodbeck, Alabama Extension community forestry and arboriculture specialist, said, “You should be very worried about a tree if a storm has come through in recent weeks or months and the tree has a new lean.”

On the opposite side of the lean, mounding will begin to appear where the roots are pulling up out of the ground. On the same side of the lean, the homeowner may see slight indentation where the roots are being pushed further into the ground. This will indicate a hazardous lean which can be very dangerous, especially if it’s recent.

Trees with cracks indicate a potential hazard as well. A past storm or tornado could have twisted the tree, causing a spiraling crack going up the tree.

“Use a coat hanger or something to probe inside the crack to discover how deep it goes,” Brodbeck said. “If it is deeper than bark level, it is a hazard.”

Sometimes when there is a forked tree, cracks may appear at the union of the fork. At that point, the tree is pulling apart under its own weight.

“Anytime you see a crack, whether it’s between two branches on a forked tree or on the trunk, immediately seek further evaluation,” he said.

Cut roots will present a hazard and require further evaluation.

“Any roots within 5 to 10 feet of the tree that are about 2 inches or larger in diameter are cut, the tree might be a hazard,” he said.

Cuts typically occur on trees next to new construction like a sidewalk, building or a new home.

Another visible indicator of hazardous trees is broken or hanging limbs. Big dead snags will eventually come out and present a hazard to people and property under the tree.

The not-so-subtle signs of decay are the fruiting bodies of fungi like mushrooms sprouting from the roots, base or trunk of a tree. Some of these fruiting bodies, referred to as conchs, don’t look like traditional mushrooms. Instead, they might look like half of a flying saucer that can be tough and woody.

Like anything that fruits on the tree, the mushrooms may be there for a while then decompose and fall off. This makes it harder to identify rot in the tree. It is sometimes helpful to look for old mushrooms and conks that have fallen away from the tree.

Other signs of rot include any type of oozing from the trunk or large branches in the tree. If the tree has a small opening with what appears to be a dark stain where liquid has leaked out of the tree, that oozing will often indicate some type of rot inside the tree. The oozing liquid will often have a foul, yeasty smell.

Any large openings, or cavities, in the tree indicate decay as well. If limbs have broken off that leave a large wound, this will require further evaluation of the tree. Anytime open cavities have nesting critters in them, like squirrels, it is large and extensive enough to raise concerns.

Lastly, abnormal swelling in the trunk of the tree is a subtle sign of potential decay. Trees generally taper from thick at their base and slimmer further up. If abnormal swelling counter to the taper is visible, that is an indicator that there is some type of defect inside the tree.

“Just because a tree has decay, it does not mean it is unsafe and needs to be removed,” Brodbeck said. “It simply means you need to have someone take a closer look.”

Some of these decay pathogens are very aggressive and will kill a tree within a year or so. Some of them can be in the tree for decades and will cause slowly deterioration, but it is not something that requires immediate action.

For a tree to be hazardous, there should be a target. Whether the target is a home, vehicle or residents—make sure to identify these targets before evaluating the tree hazards.

The solution to a potential tree hazard is not always to immediately cut it down. Often simple pruning can benefit the tree. Therefore, it is important to contact a specialist.

Once potential tree hazards are identified, look into getting a second opinion. Regional Alabama Extension agents can help to evaluate hazardous trees and give educated guidance on the proper next steps.

Also, the International Society of Arboriculture has a tree risk assessment qualification. Homeowners can also contact a certified arborist about further evaluation.

Bama Bug Fest Goes on the Web

The second Bama Bug Fest will live stream on Facebook and YouTube starting July 7.

Bama Bug Fest: On the Web, a collaboration by University of Alabama Museums, UA Libraries and the Tuscaloosa Public Library, will provide interactive videos, interviews with experts and storytelling for all ages every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through July 25.

“I hope that everyone who gets to view the online content for our virtual Bama Bug Fest will learn something new about bugs that they didn’t know previously, and as a result, will develop a greater appreciation for the biodiversity, beauty and importance of bugs in our world,” said Dr. John Friel, director of the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

Content will include a family-friendly bug-related stand-up comedy, insect fashion with UA’s Fashion Archive, baking chocolate chirp cookies with Arthropod Apothecary and world-renowned science educator Dr. Sebastian A. Echeverri.

Segments will air at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. each day. A Q&A session with the public will be held at the conclusion of each day.

Bama Bug Fest will crawl on the web via UA Museums’ YouTube channel; the Tuscaloosa Public Library’s YouTube channel and Facebook page; Alabama Museum of Natural History’s Facebook page; and Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum’s Facebook page.

For more information, visit www.bamabugfest.org.

Unusual Weather, Unusual Year for Cotton Insects

Mild winter weather, cool spring days and a handful of heat-filled scorchers combined to create an interesting situation with cotton insects this spring and summer. Alabama Cooperative Extension System crop entomologists are keeping a close eye on the evolving situation.

Alabama Extension’s Ron Smith and Scott Graham have been working with busy cotton producers all spring. Now they have focused their attention on summer cotton insects.

Cotton Insects to Watch

Grasshoppers

A warmer than normal, dry winter allowed grasshoppers to overwinter in large numbers.

“We’ve had more calls about grasshoppers than thrips,” Smith said. “This is the worst year of grasshopper issues that I can remember. Grasshopper issues are worse on the Coastal Plain and the Southeast because they survive better in sandier soils.”

The warm weather in March triggered early emergence. In turn, producers battled an influx of grasshoppers to their seedling cotton.

Threecornered Alfalfa Hopper

“We have observed a fair amount of threecornered alfalfa hopper (TCAH) damage in several fields of later planted cotton in north Alabama,” Graham said. “TCAH damage plants by girdling stems leaving a characteristic ‘knot’ around the stem, typically below the cotyledons. Plants will be stunted, and leaves and leaf veins will turn reddish.”

Treatment decisions for TCAH can be difficult because no damage thresholds are established. However, producers rarely observe yield losses from TCAH damage as injury happens early in the season. Unaffected neighboring plants can compensate for the yield lost from damaged plants.

Thrips, Snails, Slugs and Spidermites

Cool, wet April weather in north and south Alabama forced producers to plant later. Graham and Smith said the thrips moved right in with heavy pressure.

“Snails are an emerging issue,” Smith said. “They don’t eat the plants, but so many snails get on a plant that it pulls the plant over.”

While it is not a huge problem, Smith said there is not a pesticide control option or another control option available for producers.

In an unusual situation in Talladega County, slugs destroyed five fields of seedling cotton on one farm.

“These producers planted their cotton into heavy residue, and slugs thrive in heavy residue,” Smith said.

The damage was so bad the producers decided to disk up the field, destroy the old crop residue and replant.

Spider mites were observed and reported on cotton in several locations in central Alabama in mid-June. Mites are always present in small numbers in cotton fields, but can quickly increase in number during a hot, dry period.

Fall Armyworms and Tarnished Plant Bugs

Early in June, fall armyworms were present in conventional corn in Baldwin County. There are not large numbers of producers who have conventional corn so this may be an isolated issue. However, it is unusual for producers to see this pest present in early June.

Graham said producers are experiencing issues with tarnished plant bugs (TPB). Daisy fleabane is a primary host for TPB. It bloomed early and is drying down so TPB are now moving into cotton.

“Tarnished plant bugs typically develop into adults in roughly 21 days,” Graham said. “We expect that generation is moving into cotton now. This is something to look out for because TPB can really damage cotton in the pinhead square stage. We found TPB populations above threshold on June 19 in cotton planted in April. Tarnished plant bugs will be the prominent pest of cotton through the third week of July.”

Stink Bug Complex

Each year, Alabama farmers deal with several stink bug species, known collectively as the stink bug complex. The brown stink bug, the southern green stink bug and the brown marmorated stink bug cause significant issues in corn and cotton. While the brown marmorated stink bug is a new pest, it can cause extensive damage to corn and cotton. Thanks to mild winter weather, stink bugs overwintered in high numbers.

Both entomologists said the necessary control will be different based on geographical location in the state.

Corn and cotton in south Alabama will likely need multiple insecticide applications to control stink bugs, while cotton in the central part of the state may need two to three applications. Cotton in north Alabama may need one spray to control.

“Brown marmorated stink bugs are now part of the stink bug complex in central and north Alabama.” Smith said. “The most injury from BMSB will occur around field borders and in the first 50 feet of cotton fields.”

Corn, which serves as a trap crop, can be treated which may reduce their numbers in cotton.

Redbanded Stink Bug

In addition to the stink bug complex, soybean producers should keep a watchful eye on fields for the redbanded stink bug, which have already been treated in Louisiana.

“This is a major pest of soybeans,” Smith said. “These stink bugs are natives of South America and came to Alabama through Louisiana. These stink bugs don’t have an inactive state. Growers need to be aware as the crop beings to develop pods.”

While the redbanded stink bug can overwinter as far north as Prattville, Alabama, they are pushed back to the Gulf Coast in colder weather. Because the winter was mild in Alabama, these stink bugs are already present in Alabama soybeans.

More Information

For more information about cotton insects from Alabama Extension professionals like Ron Smith and Scott Graham, visit the Alabama Crops website via www.aces.edu. Interested producers and industry personnel can also subscribe to the Alabama Cotton Shorts newsletter and the Alabama Crops Report weekly newsletter.

Read archived issues of Alabama Cotton Shorts online.

Getting the most from Hay Testing

By David Daniel, Jr., Regional Extension Agent – Animal Science & Forages, Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Having the results of a hay analysis offers the producer several benefits for livestock management. Knowing the nutritional value of hay prior to the feeding period allows producers to have a better understanding of the resources they have at hand when working to meet the needs of their livestock. Meeting the livestock’s nutritional needs is one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle when it comes to providing care and optimizing their performance.  Accurate test results prior to the beginning of the feeding period allow producers the opportunity to plan for meeting possible nutritional deficiencies in a cutting of hay. Below are a few sampling concepts to keep in mind to help ensure each sample offers an accurate representation of the hay being fed and provides information that will be useful to your operation.   

Collection method and technique are critical to getting the most accurate information you can on your hay. Don’t get me wrong, in theory, test results generated from a grab sample of the hay being fed are better than no information at all. But the best hay sample a producer can collect is the one that most accurately represents their entire “lot” of hay. A lot is defined as hay cut from the same field, at the same time under the same conditions. Randomly collecting individual core samples from 25% of the bales produced within a lot will help ensure the sample submitted is an accurate representation. These core samples from individual bales are then mixed together and used to fill a quart to gallon sized plastic bag to finish the overall sample. 

Another consideration to keep in mind when collecting samples with the use of a hay probe is how to get the most information from each bale. Each bale represents forage collected from a portion of the field. If attention isn’t paid to how each bale is sampled, we can reduce the accuracy of the overall sample quickly. The probe should be inserted into the bale on one of the rounded edges for round bales. For square bales, the probe should be inserted through a square end. By using these sample sites, the probe can collect hay from a greater number of locations within the field. 

The final consideration before submitting your sample will be selecting what tests should be run. The Auburn Soil, Forage, & Water Testing Lab has a variety of different testing options. In many instances the results provided from the “F2” test should answer enough questions about the hay to aid producers when making management decisions. This test provides Relative Forage Quality (RFQ), crude protein and nitrate values for the lot of hay. These values will help identify if using the hay alone as a feed source will meet the needs of the animals you intend to feed it to or if an additional supplement will need to be provided. This test will also alert the producer to any potential nitrate poisoning issues that can be a problem for cattle, sheep and goats if the hay sampled has high nitrate levels. Test selection is made on the “Hay and Forage Testing Application Form” that will need to be sent to the lab along with your hay sample and payment. This form can be found and printed at the following link: https://ssl.acesag.auburn.edu/anr/soillab/forms/documents/ANR-2236.pdf , and contains additional details about how and where your samples should be shipped. If you would like an application printed or have questions about the testing process, please contact me at 334-407-9374 or your Alabama Cooperative Extension System  County office. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University) is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Everyone is welcome!

Pandemic Public Nights Allows for Digital Stargazing on Four Continents

After more than 30 years of sponsoring public telescoping, The University of Alabama Observatory closed to the public because of the coronavirus.

But where there’s a will there’s a way, as the old saying goes.

The UA Department of Physics and Astronomy returned access to its powerful reflecting telescope in the observatory atop Gallalee Hall through what’s been dubbed Pandemic Public Nights, a digital viewing through the telescope.

The first Pandemic Public Nights is available on the department’s Vimeo channel, and the department will share links to future digital viewings, which are captioned, through its social media channels.

“It’s a good opportunity for people to get their space fix,” said Dr. William Keel, professor of astronomy and physics.

The telescope is controlled by a computer, and can be operated remotely, so Keel said faculty in the department thought recording or livestreaming what is seen through the telescope would be a good way to avoid crowding the observatory.

“In the past few months, cramming people together into the observatory dome, which is 30 feet in diameter, seemed like a really bad idea due to COVID-19,” Keel said.

The department has a webcam have a webcam and a moon map, so different faculty members can discuss what people see on the video.

“We’ll do things like look at the moon and view where moon bases were, where Apollo 11 landed, where a lava flow overwhelmed a side of a crater, where a media shower damaged it and more,” Keel said. “The other good thing is by doing it digitally we don’t have to worry about Tuscaloosa’s wild weather, which has canceled a lot of our viewings.”

Another benefit of digital stargazing is it won’t just be UA’s campus telescope used for Pandemic Public Nights. Since UA is part of a group of universities that remotely operates telescopes on three continents, which, along with Tuscaloosa in North America, includes Arizona, Chile in South America and the Canary Islands off the African coast, Keel said for public access to all of the telescopes.

Two big upcoming astronomical events to look forward to this year include the solar eclipse on June 21 that can be seen over central Africa, Asia, the Pacific and southeastern Europe, and the once-in-a-generation “Great Conjunction” on Dec. 21 in which Jupiter and Saturn align in the sky.

Though Keel said the solar eclipse won’t be something UA’s telescopes will be able to capture – the visibility of it is just out of range – the Great Conjunction will be.

“Right before Christmas, Jupiter and Saturn will be lined up from our view point so close that it will look like they’re side-by-side,” Keel said. “This is very rare. Jupiter has lapped Saturn before only once in my lifetime.”

https://www.ua.edu/news/2020/06/pandemic-public-nights-allows-for-digital-stargazing-on-four-continents/

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.

Additional news about The University of Alabama can be found at: 
https://www.ua.edu/news/news-media/

Get the suspenders ready. Alabama’s favorite weatherman, James Spann, is partnering with Alabama 4-H to teach young people the fundamentals of weather. 4-H is hosting the virtual weather class July 2 at 10 a.m. via Zoom.
“I will get into forecasting, radar, tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms and more,” Spann said. “It will be lots of fun.”
Spann is the chief meteorologist for ABC 33/40 in Birmingham and has been forecasting the weather for more than 40 years. He is a certified broadcast meteorologist and has earned titles such as “Broadcaster of the Year” by the National Weather Association in 2012. He has received numerous awards including an Emmy for best television weather anchor in the Southeast United States in 2014.
Class Registration
In the midst of the coronavirus, Alabama 4-H is offering virtual activities to keep young people engaged while at home. Molly Gregg, assistant director of Alabama 4-H, says the team has put in a lot of effort to make virtual activities happen.
“As it became clear we were not going to meet face-to-face for longer than we had hoped, we decided we wanted to offer fun virtual 4-H activities to all Alabama youth,” Gregg said.
Gregg also said with hurricane season underway, the information that Spann will cover is good for youth and families to learn.
“I would love to have as many as possible on the Zoom call,” Spann said. “The bigger the better!”
To attend the Zoom meeting, people must register ahead of time. To register, follow the instructions at https://www.aces.edu/go/AL4-HChat-JamesSpann.
About Alabama 4-H
Alabama 4-H is the youth development organization of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. For more than 100 years, Alabama 4-H has been helping young people develop into resourceful citizens and responsible leaders. Today, Alabama 4-H engages with more than 161,000 youth. It seeks to empower them with the skills to lead their communities and also grow into future leaders. Visit www.alabama4h.com for more information.

COVID-19 Ag Survey

By Brittney Kimber

COVID-19 impacted the agricultural industry. However, the full extent of the impact is currently unknown. Professionals with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University’s College of Agriculture are working to better understand these impacts. A study is currently underway to assess the effects that COVID-19 is having on Alabama’s agricultural economy using an agriculture impact survey.

“We have all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Max Runge, an Alabama Extension economist. “However, for those involved in production agriculture, the production did not stop. Even with supply chain disruptions, animals had to be cared for and plantings had to move forward despite market prices falling below cost of production.”

Through this agricultural impact survey, professionals are gathering information from all agriculture-related segments, spanning from row crops to livestock.

Complete the Assessment of COVID-19 Impacts on Alabama Agriculture survey.

The survey is voluntary and anonymous. Because of the broad-reaching impacts on all phases of agriculture, the survey may be longer than typical surveys. However, Runge says the gathering of as much accurate information as possible is crucial to making the best estimate.

Those wishing to participate should use the following guidelines:

  • Complete the survey only one time.
  • If a farm has multiple operators involved, one complete survey is sufficient as long as it reports all the impacts.
  • Submit surveys by June 30.

Professionals will share survey results with industry leaders, commodity groups and legislators in support of any policy and industry response that may be appropriate.

“The impacts of the pandemic will be felt for a long time,” Runge said. “For now, we would like to assess the impact COVID-19 is having on Alabama’s agriculture and related industries with this survey.”

For more information on this survey contact Max Runge at rungemw@auburn.edu. People can also visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu, for information on the affects of COVID-19.

Cogongrass and the Threat of Fires

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Cogongrass is one of the most significant non-native invasive plants in Alabama. Not only does it invade a wide variety of habitats, but it also disrupts ecosystem function, particularly through fire regimes and fire intensity. Thrives On Fire “Cogongrass is a fire-adapted species that thrives on fire,” Nancy Loewenstein, an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources specialist said. It burns easily and at extremely high temperatures in part because of its leaf characteristics but also because plants often have highly flammable thatch (dead leaf material) at the base of the plants. Plants re-sprout quickly after fires because fires rarely harm their extensive rhizome system. Late winter fires can also promote flowering. Ultimately, fire will make the cogongrass grow thicker, and produce more flowers and seeds which contribute to spread. How to Identify “One way to stop it from spreading is by increasing education so people can identify and avoid it,” Loewenstein said. Identify cogongrass by its 2 to 3 feet tall leaves. These leaves are greenish-yellow and have a serrated margin. They will range from erect to floppy and turn a distinctive reddish-tan color in the winter. “You’ll often see descriptions indicating that it has an offset white midrib, which is the case some of the time but not always,” she said. Also, several look-a-like grasses have offset white midribs which can cause some confusion. The rhizomes, or underground stems, are strongly segmented, creamy white and covered with paper-like scales. The spring flowers serve as a very helpful feature for the identification of cogongrass. “The flowers are 2 to 8 inches long, starting out tan to purple in color, becoming silvery white,” Loewenstein said. “The seeds are light and fluffy like dandelion seeds.” North Alabama may see the flowers bloom in May or early June, while south Alabama may see the blooms in early spring. The cogongrass field guide can provide additional information on identifying the plant. Controlling Cogongrass Preventing spread is the best first step for control. Cogongrass can easily hitchhike and spread on all kinds of equipment. Avoid infestations when possible and clean equipment after working in areas infested with cogongrass. Fire alone cannot be used to contain this invasive plant. However, controlled fires can be used to remove the thatch which is then replaced by lush growth that can be effectively sprayed with a herbicide. According to Loewenstein, two effective herbicides, glyphosate and imazapyr, can provide control but it can take years of repeated treatment for the cogongrass to subside. Learn more about controlling the spread of cogongrass here. More Information Find more information about cogongrass and the threat of fires at the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

Get a Grip on Summer Garden Pests


 By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—An influx of garden pests is every gardener’s worst nightmare. Some pests can take a lush green garden and quickly undo the gardener’s hard work by damaging leaves and produce.
Alabama Cooperative Extension System entomologist, Katelyn Kesheimer said home gardeners should have a proactive pest management plan in place before the seeds go in the ground. While it is a little late in the growing season to develop a proactive plan, there are still other things people can do to control garden pests. 
Pest Control
Kesheimer recommends creating an environment where beneficial insects can thrive. Having a yard that is welcoming to these insects can provide free biological pest control throughout the year. Gardeners can do this by growing plants that provide supplementary food sources—like nectar or pollen— for predators that will feed on garden pests once they arrive.
Kesheimer also recognizes the importance of chemical control options for pests that cause damage in a garden.
“When using chemicals, only use the label rate and avoid broad spectrum insecticides that will kill the beneficial insects,” Kesheimer said. “Remove diseased or severely infested plants from your garden so they don’t act as a source of more pests. Scout your plants regularly so you know what insects—good and bad—are present to determine if action is necessary.”
Common Pests in Alabama Gardens
The following are some of the common insect pests people may find in their gardens.
Stink Bugs
“Peas, tomatoes, beans, sweet corn and peppers are some favorite food sources for stink bugs in the home garden,” she said. “Stink bugs rarely feed on squash and melons, but other pests, like the squash vine borer, will certainly fill that role.”
Stink bugs overwinter as adults and will move into plants in the spring in order to feed and mate. There can be several generations of stink bugs each year, so their populations only increase throughout the summer, with the highest numbers occurring in the late summer months.
“Netting may be used for crops like tomatoes and peppers that are very susceptible,” Kesheimer said. “Get these in place early before the plant starts fruiting and make sure it is sealed all around so the bugs cannot get in.”
For small gardens and low pest numbers, hand removal of stink bugs is an effective approach. However, hand removal should happen early in the day and on a regular basis.
“Insecticides are the best control method for stink bugs,” she said. “Since there are many generations of stink bugs that move in over the course of the summer, you’ll likely have to treat multiple times. The most useful chemical controls are products with bifenthrin or permethrin.”
Kesheimer encourages gardeners to read the label carefully before spraying. She said gardeners should also pay attention to pre-harvest intervals, as many products have usage restrictions. The pre-harvest interval will differ between crops.
Corn Earworms
“While corn is obviously the preferred crop, tomatoes are also a favorite,” Kesheimer said. “Corn earworms feed on other crops including peas, peppers, spinach, squash, watermelon and okra.”
Corn earworms will burrow into developing ears of corn through the tips. Selecting a sweet corn variety with good tip coverage by husks will help keep them out.
“Products containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are effective on small caterpillars,” Kesheimer said. “It is important to scout for this pest because once the caterpillars get bigger, they are feeding more and hard to kill with chemical control.”
Keep in mind that late season crops are at higher risk because there are more corn earworm moths in the area. Planting early or on time will reduce the populations in the garden.
Squash Vine Borer
Kesheimer said she personally battles squash vine borers on cucurbits in her garden, as they are a difficult pest to keep at bay. Squash vine borers are clear-wing moths that lay tiny eggs on plant stems. Once the eggs hatch, tiny larvae burrow into the stem to begin feeding.
“The best way to control is to use fine insect netting to keep out the adults,” Kesheimer said. “Squash planted in the late summer or fall usually suffers less damage.”
Protect Tomatoes
It is no secret that tomatoes are likely one of the Southern gardener’s most treasured bounty. Kesheimer said corn earworm and brown marmorated stink bugs are the pests most likely to cause damage to the tomato plants.
“The brown marmorated stink bug is relatively new to Alabama, but it feeds on multiple fruits and vegetables,” she said. “Most of the damage will be cosmetic, so the tomato is still consumable.”
Gardeners also know corn earworms as tomato fruitworms. These pests will destroy the fruit by burrowing into the tomato. The small larvae complete their development inside the tomato while feeding.
“Check tomato plants regularly for corn earworm eggs once flowering begins,” Kesheimer said. “Bt can be sprayed to kill the small caterpillars.”
More Information
More information on garden pests and control can be found by visiting Alabama Extension online. Gardeners can also contact county agents or call the Master Gardener Helpline at 1-877-ALA-GROW (252-4769).

