Alabama Outdoor Weekly
Conservation Advisory Board Celebrates Successes and Remembers Those Lost

Billy Pope, NWTF) Enforcement Chief Michael Weathers is joined by CAB Chairman Joey Dobbs, right, Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship, second from right, and WFF Director Chuck Sykes, left, as Weathers receives the NFWF Guy Bradley Award. Chuck Sykes receives the C.B. McLeod Award from NWTF Co-CEOs Kurt Diroff, left, and Jason Burckhalter. The WFF Honor Guard presents colors at the recent Conservation Advisory Board meeting at Auburn.

By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The first 2024 meeting of the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board was a celebration of accomplishments and a remembrance of those no longer with the conservation community.

The celebration started with the recognition of two members of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship recognized the awards given to WFF Enforcement Section Chief Michael “Matt” Weathers and WFF Director Chuck Sykes during last weekend’s meeting at Auburn University.

Chief Weathers was recognized as the recipient of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Guy Bradley Award for his contributions to wildlife law enforcement. The award was established in 1988 to recognize the officers who have made outstanding lifetime contributions to wildlife enforcement, wildlife forensics and investigative techniques.

“In 1905, Guy Bradley, a Florida game warden, became the first wildlife enforcement officer killed while performing his duties to protect our nation’s wildlife,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Law enforcement officers like Bradley are essential to virtually every aspect of wildlife conservation.”

Director Sykes presented the plaque to Chief Weathers and highlighted the significance of the award, saying, “It’s a big deal.”

“It’s an absolute honor to be recognized for this award,” Chief Weathers said. “I’ve been so fortunate to have had the finest men and women in conservation showing me the way and mentoring me throughout my career. To have had the opportunity to protect the natural resources of the state that is my home has made for a very rewarding career.

“Having the support of Commissioner Blankenship, Director Sykes and all our Conservation Enforcement Officers has made all the difference. We have so many new initiatives like public shooting range expansions and the continued modernization of our Law Enforcement program that are being used as the blueprint for other states. Having folks like this to work with makes success easy.”

Director Sykes recently received the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) C.B. McLeod Distinguished Service Award, an award to recognize outstanding NWTF volunteers who have dedicated their lives to wildlife conservation and hunting heritage.

“That is one of the premier awards of the National Wild Turkey Federation, and we’re very proud of Chuck,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Chuck is also President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies this year. We appreciate his service to Alabama but also on a national level, bringing some of the successes we’ve had in Alabama and being able to share that work with other states to make a difference like it has in Alabama.”

Director Sykes said he was at the NWTF Awards Banquet when he realized the exclusiveness of the McLeod Award.

“I didn’t realize how big this was until I’m sitting at the table that night and looking at the list of people who had won the award,” Director Sykes said. “You had NWTF royalty on the list, like Dick Kirby, Tom Kelly and Dale Rohm. I don’t know that I deserve it, but I am very proud to have it and be considered in that group of people.”

Commissioner Blankenship also apprised the Board of the variety of projects under the ADCNR umbrella that are underway or scheduled to start soon.

“We are really blessed here in Alabama with our natural resources and great people,” he said. “I’m very grateful to be the Commissioner of Conservation and for the work this Board and our staff do to enhance and protect the resources of our state.”

Commissioner Blankenship then listed the ongoing and upcoming projects administered by ADCNR or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and implemented by partner agencies, like the Mobile County Commission, The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, and various coastal cities and towns.

“Many projects that have been in the engineering, design and permitting stage are now under construction,” he said. “It’s really a testament to the work of our staff, the people of Alabama, our partner agencies, and the Legislature to give us the ability to do good things.

“There are more than $1 billion in projects in Mobile and Baldwin Counties from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill funding sources that are completed, underway or approved. There will probably be another $500 million to $600 million in projects that will continue through 2031 when the last deposit is made from BP.”

Commissioner Blankenship cited the beach renourishment work that is happening from Gulf Shores through Gulf State Park to Orange Beach in Baldwin County and Dauphin Island in Mobile County.