Harvest Fresh from the Garden

By Mary Leigh Oliver

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Alabama gardeners can harvest fresh vegetables almost every month of the year. But knowing when to harvest is the key to enjoying peak freshness from the garden. Dani Carroll, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional home grounds agent, said gardeners need to monitor their crops daily.

“Harvest vegetables when they are fully ripe for peak freshness,” Carroll said. “Once they are fully ripe, many are perishable or need to be eaten quickly or preserved for later use.”

Tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans are reaching peak season for harvesting in south Alabama. These vegetables, as well as cucumbers, are in season in central Alabama. As soil temperatures continue to rise, harvest of these vegetables will begin in north Alabama. Carroll said gardens in central and north Alabama are usually two to three weeks behind those in south Alabama.

While spring planting time is behind for most vegetables, sweet potatoes and okra can still be planted. Carroll said gardeners may want to consider a second round of planting to extend the vegetable bounty until fall. Find a planting guide here.

Each vegetable shows different signs of when it is at its peak and ready to harvest.

Pick summer squash when it bruises easily with a fingernail, but has not yet become a hard fruit.

“Tomatoes will often continue to ripen after they have been picked, therefore harvest at about 85 percent of their ripened color especially if you have problems with birds or need to harvest before leaving town,” Carroll said.

Okra pods indicate levels of peak freshness when the pods are 2 to 3 inches long. Harvest every two to three days at minimum to ensure the okra does not become woody.

“Early morning after the dew has started to dry is a great time to harvest veggies and herbs,” Carroll said.

After harvesting at peak freshness, store vegetables properly to preserve the same level of freshness.

“For fruit like tomatoes, store and allow to ripen at room temperature with no refrigeration,” Carroll said. “Store summer squash, which is really an immature fruit, in the refrigerator immediately.”

Learn more about harvesting at peak freshness. If the garden is producing abundantly, learn more on how to preserve vegetables for later use.

Find more gardening resources at the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

DeSoto Caverns Celebrates National Caves & Karst Day — June 6
Childersburg, AL – DeSoto Caverns is celebrating National Caves & Karst Day this June 6, through festivities, specials, and fun! The park will be showcasing demonstrations from a craft artisan, live entertainment including juggling and magic, multiple character quests, and more!
Spending time in nature has become a welcomed escape after weeks of sheltering in place. Many studies report that spending time in nature can boost mental and physical well-being, improve concentration, increase energy, reduce stress, and lower blood pressure and heart rates. When paired with exercise, such as hiking to or in a cave, the results are maximized. It’s quality time that a family can spend together, focusing on nature rather than screens.
For more information, please visit www.desotocavernspark.com/

Participate in Alabama Backyard BioBlitz on June 5

Participate in the Alabama Backyard BioBlitz and discover the unexpected like this mother opossum and her young.

All Alabamians are invited to join Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in celebrating World Environment Day by participating in the Alabama Backyard BioBlitz on Friday, June 5, 2020. The event encourages the public to explore and document the natural world from the comfort of their own backyards.

“The theme of this year’s event is biodiversity,” said Clara Zubrick, Weeks Bay Education Assistant. “Alabama ranks fifth in the nation in biodiversity and first east of the Mississippi River. To protect and conserve our environment, we must first connect with what’s out there. The best place to begin exploring nature is in your own backyard.”

To participate in the event, download the free iNaturalist app from the Apple or Android app stores and search for the “Alabama Backyard BioBlitz” project. After joining the project on June 5, participants can observe and document the plants, animals, and insects present near their homes. You can also participate through the iNaturalist website at www.inaturalist.org/projects/alabama-backyard-bioblitz.

“We are excited to provide this opportunity to bring together citizen scientists throughout Alabama in an effort to increase awareness of our state’s amazing biodiversity and celebrate its natural beauty,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR).

Learn more about World Environment Day at www.worldenvironmentday.global.

Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve was established in 1986 and is managed by ADCNR as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System. The Reserve is comprised of 9,317 acres in Baldwin County and contains upland and bottomland hardwood forests, salt and freshwater marshes, submerged aquatic vegetation and unique bog habitats. Learn more at https://www.outdooralabama.com/lands/weeks-bay-reserve.

Follow Weeks Bay on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WeeksBayNERR/.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Prevent illnesses caused by tick and mosquito bites

In addition to implementing prevention measures and social distancing strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) reminds the citizens of Alabama to prevent illnesses caused by the bite of ticks and mosquitoes.

The summer months and social distancing practices mean more time spent outdoors and having fun in the sun for the entire family, but warmer months also bring unwanted visitors – ticks and mosquitoes. While most people think of ticks and mosquitoes as being only a nuisance, they can also transmit diseases, many of which can be extremely dangerous.  

“Ticks and mosquitoes can transmit viruses and bacteria when they bite, causing illnesses that range from mild to severe or even fatal. While we continue to practice social distancing and handwashing this summer, we must not forget to take the steps necessary to prevent diseases carried by insects,” says Public Health Entomologist Savannah Duke.

West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis and Zika virus are diseases that mosquitoes can carry while Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are tickborne diseases that pose a threat to Alabama residents. According to State Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Dee Jones, “The best way to avoid getting a disease from a tick or mosquito is to reduce the risk of being bitten.”

The ADPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer the following recommendations for preventing tick and mosquito bites:

· † Use insect repellents with ingredients registered by the Environmental Protection Agency such as DEET, Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

· †Always follow instructions when applying insect repellent to children and do not use repellents on babies younger than 2 months or oil of lemon eucalyptus on children under 3 years old.

· † Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and use permethrin to treat clothing and gear.

· † Make sure window screens are in good repair to reduce the chance of mosquitoes indoors.

· † Conduct a yard inspection and tip or toss anything that holds water to reduce mosquito breeding habitats. Fill holes and depressions in your yard where water tends to collect and repair leaky pipes and faucets.

· † Walk in the center of trails and conduct a tick check upon returning indoors.

· † Remove ticks immediately and correctly.  Visit https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.htmlto learn how to safely remove ticks.

See your health provider if you think you have a mosquito or tickborne disease. If you are bitten by a tick, save it for identification and testing. Health providers who suspect mosquito or tickborne diseases in their patients can submit clinical specimens to the ADPH Bureau of Clinical Laboratories. Visit http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/bcl/index.html.  On the home page, click “The Analytes Offered by BCL”, and then search under the “Microbiology” heading for more information.

To find out more about ticks and mosquitoes, visit the following resources:

· † For more information on repellents, visit http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect

· † For more information on prevalence and prevention of tickborne diseases in Alabama, visit http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/tickborne-diseases.html

· † For more information on prevalence and prevention of mosquito-borne diseases in Alabama, visit http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/mosquito/index.html

4-H Announces Virtual Fishing Contest

4-H is inviting youth across Alabama to participate in the 2020 4-H Biggest Catch virtual fishing contest. This freshwater fishing contest is for young people ages 9 to 18 and will be held June 1 – 14.
“We teach fishing basics and aquatic education year-round through our 4-H Sportfishing program,” said Emily Nichols, Alabama Extension 4-H specialist. “Now we are giving youth the chance to put those skills to the test in a little friendly competition.”


Contest Entries and Requirements
To be eligible for the contest, youth must catch and land their own fish without the help of others. To submit an entry, participants must measure their fish, take a photo of it and submit it online along with the online contest entry form. Contest requirements are as followed:
Youth participants must submit official contest entries between 8 a.m. CST June 1 and 8 p.m. CST June 14 using the online submission form at bit.ly/Biggest4HCatch.


To enter, a photograph of the biggest catch must be uploaded. The photograph should include the youth and their fish, the contest code AL4H2020 and also the total length of the fish. Participants can write this on a piece of paper and hold it up in the photograph or write it on their hand.
One entry per youth is allowed. Only complete entries will be considered.
Contest categories are Basses, Bream (Sunfish), Catfishes and Crappies. Participants must submit their catch to the correct category.
Participants must catch the fish in Alabama waters.


First, second and third place recognition will be awarded for each category. Also, participants are to follow all state requirements for fishing license and permits, as well as creel and size limits. Visit OutdoorAlabama.com for more information.


“Right now is a great time for families to get outside together and explore the state’s abundant freshwater,” Nichols said. “From county lakes, rivers and streams to state parks, there are great spots for recreating responsibly.”


About Alabama 4-H
Alabama 4-H is the youth development organization of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The program seeks to empower young people with the skills to lead their communities and also grow into future leaders. Visit www.alabama4h.com for more information.

Free Fishing Day is June 13

Photo by Jonathan Fordham

On Saturday, June 13, 2020, Alabamians and out-of-state visitors alike will have the opportunity to fish for free in most public waters including both freshwater and saltwater. Free Fishing Day is part of National Fishing and Boating Week, which runs June 6-14. The event allows residents and non-residents to enjoy the outstanding fishing Alabama has to offer without purchasing a fishing license.

“This is the perfect opportunity for non-anglers to test the fishing waters and to remind former anglers of all the fun they’ve been missing,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “It’s also a day for kids to learn how fun and exciting fishing is, while giving families a chance to do something together outdoors.”

Free Fishing Day takes place during Alabama’s red snapper season. While fishing license requirements are waived for Free Fishing Day, those fishing for red snapper will still need a $10 Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement and a free saltwater angler registration. For more information, visit www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/saltwater-recreational-size-creel-limits.

State Public Fishing Lakes still require a fishing permit on Free Fishing Day, and fishing in a private pond requires the pond owner’s permission. Some piers may also require fees and permits. Anglers looking for a new public fishing spot are encouraged to explore the fishing section of www.outdooralabama.com.

ADCNR strongly encourages everyone to observe Alabama’s current State Health Order and to practice CDC recommendations regarding hand washing and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Alligator Hunt Registration Opens June 2

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) will open online registration for the state’s regulated alligator hunts on June 2, at 8 a.m. Registration must be completed by 8 a.m., July 8.

A total of 260 Alligator Possession Tags will be distributed among five hunting zones. The administrative fee to apply for an Alligator Possession Tag is $22 and individuals may register one time per zone. While the tag is free, the selected hunters and their assistants are required to have valid hunting licenses in their possession while hunting.

Only Alabama residents and Alabama lifetime license holders ages 16 years or older may apply for tags. Alabama lifetime license holders may apply for an Alligator Possession Tag even if they have moved out of the state.

To register for the 2020 alligator hunts, visit www.outdooralabama.com/alligators/alligator-hunting-season-alabama during the registration period listed above.

Hunters will be randomly selected by computer to receive one Alligator Possession Tag each (the tags are non-transferable). The random selection process will utilize a preference point system. The system increases the likelihood of repeat registrants being selected for a hunt as long as the applicant continues to apply. The more years an applicant participates in the registration, the higher the likelihood of being selected. If an applicant does not register for the hunt in a given year or is selected and accepts a tag for a hunt, the preference point status is forfeited.

Applicants can check their selection status on July 8, after 12 p.m., at https://publichunts.dcnr.alabama.gov/public. Those selected to receive a tag must confirm their acceptance online by 8 a.m., July 15. After that date, alternates will be notified to fill any vacancies. Applicants drawn for the hunt are required to complete an online Alligator Training Course prior to accepting their hunter/alternate status. The official course will be available on the applicant’s status page upon login.

If selected for an Alligator Possession Tag at two or more locations, hunters must choose which location they would like to hunt. The slot for locations not chosen will be filled from a list of randomly selected alternates.

Hunting zones, total tags issued per zone and hunt dates are as follows:

SOUTHWEST ALABAMA ZONE – 100 Tags

Locations: Private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties north of interstate 10, and private and public waters in Washington, Clarke and Monroe counties east of U.S. Highway 43 and south of U.S. Highway 84. 2020 Dates: Sunset on August 13, until sunrise on August 16. Sunset on August 20, until sunrise on August 23.

COASTAL ZONE – 50 Tags

Locations: Private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties south of Interstate 10. 2020 Dates: Sunset on August 13, until sunrise on August 16. Sunset on August 20, until sunrise on August 23.

SOUTHEAST ALABAMA ZONE – 40 Tags

Locations: Private and public waters in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell counties (excluding public Alabama state waters in Walter F. George Reservoir/Lake Eufaula and its navigable tributaries). 2020 Dates: Sunset on August 8, until sunrise on September 7.

WEST CENTRAL ALABAMA ZONE – 50 Tags

Locations: Private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox and Dallas counties. 2020 Dates: Sunset on August 13, until sunrise on August 16. Sunset on August 20, until sunrise on August 23.

LAKE EUFAULA ZONE – 20 Tags

Locations: Public state waters only in the Walter F. George Reservoir/Lake Eufaula and its navigable tributaries, south of Alabama Highway 208 at Omaha Bridge (excludes Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge). 2020 Dates: Sunset August 14, until sunrise October 5.

Each person receiving an Alligator Possession Tag will be allowed to harvest one alligator during the season. An 8-foot minimum length requirement is in effect for alligators harvested in the Lake Eufaula Zone. There is no minimum length for hunts in the other zones. The use of bait is prohibited. All alligator harvests must be immediately tagged with the temporary Alligator Possession Tag and reported as directed for each Zone. The permanent Alligator Possession Tag will be distributed after the hunt by Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division personnel.

Hunting hours are official sunset to official sunrise in the Southwest, Coastal, Southeast and West Central Zones. For the Lake Eufaula Zone, hunting is allowed both daytime and nighttime hours. All Alabama hunting and boating regulations must be followed.

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is the largest reptile in North America and can exceed 14 feet in length and 1,000 pounds. Known for its prized meat and leather, the species was threatened with extinction due to unregulated harvest during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. No regulations existed in those days to limit the number of alligators harvested. In 1938, it is believed that Alabama was the first state to protect alligators by outlawing these unlimited harvests. Other states soon followed and, in 1967, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the American alligator on the endangered species list. By 1987, the species was removed from the endangered species list and the alligator population has continued to expand. Its history illustrates an excellent conservation success story.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Alabama farmers now eligible for coronavirus food assistance program

By Katie Nichols
Alabama farmers and ranchers affected by coronavirus will have an opportunity to apply for monetary relief through the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to American agricultural producers who have suffered losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Farm and Agribusiness Management teamwill be working closely with FSA offices and USDA Service Centers to guide producers through the application process.Jessica Kelton, the Farm and Agribusiness Management team leader, said the monetary assistance is unique and much needed.
The CFAP program specifically targets producers of agricultural products who have suffered a five percent or greater price decline, as well as losses, because of market supply chain disruptions.
Eligible commodities are divided into five groups. Non-specialty crops; Wool; Livestock; Dairy; Specialty crops. A complete list of specialty crops is available in the Alabama Extension content piece, Applying for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program through Farm Services Agency.
Alabama Extension economist, Max Runge, said unprecedented was a word used to describe many aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, but the payments to farmers as a result of this virus really are unprecedented.s
USDA began accepting applications Tues., May 26. Producers may submit applications through Aug. 28. Runge said FSA offices will have an increased volume of applications and phone calls, so patience on the part of the producer will be appreciated. USDA Service Centers will schedule appointments by phone only. USDA will accept applications by email, scan or fax. Extension professionals recommend contacting the local FSA office before sending applications.
Farmers can prepare for appointments by gathering records of recent farm sales and agricultural product inventories. Required application information includes: name and address, personal information, including Tax ID number, farm operating structure, adjusted gross income, direct deposit information. Necessary forms are available by visiting farmers.gov/cfap.
Ken Kelley, also an Alabama Extension economist, said the financial assistance for producers comes at a time when many livestock and dairy producers find themselves receiving prices well below the 10 year average, even as consumers see higher prices in the grocery stores.
While the situation is certainly improving, Kelley said it will be a while before processors catch back up to supply.
In order to ensure the availability of funding throughout the application period, producers will receive 80 percent of the maximum total payment for their operation upon approval of the application. Producers will receive remaining payments as funds are available. Find more information from Alabama Extension’s Farm and Agribusiness Management team in the content piece, Applying for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program through Farm Services Agency.
Read more about the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program at www.farmers.gov/cfap. Additional and more detailed information from the USDA is available via their website, www.usda.gov.

Conserving Water: Small Changes, Big Impact

By Justin Miller

Water plays an essential role in the environment. People use it in many aspects of their daily lives such as cooking, washing clothes, bathing and most importantly, drinking. While the Earth is covered by approximately 70 percent water, only one percent of that is easily accessible for human use.

“For the majority of the people in this country, some of the safest water in the world is just a turn of the tap away,” said Roosevelt Robinson, an Alabama Extension forestry and natural resources regional agent. “Other parts of the world are not so lucky.”

National Drinking Water Month

May is National Drinking Water Month. Highlighting drinking water during the month of May serves as a reminder to protect water resources while also educating the public on the balance of supply and demand.

“It takes much more than just turning on the tap to guarantee clean, drinkable water,” Robinson said. “Reckless usage, coupled with global warming and pollution from impaired water tables, will surely have adverse consequences on future generations.”

Water Usage by the Numbers

In Alabama alone, approximately 365 million gallons of water are used for domestic use every day. In fact, the average Alabama resident uses approximately 76 gallons per day in and around the home.

“The largest use of water in a home today comes from flushing the toilet,” he said. “Each flush can use between 2 to 4 gallons.”

Other aspects of daily life, such as bathing and doing laundry, also use large amounts. Taking a shower uses between 2 and 5 gallons of water per minute, while baths use around 8.5 gallons.

Water usage can depend greatly on the age of an appliance. For example, washing a load of laundry uses approximately 25 gallons per load in newer washers. However, older models can use as much as 40 gallons per load.

Conserving Water

Robinson said there are many simple things that can be done every day to help conserve this precious resource.

“If every Alabamian shaved one minute off of their shower, it would save 2.6 billion gallons of water each year,” Robinson said. “That is enough water to fill more than 3,900 Olympic-sized pools.”

By making a few changes to everyday routines, communities can greatly reduce the burden on their local water supply while also saving money. Robinson offers the following tips for conserving water in the home:

Always turn off the faucet while brushing teeth.

Find and fix household leaks, such as dripping faucets or worn toilet flappers.

Only run the dishwasher and washing machine with full loads.

Consider replacing old toilets with low flow or dual flush toilets.

Robinson said inside the home is not the only place people need to watch water usage. There are several ways to conserve water in yards and gardens.

“Nearly 50 percent of residential outdoor water use is wasted because of inefficient methods of watering,” he said. “By selecting drought tolerant plants for landscapes and only watering during proper times of the day, people can help conserve large amounts of water.”

More Information

Read more about water usage and conservation in WATER You Doing? Water Usage and Conservation. For more information, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension office.

Wildlife Plot Management After the Hunt

By Katie Nichols

Deer season 2020 is in the books and turkey season just came to a gobbling close. An Alabama Cooperative Extension System forestry, wildlife and natural resource management regional agent said many hunters ignore their hunting properties through the summer months, but attention to the wildlife plot is still important.

Bence Carter said summer is an ideal time for hunters to enhance their property to benefit wildlife throughout the year. He recommends making plans for property maintenance during the winter months. However, it is not too late to develop a plan and begin work now.

Provide Nutrient Supplements

“Encouraging growth of native browse and planting warm-season food plots are a great way to provide needed nutrition to wildlife without the costs and risks associated with feeders,” Carter said. “The average adult whitetail can consume four to six pounds or more of dry weight per 100 pounds of body weight per day. This translates to more than one ton of food per year.”

With an average of one ton of food per year, continuous supplemental feeding may prove to be an expensive investment. Carter said hunters should keep in mind that feeders have the potential to increase exposure to predators and diseases.

Whitetail deer need a minimum average of 17 percent crude protein in their diet per year. Depending on age and physiological activity, the deer may need higher amounts of protein.

“While corn is a common choice for hunters, it only has six to 10 percent crude protein and is high in fat and carbohydrates,” Carter said. “Encouraging establishment of native browse, like grasses, forbs and legumes, or planting warm-season food plots can be an effective option to provide supplemental food sources during a crucial developmental time. A diverse selection of available browse throughout your property will maximize benefit to whitetail.”

Warm Season Food Plot Location

When selecting warm season food plot locations, identify areas that are not used for winter food plots. Also look for low bottomland locations which are likely to remain cool and moist throughout the summer.

Before planting, conduct a soil test to determine if any soil amendments, such as lime and fertilizer, are needed. Hunters should also check planting guides for the best crops for the site, planting depth and companion crops.

The Alabama Extension publication Plantings For Wildlife is a good resource for additional information.

General Management

The summer is a great time to enhance a property and complete general management tasks including:

controlling invasive plant species

maintaining or building new roads

maintaining or establishing drains, water bars and culverts

Identifying and managing invasive plant species is also a great way to encourage plant diversity, promote beneficial native vegetation and increase the value of timber. Identifying invasive plant species is important in determining the ideal management plan.

Carter said roads throughout the property can serve many benefits. These include improving access, adding fire lanes, linear food plots and increasing edge habitat.

“If you are looking to sell or lease the property in the future, roads allow potential customers to quickly and easily travel the property to evaluate timber, view wildlife and inspect habitat types and other improvements on the property,” he said.

Surveys

Carter said another enjoyable opportunity in late summer is conducting camera surveys. These surveys allow hunters to gather useful trend data on sex ratio and buck age structure. Surveys also allow hunters to record reproduction and survival rates on the property.

For more information on camera surveys, check out the Alabama Extension publication Managing White-tailed Deer: Camera Surveys.

Predator Control

If done properly, predator control and trapping during the summer can be an effective way to increase fawn and turkey poult survivability.

“Coyotes and raccoons do not have a closed season during the summer months,” Carter said. “This makes the summer an ideal time to get back into the woods to reduce their numbers.”

Check the Alabama Hunting and Trapping regulations annually to brush up on game regulations. Hunters can also talk with a wildlife biologist or an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources regional agent about effective trapping strategies.

More Information

Carter said it is not imperative that all of these strategies be implemented during the summer months.

“If you are only able to select a few of these management strategies to implement, add others in the future,” he said. “The important part is to begin looking at wildlife management practices on your property as a year-round activity, instead of just during the hunting seasons.”

More information on many wildlife topics is available on the Alabama Extension website www.aces.edu. Individuals can also call their county Extension office or visit the Extension directory to be connected with a forestry and wildlife specialist or find a nearby agent.

Alabama Extension Inspiring Gardeners to Grow More, Give More

By Justin Miller
Home gardeners can now use their passion for gardening to make a difference in their communities through the Alabama Extension Grow More, Give More project.
Designed for both novice and experienced gardeners, this project provides the information required to have a successful vegetable garden. This project goes one step further and encourages citizens to use their garden bounty in ways to meet community needs.
“We are excited to launch this project that not only teaches people the ins and outs of gardening, but also helps provide much needed food assistance to communities across Alabama,” said Bethany O’Rear, an Alabama Extension home grounds regional agent.


Grow More
Grow More, Give More is a collaborative effort between Alabama Extension horticulture agents and Alabama Master Gardener Extension volunteers. The Grow More aspect of this project is now underway.
Alabama Extension horticulture agents are distributing kit plans for growing vegetables at home. These plans cover some of the basic growing information related to commonly grown Alabama vegetables.
“These plans will have information specific to different garden types, such as how to grow tomatoes in a five-gallon bucket,” O’Rear said. “We will suggest supplies needed, where to place it, when to plant it and how to maintain it.”
Kits include plans for large container gardens, raised beds and in-ground row crops.


Informational Resources
Worried about getting started? Don’t fret. Extension agents will help growers every step of the way by providing informational resources through a variety of platforms. Master Gardener Extension volunteers are also dedicating their time to support the project.
“These resources are great tools that help guide home gardeners through the entire process,” she said. “In addition to the publications and informational articles on the Extension website, the Grow More, Give More project will have brief on-line tutorials, social media posts and one-on-one assistance through the Master Gardener Helpline.”


Give More
According to O’Rear, the team is still finalizing plans for the Give More aspect of the project. However, the goal is that people use their extra produce to make a difference in their communities.
“People who grow more than they can use are encouraged to share with neighbors or donate it to local food assistance efforts,” O’Rear said. “As people learn to Grow More, we hope they will Give More too.”
This summer, the project will provide a way for gardeners to record their donations and also tell the story of how they utilized the Give More aspect of the project.


More Information
For more information on this project, visit the Grow More, Give More page on the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

Asian giant hornets? Murder hornets? Not in Alabama

By Katie Nichols

Neighborhoods and social media are buzzing with hype as citizens are concerned about “murder hornets.” Alabama Cooperative Extension System professionals would like to put this rumor to rest. These stinging insects have not been found in Alabama. However, the detection of Asian giant hornets is unnerving for beekeepers and citizens in the Pacific Northwest.

Asian giant hornets, Vespa mandarinia, are the world’s largest hornet, measuring 1.5 – 2 inches in length.

Alabama Extension entomologist Katelyn Kesheimer said the giant hornets have a very unique coloration that makes them distinguishable from other hornets.

“Their large head is orange or yellow with prominent eyes, and they have a black and yellow-striped abdomen,” she said.

The pest was first detected in North America in December 2019 when a Washington resident found a large, dead hornet. The hornet was confirmed to be an Asian giant hornet.

Since the positive identification, four more reports have been confirmed in Washington.

Kesheimer said public education and pest eradication plans are already underway.

The United States Department of Agriculture, the Washington State Department of Agriculture and local universities have begun work to educate citizens, conduct surveys, and eradicate the pest.

“Their goal is to eradicate the pest before it becomes established,” Kesheimer said.

Asian giant hornets are native to Asia. The hornets are social insects and maintain underground colonies with one queen and multiple workers.

“These nests are difficult to locate,” Kesheimer said. “Nests are often formed in pre-existing holes in the ground, like a rodent’s nest.”

The hornets will also nest in hollowed tree trunks or in the roots of dead trees.

Much like the fire ant—which Alabamians are very familiar with—the queens are colony leaders. The queens are able to disperse and produce offspring. Therefore, a solitary queen begins a nest and then populates it with workers. Kesheimer said the key to controlling a colony is to kill the queen.

“As social insects, they can carry out coordinated attacks against nests of other bees and wasps,” Kesheimer said. “These group attacks usually occur late in the season as their nests become large and are in need of food. They will ‘slaughter and occupy’ the nests of yellow jackets and paper wasps, as well as honeybees.”

Asian giant hornets are predatory insects. Their diet includes a variety of arthropods. These include: scarab beetles, long-horned beetles, spiders and caterpillars.

European honeybees are the preferred food source for Asian giant hornets because the honeybee hive cannot defend themselves against the hornet. European honeybee hives also offer a bounty of food and are full of protein and fat.

While Asian giant hornets have not been identified in Alabama or the southeastern U.S., there are other bees and wasps in Alabama that could be easily mistaken for the Asian giant hornet.

European hornets and Cicada killer wasps resemble Asian giant hornets and could easily cause concern for Alabama homeowners or beekeepers.

Alabama Extension entomologist, Xing Ping Hu, said the Cicada killer and the European hornet are also confused with one another, though the two have different lifestyles.

“Cicada killer wasps are large solitary wasps that behave differently from social hornets,” Hu said. “The Cicada killer builds nests in the ground by pushing out soil, typically 10-20 inches deep and less than 1 inch wide.”

Hu said Cicada killer wasps can be found small soil mounds in well-drained, sandy soils or loose clay in bare and grass-covered areas. Female wasps hunt for cicadas, sting them to paralyze the prey, then drag the cicada back to the nest to feed the young.

Male cicada wasps are often seen in groups buzzing aggressively above ground. Although the male wasps may look intimidating, they pose no risk to humans. While females can sting, they will not attempt to sting humans unless handled roughly.

European hornets are found sporadically throughout the state, as Alabama is likely at the southern edge of their range.

While the European hornet may be mistaken for an Asian giant hornet simply because of their size, hornet behavior may be another reason homeowners could confuse the two.

Similar to Asian giant hornets, European hornets will become aggressive if their nest is threatened. However, the European hornet is not known to be a threat to honeybees.

Kesheimer said Asian giant hornets do post a threat to European honeybees in the U.S.

“While they do prey on other arthropod species, we are most concerned about honeybees because of their value as pollinators and honey-producers,” Kesheimer said. “Beekeepers across all states should be informed about this pest and the progress on eradication efforts.”

Kesheimer said Asian giant hornets will attack if their colonies or food sources are threatened.

“It is important to remember that these hornets are not typically aggressive toward humans,” Kesheimer said.

Many people have had experience with honeybee stings—the short, barbed stinger becomes lodged in the skin and only allows for one sting. The stinger on V. mandarinia is much larger and contains more venom than bee stingers. The Asian giant hornet stinger has a curved shape with less barbs to allow for easier entry. This means the hornets can sting more than once.

Kesheimer said the average beekeeping suit will not protect keepers from this pest.

“Anyone with an allergy should take extra precautions around any bees or wasps and seek medical attention when and if needed,” she said. “It is important to remain calm when it comes to any types of bees or wasps. Remember, Asian giant hornets only become aggressive when their nest or food source is threatened.”

For more detailed information on identification, biology, and control options, visit United States Department of Agriculture or the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Read more about Asian giant hornets, also known as murder hornets, in a content piece found on www.aces.edu, titled Asian Giant Hornets Not in Alabama.

Put Asterisk by 2020 Alabama Turkey Season

Elijah Phillips bagged a trophy turkey at Hollins Wildlife Management Area that sported 1 3/4-inch spurs. WFF Director Chuck Sykes and hunting partner Darcee Andrews doubled up on gobblers with the bronze color phase.

By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Alabama wild turkey season, which ended on May 3, will likely have to include an asterisk in the record books for a variety of reasons.

Obviously, the COVID-19 restrictions played a role as did a renewed push for successful hunters to report their turkey harvests.

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes made a significant point at the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board meeting earlier this year that if compliance with Game Check’s requirement to report all turkey harvests didn’t increase, the 2021 season might be in jeopardy. Apparently, the message was delivered.

“I think it was a double factor,” Sykes said. “I think more people did report taking birds this year because of what happened at the Advisory Board. However, I am 100-percent confident more birds were killed this year. I can use myself as a prime example. I am extremely fortunate to be able to hunt in some really good places year after year, and I keep a very detailed record of each turkey season. This was a banner year. The travel restrictions associated with the coronavirus was a contributor.

“I had way more turkeys killed with me in Alabama than in years past just simply because I had more days afield in Alabama,” he said. “It wasn’t that I did better this year. I still had roughly the same daily average. I just got more days in so there was more hunter effort in Alabama because I couldn’t go out of town. All of my meetings out of Alabama were canceled, so I was in Alabama longer. I wasn’t just a weekend warrior like I’ve been for the past few years. This year, the weather was bad on several weekends, so I got to hunt more good days during the week. Therefore, more turkeys were harvested for me personally.”

With current regulations that state the season will start on the third Saturday in March, the opening day of the 2020 turkey season happened on March 21, the latest date possible. Add in relatively good weather, except for a couple of weekends, and Sykes said conditions certainly favored the turkey hunters.

“I think starting the season later put the turkeys farther into their breeding activity and made them easier to call,” he said. “And people had way more time on their hands. I know a boatload of people who hunted public land this year for the first time because they had time to do it, and they killed turkeys.”

That increase in hunting on public lands was affirmed by WFF Upland Game Bird Coordinator Steven Mitchell, who said Alabama’s WMAs (wildlife management areas) had more hunter activity than he’s ever seen.

“I think a lot more hunters were in the woods this year,” Mitchell said. “The WMAs were getting used a lot more than in previous years. We don’t know exactly how much more use right now. As a safety precaution associated with social distancing, we pulled the requirements for daily permits for the spring. But we’re still working the WMAs. By observation, there were trucks at every place to park.”

Mitchell said one lucky hunter was able to bag a trophy turkey on the Hollins WMA. The bird had 1¾-inch spurs.

“We’ve had a lot of use and a lot of harvest,” he said. “With more than week to go in the season, we had 4,000 more birds reported through Game Check than all of last season.”

Director Sykes said he normally hunts with one of his friends in Choctaw County about three days a year. This year, the hunting buddies spent 10 days in the woods.

“I was teleworking from the hunting camp,” he said. “We could go hunting for a couple of hours before he had to go to work and I got on the computer.

“I got quite a few emails and texts, that people were seeing (the increased harvest) too. People who might normally kill one or two birds, they killed their (five-bird) limit. Others who hardly ever killed a bird, they killed two or three.”

Mitchell also said more hunters participated this season in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey, which will provide a variety of information for game managers.

“This is a precious resource and we need accurate information,” he said. “We need to know what kind of gobbling they’re hearing and what time. We can see peaks and valleys in gobbling and harvest activity.”

Despite the great season for hunters, the game bird biologists are concerned about turkey numbers trending down in the past 10 years.

Mitchell said Auburn University is wrapping up its five-year study on the turkey population. Dr. Barry Grand is finishing the report and it should be available soon.

“Auburn was looking at a lot of things on turkeys on our research areas,” Mitchell said. “This report will give us the vital statistics we need to develop a decision-making tool concerning seasons and bag limits.

“Some of the research around the Southeast is showing when gobblers are harvested. Usually in Alabama, it’s the first couple of weeks. A lot of gobblers are getting taken out of the population before they have a chance to breed.”

Steve Barnett, who retired as Upland Game Bird Coordinator last year, said Dr. Grand’s report will augment the work done by WFF biologists and public input through the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey.

“The Auburn study took place on the research sites across the state,” Barnett said. “We were updating the vital rates for Alabama in terms of survival, reproduction and harvest rates. We really haven’t had any data since Dr. (Dan) Speake was doing all his turkey work in the 1980s.

“By updating those vital rates, it allows us to update our strategic decision-making tool. Those are key elements that go into that prediction model.”

According to the WFF’s Full Fans & Sharp Spurs (FF&SS) publication for the 2019 season, the turkey population is not rebounding as biologists had hoped. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/turkey-hunting-alabama/turkey-research for the publications for the past six years.

Barnett still compiles much of the information for the FF&SS publication.

“The brood survey is still showing a decline,” Barnett said. “There’s been about a two percent decline in poults per hen and a three percent decline in brood size.”

Barnett said the 2019 numbers estimated poults per hen at 1.8.

“When it’s less than two poults per hen, that’s concerning to us,” he said. “2013 was the last time it showed two poults per hen. It’s not isolated to Alabama. The reproduction is in decline across the Southeast and continues to be.”

The 2019 information indicated a large number of jakes (1-year-old gobblers) were observed last year, the largest number since the survey started.

“That likely accounts for some of the increase in reported harvest, and some of the good turkey hunts can be attributed to more 2-year-olds in the population,” Barnett said.

Director Sykes said the results of the 2020 turkey season will likely be considered an anomaly.

“In my opinion, it was the factors of hunter effort and being able to hunt during the week when the weather was a lot more conducive,” Sykes said. “Two weekends in row we had tornadoes and violent storms. If you’re working 8 to 5 Monday through Friday and those were the only two days you had to hunt, you probably wouldn’t kill a turkey. But hunters were able to go out on Thursdays and Fridays and were able to kill turkeys.”

Take a look at this turkey season’s GAME CHECK data and compare to last season (both seasons shown here), and check out the tallies by week and by county. Did you forget to GAME CHECK your bird? Be sure to add it to these totals now by clicking here: https://game.dcnr.alabama.gov/. Facebook.com/alabamawildlifeandfreshwaterfisheries

Now is the time to prepare for hurricanes

By Jim Stefkovich, Meteorologist, Alabama Emergency Management Agency
May 3-9 is National Hurricane Preparedness Week. Now is the time to prepare for the coming season. Although the official National Hurricane Center seasonal forecast doesn’t come out until later this month, all indications are for an active season. Just keep in mind the forecast doesn’t predict where the storms will form or where they go. As is said over and over, it only takes one to produce massive impacts.
There’s a myth that tropical activity doesn’t start until June 1st. Wrong! Tropical storms and hurricanes don’t care about arbitrary “official” season dates. In 2018, Tropical Storm Alberto formed on May 20th, moved northward through the Gulf of Mexico, and into Alabama on May 29th.
What is known is the Gulf of Mexico is the favored region for tropical storm and hurricane development during May – June and continuing into the fall.1
A lot of people don’t take Tropical Storms and some Hurricanes seriously. “It’s just a Tropical Storm” or “It’s only a Category 1”, are common statements. The category and the actual impacts are significantly different.
Tropical Storms and Category 1-5 Hurricanes are defined by wind speeds only. However, there are many other impacts such as storm surge near the coast with both flooding and tornadoes that can occur well inland affecting anyone in Alabama.
So, hopefully, you will go to the following website and learn more about developing a plan and being prepared for this coming season at https://www.weather.gov/wrn/hurricane-preparedness
Finally, there is a section on this website about developing an Evacuation Plan. With the pandemic situation, will your current evacuation plan work? Now is a great time to review your plan so that it will accommodate health orders or conditions caused by COVID-19.

Watch Your Step Prickly Thorns in Hale County Lawns

Tyrone D. Smith, Hale County Extension Coordinator
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Control of lawn Douglas Fiddleneck also burweed or buckthorn is easiest by a preemergent herbicide application in September through November. It’s an annual and comes back from seed every fall. Another alternative is to wait for it to germinate and kill it with a post-emergent herbicide in December or January. The most important thing when using post-emergent is to kill it BEFORE it makes the spiky fruits. Most years it starts to flower and fruit anywhere from February to March, depending on location, and often sticks around until May.
If you sprayed an herbicide in your lawn today, you could kill it but the dead plants would still have those spiky fruits. Almost all of the common pre and post herbicides will get lawn burweed. It’s not hard to kill, but it grows low to the ground and can escape notice until you start stepping on the fruits. This plant has shallow roots and can be hand pulled. Wear gloves so the spiny hairs don’t prick the skin. So a sharp eye in winter is the most important tool to use!
Hale County Extension Office is still working for you! Please call 334-624-8710 or visit us online www.aces.edu

Virus Robbed Me of Bidding Farewell to Great Friend

(jubilees David Rainer) With longtime friend Ken Jansen hauling in his net, Lee Rivenbark hurls his cast net into Mobile Bay during a shrimp jubilee. Rivenbark’s deer-hunting luck usually ended with the biggest buck in the woods walking in front of him. Rivenbark slides a flounder down his custom-made gig during a jubilee on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

While I and my family have been blessed during the COVID-19 pandemic with basically no ill effects, the virus robbed me of the chance to say farewell to one of the people most influential in my career covering the outdoors in Alabama.

Robert Lee Rivenbark of Fairhope did not succumb to the coronavirus. He lost his battle with prostate cancer recently after a long struggle. He was 76.

Because of the virus restrictions, I was only able to visit over the telephone before he passed away.

Rivenbark fits in what I call my curmudgeon category. He could be short and to the point, and our last phone call started in typical fashion. When his wife, Charlotte, handed him the phone and told him it was me, no “How are you doing” or any such formalities ensued. The first sentence out of his mouth was, “Whadda you want?”

However, he always tried to help with what I wanted. When I first moved to lower Alabama to take the job as Outdoors Editor at the Mobile Press-Register in 1992, a friend of mine insisted I look up Lee when I got to town.

Boy, I’m glad I did. Lee was a man of the outdoors, from the intricate machinations of Mobile Bay to the haunts of the wary white-tailed deer.

In fact, we hit it off so well that before I got my family moved down, I rented a garage apartment on the Rivenbark compound on Mobile Bay at the south end of Fairhope, where the Rivenbark family had been since 1966.

It was a small apartment, but it had a great view of the Rivenbark pier and water beneath the pier light. Obviously, the pier light attracted bait fish and subsequently speckled trout and redfish. From my vantage point in the apartment, I could take a pair of binoculars and look at the pier. If I could see fish activity under the light, I would grab a rod and reel and head down to catch a few fish for the next night’s meal. If the water was calm, I’d roll over and go to sleep.

I don’t remember how many times Lee retold that story to illustrate how “sorry” I was, but it always ended in a big laugh.

Lee was the first to admit that he was not a hook-and-line angler. He much preferred a cast net and could throw a “silver dollar” every time. He tried to teach me but finally gave up when I got to the butterbean stage.

If mullet tried to swim past the Rivenbark pier when Lee was there with his cast net, the fish didn’t stand a chance.

Despite his reluctance, one day he agreed to go with me on a little fishing trip to the Grand Hotel jetties. I was dragging a plastic grub across the bottom, hoping to locate a few flounder. I caught a flatfish and cast right back into the same spot and hooked up again. I got Lee to cast in that spot and he hooked a fish. If our baits landed in an area about the size of a washtub, we ended up with a fish. We caught a dozen before the spot ran dry.

Lee, known as Uncle Lee to my daughters, had knowledge of Mobile Bay was extraordinary, and I was lucky enough to be on his jubilee hotline.

For those who aren’t familiar with the phenomenon, a jubilee happens when the bottom-dwelling fish and creatures in the bay end up on the shoreline.

Jubilees occur during the summer when patches of water with low dissolved oxygen form in the bay. With the right conditions, that oxygen-depleted water moves to shore, mainly Baldwin County’s Eastern Shore, pushing those fish and marine creatures ahead of it.

It usually happens in the wee hours of the morning, and a jubilee could include everything from flounder to shrimp to crabs to eels.

If I got a call at 4 a.m. and I heard “Rivenbark, Fairhope Pier,” I knew to jump up, grab my wading shoes, gig and light and meet him for the bonanza that is a jubilee.

Jubilees were always fickle experiences. Sometimes it would be only shrimp. At other times it was mostly flounder. At times it was everything, with blue crabs crawling out on piers and pilings to flounder stacked on top of each other trying to find oxygen.

When a thundershower moved through in the afternoon and the wind was blowing gently out of the east, Lee would tell me to expect a phone call.

But you never knew what you were going to get or whether it was going to materialize. One night we were all set for a big jubilee with everything falling into place. Just as the flounder got near gigging range, a huge wake from a ship heading down Mobile Ship Channel crashed ashore, and the jubilee vanished right before our eyes.

So many memories come to mind when I think about Lee, including the time we tried to go fishing in the Chandeleur Islands off the Louisiana coast. Tried is the key word here. We set out from Fly Creek Marina in Fairhope aboard Dr. Larry Ennis’ catamaran sailing vessel for an extended adventure. By the time we got south of Biloxi, Mississippi, we got bad news. Not one but two tropical systems were forming in the Gulf of Mexico. We turned the boat around but could only make it back to Pascagoula before we abandoned ship and called for someone to pick us up.

When it came to hunting, Lee had never really taken up the turkey hunting sickness because he was too busy taking advantage of the bounty of Mobile Bay during the spring.

But deer hunting was his main outdoor passion. He hunted deer from Colorado to Conecuh County and everywhere in between. Of course, most of his deer came from Alabama, and he was a meticulous record-keeper.

“He kept a record of all the crabs and mullet he caught off the pier and every deer he shot,” said younger brother John Rivenbark.

Lee was absolutely the luckiest deer hunter I have ever known. He could break all the rules and still be successful. He could be smoking a cigarette and the biggest buck in the woods would step out in front of him.

He had told me before the season started that all he wanted to do was kill his 400th deer. He only needed three to reach that milestone.

It was a struggle early in the season with the effect of chemotherapy on his body and the weather. Our mutual friend from Mississippi set up a hunt for Lee in Texas, but his health wouldn’t cooperate. I tried to set up a hunt for him at Bent Creek Lodge in Jachin, Alabama, but he wasn’t up to the trip.

With his brothers and friends like Ken Jansen, Judson Pizzotti and Gary Wolfe helping him along the way last season, Lee managed to accomplish his goal.

He bagged his 400th deer, a doe, with his twin brother, Arch, and family friend Carl Enfinger in tow.

Lee ended his deer-hunting career with 402 reduced to bag.

He asked me, after he knew this would likely be his last deer season, if I wanted one of his deer rifles or any of his mounts after he was gone.

I told him he should give those to family members, but I did have one request. He had a stainless steel rod, sharpened on one end with the small rope attached to the other. It was his custom flounder gig that allowed him to slide the gigged flounder down the rod and onto the string so he didn’t have to stop during a jubilee.

“Lee, all I want is your flounder gig if that’s alright,” I said.

“That’s all you want?” he said with curious look.

“Yep,” I said, “because every time I stick a flounder I’ll think of you.”

I hope to rekindle those memories of my great friend real soon

Auburn forestry faculty help major YouTube influencer plant 20 million trees via #teamtrees

By Teri Greene

Two Auburn University forestry professors lent a hand to a hugely popular YouTube scientist in an effort by internet content creators of all types to raise $20 million for the Arbor Day Foundation, which has agreed to plant one tree for every dollar raised at teamtrees.org.

Professor Becky Barlow and Research Fellow John Kush of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences joined up with Destin Sandlin, whose channel “Smarter Every Day” has more than 8 million followers, to share their insight and raise awareness about the growth cycles and conservation of trees.

Sandlin’s video, How to Plant 20 Million Trees, which features Barlow and Kush, has received more than 1.3 million views. It’s part of the National Arbor Day Foundation’s lofty goal to raise $20 million in order to plant 20 million trees. The goal was met well before the deadline, and the project is retaining its momentum: By the end of February, the fundraiser had well surpassed its goal, with more than $21.7 million raised and donations continuing to pour in. To see a live count as the donations continue—or to make a donation in honor of National Arbor Day—go to teamtrees.org.

Kush said he had no idea how far a group of YouTube videos could go in terms of raising awareness and advancing education.

“I was amazed,” Kush said of the million-plus views Sandlin’s video received. “It’s great exposure for the longleaf pine, the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and Auburn University. I had no idea how many people subscribe to some of these YouTube channels.”

The #TeamTrees campaign was started by internet content creators, sparked by a tweet from YouTube star Mr. Beast, who decided to commemorate reaching the 20 million subscriber mark by setting off a viral effort to plant 20 million trees. In May, his fellow YouTuber Mark Rober teamed up with Mr. Beast and his crew to kick off the project by planting trees in a field in Oregon. On the project’s launch day, Oct. 25, Rober posted a video of that tree-planting and, with Mr. Beast and others—including Sandlin—began to rally social media influencers to spread the word about the #TeamTrees project, which ran through Dec. 31.

Since the trees are scheduled to be planted in locations worldwide, this effort places an emphasis on planting trees that are native species, where local conditions and forest plans allow. The National Arbor Day Foundation’s motto sums it up: “To plant the right tees, in the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons.”

Which trees, where to plant and why

Sandlin made a pitch to Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, including the lines, “I’d love to include Auburn University in the video [even though I’m a Bama grad]. You’re the authorities on forestry, and I’d like to highlight that to an international audience.”

Sandlin, who’s examined nature worldwide in his video adventures, has a keen interest in trees, and he’s familiar with Auburn’s forestry work: Back in the 1960s, his grandfather worked with Auburn students to see whether a group of newly planted longleaf pines would grow on his property, just north of the species’ range. Only two of the many trees planted on his grandfather’s land survived. One lived until the mid-1970s, and the other lived until the late ’80s.

“My hope was that, if we are going to plant 20 million trees, we should gain some scientific knowledge about what species will perform best in certain soils and climates,” Sandlin said of his contribution to the #teamtrees project. “Environments and ecosystems change, and I see this as a gigantic opportunity to gain data for the snapshot of time that we live in. What happens will be left up to the Arbor Day Foundation, but I hope to work with Auburn to gather data in some way.

“Dr. Barlow and Dr. Kush share my passion for education, but also were willing to lay out the facts in a clear, intelligent and respectful way,” he said.

Barlow and Kush were enthusiastic to share their expertise with Sandlin and his viewers.

Barlow explained the importance of silvics—the study of the life history and character of forest trees. In the video, she explains the importance of the location in which trees occur, their growth levels, need for sunlight and tolerance of shade. She also emphasized that some species require higher levels of maintenance than others.

In the video, Kush’s statement that certain trees need fire to survive seemed to take Sandlin—and probably his viewers—aback. But Kush said getting the word out about the health of the longleaf pine was one reason he was excited to work with Sandlin. He said the ecology of the longleaf—particularly its need of fire—is often misunderstood.

Kush noted that the species evolved with frequent fire.

“We need to be proactive and increase our use of prescribed fire,” Kush said. “This will not only help in longleaf pine management but improve wildlife habitat for game species as well as numerous threatened and endangered species in the Southeast.”

Sandlin was grateful that Kush shared this fact with viewers.

“It can be quite a challenge to help people understand that, at times, fire can be good for the ecosystem,” Sandlin said. “I believe our message got through.”

Funds already in action

The planting of 21.5 million trees is already underway, with specific projects planned for the spring, summer and fall of 2020, according to a joint press release from the National Arbor Day Foundation and #TeamTrees.

The funds are helping replant trees lost in the unprecedented 2018 California wildfire season, in which 8,000 fires burned through more than 1.8 million acres of forestland. Replanting this area will prevent mudslides and degraded soil, water and air quality and other challenges. The project is part of a four-year reforestation effort that will help families recover from those wildfires.

This spring and running through summer, the #TeamTrees team will aid in the replanting effort in Kenya’s Kijabe Forest, an important wildlife corridor and water source for the country that has been damaged dramatically over the past 15 years as it has been cleared for charcoal and timber. The newly planted trees will help re-establish a sustainable water supply, restore habitat for wildlife by stabilizing landslide-prone slopes and secure local livelihoods.

In the summer and fall, the team will help reforest the Cauvery River Basin in southern India, which has shrunk by about 40 percent from its historical flows over 70 years, resulting in scarce drinking water and difficult farming conditions. A loss of tree cover has also led to poor soil health. Reforesting the basin and educating farmers will help stabilize the river and improve soil conditions over time.

A crowd-driven effort

In the end, the widespread social media push to raise awareness and educate had the greatest impact on the effort, with #TeamTrees identifying more than 800,000 unique donors. A handful of billionaires including Elon Musk and Tobias Lutke did contribute to the cause, but for the most part this was a grass-roots success.

“I predicted a few more wealthy individuals or organizations would realize the PR potential and jump on board,” Sandlin said. “The fact that the majority of funds for the Arbor Day Foundation were raised by individuals feels really good.”

Food Safety a Top Priority in Alabama Produce Industry

With Alabama’s growing season in full swing, produce growers are working to ensure continuing food safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC, USDA and FDA agree that there is no indication the virus can infect consumers through food or food packaging.

Good Agricultural Practices

Alabama Extension food safety regional extension agent Kristin Woods said the produce industry uses Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) to help protect against foodborne illness.

Woods said that many growers go through voluntary audits to verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.

“Food system workers—including harvesters, packers, processing line workers and others—are critical to  a safe and consistent food supply in the U.S.,” Woods said. “In fact, a Department of Homeland Security issued guidance recognized agricultural production, food processing, distribution, retail and food service as well as allied industries workers as essential workers.”

Health of Agricultural Workers

Woods said worker health is crucial to a stable supply.

“Farms already have food safety protocols in place to preserve the safety of freshly harvested products, but now there are also enhanced procedures to protect employees from the virus,” she said. “These procedures protect workers during harvest and in packinghouses so that producers can keep food flowing from farm to table.”

Woods said consumers should know some key facts about the produce industry.

  • Food system workers are highly trained. These workers undergo extensive training to prevent the hazards that cause foodborne illness. They have the knowledge to assess risks on the farm, during processing, at retail and in the kitchen.
  • If a worker tests positive for COVID-19, they go home. Individuals who come in contact with an infected person should self-quarantine.
  • Processing facilities have enhanced procedures to frequently clean and sanitize high-traffic surfaces. This virus, like others, can survive on surfaces for an extended time making cleaning and sanitizing vital.
  • There is no food shortage in the U.S. Shoppers may see empty grocery store shelves in the short-term. However, many packinghouses are shifting gears from food service accounts to retail accounts. This switch takes time to see on the grocery store shelf.

Woods encourages shoppers to exercise patience instead of stockpiling.

“Shifting our food supply from foodservice to retail in a short amount of time is not an easy job,” she said.

Produce Safety

While Woods emphasizes the importance of purchasing and consuming Alabama-grown produce, she reminds consumers that because this virus does not appear to be foodborne, imported produce remains safe.

“That’s especially good news for people who like tropical fruits including pineapples, bananas and papayas,” Woods said.

Woods said using basic hygiene practices can curb the spread of the virus and other germs.

“Washing hands before and after a grocery trip, social distancing from other shoppers, covering coughs and sneezes or staying at home when feeling unwell help reduce the spread of the coronavirus,” she said.

Farmers market shoppers may notice new packaging or rules as they begin shopping for produce this year.

Vendors will expect shoppers to shop safely. Take advantage of any opportunity to wash or sanitize hands. Also try to avoid picking up produce to inspect it before purchasing.

“If it is possible to pay in advance, use a credit card or use Apple Pay—do it,” Woods said.

More Information

More information on food safety at the farmers market are in the Alabama Extension Food Safety at the Farmers Market Video Series.

Find more information on all aspects of food safety on the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

Upcoming Virtual Field Trips To Feature Beef Cattle, Honeybees

Alabama farmers will keep their Virtual Field Trips moo-ving and buzzing with upcoming tours of an Autauga County beef cattle farm and Auburn University’s Bee Lab. The Virtual Field Trips are offered through Facebook Live on the Alabama Farmers Federation Facebook page every Friday at 10 a.m. through May 22.
On April 17, viewers will learn all about beef cattle as they explore Hickory Hill farm in Billingsley with farmers Taber and Grace Ellis.
“This one should be very fun for students because they’ll get to see big livestock up-close and not just far off in a field,” said Mary Wilson, Federation director of news services. “They even plan to show how they use their horses to go out and check on the cattle, so viewers will be seeing a real life cowboy!”
Honeybees will be the focus of April 24’s Virtual Field Trip as Geoff Williams provides a tour of Auburn University’s Bee Lab.
“We’ve found a lot of people – students and adults alike – have questions about honeybees, ranging from whether or not honey helps combat seasonal allergies to how to help protect honeybee colonies,” Wilson said. “This field trip will allow researchers at Auburn to tell us more about what they’re doing to help keep honeybee populations healthy and thriving.”
Viewers are encouraged to ask questions through the comment section, and each video will include links to educational activities centered around the featured commodity.
Scheduled topics for May, subject to change, are:
May 1 – Catfish
May 8 – Greenhouse and nursery products
May 15 – Forestry
May 22 – Cotton and other row crops
To receive Facebook notifications about the Virtual Field Trips, respond as “Interested” in the event or follow the Alabama Farmers Federation page.
Previous Virtual Farm Tours and educational resources may be viewed online at www.alfafarmers.org/virtual-field-trip. Row crop farmer Jonathan Sanders of Coffee County kicked off the program April 3, focusing on peanut production. The April 10 Virtual Farm Tour featured sisters Cassie Young and Allie Logan of Barbour County who discussed raising fruits and vegetables at their Backyard Orchards.
The Federation is Alabama’s largest farm organization with more than 340,000 member families. Find additional educational materials, including Ag Mags and free printable coloring book pages, online at www.alfafarmers.org/schools and click on resources.
This Virtual Field Trips project was developed in conjunction with Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama (GSSA). For additional virtual programs from GSSA, visit GirlScoutsSA.org.

Vandalism Continues to Be Problem at WFF Shooting Ranges

(WFF, Kenny Johnson) Vandals are causing significant problems at public shooting ranges overseen of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, which could put the use of the ranges at risk for those who use the facilities responsibly
Cahaba River WMA Shooting Range Re-Opening.

By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

It’s like when their favorite lamps get broken by reckless youngsters and moms say, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

I don’t get riled easily, but one photo posted recently by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division really kicked my blood pressure up a notch.

Some yahoos at one of the WFF shooting ranges vandalized items at the range to the detriment of all who use and maintain the shooting facility.

Unfortunately, a few bad actors could jeopardize the use of some of these facilities if this malicious behavior continues. The facility where inconsiderate people destroyed state property is still open. For now.

WFF Director Chuck Sykes said the vandalism at Etowah Shooting Range that irked me so much is only one of many examples of how destructive some people can be.

“We installed new concrete shooting benches at several ranges over the past couple of years,” he said. “Within days of us installing them, several were damaged through senseless vandalism.”

Unfortunately, vandalism is not new, but this new destructive activity could have a greater impact. As far as the damage done at the Etowah range, Marisa Futral, WFF Hunter Education Coordinator, said the recent incident indicated a growing problem.

“People can be so inconsiderate,” she said. “People will bring computers, washing machines or whatever to shoot. If they don’t have anything, they’ll just shoot up the garbage cans. It’s not the first time it happened at Etowah, but this time was really bad. Then they just leave them for someone else to clean up.”

Futral said another example of people being inconsiderate is when they place their targets too close to the bench, causing their bullets to impact the floor of the range instead of going into the earthen berm. This creates big ruts in the floor of the range and makes maintenance a nightmare.

“At South Sandy at Oakmulgee Wildlife Management Area, we had just put 13 new shooting benches there,” she said. “They cost more than $900 each. We were trying to make the facilities as nice as we could. We weren’t open a week before someone either shot or took a sledgehammer and tore up one of the benches. Fortunately, we did have some thoughtful users who were in the concrete business. They volunteered to supply materials and labor to repair the benches. That was a positive, and we wish all users would have this attitude. That’s why we would love to staff all of our ranges – to stop all the vandalism.

“Unfortunately, it’s the few who ruin it for the many.”

Two facilities, the Cahaba Public Shooting Range in Shelby County and the Swan Creek Public Shooting Range in Limestone County, had to be closed temporarily because the users would not abide by specific social-distancing guidelines. Another facility, the Conecuh Public Shooting Range, was also shut down due to the temporary closure order issued for all U.S. Forest Service recreational access areas in national forests.

“As with most things, Alabama hunters have it really good,” said Director Sykes. “Our Governor has been working generously with us to make sure we keep the outdoors open. It is providing a healthy alternative for people who are social distancing. You can be smart about it and still go to the woods and hunt, still get on the water and fish, as long as people take this seriously and don’t think it’s a three-week vacation, because it’s not. We want you to get outdoors and have fun. What we do for a living is provide those opportunities. As long as people are smart about it, we will remain open. But we had to close two of our staffed shooting ranges because people would not obey the guidelines set forth by (State Health Officer) Dr. (Scott) Harris and the Governor.”

Sykes said the staff taped off every other shooting bench at the staffed ranges to ensure people were maintaining the proper 6-foot distancing, to no avail.

“We told people coming into the range that they had to follow the social-distancing protocol or they would force us to close it,” Sykes said. “Before lunch, people were stacking their equipment on the taped-off benches, walking all over people. We just finally had to close it.”

Futral said the program had no other option than to close the manned shooting ranges that she and her staff oversee.

“Those ranges were so packed,” Futral said. “Everybody was touching the same staple gun and same benches. People weren’t maintaining the 6-foot social-distancing recommendations. Our staff was getting exposed. We definitely didn’t feel like we were complying with Governor Ivey’s order not to congregate.”

The nine WFF shooting ranges that currently remain open are Barbour WMA Shooting Range, Coosa WMA Shooting Range, Etowah Shooting Range, Freedom Hills WMA Shooting Range, Marengo Public Shooting Range, Sam R. Murphy WMA Shooting Range, Skyline WMA Shooting Range, South Sandy-Oakmulgee WMA Shooting Range and Upper Delta WMA Shooting Range. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/activities/shooting-ranges for details about the ranges.

WFF Director Sykes said people in Alabama may not realize how good they have it right now in terms of enjoying the outdoors.

Governor Kay Ivey specifically granted Alabamians the option of enjoying outdoors recreation during the virus restrictions, with the proper social distancing of course, because she knows how cherished the outdoors is to people in our state.

“A lot of states are experiencing mandates to close public access during these restrictions,” Sykes said. “For one example, Illinois shut down all of its public hunting lands. If you’re an Alabama resident who drew a non-resident turkey tag in Illinois, you’re out of luck unless you have access to private property. I hunted in Nebraska last year, and I received a text from their game department that said basically, thanks for buying your turkey tags last year, but, sorry, you can’t come this year.

Sykes said a meme floating around social media nails the hoarding hysteria that hit the nation.

“It says the reason we have game and fish regulations is because of how some people acted in the grocery store,” he said. “We’re trying to provide an opportunity. People who abuse it, hurt it for everybody else. I’m not saying there are a lot of people who do this. For the most part, the people who use the shooting ranges and hunt and fish on the WMAs (wildlife management areas) are upstanding citizens. They buy their licenses. They abide by the rules and regulations. They abide by the bag limits and fish creel limits. And it’s a pleasure to have them around.

“My daddy always taught me there’s one in every crowd. And you know what that one is. Those people are the ones who could possibly ruin it for everybody.”

Sykes participated in a conference call recently with the National Forest Service to determine if those lands could remain open during the coronavirus outbreak.

“They don’t want to shut down the national forests,” he said. “We are struggling nationwide for relevancy. People are not growing up in the country. They don’t have a high value for outdoor recreation like we do because we grew up doing it.”

As tragic as this virus has been for many in the nation, Sykes sees an opportunity.

“Let’s make lemonade out of lemons,” he said. “This is a terrible situation for the country as a whole, but this is a great time for us to show people what we do, how we do it and why we do it. We’re providing recreational opportunities for people who would normally be going to soccer games, going to movies or concerts and stuff like that. We’re providing them with a safe, healthy alternative to go outside and enjoy nature. This may be the silver lining for this.

“We’re the only game open in town right now. If people use it wisely, it may help us create a new group of users.”

Drivers Should Watch For Farmers During Planting Season

Written by Marlee Moore
Alabamians are encouraged to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, farmers are still performing essential work planting crops to feed, fuel and clothe consumers.
That means drivers performing essential travel, such as to the grocery store, are sharing the road with more farm machinery.
“Springtime means farmers are moving equipment to and from the field as they work to grow crops we all depend on, which is especially critical during times like these,” said Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “We encourage drivers to be alert, slow down and be patient as they encounter tractors on the roadways.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation reports 15,000 accidents annually involving farm vehicles in the U.S. Alarmingly, 55% of highway deaths are on rural roads.
Parnell said farmers try to pull over to allow cars to pass. However, congestion is inevitable due to speed limitations of farm equipment.
“We ask drivers to understand farmers are on their way to work,” said Parnell. “A little patience can mean the difference between life and death. Saving a few minutes is not worth endangering the life of yourself, the farmer or other drivers by passing on a solid yellow line, swerving around a tractor or approaching slow-moving vehicles at high speed.”
Slow-moving vehicles should be identified by an orange triangle on the back of the machine, meaning it’s designed to travel at 25 mph or less. The Federation noted it only takes five seconds for a car moving 55 mph to close a gap the length of a football field with a tractor moving 15 mph.
Safety tips for drivers include:
Slow down when you see a piece of agricultural equipment. Most farm equipment is designed to travel at speeds of only 15 to 25 mph.
Watch for slow moving vehicle (SMV) signs. SMVs are required for vehicles traveling less than 25 mph.
Watch for electronic or hand turn signals. Just because a tractor veers right does not mean the operator is pulling over to allow someone to pass. The size of farm equipment often dictates the necessity of wide turns.
Pass farm equipment cautiously. Even when passing safely and legally, machinery may sway or become unstable. Do not expect operators to drive their equipment onto the shoulder of the road.
Driving with one set of tires on loose-surfaced shoulders substantially increases the risk of turning over.
Watch for flashing amber lights. This type of light often marks the far right and left of farm equipment. Also watch for reflective tape marking extremities and sides of equipment.
Remember agricultural vehicle operators have a right to drive their equipment on the road.

Reimagine Your Recycling During COVID-19

The coronavirus has stretched into many aspects of daily life. With a strict enforcement on social distancing in many areas, it has left many people wondering what this distancing means for their daily curbside recycling.
Karnita Garner, an Alabama Extension environmental specialist, said many areas have halted the pickup of recyclables.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the coronavirus can live on plastic and other surfaces for three days,” Garner said. “Because of this, many municipal governments have stopped offering curbside services. They have also restricted the pickup of any loose recyclable materials not placed in plastic bins or bags.”
Can’t Recycle? Reuse Instead
With some recycling avenues momentarily shut down, many people are asking what they should do with the materials they normally recycle. There are many materials that people can reuse for other purposes.
In the Garden
Allyson Shabel, an Alabama Extension urban home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, said some items have great uses in the garden.
“Cardboard and paper products, such as newspapers, can be used to control weeds in flower beds and vegetable gardens,” Shabel said. “Put down a few layers of these products and cover them with mulch. The mulch will keep them from blowing away and will look nicer. This will help keep weeds at bay over the spring and summer.”
Plastic bottles with the caps on and packing peanuts are great to add the bottom of large or heavy flowerpots and containers. This makes them easier to move and also gardeners will use less soil. Shabel said only use this method with containers that are at least two feet deep, filling only one third of the depth with the filler material.
Shabel also said people can repurpose clamshell plastic containers, like the ones used for fresh fruits and vegetables, as seed starters and propagation containers for perennials and annuals.
“First, clean them well with soap and water, then fill them with 3 inches of potting mix,” Shabel said. “Put the containers in a sunny window or a shady location outdoors. The closed lid will help hold a little humidity in and keep the cutting hydrated.”
Around the Home
Garner said a lot of the items that are normally recycled could be upcycled and turned into useful or beautiful things.
“Now is a great time to do some arts and crafts with your kids. Some items, such as newspapers and magazines, are perfect for this,” Garner said. “Other items, like glass and plastic containers, can be upcycled and used as organizers for household items or children’s toys.”
Garner said there are many websites and social media pages that have great ideas for reusing recyclable materials.
Ideas for Storage
For the items that people do not reuse, there is still the problem of storing them until recycling pickup starts again. Garner offers the following storage and space-saving tips that can help with this problem.
Request additional recycling bins or a larger bin from the city municipality. Contact your local municipality to determine if they have incorporated recycling services into the trash collection service because of COVID-19.
Purchase stackable storage bins and collect recyclables in cardboard boxes or plastic storage bins. If cost is not a factor, purchase larger outdoor recycling bins to store in the garage, shed or backyard.
Reduce the number of items to recycle during COVID-19. Focus on certain items that have the greatest environmental impact
Breakdown cardboard boxes or smash or minimize the size of recyclables like aluminum cans to save space.
For more information on recycling and other topics related to COVID-19, visit the Alabama Extension coronavirus website, www.alabamaready.info.

You may have seen some of these lovely moths in the last month. This is commonly called the rosy maple moth. Learn more about at https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Dryocampa-rubicunda Photo by Kasey DeCastra, Sumter County Record Journal & Moundville Times

Governor Ivey Announces National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Projects in Alabama

Governor Kay Ivey announced today that the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) recently awarded nearly $24 million from its Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) to four new projects in the state of Alabama. The projects, developed in consultation with state and federal resource agencies, are designed to remedy harm and reduce the risk of future harm to natural resources that were affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Alabama projects address high-priority conservation needs, including the acquisition and protection of important wetland habitats.
“The funding of these projects continues reinvestment in the Alabama Gulf Coast communities that were impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill nearly 10 years ago,” Governor Ivey said. “I appreciate the work of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and our partnership with NFWF as we continue to recover and build a more resilient coast.”
NFWF created the GEBF in 2013 to receive and administer funds resulting from remedial orders in plea agreements between the U.S. Department of Justice and BP and Transocean. The plea agreements resolved certain criminal charges against both companies relating to the 2010 oil spill. Provisions within the agreements directed a total of $2.54 billion to NFWF to be used to support natural resource projects in each of the five Gulf States.
The number of awards from the GEBF in the state of Alabama now stands at 34, with a total value of nearly $215 million. All projects were selected for funding following extensive consultation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR).
Blackwater River South Tract Acquisition
This project, in partnership the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust, will acquire and permanently protect 2,300 acres of coastal habitat at the confluence of the Blackwater and Perdido rivers. The subject tract includes four miles of frontage along both rivers, more than 1,200 acres of wetlands, and a 90+ acre lake. Wetlands and other diverse habitat types found on the property support a variety of bird species and other wetland-dependent species.
Protection of the subject property will maintain water quality in the Perdido estuary and the living coastal and marine resources it supports. Once acquired, the property will be conveyed to the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust.
The project builds upon previous acquisition investments made within the area by the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, ADCNR, and other partners in Florida which are working together to protect this important river corridor.
The acquisition was facilitated by The Conservation Fund.
Lower Halls Mill Creek Protection
This $2,687,000 project, administered by the Mobile County Commission, will acquire and permanently protect approximately 300 acres of wetland habitat in the Dog River Watershed. The target acquisition area in Lower Halls Mill Creek comprises one of the largest contiguous undeveloped areas of bottomland hardwood wetlands remaining in the watershed. Acquisition of this tract will preserve unique tidally influenced marshes in the Dog River Watershed that support many species of shellfish, finfish, birds, and other wildlife of the type directly impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Protection of these natural wetland areas will ensure continued protection of downstream water quality and wetland habitats in the Dog River Watershed.
Lower Fish River Watershed Restoration
A $6,554,000 award under GEBF will focus on highly-eroded riparian areas and stream channels within the Lower Fish River Watershed, a priority coastal watershed draining into Weeks Bay. Engineering and design plans will be developed for the most severely-eroded stream channels. The project also includes the restoration of an unnamed tributary to Fish River near the community of Marlow. This project will reduce sediment and nutrient pollution into Weeks Bay, improving water quality and enhancing seagrass beds and oyster reef habitat.
Dauphin Island Causeway Shoreline and Habitat Restoration Project
A $9,392,000 award under GEBF will create and protect important coastal habitat, reducing vulnerability of the only access route between south Mobile County and Dauphin Island. This project will design and install breakwater and create intertidal marsh habitat to provide protection against future erosion and storm damage. Project activities will be co-funded through NFWF’s Emergency Coastal Resilience Fund.
Hurricanes Michael and Florence, Typhoon Yutu, and the coastal wildfires of 2018 caused more than $50 billion in damage and severely degraded a range of wildlife habitats. Congress provided funding under the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2019 (P.L. 116-20), allowing grants to be awarded through a partnership between NFWF and NOAA. Senator Richard Shelby was instrumental in the passage of this critical funding legislation.
The Emergency Coastal Resilience Fund will provide an additional $4.9 million toward the Dauphin Island Causeway Shoreline and Habitat Restoration Project.
For more information on coastal restoration projects in Alabama from all Deepwater Horizon funding sources, please visit https://www.alabamacoastalrestoration.org/.

Farmers Eligible for Forgivable Small Business Loans

Alabama farms, nurseries and other agricultural businesses may be eligible for forgivable loans under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed last week by President Donald J. Trump.
Mitt Walker of the Alabama Farmers Federation said the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is designed to help small businesses and their employees weather the economic downturn.
“The $2 trillion stimulus package includes $349 billion for the PPP,” said Walker, the Federation’s National Affairs director. “The program helps small businesses keep employees on the payroll by providing guaranteed loans, which may be forgiven if used for approved costs.”
Walker said the Federation and American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) worked with government agencies and Alabama’s Congressional delegation to ensure farms are eligible for the program.
“Farm businesses are a vital part of our economy,” Walker said. “They provide jobs both directly and indirectly. Every dollar earned on a family farm turns over about seven times in the community. The PPP can be an important tool to help these farm businesses and rural communities survive fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Eligible businesses include limited liability companies (LLC), S corporations, sole proprietorships, contractors and non-profits with 500 or fewer employees. Loans are capped at $10 million, but can include up to eight weeks of average monthly payroll costs from last year plus an additional 25% of non-payroll costs. Different calculations apply to seasonal and new businesses. The PPP will be available through June 30, 2020.
According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), PPP loans will be forgiven if all employees are kept or quickly rehired and compensation levels are maintained for eight weeks. To be forgiven, loan funds must be used for:
Payroll and benefits
Mortgage interest incurred before Feb. 15, 2020,
Rent, under lease agreements in force before Feb. 15, 2020, and
Utilities, for which service began before Feb. 15, 2020.
SBA anticipates a high subscription rate for the program. As a result, non-payroll costs are likely to be capped at not more than 25% of the total loan amount. Borrowers will still owe money if the loan is used for non-qualified expenses or if staff and payroll are not maintained.
Applications open April 3 for small businesses and sole proprietorships and April 10 for independent contractors and self-employed individuals. Visit SBA.gov for a list of SBA lenders.
Gov. Kay Ivey wrote a letter to small businesses Wednesday encouraging them to act quickly in applying for the PPP loans. She also provided additional resources regarding the program on her website.
“This coronavirus has disrupted life as we know it, including the critical economic role played by Alabama small businesses,” Ivey said. “Only a few short weeks ago, our economy was the strongest it had been in the past 100 years due to the hard work and entrepreneurship of Alabama small business owners. We need our businesses up and running and back at full employment as soon as possible. I urge business owners to act today and be prepared to apply for assistance designed specifically to get them in front of the line when relief checks are written.”
Alabama agriculture is responsible for 330,186 direct jobs; $9.44 billion in direct wages; and $8.88 billion in business taxes, according to Feeding the Economy, a research effort supported by AFBF and others. When indirect jobs are included, the state’s farm and food economy accounts for more than 638,000 jobs; $25.6 billion in wages; and $97.3 billion of economic output.

Wettest Winter On Record Affecting Spring Forages and Livestock

By Justin Miller
Coming out of the wettest winter on record, Alabama farmers face a different set of obstacles this spring. To overcome this, farmers will have to change many of their management strategies to ensure the health of the land and livestock.
Livestock
Kim Mullenix, an Alabama Extension animal science specialist, said cattle could need additional supplementation.
“As cattle make the transition from winter to spring, producers should body condition score their herds to determine if additional supplementation is needed,” Mullenix said. “Cattle have greater maintenance requirements when they are in muddy, wet conditions for an extended period of time because they expend extra energy walking through these conditions.”
According to Mullenix, if cattle are visibly losing body condition, they may need a supplementation with high energy feed (greater than 65 percent total digestible nutrients) to help them maintain or recover following wet periods.
Many producers are currently in a calving season. As best as possible, producers should provide a dry or drier spot on the farm for their cows to calve.
“Excess mud and wet conditions during calving can lead to issues with calf scours and potentially other health issues,” she said. “Monitor cows during calving, and check cattle regularly during the early days after calving.”
Feeding Hay in Pastures
​The increased rainfall may have producers changing their feeding schedule. Beef cattle producers should prepare to feed hay longer into early spring than they normally would. Mullenix said feeding hay longer will allow pastures to dry out and rest.
“Extremely wet pastures are prone to pugging or damage from hoof action of grazing cattle,” Mullenix said. “Improved grazing management practices, such as rotational grazing or limit grazing, may allow producers to use cool-season forages for a short period of time, while allowing the pasture to rest and recover.”
Leanne Dillard, an Alabama Extension forage specialist, said when feeding hay in pastures, it is important to be mindful of protecting the land.
“To combat the increase in rainfall, it is important that farmers limit foot traffic in pastures to reduce sod disturbance,” Dillard said. “To do this, allocate a sacrifice area for feeding to reduce damage to the entire pasture.”
Forages
Heading into spring, which traditionally sees a lot of rainfall and after a wet winter, forages may suffer. Most forages can handle flooding for seven to 10 days. However, if subjected to continuous flooding, it will likely kill the plants. Dillard said while rain is good for forage growth, the cloudy days that come with it are not.
“Forage growth will be limited by a lack of solar energy available to plants,” Dillard said. “Forage yield may be reduced for now. However, once the sun returns, forages will grow quickly and may get ahead of you.”
The rain may have also delayed applications of fertilizer to forages. Once a field is dry enough to cross with equipment, Dillard recommends farmers apply supplemental nitrogen. Farmers should base this application on the recommendations to fulfill that crop’s needs. Contact an Alabama Extension animal sciences and forages regional agentfor help determining nitrogen fertilizer recommendations.
Dillard said farmers should not apply fertilizer or chicken litter if there is 1 inch of rainfall or more expected within the next week.
“If a farmer applies a fertilizer before large rainfall events (1 inch or more), it will likely leach out before the plants can use any of it,” Dillard said.
In pastures with areas of damaged perennial forages because of foot traffic or flooding, farmers should reseed those areas.
“If the area is a warm-season perennial (i.e., bermudagrass or bahiagrass), you can replant in April or May,” Dillard said. “If it is tall fescue, plan to reseed the area in the early fall.”
Before planting, make sure to smooth out any ruts created by equipment traffic.
Harvesting Hay
The level of moisture when baling is an important aspect to producing high quality hay. If excessive amounts of rainfall continue, there may not be an adequate amount of sun to properly cure the hay.
Dillard said if the curing window is small, farmers can use a conditioner to reduce the curing time. They can also utilize a hay preservative.
“Hay that will be baled at 18 to 30 percent moisture can be treated with a hay preservative. A preservative will reduce microbial growth and the likelihood of spontaneous combustion,” Dillard said. “However, even when using hay preservatives, care should be taken when baling hay with a moisture greater than 16 to 18 percent.”
For bales harvested at this moisture level, check their internal temperatures frequently. Also, store the hay outside to reduce fire risk. The risk of fire will diminish approximately one month after baling. Dillard said farmers can also wrap this hay to create baleage.
“The optimum moisture for baleage is 50 to 55 percent moisture,” Dillard said. “Wrap bales with five to six layers of pre-stretched baleage wrap.”
More Information
For more information on combating wet conditions related to livestock and forages, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu, or contact your county Extension office.

Flounder Fingerlings Released Ahead of Schedule

(Blakeley Ellis) Flounder fingerlings raised at the Alabama Marine Resources’ Claude Peteet Mariculture Center are released into Alabama coastal waters in a successful first effort to spawn flounder at the hatchery. The size of the fingerlings ranged from 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches. CCA Alabama has donated money to be used to help refurbish tanks for the flounder broodstock

By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

With the exception of those essential workers like healthcare, first responders and transportation, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude, the COVID-19 outbreak has most of the world at a standstill.

Schedules had to be adjusted when Alabama Governor Kay Ivey issued the directives to minimize the spread of the virus.

One of those schedules involved the release of the southern flounder fingerlings that had been spawned at the Alabama Marine Resources Division’s (MRD) Claude Peteet Mariculture Center in Gulf Shores.

The flounder spawn was a first for MRD’s saltwater hatchery, and Max Westendorf, hatchery manager, said the release was executed about a week earlier than originally planned, but this didn’t pose a risk to the fingerlings.

“It really wasn’t detrimental,” Westendorf said. “We just had to throw it into gear and get it done.”

Another change of plans involved where the flounder were released. Hatchery staff had to find the best suitable salinity to maximize the survival of the fingerlings. The staff boated to the west but came back with reports that the salinity was too low.

“Initially, we had planned to release them in the Bon Secour and Oyster Bay areas and around Dauphin Island,” Westendorf said. “But with all the floodwater that had been coming down from the northern part of the state,  from basically the mouth of the Intracoastal Waterway at Bon Secour all the way to Fort Morgan, the salinity levels were below two parts per thousand. We were looking for salinity levels of 10-15 parts per thousand.

“We had to go east to the Wolf Bay and Josephine areas. We were able to find water that was from 9 to 11 parts per thousand. “

The salinity in the tanks at the hatchery was reduced to match the conditions in the wild, and the fingerlings were released the following day.

“We released an estimated 12,236 fingerlings,” Westendorf said.

The method the hatchery used to determine the number of fish released is common to aquaculture facilities. The fish are removed from the holding tanks and a total weight is obtained. A random 50 fish are weighed and the total weight of this sample is divided by the number of fish counted to determine an average weight per fish. The total weight of all fish is divided by the average weight to determine the total number of fish released.

Westendorf said the density of fish in the tanks correlated with the size of the fingerlings. The tanks with fewer fish had larger individuals.  Some fish in high density tanks could have been moved to a tank of low density to improve overall growth, but the extra handling could have stressed the fish and led to increased mortality.

MRD Chief Marine Biologist Kevin Anson said releasing the fish in the Perdido Bay system was not ideal but the best option under the circumstances.

“Releasing the fish in Mobile Bay would have been more productive than the Perdido system because it is more productive and typically has more juvenile shrimp than the Perdido system,” Anson said. “Small shrimp are entering the estuaries this time of year and serve as their primary food source.”

Anson said he hopes funding for a tagging program is available in the future to determine how many of the hatchery-raised fish enter the adult population (recruitment).

“We have an estimate of how many wild flounder enter the population, but we don’t know if the hatchery-raised fish will have the same survival rate as the wild fish,” he said.

Anson agrees that the early release date likely was not detrimental to the fish. He said the feed and brine shrimp fed to the fish in the hatchery is not as nutritionally beneficial as food sources in the wild.

Westendorf said the MRD team learned significant lessons during the hatchery’s inaugural flounder spawn.

 “We had a lot of trouble getting potential broodstock flounder to eat consistently after bringing them into the hatchery,” Westendorf said. “We finally figured out a way to get them to eat consistently a month or two before spawning was scheduled to occur. If the fish were eating all year long, we would have had brood fish in better condition for spawning.

“Most of the mortality occurred right after hatch, which I attributed to poor egg quality. The fingerlings we were able to release came from the brood fish that looked significantly healthier than other spawned fish. They had better gonad development and their eggs looked healthier when placed under a microscope. We now know what we have to do to ensure that the appetite of the adult fish is maintained throughout the year.”

Flounder don’t readily expel eggs in captivity, requiring the hatchery staff to strip-spawn the fish. Westendorf said he and his team learned that multiple strip-spawns from the same fish (male or female) could be counterproductive.

“You have to be extremely delicate with these fish,” he said. “Don’t try to get too many eggs out of them at one time. And we learned it’s best to strip-spawn them one time and return to the holding tank. The egg quality deteriorated each day I tried to collect more eggs out of each fish. We quickly realized the hatching rate depended on the quality of the eggs.

“We worked our tails off and after the first three or four days, we weren’t losing any fish. When they hatch out, they’re living off their yolk sacs. We don’t really have any influence on survival during that stage. The quality of the egg yolk is correlated with the mother’s diet and condition prior to spawning. Although southern flounder rarely move in the tank and get along with each other nicely, even in high densities, they are harder to prepare for spawning and tolerate handling less than other species I have cultured.”

Anson said significant support from Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Alabama will allow the hatchery to expand capacity for the next flounder spawn and make it significantly easier to minimize the disturbance of the fish. The CCA Alabama funds will be used to refurbish tanks to spread out the broodstock so only a few fish will be handled at a time when spawning is scheduled. 

“Hopefully, anglers fishing in tournaments that supported broodstock collection efforts last year will provide us with more flounder broodstock this year,” he said. “If you’ve got a handful of females in one tank and a handful of males in another tank, once you disturb them, they go off feed for a couple of weeks. With us having multiple tanks to choose fish from, we can go to one tank and pick out the fish in best condition to spawn without disturbing the rest of the facility’s population. We need to cherry-pick the very best fish to increase our chances of meeting our stocking goals. We encourage folks to participate in providing us fish for our broodstock program, especially fish that just meet the minimum size as those have a higher chance of being male. Getting those fish from the tournaments (ACFA and Saltwater Finnaddicts) is a big help.”

Westendorf said the hatchery is currently maintaining a skeleton staff to ensure all the broodstock remains healthy. A planned spawn of Florida pompano had to be postponed, but Westendorf hopes to spawn pompano sometime this summer and then speckled trout (spotted seatrout) at the end of the summer.

As far as the hatchery’s first effort to spawn flounder, Anson rates it as a “glowing success.”

“We released about 12,000 fish, which is one-fifth of our ultimate annual goal.” Anson said. “Since this was the first time flounder were spawned at Claude Peteet Mariculture Center, I think we did well in terms of numbers. Max learned a lot about the feeding habits, tolerance to handling and other requirements of the southern flounder to get them to spawn.

“What was learned this year puts Max and his staff in a good position to meet our goal of 60,000 1-inch flounder sooner than we originally thought.”

Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon was also very pleased with the initial spawn of flounder at Claude Peteet. 

“They are a difficult species to acclimate and spawn, but our staff has worked very hard to make this happen,” Bannon said. “I am especially proud of how they utilized partnerships with the community. The amount of money and effort that was saved by partnering with fishing tournaments and private anglers to obtain fish for our program as well utilizing the donations of equipment from the CCA Alabama to receive matching federal dollars is huge.”

CCA Alabama Executive Director Blakeley Ellis added: “CCA Alabama is proud and excited to see this effort come to life after years of hard work and planning. Conservation projects like the hatchery will continue to be an area we plan to support, and we couldn’t do that without our members, volunteers and corporate sponsors who help to support us throughout the year.”

Westendorf agrees the flounder spawning and release were indeed successes.

“It was awesome,” Westendorf said. “My goal for the year was to raise one fish. We smashed that goal.”

Alabama Farmers To Host Virtual Field Trips Every Friday Through May 22

How do peanuts grow? When do Alabama farmers grow different fruits and vegetables? What’s the difference between a cow, a bull and a calf?
Alabama farmers will answer all those questions and much more during Virtual Field Trips offered through Facebook Live on the Alabama Farmers Federation Facebook page every Friday at 10 a.m. through May 22.
“Parents and their children are making huge adjustments as their homes become classrooms, and we want to help by offering entertaining and educational field trips from some of our farmers,” said Jeff Helms, Alabama Farmers Federation Communications Department Director. “While these videos will target third- through fifth-graders, people of all ages will learn more about how farmers grow food, fiber and timber.”
Viewers are encouraged to ask questions through the comment section, and each video will include links to educational activities centered around the featured commodity.
Currently scheduled topics, subject to change, are:
● April 3 – Peanuts and other row crops
● April 10 – Fruits and vegetables
● April 17 – Beef cattle
● April 24 – Honeybees
● May 1 – Catfish
● May 8 – Greenhouse and nursery products
● May 15 – Forestry
● May 22 – Cotton and other row crops
To receive Facebook notifications about the Virtual Field Trips, respond as “Interested” in the event or follow the Alabama Farmers Federation page.
The Federation is Alabama’s largest farm organization with more than 340,000 member families. Find additional educational materials, including Ag Mags and free printable coloring book pages, online at alfafarmers.org/schools and click on resources.
This Virtual Field Trips project was developed in conjunction with Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama (GSSA). For additional virtual programs from GSSA, visit GirlScoutsSA.org.
See more on AlfaFarmers.org

Time for a Garden Clean-Up

By Katie Nichols
Feeling down about the coronavirus quarantine? Shake away the blues with a spring garden clean-up.
While Alabama Extension does not encourage leaving home on a gardening supply trip, there are several gardening things that can be done without leaving the yard. Mallory Kelley, a home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, has some gardening ideas that will allow people to make great use of their time at home.
Clean Out Supplies
“Now is a great time to take inventory of your garden supplies and clean out old, unused items from the garage,” Kelley said. “Throw out unused gardening items and start with a clean slate.”
Throw out old seed packets.
Chemicals should be used according to the label. If discarding a chemical, call the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to see when and where their next chemical collection time is scheduled.
Sharpen and clean all garden tools.
Oil and gas up motorized tools.
Use the fertilizer that has been sitting on the shelf, and give plants an extra boost.
If there are some extra bags of potting soil or seed starting mix lying around, get out and plant some of those seeds.
Kelley said when going though supplies, clean planting containers.
“Containers for planting need to be sterilized before replanting. It’s best to wash them with a 1:10 bleach to water solution,” Kelley said. “After cleaning, fill them with potting soil. Never use soil from the ground, as it has poor drainage and potential weed seed and diseases.”
Clean and Compost
This time of year is also a good time to rake the pine straw and leaves from under plants. Kelley said this eliminates fungal diseases that may have overwintered in the leaf matter during the winter. Once cleared, apply a fresh layer of pine straw approximately 3 inches deep.
Use this old mulch and leaf matter to start a new compost bin. Also, prune some plants, like the Limelight Hydrangeas that bloom in mid-summer, and throw those branches and other weeds pulled during clean up into the bin.
People can also lessen their trash load by throwing things like eggshells, coffee filters, coffee grinds and all vegetable and fruit matter into the compost bin.
“As long as you leave out dairy products, oils and bones—throw it all in the bin,” Kelley said. “Start turning thee compost daily, and add water to keep the pile moist. Soon you will have made garden gold.”
Get Rid of Pesky Weeds
Kelley said the first step to getting rid of weeds is identifying them.
“If it is a vegetable bed and you want to prep for spring planting, you will want to spray the whole area now with glyphosate,” Kelley said. “Give it at least two weeks for the weeds to completely die before you till the soil to make new rows.”
Right before planting, spray the garden soil with a pre emergent such as trifluralin. This particular one is safe to use in flower beds, as well as a vegetable garden. Kelley said this will give a huge jump start in the battle to combat the weeds this summer.
“Remember, this is a pre emergent and will not kill weeds you can see,” she said. “However, it will prevent the seeds of weeds you cannot see from germinating.”
Growers who intend to plant vegetables, such as corn, okra, mustard greens and squash, by seed should be careful not to spray the soil in that area with a pre emergent. An application of it will prevent those seeds from germinating as well as they would without the application.
Also, to suppress weed growth, Kelley said people should add mulch. Even the weeds that might still emerge will be much easier to remove.
Get Moving and Pruning
Kelley said the winter months are the best time to plant and move plants in the landscape. However, if people can continue to water thoroughly, it is not too late to dig up and transplant those plants that have either outgrown their space or have not performed well.
“Don’t be afraid to move plants around in the landscape until you find just the right environment for them to thrive,” she said. “The conditions on one side of your house are totally different than the conditions on the other. The brightest light will be on the southwest corner of your house with afternoon sun. The most shade will be on the northeast side of the house.”
Kelley said the best guideline for pruning is to follow the May rule.
“If a plant blooms before May 1, prune it as soon as its flowers are spent,” she said. “For plants that bloom after May 1, prune when the plant is dormant.”
If a shrub or tree flowers in summer or fall, this means it blooms on new wood. New wood is the growth that occurs throughout the spring months. Summer flowers produced after May 1 are on new wood growth. Pruning now would stimulate new growth and greater flower production this summer.
More Information
For more information on spring gardening, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension office.

State Park Rangers on Duty in Times of Calm and Peril

(Chad Davis, Morris Barnes) The view of the Tennessee River from the Wheeler State Park campground was forever altered after last December’s tornado.
The before and after photos of the campground shows the devastation of the tornado that went through the campground just after dark last December.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Thankfully, with a few exceptions, Alabama State Parks remain open during the COVID-19 restrictions.

And as diligent as always, our park rangers are on duty to deal with any situation that might arise with everything from a welcoming wave and helpful hand to rescuing park visitors in peril.

That peril was particularly apparent last December when a line of storms started moving through north Alabama.

Joe Wheeler State Park Ranger Ryan Robertson was on patrol on December 16, 2019, while Ranger David Barr had the day off, or so he thought.

“That afternoon, we had some pretty volatile weather,” Barr said. “Ryan was running duty, and I stopped him at the boat ramp and told him I would be home if it got bad.”

It got bad at the 2,550-acre park on the Tennessee River near Rogersville. When a tornado warning was issued a little after 5 p.m., Barr donned his uniform and headed into the park to help Robertson warn the patrons and park volunteers of the impending storm.

Fortunately, with the Christmas season in full swing, the park was not full of campers or visitors.

“Ryan already had people evacuated from the campground,” Barr said. “We only had seven campers and four of those were volunteers. If we have a lot of people, we put some in the bathhouses and some at the campground store. Ryan took some of them to the lodge. He stayed with them.

“I was at the campground store with two ladies and two kids and a Pyrenees dog. I usually get out and ramble during something like this, but something told me not to do that. I stayed at the store. My son was with me, and he was watching the storm on the weather radar.”

Barr’s son told him the storm was about to hit, and Barr sent the visitors into one bathroom while he and his son got in the other.

The power went out, and a few minutes later it became apparent that they were in the tornado’s path.

“The store has metal doors on each side,” Barr said. “Those doors started flapping. I didn’t stick my head out to see, but it sounded like those doors were opening all the way and closing. The wind was howling and whistling. That lasted for three or four minutes and then it was quiet.”

While all campers, volunteers and park personnel escaped injury during the storm, the campground did not fare as well.

“When I was sure it had blown over, I thought we had escaped the worst of it until I went outside and got in my truck,” Barr said. When the lights came on, I could see big pine trees down. I tried to go up the hill to my house, but the road was blocked by trees.”

Barr walked the rest of the way to his house, which was unscathed, although numerous trees were down in the yard. Back in the campground, Barr discovered that the A section did not have much damage.

“But the B section was total destruction,” he said. “The bathhouse was destroyed. The meeting pavilion was caved in by trees falling on it.”

By that time, Barr was joined by Robertson and Park District Supervisor Chad Davis as well as part-time employee Morris Barnes, who has since become a full-time ranger at Monte Sano State Park.

Barnes hopped onto a backhoe and all hands started clearing downed trees out of the roadways until they realized live power lines were down in the park and decided to wait until daylight to resume their work.

The next morning, Barr discovered he had a view of the Tennessee River that he never expected or wanted.

“I’ve been a ranger and campground supervisor here for over 30 years,” he said. “This is my home. To see my life’s work blown away was devastating.

“We got strike teams in from other parks, cut our way through the different sections to assess the damage. I can’t really describe it. A section survived. Three-quarters of B section was gone. C section was completely wiped out.”

Barr, who was recently promoted to assistant superintendent at Wheeler, said out of 116 camping sites only 60 remained usable. Two bathhouses were destroyed. One large pavilion and two smaller pavilions were destroyed. Beautiful, tall pine trees were strewn throughout the campground.

“From my house, you can see forever,” he said. “You can see the river from my backyard, which you used to could never see. I can see all the way across the river. I miss the trees.”

Barr is just thankful that the pre-Christmas period is a slow time at Wheeler.

“I know of one camper who left early because of the weather,” he said. “I’m glad he did because that site he was staying at was completely leveled. If there had been many people in the campground, there would have been multiple fatalities.”

Barnes, who lives only 2½ miles from Wheeler, not only had heavy equipment experience, he also served with the Rogersville Police Department at that time.

Barnes ended up in an even more harrowing situation a few days after helping with the aftermath of the tornado.

Heavy downpours had caused creeks in north Alabama to swell rapidly. Barnes, who is trained in swift-water and high-angle rescue, had finished his shift with the Rogersville PD at 5 p.m. when a call came in about a car swept into a creek. That incident resulted in a fatality.

Then a second call came in about another car in the same creek not far away from the first incident.

“That girl’s mother went looking for her and drove off in the same creek, not knowing she was there,” Barnes said. “The first car was completely submerged. The second one, the front was stuck in the ground and the rear end was hung in a tree. The woman had managed to crawl out through the back glass.”

After being unable to rescue the woman, area enforcement officers called for the swift-water rescue team of which Barnes was a member.

Barnes got the Florence Fire Department to aid in the rescue with a rubber boat and a heavy fire truck that could be used as an anchor point in the swift water.

Barnes and another first responder got into the rubber boat and it was slowly released into the creek by rope.

“Once we got the boat over to the car, I knew her,” Barnes said of the trapped woman. “Everybody told me she was going to fight me, but when we made eye contact, I called her out by name. She called out my name, and then I told what I wanted her to do and not fight me. I got over close enough to put a life jacket on her and latched onto her. I didn’t try to drag her into the boat, but we dragged her to the opposite bank and released her to those personnel.”

Unfortunately, Barnes discovered the daughter’s car about 40 yards down the creek completely submerged with no hope of rescue.

After the incident, the Rogersville City Council and Mayor presented Barnes with a life-saving award that he was hesitant to accept.

“I’m not a hero,” Barnes said. “I had a job to do. To me, the hero was the woman. She hung in there for almost three hours until we could get to her.”

Barnes said it was a perfect example for the mantra of “Turn around, don’t drown.”

“It rained so hard and fast that the county didn’t have enough time to get up the barricades,” he said. “Lauderdale County is 71 miles wide. It just happened so fast.”

Sometimes, the problems park rangers encounter are not weather related.

For example, Lake Lurleen State Park Ranger Mark Caton, who has been a first responder in one capacity or another for more than 20 years, was checking people coming into the park when one vehicle left the road and went through the grass.

“We deal with all kinds of people,” Caton said. “It’s like having a concert in your jurisdiction every day.”

The driver of the errant vehicle exited and then jumped into the lake.

“Obviously, that’s not normal behavior,” Caton said. “He yelled, ‘Don’t try to get me out.’ But I grabbed my rescue boat and headed out. I didn’t get too close and tried to get him to talking. Usually, if you can get people talking, the less they think about what they want to do.”

Caton found out the swimmer had been in and out of psychiatric care and had been self-medicating instead of taking his prescription medicines. Caton also found out he and his girlfriend had had a fight and she kicked him out.

 “He felt like he didn’t have anywhere else to go and was just going to swim until he got tired and drowned,” Caton said. “I tried to build a rapport with him and tell him that drowning was not the way to go. Finally, he was getting thirsty and tired. I tossed him a cushion float and he took it. That was the first step to get him back to the side of the lake. Then I told him we had some Gatorade on the other side of the lake.

“Believe it or not, the Gatorade worked. For somebody who wasn’t thinking clearly, he zoned in on Gatorade. He was close to drowning a couple of times. He swam back in and got his Gatorade, like we promised, and then we got him to a hospital.”

USDA Forest Service Temporarily Suspends Public Access to Recreation Sites throughout Alabama’s National Forests

Public access to developed campgrounds, day use areas, and dispersed recreation area restrooms throughout Alabama’s Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega and Tuskegee National Forest is temporarily suspended indefinitely for the health and safety of visitors and staff. Effective immediately, the following recreation sites are temporarily unavailable: Bankhead National Forest, Houston Day Use Area, Brushy Lake Campground, Sipsey Trailhead (restroom only), Natural Bridge Day Use Area, Pine Torch Horse Trailhead (restroom only), Flint Creek Multiple Use Trailhead, Brushy Lake Day Use, McDougal Hunt Camp (restroom only), Hurricane Creek Shooting Range, Owl Creek (restroom only), Conecuh National Forest, Open Pond Recreation Area, Campground &, Day Use Area, Blue Lake Recreation Area, Conecuh Shooting Range, Tuskegee National Forest, Uchee Shooting Range, Talladega National Forest, Oakmulgee Ranger District, Payne Lake Day Use Area (swimming area only), , Shoal Creek Ranger District, Coleman Lake Recreation Area, Warden Station Horse Camp, Pine Glen Campground, Henry Creek Shooting Range, Talladega Ranger District, Lake Chinnabee Day Use Area, Turnip Seed Campground, Shepherd Branch Shooting Range, Kentuck OHV Trailhead. As we work through an unpredictable and rapidly changing situation, health and safety is our number one priority. We are committed to continuing to support our communities and fulfill our mission as we all work together to minimize the impacts and spread of COVID-19.
These actions have been taken based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and to promote social distancing. Visitors are encouraged to contact the ranger district offices with additional questions, email pa_alabama@fs.fed.us or visit the forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/alabama.
The National Forests in Alabama continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and evaluate potential impacts and adjustments to reservations and our reservation policies through Recreation.gov. Reservation holders will be notified via email and/or cell phone text messages if there are any changes affecting their reservation. In the event of delayed openings of some, part, or all of the National Forests in Alabama recreation facilities to ensure safe social distancing, you will receive a full refund for your reservation. Please remember to review current recommendations from the CDC and focus on recreating safely while protecting yourself, Forest Service employees and our volunteers.

Public-Private Partnership Conserves Red Hills Salamander Habitat in South Alabama

Red Hills salamander photo by Dan Brothers

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently awarded the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) nearly $9 million in land conservation grants authorized by Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act to apply toward the purchase of two land tracts totaling 4,911 acres of critical Red Hills salamander (RHS) habitat in Monroe County, Alabama. The Forever Wild Land Trust will provide the remainder of the funding for the acquisitions.

The land acquisitions – known as the Red Hills Brown-Schutt Trust tract and the Red Hills Flat Creek Phase III tract – are part of a long-term conservation goal of delisting the RHS, which has been federally listed as a threatened species since 1977.

The tracts are located near the community of Franklin in Monroe County, Alabama, and join the 6,120-acre Forever Wild Red Hills Complex in the effort to increase the amount of protected RHS habitat. In addition to habitat conservation, these tracts will eventually be accessible to the public for outdoor recreation including hunting, wildlife watching, and birding.

Partners in the acquisitions include the USFWS, ADCNR, the Forever Wild Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, Conservation Resources, and the Brown-Schutt Trust.

“This is a great acquisition, and not just for Alabama,” said Leopoldo Miranda, USFWS Southeast Regional Director. “The state’s commitment to conservation means that everyone – the residents of Alabama, as well as the visitors from elsewhere, people who hunt and fish or just like to get outside – have a chance to experience nature at its finest. And, last but not least, so do the animals that benefit from these purchases.”

Christopher M. Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner, echoes Director Miranda’s statement.

“I am so excited for the partnerships that have led to these very important land acquisitions,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “These projects continue the work that we and our partners began several years ago to acquire enough land to conserve habitat for the long-term success of the Red Hills salamander. When state and federal governments, conservation groups, and industry work this well together, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.”

The Nature Conservancy in Alabama has worked with landowners, ADCNR, and other partners in the Red Hills region for more than 10 years to conserve RHS habitat.

“We have partnered for many years with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Forever Wild, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the endangered Red Hills salamander in Monroe County,” said Keith Tassin, Interim Director of The Nature Conservancy in Alabama. “We are very excited to see these efforts really moving the needle for the conservation of this species, and we look forward to our continued efforts to restore and protect this unique habitat.”

Conservation Resources, an investment organization that offers investment opportunities in land with significant conservation and natural resource value, helped facilitate the Flat Creek Phase III acquisition.

Managing Director of Conservation Resources Kent Gilges said his organization is proud to be involved in the effort to protect habitat for endangered species and help create new areas for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.

“When private companies, public agencies, and conservation organizations work together, we can conserve enough area to assure the future of Alabama’s rich natural heritage,” Gilges said.

Projects like these acquisitions help create a better understanding of the natural world and have the potential to benefit not only the plants and animals they protect but also the communities located near public lands.

Al Stokes is a Regional Director for Senator Doug Jones’ office. He is based in Mobile, Alabama, but grew up in the community of Franklin near the Brown-Schutt and Flat Creek tracts.

“These acquisitions are very significant to the vitality and growth of conservation in the state, particularly in communities that many are unfamiliar with such as the Red Hills region of Alabama,” Stokes said. “Now, through these conservation efforts, the world can learn more about the Red Hills and the Franklin community.”

In addition to conserving RHS habitat, many other rare animals are potentially present or have the potential for reintroduction on the Brown-Schutt Trust and Flat Creek tracts. These species include the Bachman’s sparrow, worm-eating warbler, endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise, southern hognose snake, coral snake, eastern fox squirrel, as well as many aquatic species that may be present in headwater streams located on or near the newly protected land.

About the Red Hills Salamander

One of the largest lungless salamanders in the world, the RHS can grow up to 10 inches long. Its translucent purple skin helps make the RHS a strikingly beautiful animal, but you’re unlikely to catch a glimpse of this creature. It spends most of its time hunkered down in a subterranean burrow, only venturing out at night to ambush small prey like crickets, spiders, and earthworms.

The known range of the RHS consists of a small strip of land in the Red Hills region of Alabama. It is found nowhere else in the world. This geographic isolation allowed the animal to evolve independently from other salamander species millions of years ago, making it the only member of its genus. Due in part to its very limited range, low reproductive rates and specific habitat requirements, the RHS is federally listed as a threatened species.

Since 2000, the RHS has been recognized as Alabama’s official state amphibian thanks to a group of Fairhope Elementary School third graders who campaigned for the designation.

The RHS inhabits the forested slopes and valleys below the steep bluff of the Red Hills, which stretch across Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Butler, Monroe, and Wilcox counties. The region’s steep slopes are covered in mixed hardwood and provide the shade, cover, and moisture needed for the salamander to survive. Habitat fragmentation is considered one of the primary challenges to the survival of the RHS.

For more information about the RHS, visit www.outdooralabama.com/salamanders/red-hills-salamander.

Learn more about the Forever Wild Red Hills Complex at www.alabamaforeverwild.com/red-hills-complex.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Alabama’s Outdoors Provides Solutions for Social Distancing

A leisurely walk at one of the Alabama State Parks can relieve the anxiety of being limited by the COVID-19 restrictions.
(David Rainer) Alabama’s plentiful lakes, rivers and reservoirs are a great way to get away from the stress of the COVID-19 virus.
Turkey season will open March 21 across most of the state.

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.”

Studies have shown moving the season opener toward peak nest initiation dates allows more dominant gobblers to breed before being shot, which is even more important in already-declining populations. Peak nest initiation in Alabama averages around the second week in April.

“Postponing the opening date to the third Saturday at least gives the gobblers another few days in the woods without there being a lot of pressure,” Sykes said.

With the mild winter and early spring, the breeding cycle may be a bit earlier, especially the gobblers’ role of strutting and gobbling. But, the amount of daylight and receptive hens ultimately dictate when breeding takes place.

“I think they’re well on their way,” he said. “I think moving the season later was a positive move. I think it’s good that we haven’t had any cold weather in a few weeks to give the turkeys a chance to do their thing before we get after them real hard.

“As far as tactics for opening weekend, again, it depends on where you are. The turkey we were fooling with on youth weekend had a sack full of hens with him. He didn’t care what I did. I called up two hens that popped up out of the bottom. They gave a peek, turned around and went back. Another hen did that a few minutes later. They were staying with him. They were doing what turkeys do. We were just not in the right place to get in their way.

“Now if you can find a lonely 2-year-old, you can beat two rocks together, and he’ll come running.”

Sykes said turkey hunters who participate in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey program or who read the annual Full Fans and Sharp Spurs report at www.outdooralabama.com/turkey-hunting-alabama/turkey-research will understand the Division’s assessment of the turkey population in the state.

“In that survey and publication, you’ll see two categories of recruitment,” he said. “One is looking at poults (young of the year) per hens and the other is hens with poults. Those are two different topics. Studies are showing that perhaps the reason we’re seeing the number of hens with no poults is not because of predation but due to the fact that those hens did not get bred because the dominant gobblers were taken out of the population too soon.

“If hunters are interested in participating in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey and assisting our wildlife biologists in the collection of this data, they should click the link on the www.outdooralabama.com website for more information. We certainly appreciate all those who have contributed thus far and hope to see more sign up for this opportunity to assist in the management of this great bird.”

For those who have hunted turkeys for a long time in Alabama, the late start shouldn’t be a burden, according to Sykes.

“When I was a kid, the turkey season always started on March 20th,” he said. “It was moved to the 15th for not necessarily biological reasons, so this should not be that big of a shock to hunters who grew up in Alabama. It shouldn’t be that big a deal.”

Sykes said about the only thing this virus might affect for turkey hunting is hunters’ ability to gather at the country store to exchange lies.

“Everybody is so social-media-oriented now, I think we’ll still be able to keep up with what’s going on,” he said.

As with hunting success, Sykes said it depends on the source when it comes to the discussion of the status of turkey populations in the South.

“Some people I know think the turkey decline is 100% real, and I know others who swear numbers are at ‘historic highs’,” he said. “Personally, I think they’re down.”

Sykes said he hunted turkeys as much as possible last year and bagged two birds in Alabama.

“That was a gracious plenty,” he said. “Now I called up a bunch of birds for others, so that did not impede my ability to go hunting, have a good time and have fun, and enjoy being outdoors.”

Sykes said he wants people to do the same thing, but they need to understand that the WFF staff is going to be right there with them.

“Our staff didn’t get two weeks of vacation,” he said. “They’re still going to be working. We want people to have their licenses because they’re going to encounter our staff.

“Our WMAs (wildlife management areas) are open. Our public shooting ranges are open. Our public lakes are open. Get out there and have fun. Take advantage of this time to be outside, but please abide by the recommendations to slow the spread of the virus.”

Alabama State Parks Naturalists to Provide Virtual Programming

For all those nature lovers who are unable to visit one of the beautiful Alabama State Parks due to the COVID-19 precautionary measures, the State Park Naturalists will bring the parks to you via modern technology.
During the effort to prevent the spread of the virus, the Alabama State Parks Naturalists want to help alleviate stress and anxiety and add some fun to those that may not be able to visit one of our 21 Alabama State Parks.
State Parks Naturalists will host Virtual Naturalist programming via our Facebook pages at five parks – Oak Mountain, Lake Guntersville, Gulf, DeSoto and Cheaha.
These virtual programs will be an assortment of Live Facebook videos, short videos, photos, park stories, pictures, and maybe a challenge or two. Go to the Facebook pages for the five individual parks and look for the State Parks Naturalists’ content.
The State Parks Naturalists have also created a survey link to determine what type of content best suits the viewers. Go to https://alabamadnr.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9BRdZYm3kzGvBzf to participate in the survey.
Of course, if you have one of Alabama’s wonderful State Parks nearby, we encourage visitors to take part in the many self-guided activities that provide social distancing, including camping, fishing, hiking, birding, biking and more.
Please visit www.alapark.com for more information on the opportunities to explore our natural wonders as well as the precautions taken by Alabama State Parks to minimize the exposure for park visitors.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Hunters Encouraged to Participate in Avid Turkey Hunter Survey

Do you spend 10 or more days each spring turkey hunting in Alabama? If so, your observations in the field can provide valuable information toward the conservation and management of eastern wild turkey.
The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) is asking turkey hunters who hunt for at least 10 days during turkey season to participate in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey. Participants will receive a copy of the state’s annual turkey report, Full Fans & Sharp Spurs, and will be automatically entered to win a new shotgun donated by the Alabama Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). To be eligible for the NWTF shotgun drawing, survey participants must provide their season hunting information by May 10, 2020.
“This survey offers hunters a unique opportunity to contribute directly to the conservation and management of wild turkeys in Alabama,” said Steven Mitchell, leader of the WFF Alabama Turkey Project. “The more hunters who participate, the better. The more days spent hunting, the more useful the information will be.”
Participation in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey provides WFF biologists with valuable information on statewide and regional trends in gobbling activity, hunter effort, harvest rates, age structure and sex ratios. This knowledge ultimately helps WFF make management decisions that link the interests of sportsmen with the wise use of the state’s turkey resource.
To participate in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey, contact WFF at (334) 242-3469. WFF staff will provide hunters with information about how to complete the survey. Hunters may also contact Steven Mitchell by email at Steven.Mitchell@dcnr.alabama.gov for more information about the survey.
Hunters who participated in last year’s survey and do not receive instructions for the 2020 spring season should contact WFF via the phone number or email listed above. For information about Alabama’s spring turkey hunting season, visit www.outdooralabama.com/wild-turkey.
Hunters are also reminded that all turkey harvests must be reported through Alabama’s Game Check system. The data collected through Game Check is used by WFF biologists to better understand harvest trends and set seasons and bag limits.
Turkey harvests can be reported online at www.outdooralabama.com or through the Outdoor AL mobile app. The mobile app is available from the Apple and Android app stores or www.outdooralabama.com/contact-us/mobile-apps.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Conservation Department Updates Operations During COVID-19 Pandemic In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is making the following temporary changes to its business operations for the safety of our employees and the general public. The changes are in effect until April 6, 2020.
Alabama State Parks and associated facilities remain open with the exception of cave tours at Rickwood and Cathedral Caverns state parks. Some dining operations will be modified to limit close contact of guests. Park visitors are encouraged to follow all current hand washing and social distancing guidelines. For updates, please follow Alabama State Parks on social media. A social media directory is available at www.alapark.com/social-media-directory.
State Public Fishing Lakes remain open.
ADCNR shooting and archery ranges remain open.
ADCNR Wildlife Management Areas and Special Opportunity Areas remain open.
ADCNR’s state and district offices are closed to the public with the exception of the Marine Resources Division offices in Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island. Those offices will be open for commercial license sales only on Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
ADCNR Law Enforcement Offices are closed to the public, but remain staffed to answer questions by phone. Contact information is available at www.outdooralabama.com. To report hunting or fishing violations, please call (800) 272-GAME.
Conservation Enforcement Officers will continue to patrol state land and waterways and render aid to the public.
Forever Wild tracts remain open for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, paddling, and hunting — as permitted.
5 Rivers Delta Resources Center facilities are closed, but the grounds remain open to the public during regular business hours for trail use and kayak launching.
Hunting and fishing licenses are still available online at www.outdooralabama.com, through the Outdoor AL mobile app, or at various license agents located throughout the state.
Due to the evolving nature of the pandemic, ADCNR recommends calling individual state parks and other facilities if you have questions about reservations or operational hours. Contact information can be found at www.outdooralabama.com.
ADCNR apologizes for any inconvenience during this time and we thank you for your cooperation.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com

National Weather Service Birmingham Basic Storm Spotter Free Online Class
Join the National Weather Service Birmingham Basic Storm Spotter Free Online Class Thurs., March 19 at 1-3 p.m. Visit Join.me, select the green, select the green ‘join meeting’ button, and enter code 726-373-081.


James Spann Special Online Weather Program for Kids
Yo moms and dads with kids at home (that would normally be at school)… I will be doing an online, live weather program Thursday morning at 10 a.m. CT. it is fun, interactive, and best for kids grades 1-5, but older kids (and adults) should enjoy it as well. Learn more about the science of meteorology, how we forecast weather, severe thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and snow storms. You will learn and have a few laughs, and we all could use that now. So, get it on your calendar… this Thursday at 10a CT. It will be streamed live here on this Facebook page. Be sure it is the James Spann page with the blue check (verified), https://www.facebook.com/jamesspann

Stay at Home Beekeeping Series
The Alabama Cooperative Extension proposes that members of beekeeping clubs attend ’remote’ meetings from the comfort of their own home using a computer or mobile device. Each free event will allow participants to learn about timely beekeeping information and to contribute to discussions.Sessions include: March 19: Minimizing Swarming with Phillip Carter; April 2: Ten Mistakes Beginners Make with Lonnie Funderburg; April 7: Coping with Pesticide Sprays with Jack Rowe. Register at http://www.aces.edu/go/1196 or watch live at: https://www.facebook.com/LawrenceCountyextension/

Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival Canceled
To ensure the health and wellness of the public as Alabama fights aggressively to prevent the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, the Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival at the Conecuh National Forest Open Pond Recreation Area scheduled for May 1, 2020 has been canceled.
The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), which partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forestry Service and Auburn University to hold the event, said the festival will be rescheduled for the spring of 2021.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

WFF in Spotlight, Behind Scenes at Bassmaster Classic

(Billy Pope) Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Sergeant Bill Freeman and his guests enjoy a ringside seat for the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham.
Behind the scenes, Spencer Truitt of the WFF hatchery staff releases bass from the Classic weigh-in into holding tanks behind the stage.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division was both enjoying the spotlight and working behind the curtains during last week’s 50th Bassmaster Classic weigh-in at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center (BJCC).

The Classic, with Academy Sports + Outdoors as its title sponsor, pitted the world’s best bass anglers on one of the nation’s top bass impoundments – Lake Guntersville in northeast Alabama.

After an opening round with an impressive 29-plus pounds of largemouth bass, Hank Cherry of North Carolina cruised to a wire-to-wire victory to win the top prize of $300,000.

During Saturday’s weigh-in ceremonies at BJCC’s Legacy Arena, one of WFF’s conservation enforcement officers, Sergeant Bill Freeman, was spotlighted in an oversized Academy chair as the honored first responder.

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Freeman transitioned recently from full-time patrol officer to head of WFF outreach. He was recognized by Academy for the following reasons:

“He consistently goes above and beyond his required duties and provided quality enforcement of game and fish regulations and is an asset to public safety to the residents of Bullock County, Alabama, and the surrounding areas. In 2019, Freeman received a promotion to sergeant for his exemplary service to the people of Alabama. In his new role as sergeant, Freeman’s duties were expanded to lead the effort to recruit youth, college and high school students into hunting and fishing. Sergeant Freeman’s methods and success in recruiting college and high school students across Alabama have garnered nationwide attention. His efforts have highlighted the Department as the leader in minority recruitment and retention by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for the past two years.”

A feature of the award was a $500 shopping spree at the Academy store in Hoover, where Freeman and two colleagues loaded up on fishing equipment to be used in the WFF outreach programs.

Freeman was able to share the oversized chair and spotlight with several youth that participate in his outreach programs. One group of youngsters were from Bullock County and the KAMO (Kids and Mentors Outdoors) program. A few of the kids were from the Barbour County Youth Hunt and Blue Springs Fishing Derby, which are held in cooperation with the Barbour County Lions Club. Other events on Freeman’s schedule include a large hunter education class at Auburn University with the Wildlife Society, the Bullock County Fishing Derby and Outdoor Alabama Experience events at Oak Mountain State Park and Lake Lurleen State Park.

“The kids absolutely loved it,” Freeman said. “It’s been all over Facebook. That was a great experience. I really appreciated being recognized for our Department (Conservation and Natural Resources). Anything I can do for the kids is just a great experience. They really had a ball.

“It’s just nice to know people support what we do.”

While Freeman and his youth were in the spotlight, a crew from WFF’s hatchery operations was steadily working backstage to ensure the bass weighed in each day at the Classic received the best care possible in order to return the fish to Lake Guntersville, the Classic site, and Lay Lake, where the high school and college tournaments were held.

After Bassmaster Tournament Director Trip Weldon weighed the fish, he handed a basket through a trap door in the stage floor to a runner, who hurriedly transported the fish to large holding tanks on WFF vehicles.

WFF Hatchery Supervisor Brian Rinehard, who oversees all three hatcheries in the state (Eastaboga, Marion and Carbon Hill), teamed up with Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. Conservation Director, to determine how many tanker trucks would be needed during the Classic to transport the bass from the arena. The fish eventually ended up in either Lake Guntersville or Lay Lake after a visit to the Eastaboga hatchery in Calhoun County.

“Gene gave me an estimate of how big and how many fish they expected to be weighed in each day of the Classic,” Rinehard said. “We made sure we had trucks to easily handle that capacity.”

The trucks from the different hatcheries went to Eastaboga and were filled with spring water and a specific amount of salt to ease the stress on the fish. The tanks are equipped with oxygen diffusers to keep the water at the desired saturation level. The trucks then travel to BJCC, where they are staged to receive the weighed fish.

Classic anglers transported the fish from Lake Guntersville to Legacy Arena in the livewells of the tournament boats. The fish were placed in bags before being brought onstage to be weighed. After weighing, the fish were quickly placed in the WFF hatchery tanks until the weigh-in was completed.

“We keep up with how many pounds of bass are on the truck at one time,” Rinehard said Saturday. “When we reach a certain limit, we switch to another truck. We can safely handle fish on two pounds per gallon of water. For one of our 600-gallon tanks, we could hold as many as 1,200 pounds of fish. The first day’s total was 600 pounds of fish. We were prepared to handle a lot more fish if needed.”

Once each weigh-in was over, the hatchery truck headed to the Eastaboga Hatchery.

“When we get the fish to Eastaboga, we temper the fish. We transition them from the temperature of the tank to the spring water at the hatchery,” Rinehard said. “We had the temperature of the tanks cooled to match the temperature at Lake Guntersville. When we got back to the hatchery, we had to raise the temperature.

“We have 1,500-gallon raceways with spring water and oxygen to slowly raise the temperature. You don’t want to shock the fish with a temperature change. It causes too much stress, so we raise it slowly. Then we watch their swimming habits. When you confine bass, they start jumping, trying to get out, so we have covers on the holding tanks so they won’t be disturbed. We keep them as quiet as we can to calm them down.”

The bass, both from Lake Guntersville and Lay Lake, were held at Eastaboga until Monday morning, when the WFF hatchery trucks were filled with water and loaded with a certain amount of bass to be transported back to the lake of origin.

“The fish won’t all go to one boat ramp,” Rinehard said. “We will transport the fish to different state boat ramps around the lakes. We will spread the fish out as best we can.”

Rinehard said holding the Classic and other large tournaments in the early spring makes it a lot easier for fisheries managers to return healthy fish to the lakes compared to tournaments held during the heat of the summer.

“Heat puts a lot of stress on the fish,” he said. “You can handle a lot more fish and heavier fish when the water is cold, and Guntersville is world-renowned for its large fish, especially in the springtime.

“Livewells on bass boats are a lot better than they used to be. But handling the fish still causes stress. When we get them in our tanks, we limit the stress by giving them a lot more space, and we’re running oxygen.”

As it turns out, the effort to care for the fish was well worth it. Rinehard said 520 bass that weighed 1,662 pounds from the Classic were successfully returned to Lake Guntersville on Monday. Another 88 bass were returned to Lay Lake. Only five fish did not survive.

“We did everything we could to keep the mortality rate as low as possible,” he said.

Turkey Season Opens Saturday, March 21, in Most Alabama Counties

Photo by Gary Mitchell

Hunters Reminded that Harvest Reporting is Mandatory
Spring turkey season will open March 21 and close May 3, 2020, for most Alabama counties. The season will be delayed for research purposes on the following Wildlife Management Areas: Barbour, J.D. Martin-Skyline, Hollins, Oakmulgee, Lowndes, Choccolocco, and Perdido River. The delayed season will run March 28 to May 3.
Special youth turkey hunts are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday the week prior to the opening of spring season. For more information about Alabama’s spring turkey season, including a hunting zone map, visit www.outdooralabama.com/turkey-season.
Hunters are also reminded that all turkey harvests must be reported through Alabama’s Game Check system. The data collected through Game Check is used by Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) biologists to better understand harvest trends and set seasons and bag limits.
“It is very important that hunters understand how harvest reporting has the potential to affect turkey management decisions,” said Chuck Sykes, WFF Director. “Turkey harvests have been consistently underreported. If that trend continues it could alter season dates and bag limits. We strongly encourage hunters to report their turkey harvests during this year’s spring and fall seasons.”
Turkey harvests can be reported online at www.outdooralabama.com or through the Outdoor AL mobile app. The mobile app is available from the Apple and Android app stores or www.outdooralabama.com/contact-us/mobile-apps.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Conservation Advisory Board Considers Deer Zones, Turkey Reporting

(David Rainer) The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board heard proposals to change the state’s deer zones to better accommodate rutting activity.
WFF Director Chuck Sykes expressed frustration with the number of turkeys reported on Game Check.
The Alabama red snapper season will open on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The first Alabama Conservation Advisory Board meeting of 2020 resulted in a wealth of good news and one disappointing statistic.

The good news included a 35-day, state-managed red snapper season, a productive oyster season, an increase in the number of hunting licenses sold for the 2019-2020 season and a significant reduction in the number of dog deer hunting complaints.

The one disappointment was highlighted in a dramatic way by Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes, who started his presentation with a slide that announced the closing of turkey season based on the lack of compliance of Alabama turkey hunters with the mandatory Game Check reporting system.

Of course, Sykes’ slide was a facetious effort to get the attention of the Board and everyone in attendance at the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries building in Montgomery.

“We have advertised (Game Check) in newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, our (Hunting and Fishing) Digest,” Sykes said. “We have begged and pleaded for people to actually report their harvests. We’re kind of at the end of our rope. We don’t really know the next step to increase participation.”

With tongue-not-so-firmly-planted-in-cheek, Sykes began, “For 2020-2021, we’re just going to close turkey season in the hopes that people will understand how important Game Check is. We had less than 11,000 turkeys reported last year. I don’t believe anybody on this Board believes that was the number harvested.

“If our turkey numbers are actually that low, we’re in a mess. Now we don’t think they’re that low, but this is the hunter harvest information we have to go on. We’re just picking with this slide, but I wanted to get everybody’s attention.”

Sykes transitioned to deer hunting and the proposed changes to the deer season zones in northwest, northeast and southeast Alabama. Sykes said the early rutting activities that have been confirmed by wildlife biologists in Zone D (see map) and Zone E prompted the Division to change season dates to accommodate hunting during peak deer activity. The proposal before the Board has those two zones with the gun deer season opening on November 7, 2020 and ending January 27, 2021. The season dates in the other zones would be similar to last year’s.

“This is not additional time to hunt,” Sykes said. “The hunters in those areas have asked for the earlier slot because of the rut.”

Sykes was also thankful to report that Alabama still has no chronic wasting disease (CWD) infections reported. WFF conducted statewide CWD seminars last year to keep the public informed on the issues and also tested more than 1,500 deer for CWD.

Sykes had more good news regarding hunting licenses sold. More than 151,000 people purchased all-game hunting licenses for the 2019-2020 season, an increase of about 4,000 over the previous season.

WFF also sold more than 158,000 baiting privilege licenses, which did not surprise Sykes.

“But this isn’t the full story,” Sykes said. “Yes, we sold more licenses, and the bait privilege license brought in another couple of million dollars. Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of people let it go.

“This was the first year in the past four that we have not had to cut the budget for Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries because of budget shortfalls. So, we’re not flush with cash because of the bait privilege license. We were just able to meet the budget.”

The license numbers also showed that more than 27,000 people purchased a bait privilege license but did not purchase a hunting license.

“Those are exempted hunters who are over 65 or under 16 or hunt on their own land,” Sykes said. “For the first time in Alabama, we can now count them as licensed hunters because of the bait privilege license. This should increase our federal apportionment.”

One area of concern expressed by Sykes was the failure of deer hunters to follow hunting safety guidelines. He cited the vast majority of hunting mishaps continue to be treestand accidents.

“The majority of hunters who fall out of treestands who are killed or injured have been hunting forever,” he said. “They haven’t taken a hunter education course because they are grandfathered in, and they get complacent. The majority of the firearms accidents are the same, and most are self-inflicted.

“The thing about treestand accidents is that about 95 percent of them are completely preventable. If they will just use a safety harness and safety line and be connected from the time your feet leave the ground until you’re back on the ground, 95 percent or better of our treestand accidents would be eliminated.”

Alabama Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship shared an experience that showed the importance of hunting in Alabama.

“I was in Sumter County during the Martin Luther King weekend and shot a deer on that Sunday afternoon,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “I went to take it to the processor in the middle of nowhere in Sumter County. They had people out on the road directing traffic so that people could get in to drop their deer off. They had one-ways signs in the yard. There must have been 20 people in line either dropping off a deer or picking up their deer meat. People were steadily coming in the whole time I was there.

“I took a couple of pictures just to show people who don’t understand what a value hunting and fishing are to our economy. I hope you (the audience) tell people how important hunting and fishing are in our state, not only to the economy but for the quality of life in Alabama.”

Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) Director Scott Bannon announced a 35-day red snapper season that will start May 22, the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, earlier than the traditional starting date of June 1. The season will for the first time include a four-day weekend for snapper fishing, which will be Friday through Monday.

The regional management of red snapper for the five Gulf states was recently signed by the Secretary of Commerce, thanks to effective state management during the two years under an Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) issued by NOAA.

One of the reasons that rule was approved is the reporting data derived from Alabama’s mandatory Red Snapper Reporting System, otherwise known as Snapper Check.

“Last year, we had the best reporting rate in the history of Snapper Check,” Bannon said. “That’s pretty good, but our goal is still 100 percent. But it did help us to manage the snapper season. Last year the weather got us on a couple of weekends and reduced the effort. We were able to add days on Labor Day Weekend and one weekend in October. That shows that the State of Alabama can be very responsible in managing that fishery. Alabama has three percent of the coastline, but we get 26.2 percent of the red snapper. That’s a pretty good deal.”

Depending on the catch rate monitored through Snapper Check, the red snapper season is anticipated to last for 35 days and is scheduled to close on Sunday, July 19, 2020. The season was set based on Alabama’s share of the federal quota, which was set at 1,122,622 pounds.

The season dates only apply to anglers fishing from recreational vessels and state-licensed Alabama commercial party boats that do not hold federal for-hire fishing permits. Anglers fishing from federally permitted for-hire vessels have a separate season that will be announced at a later date by NOAA Fisheries.

“We have added Mondays to our traditional weekend season in response to many requests from anglers who wanted more weekday access,” Commissioner Blankenship said.  “I am also pleased that the season will begin with the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The passage of the Regional Management Amendment by the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council, Amendment 50, earlier this year gives Alabama the ability to manage the red snapper season for the maximum benefit and access for our anglers. I am looking forward to a great season.”

Bannon said the comeback of oyster production was significant news after five years of little harvest. He said MRD had set a goal of 7,000 sacks to be harvested, but harvesters located an area that had not been surveyed by MRD staff that contained legal-size oysters. The area allowed oystercatchers to take a total of 11,258 sacks, about 1 million pounds of product. That harvest was more than that of the last five years combined.

“We feel like we’re turning a corner,” Bannon said. “I’m optimistic that the next season will be even better.”

In Alabama State Parks news, Commissioner Blankenship said an online reservation system will be rolled out in April for some parks, with full implementation of the system by October 2020.

“I think this will make it a lot easier for people to camp or stay at the lodges and cabins at our state parks,” he said. “I’m also happy to report that over the next month or so we will have high-speed internet at all of our state parks.

“The Lodge at Gulf State Park, where we had our last Conservation Advisory Board meeting, has had a very productive year. All of the parks had a good financially. It has allowed us to put some of those profits back into the other parks to take care of some much-needed, long-term maintenance and capital improvements.”

Commissioner Blankenship also reminded Alabama citizens that it is imperative to participate in the federal Census, which will start in March.

“Some of the rural areas of our state have traditionally been undercounted,” he said. “If that happens this year, it may cost us one of our (U.S.) representatives in Congress as well as several million dollars that comes to the state through federal programs.

“Please take the Census seriously.”

Cover Crops Play Vital Role in Soil Conservation

By Katie Nichols

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Heavy bouts of rainfall and strong storms created the perfect scenario for Alabama producers to talk about the many benefits of planting cover crops during the winter season.

Audrey Gamble, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System soil scientist, said the weather throughout winter months in Alabama has allowed for thought-provoking conversations surrounding use of cover crops and off-season land management plans.

“I’ve started many meetings during the past few months by saying ‘It’s a great day to talk about cover crops,’” Gamble said.

While there are many producers who deem cover crops worth the work, there may be just as many who have not made the decision to incorporate a winter cover in their crop rotation.

The most recent Census of Agriculture shows an uptick in the use of cover crops in the state. In fact, numbers show a 15 percent increase in Alabama acres utilizing cover crops. Acreage in 2017 was up to 229,097 in comparison to the 199,215 acres reportedly planted in cover in the 2012 ag census.

Gamble said many producers are utilizing cover crops for a variety of reasons.

“There are so many producers who are seeing on-farm benefits after incorporating a winter cover,” she said. “However, there are still those who are trying to justify the time, money and effort that go along with adding an additional crop to the rotation.”

Gamble said she asks producers who are considering a cover incorporation what they would like to achieve by adding a rotation.

“Like with any business plan, it is important to identify needs—whether it is erosion control, weed suppression, soil moisture storage or increased organic matter. It is important to begin with a goal in mind,” Gamble said.

From there she begins work with farmers to develop a customized plan that is well-suited to their environment and their operation.

There are plenty of options for producers looking to incorporate a cover crop. Gamble said some of the most commonly recommended winter covers include:

  • Small grains. These crops are commonly planted when producers need to add biomass to the soil, which is necessary for weed suppression and soil moisture storage. Cereal rye is a common recommendation because of its adaptability to a range of climates and soil types.
  • Legumes. Legume crops provide supplemental nitrogen to cash crops. Crimson clover, hairy vetch and Austrian winter pea are commonly-planted legumes in Alabama.
  • Brassicas. Brassica crops, such as Daikon radishes or turnips, can help scavenge for nutrients deep in the soil profile.
  • Mixtures. Mixtures are ideal for producers who have multiple goals. For example, a mixture of rye, brassicas and legumes can be planted when producers are trying to achieve ground cover early, as well as later on. Legumes add an additional growth later in the season.

Gamble said mixtures, specifically, allow for fuller coverage throughout the growing season.

“Most producers prefer to stick with small grains, but there is a growing interest in cover crop mixtures, as well as the benefits provided by a mixture,” she said.

Gamble said the increase in adoption is encouraging and facilitating the use of cover crops in full-scale operations.

“Money and time are two things that are difficult for producers to allocate to cover crop adoption,” Gamble said. “It can be difficult to make time for planting cover crops in the middle of cash crop harvest. However, I see many producers choose to make this a priority once they see the benefits cover crops can have on their farm.”

Gamble said she also points out the different ways for sowing cover crop seed. Producers can drill it in with a no-till drill, spread seed via broadcast or through aerial application.

“Be sure that there is good soil moisture when you fly on a cover crop,” Gamble said. “Small grains and brassicas tend to get a better stand with aerial seeding than legumes.”

She also emphasized the important role government assistance can play during the cover crop selection process.

“Interest in cover crops is really growing,” Gamble said. “I like to share both grower assistance information, as well as additional learning materials.”

  • Southern Cover Crops Council has developed a plethora of reading material and other information to help farmers make informed decisions.
  • Alabama Healthy Soils is a resource that includes both regional and state-specific guidelines for incorporating cover crops on-farm.
  • NRCS provides financial assistance to producers to incorporate cover crops through programs like EQIP and CSP. Contact your local NRCS office for additional information.

More Information

More information on cover crops and an implementation plan are available by visiting www.aces.edu. Gamble said she is also available for consultations to help producers manage their land and cover crop needs.

Soil Sampling: Important Part of Spring

Show off a green thumb and ensure growing conditions are right by collecting soil for soil samples prior to planting. The Auburn University Soil Testing Laboratory offers this service to help growers make informed decisions about soil nutrients and soil composition on the farm or in the back yard. By supplying recommendations to help growers maintain plants and create a more sustainable growing environment, soil testing can help get spring gardens off on the right foot.
Importance of Soil Testing
“Soil is the basis for most of what we do as gardeners and without healthy soil, you cannot grow healthy plants,” said Taylor Reeder, an Alabama Extension home grounds, gardens and pests agent.
It is important to grow plants in the right environment. Adequate soil nutrients, in addition to the correct soil type, will help gardeners create and maintain a growing environment where plants can thrive.
Preparing Soil Samples
To begin the soil testing process, pick up a soil sample kit from the local Extension office. It will include a form explaining how to properly collect a soil sample.
“It is best to send soil samples that are dry,” Reeder said. “Laying the soil out on newspaper to dry before sending it off is suggested.”
Collect soil from the garden site or flower bed. According to Reeder, it is important to dig deep enough into the soil to collect an adequate sample. This could range from 2 to 8 inches deep, depending on the types of plants or seeds growers choose to plant in a given area. It is also important to include only soil in the sample. Make sure to remove as much plant and debris as possible.
Soil Test Results
Soil tests determine the pH and nutrient content of soil. This is beneficial as different plants often thrive in different pH ranges and require different nutrient concentrations. It is also advantageous to know soil nutrient levels, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. These levels will help growers make informed decisions regarding fertilizer types and frequency.
Growers can also do an analysis to test levels of micronutrients such as zinc in the soil. This analysis will include liming suggestions.
“Add lime to your soil in order to raise its pH if it is too acidic for what you are intending to grow,” said Reeder.
Sending the Soil Sample
Soil samples should be sent to the Auburn University Soil Testing Laboratory. The form available at local Extension offices with the sample box will include the sample mailing address. Each sample costs $7, with an added cost to perform a micronutrient analysis. Note: results are available by mail or electronically.
For more information, visit www.aces.edu. Read more about soil sampling at https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/crop-production/routine-soil-analysis/

Greensboro Garden Club

L to R: LaMar Merrill, Georgia Rhodes, Viva Dean Faught, Mel Cothran, Linda Arrington, Theodora Barrett, Rollanda Cothran

Greensboro Garden Club held the February meeting at the Hale County Library, Fri., Feb. 7. Club members had an arbor day program given by Theodora Barrett and then followed by planting a tree at the Historic Magnolia Grove. The tree is a Cornish Augusta Elsbry, an evergreen Empress of Chinese Dogwood. This variety although not native to Alabama does well in our climate and is more resistant to disease. The Chinese Dogwood has a vigorous habit and loads of flowers. Each branch holds up to 150 creamy white blooms that eventually turn into translucent strawberry like fruit. Empress of China will light up a partly shaded garden. Another item discussed at our meeting will bring Teresa Johnson from Tuscaloosa Garden Company, Duncanville to Greensboro to provide gardening tips and planting ideas during a spring garden tour of Greensboro Gardens in May. Details and reservation information will be available soon.
Respectfully submitted,
Karen Merrill

Picking the Best Blackberry Varieties

Interested in planting blackberries? Choosing the best blackberry varieties for the backyard garden will require a little homework. Because there are so many blackberry varieties, gardeners should spend a bit of time researching which cultivated variety, or cultivar, of blackberry is best for a specific location. Chip East, an Alabama Extension commercial horticulture regional agent, offers some tips on selecting cultivars and proper planting conditions.
Blackberry Cultivars
Blackberries cultivars come in three major types—erect, semi-erect or trailing. Semi-erect and trailing cultivars require a trellis. In contrast, erect blackberry types stand independently, but planting on a trellis in home gardens minimizes wind damage to the canes.
Next growers must choose between plants with thorns or those without.
“Thorny plants offer an aggressive growth habit and more disease resistance, and therefore can be very productive,” said East.
Popular thorny, erect blackberry cultivars include ‘Chickasaw,’ ‘Choctaw,’ ‘Kiowa’ and ‘Shawnee.’ Popular erect cultivars without thorns include ‘Apache,’ ‘Arapaho,’ ‘Natchez,’ ‘Navajo’ and ‘Ouachita.’
East said there can be significant differences in the fruit size and overall production between different cultivars. It may depend on the use of the berry as to what cultivar to choose.
Planting Conditions
Plant blackberries in late winter or spring of the year. While early spring planting is best, do not plant until the soil is dry enough to work. Prepare the planting area with the same care as for a vegetable seedbed.
Blackberries need planting areas with good drainage and full sunlight.
Blackberries grow and produce satisfactorily on a wide range of soil types, from sandy to heavy clay loams, provided that the drainage is good. Good soils for blackberry production are deep sandy loams that are moderately fertile, high in organic matter, easily worked and well drained.
Consider the possibility of winter injury when selecting planting locations. Blackberry plants often begin blooming before frost danger passes.
“Planting on slopes, or on the tops of slopes, allows cold air to drain away from the plants,” said East.
Blackberries planted on a southern slope are likely to bloom earlier than those on northern slopes. If possible, avoid planting blackberries in low-lying areas. Because air settles in low areas, blackberries planted there would be most affected by cold injury during bloom.
“While a grower might be able to do something if they confronted with this problem, freezing temperatures during bloom are always a concern,” said East.
More Information
For more information on blackberry cultivars, visit https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/crop-production/blackberry-cultivars/

Early Bird: America’s beloved Purple Martins return to Alabama

In a sure sign that spring is not far behind, the first Purple Martins of the year have been spotted in Alabama. 

The birds were seen on January 16 in the southern Alabama city of Enterprise by a Purple Martin enthusiast – one of many people throughout the eastern and central United States who track and report on the birds’ annual migration on behalf of the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

“The first Purple Martin arrivals of the season are always an exciting event,” said Joe Siegrist, President of the Purple Martin Conservation Association. “Tracking the migration is not only fun, it also provides us with valuable information that helps inform our research and strengthen our efforts to make sure we’re doing everything possible to sustain the population of these amazing birds.”

North America’s largest species of swallow, Purple Martins winter in the rainforests of Brazil before making up to a 7000-mile migration north into the eastern United States and Canada.  

The annual migration is a testament to the martins’ resilience as well as the unwavering dedication of thousands of ‘martin landlords’ who maintain multi-compartment nest ‘condos’ that are essential for the birds’ survival. Once widespread in rural America, this species, that eats billions of flying insects annually, has been disappearing at an alarming rate, experiencing a loss of one-third of its population over the last 50 years. 

“The decline seems to be the combination of a few factors: nesting habitat loss, competing invasive species, decreasing prey availability, and climate change,” said Siegrist. “Over the majority of the Purple Martins’ range, they are unable to nest naturally any longer. Human-provided nest boxes are the only thing keeping the species alive east of the Rocky Mountains.”

Siegrist says the very survival of the species is due in large part to scores of dedicated conservationists who invest their time, money and hearts into maintaining housing for the martins. 

“The landlords provide critical shelter for the martins,” Siegrist said. “In return, they are rewarded with a family-like bond with the birds who return to the same colony year after year like clockwork.”

To follow along with the Purple Martins’ migration and learn more about how you can help conserve this treasured bird, visit www.purplemartin.org. In addition, people interested in learning more about how to attract and care for Purple Martins can receive a free booklet by contacting the Purple Martin Conservation Association by emailing info@purplemartin.org or calling 814-833-7656.

First Wild Eastern Indigo Snake Found in Alabama in 60 Years

(Francesca Erickson, David Rainer) A juvenile Eastern indigo snake was recently discovered in Conecuh National Forest, which is the first evidence of reproduction in Alabama in more than 60 years. Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Traci Wood and Jim Godwin of Auburn University’s Alabama Natural Heritage Program show off the young Eastern indigo. Godwin, who has been instrumental in the reintroduction of Eastern indigos, releases an adult snake near a gopher tortoise burrow in Conecuh National Forest.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Traci Wood admitted holding the snake almost made her come unglued. No, she wasn’t afraid of the snake she was holding. It was the magnitude of the moment.

Wood, the Habitat and Species Conservation Coordinator with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, had in her hands the first wild Eastern indigo snake documented in Alabama in more than 60 years.

“I’m not embarrassed to say that I was shaking when I held that animal,” Wood said. “This is a monumental benchmark in conservation for Alabama and the southeast region for this species.

 “It’s a big deal, extremely big. It’s big for recovery efforts of a federally listed threatened species. It’s the first documentation of a wild snake in more than 60 years in Alabama. It’s proof that what we are doing through reintroduction is working and that captive snakes are acting like wild snakes after they are released.”

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources echoed the importance of the achievement.

“I am thrilled that we have documented wild reproduction of the Eastern indigo,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “It is great for the species, but I am also really happy for Traci and the staff who have worked for years to make this happen. They truly have a passion for their work, and I am so thankful for them.”

Technicians from the Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and the Auburn Museum of Natural History were out looking for documentation of indigo snakes as part of the long-term program to re-establish viable populations of Eastern indigos in their native habitat, mainly in longleaf pine forests in central and south Alabama.

“We try to document how long they are living, how far they are moving and how they’re doing healthwise,” Wood said. “The technicians were out and came across the snake as part of the monitoring effort. It was really no different than the monitoring we do for the released snakes. We’re out there assessing and trying to document their survival.

“There’s always the hope that we will find documentation of reproduction, and it finally happened.”

Wood said the technicians knew immediately what they had discovered when the snake was picked up.

“They knew because it was a hatchling-size snake,” she said. “It measured 2 feet in length, which is much smaller than the snakes we release from OCIC (Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation). It had no PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag or any indication we use in monitoring to indicate it was a released snake. Those released snakes are 5 feet in length or longer. They estimated the juvenile indigo at about 7 months old. It probably hatched in July or August.”

The Eastern indigo project started in 2006, and the program was able to start releasing captive-raised indigos in 2010 with 17 adult snakes released into the Conecuh National Forest. The goal is to release a total of 300 snakes to improve the chances of establishing a viable population. The project team has released 170 snakes to date. Wood said the decision-making and planning for indigo recovery through reintroductions started with late Auburn University professor Dr. Dan Speake in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It’s been a long process with a lot of sweat,” Wood said. “We have faced some criticism along the way. Then, when what you have hoped for happens, it’s extremely rewarding and overwhelming.”

 During the early days of the indigo project, the released snakes were propagated from indigos that had been captured in the wild in Georgia. Partners in this project include Auburn Museum of Natural History, Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Zoo Tampa, Zoo Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army’s Fort Stewart, as well as the OCIC at the Central Florida Zoo, where the captive indigo breeding and health care are handled.

“We’re kind of at the halfway mark in the reintroduction,” Wood said. “It’s very exciting to see verification of reproduction at this stage of the project.

“It’s a huge testimony to the State Wildlife Grants program and working toward the recovery of a federally listed species. It is considered an experimental population. We were conducting research and making decisions that had never been done before with this species. It was a lot of groundbreaking work. Florida now has a reintroduction program, and a lot of their work is based on what we’ve done at Conecuh and lessons learned at Conecuh. Besides aquatic species, there isn’t another example of species recovery of a federally listed species through reintroductions.”

Wood said the lessons included that a learning curve is a given with a project of this magnitude and that 2-year-old snakes have a better chance of survival in the wild because they are less susceptible to predators.

“We also learned the target for the number of individuals to be released,” she said. “That is 30 individuals per year. We’ve learned that we had to establish a monitoring program that didn’t exist before. We learned it takes intense monitoring on the ground.”

One of the tools the monitoring team borrowed from the hunting community is the game camera. The game cameras have been stationed to monitor activity at gopher tortoise burrows, which are utilized by a number of animals, including indigos.

“We had to learn that a snake is not going to trigger motion sensitivity on the game cameras,” Wood said. “We set the cameras to capture a photo at intervals of 30 to 60 seconds to make sure we capture all the activity. That’s something we’ve recently started, and so far it’s proven to be very helpful. We’ve captured pictures of several indigos at burrows.

“The cameras are showing location, where they’re hanging out, how they’re using burrows and the fact adult snakes are surviving. We estimate that 60 to 80 percent of the snakes that we reintroduce will survive. That’s not bad at all after they’ve been in captivity for two years.”

Wood said it is not possible right now to estimate the total number of Eastern indigo snakes that are in the Conecuh habitat.

“These recaptures and verification of reproduction is data that will be useful in the future so that someday we may be able to predict how many individuals may be in the wild,” she said.

Wood said Eastern indigos were extirpated from the state and hadn’t been seen since the 1950s. Considered an apex predator, the snake plays an important role in the longleaf pine ecosystem. Eastern indigo snakes are the longest snakes native to the U.S. at more than 8 feet long. They prey on a variety of small mammals, amphibians, lizards and numerous species of venomous snakes, including the copperhead. Indigos are known to range far and wide during the warmer months and then seek refuge in the gopher tortoise burrows during the winter.

WFF’s State Wildlife Action Plan identifies 366 species that are in the category of greatest conservation need, according to Wood.

“Alabama is one of the most diverse states in the nation in terms of amphibians and reptiles,” she said. “Conecuh National Forest is the most biologically rich public land in the country.”

Wood is still having a little trouble grasping what happened recently at Conecuh National Forest.

“Physically holding a wild species that hasn’t been documented in Alabama in more than 60 years gives us high hopes for what we may see when we reach our goal of 300 snakes released,” she said.

Five year old, Matt O’Quinn, took his first deer last Saturday, the 4th, by himself at 73 yards with a 7 mm. 8. He’s in pre-k at MES. Parents are Mike and Angela Roulaine O’Quinn of Moundville. Submiited by Rita Lewis, The Voice of the Ville

Game warden offers one-time immunity deal

By Tommy McGraw
Publisher
A person or persons who took parts from a dead bald eagle in Livingston could face jail time and a $100,000 fine.
Game Warden Jeff Shaw reported that a foot and several tail feathers were taken from a carcass of an American bald eagle sometime after the bird was killed in the city limits of Livingston Thursday, Dec. 12.


The bird was accidentally struck by a vehicle on Alabama Highway 28, east of Livingston, near the Bluffport Road exit. Another driver reported the dead bird lying beside the highway to the Livingston Police Department. Livingston PD called Shaw, and Shaw said before he arrived to take possession of the federally protected bird carcass someone had taken a foot and several feathers from the bird.


The white-headed mature bald eagle is a federally protected bird, and those removing parts or killing a bird can face up to a $250,000 fine. Shaw said each part removed can fetch as  low as $5,000 per offense. Shaw said the person who has the parts can pay up to $5,000 per feather and be jailed for a first-time offense.


Shaw estimated that the person or persons who removed the foot and eight or nine feathers face a “ticking time bomb.”
“There are only three feathers left, and a mature bald eagle can grow up to twelve long tail feathers. He may have lost some, but not eight or nine feathers. The foot was cut off with a sharp object, and he [eagle] did not lose it in the accident,” Shaw said.


Shaw said the bird was at least five years old because the eagle species “does not grow their white head feathers until they are that old.”
Shaw said the eagle was huge and had a wingspan that covered the back of his state-issued Alabama Conservation truck bed.


“This is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off,” Shaw said of the impending possibility that the person who has the parts in his possession will be turned in or that they may be stopped for some other offense and will be arrested for having the eagle body parts.


“I want to offer a one time deal so the person(s), if they are not aware of the severity of having the eagle foot and feathers in their possession, to turn them in anonymously and not be arrested.”


Conservation Officer Shaw said the Alabama Department of Conservation works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who in turn operates the National Eagle Repository as a clearinghouse for eagles and eagle parts to provide Native Americans with eagle feathers for religious use.
“If someone knows who has the feathers and foot, I urge you to call the Livingston Police at 205-652-9525 or Alabama Game Watch’s phone number at 1-800-272-4263. I also urge the person or persons who took the parts to turn them into the Record-Journal newspaper anonymously or the Livingston Police Department.


“The alternative is, if the person is caught, they will be arrested, and it will be very expensive to pay for all the fines.”
Shaw said the bird had no broken wings, leg, or any other indication it was even struck by a vehicle, “unless it was hit in the head,” Shaw added.
Shaw said the eagle was apparently feeding on a deer carcass on the side of the roadway and it is believed a driver accidentally struck and killed the eagle and left the scene not knowing what type of bird they struck. Whoever took the eagle parts came along after the initial accident and removed the foot and feathers, Shaw surmised.
Livingston Police Chief Roger Tolliver confirmed Shaw’s assesment of the events.
Tolliver said he was working in the area when the initial call came in. “The person who reported it to me met me at the scene, and we looked at the bird but didn’t move it. I only saw the one leg and thought the second one was under the bird and just not visible. The foot and feathers must have been taken sometime before the person reported the dead bird to LPD.
“The man said he saw the bird feeding on the deer on Tuesday and saw it almost get hit then by a pickup traveling in front of him. The man told me, ‘I said to myself, ‘somebody is going to hit that eagle sooner or later.’ And, sure enough they did,” said Chief Tolliver.


Bald eagles are no longer considered endangered, but they are protected under the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
“When I was growing up there were no bald eagles in Alabama,” said Shaw. “Today, however, they are seen almost in every county. I am hoping the person or persons who cut the leg off the bird and took the feathers are just not aware of the major consequences they could face. That is why I am offering them this one time deal.”


The bald eagle, the United States national bird, is the most recognizable raptor in the United States. Decades ago, the bald eagle was endangered due to DDT, a dangerous pesticide that contaminated fish, the bird’s main food source. The Endangered Species Act and the banning of DDT are the two main reasons this species has made a remarkable recovery and can now be spotted frequently in Alabama skies.


Fines and the law
Anyone who possesses an eagle feather or another part, and doesn’t meet the requirements, could face fines up to $100,000 and a year in prison. A second offense is upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony and carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Possession of Eagle Feathers and Parts by Native Americans
According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, eagles are directly protected under two federal laws, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  These laws generally prohibit the possession, use, and sale of eagle feathers and parts as well as a number of other activities.

Such restrictions help ensure the future viability of eagles in the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, however, has long recognized the religious and cultural significance of eagles to Native Americans and works to accommodate these special needs. The Service operates the National Eagle Repository as a clearinghouse for eagles and eagle parts to provide Native Americans with eagle feathers for religious use. The Repository collects dead eagles salvaged by Federal and State agencies, zoos, and other organizations.  Enrolled members of federally recognized tribes (as established under the Federally Recognized Tribal List Act of 1994, 25 U.S.C. Section 479a, 108 Stat. 4791) may obtain a permit from the Service authorizing them to receive and possess eagle feathers and parts from the Repository.  

Permit applications must include certification of tribal enrollment from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Because demand is high, waiting periods exist. Native Americans may also legally possess eagle feathers and parts acquired through certain other means.  Such items include any owned before eagles were first protected by Federal law (1940 for bald eagles, and 1962 for golden eagles) and feathers and parts passed down within a family or received as gifts from other Native Americans. Native Americans may wear feathers legally in their possession or make them into religious or cultural items for their own or tribal use.

They may transfer feathers to tribal craftsmen to be fashioned into such objects; no money may be received for the feathers, but craftsmen may be compensated for their work. Native Americans may give feathers or other eagle items as gifts to other Native Americans and may hand them down within their families.  They may not, however, give them to non-Native Americans.  No person — including Native Americans — may kill or capture eagles without a permit from the Service. Nor may anyone buy, sell, barter, trade, import, or export eagle feathers or items made from them.  These prohibitions cover all feathers and parts, including those that “pre-date” Federal protections and others that are legally possessed.  (Native Americans, however, can obtain permits to travel overseas with eagle items for religious use.) Service law enforcement efforts focus on the illegal take and commercial exploitation of eagles by anyone attempting to profit at the expense of these birds.  Service officers who encounter individuals with noncommercial quantities of eagle feathers that are being used as personal or religious items will generally take no action if the individuals possess a valid Service permit or reasonably demonstrate that they are enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe. The production of a certificate of enrollment card would be one way for individuals to easily document their tribal affiliation, but this is not a legal requirement. An individual’s possession of such a card would, of course, tend to facilitate the resolution of any questions about the legality of his or her ownership and personal use of eagle feathers.

Why Join Hale County 4-H Club?

Alabama 4-H Foundation to Award $35,000 in Scholarships!

The Alabama 4-H Foundation is helping advance the education of 35 high school seniors. The foundation will be awarding $1,000 scholarships to 35 high school seniors of the 2020 graduating class. The scholarships can be used for any post-secondary education, whether that is attending community college, trade school or a university. Payment for tuition and fees will be made from the Alabama 4-H Foundation directly to the student’s post-secondary institution to be used in the 2020-21 academic year. Applications are now being accepted via 4HOnline at www.4honline.com. Completed applications are due online by March 1. Scholarship winners can expect notifications by April 15.

If you have questions regarding the scholarship application process, contact Nancy Alexander at 4henrollment@aces.edu. If you have any questions or would like to join 4-H Club please contact your Hale county Extension Office 334-624-8710. We also need 4-H Adult Volunteers!! Please help us show our youth the 4-H Way! 

Gage Mitchell while hunting on family land with his uncle on youth weekend, some how got two deer with one shot. Luckiest little guy! Submitte