Other projects are:

  • $26 million for Dauphin Island Causeway protection and habitat enhancement
  • $22 million for project in Theodore Industrial Canal and marsh habitat protection south of the entrance to the canal
  • $6 million for Bayfront Park renovations in Mobile County
  • $2 million for the Dauphin Island Ecotourism project

The Commissioner also highlighted the rebuilding of the cabins on Lake Shelby at Gulf State Park.

“Gulf State Park’s cabins, if you recall, were destroyed by Hurricane Sally,” he said. “Those 20 cabins have been rebuilt for about $9 million and reopened to the public on February 1. They are beautiful. They are first-class, and I think everyone will enjoy those cabins on Lake Shelby.

“Also, the Romar Beach parking and bathroom facility work has been completed. The Gulf State Park Pier damaged by Hurricane Sally is undergoing a $14 million rebuild.”

The Commissioner also praised the $19 million Bayou La Batre sewer outfall project that has been 10 years in the making.

“The project will move the outfall about four more miles offshore,” he said. “Where that is important to this Board is that it will help with the oyster industry both on public reefs and the oyster aquaculture industry by opening more areas as approved growing zones once that outfall is relocated.”

Commissioner Blankenship noted that Governor (Kay) Ivey awarded more than the $67 million in GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act) funds last July for 26 projects in Mobile and Baldwin counties, and more will be announced this spring.

Boating access will be a priority for the Department, the Commissioner said, with more than $30 million dedicated for access in the next few years.

“I’m excited about that,” he said. “We have more navigable waterways in Alabama than any other state, and we are committed to providing access to our public. I appreciate the work done by our Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Section, our State Lands Division and Marine Resources Division as well as our State Parks, where we will have boating access on those properties around the state. As Tim Wood (Board member from Selma) said, the Selma Boat Ramp was built with multiple funding sources, and we were glad to be a partner in that. I would like to thank Deputy Commissioner (Ed) Poolos for bringing multiple agencies together to do that project. That is going to be a great asset for Selma to be able host fishing tournaments and bring needed revenue to the area.”

Commissioner Blankenship also pointed out the importance of shooting sports to the future of wildlife conservation.

“We are building a new world-class shooting range near Columbiana and expanding other shooting sports facilities over the next few years,” he said. “Just for interest to the Board, shooters who don’t necessarily hunt are the largest contributors to the Pittman-Robertson program. It is eye-opening that shooters pay the bulk of the excise tax on firearms and ammunition that helps us manage the wildlife in this state. We plan to do more to support them and continue to increase the revenue for that program. We feel like it’s a good investment for not only the shooters but the wildlife in our state.”

Meanwhile, Alabama State Parks is using the $80 million in bond money to do a variety of projects throughout the state.

“One of the largest projects will be the new Cheaha hotel and lodge,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “That will be a beautiful facility on the bluff. We are planning to use wood taken from ADCNR properties and milled here in Alabama. The trees will be harvested, and the areas will be replanted with longleaf pines. The new lodge will be strikingly beautiful and will be a great example of how to sustainably build with these natural materials.

“Lake Lurleen will have a total rebuild, and Gulf State Park will have a campground expansion on the old golf course property. Those three projects together will be in the $50 million range.”

Other State Parks projects include:

  • $12 million Oak Mountain campground renovations
  • $4 million Lake Guntersville golf course cart paths, pro shop and cabin renovations
  • DeSoto pool house and facilities renovations
  • $7.5 million Meaher campground expansion, new cabins and administration building
  • Monte Sano campground and cabins renovations
  • $11 million Wind Creek cabin construction and campground renovations
  • Joe Wheeler lodge and pool upgrades
  • Rickwood Caverns new pool renovations and new pool house
  • Lakepoint renovations at lodge and cabins

“The driving range at Oak Mountain is now lighted, which will produce income,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “This will capitalize on the use of that facility and get people out after dark when it’s a little cooler.”

Commissioner Blankenship said $2 million will be used at the Forever Wild M. Barnett Lawley Field Trial Area to build a meeting facility and pavilion, expand the barn and paddocks and build new bathrooms.

“These projects will support more than 35 dog trials and events held each year,” he said. “With these new facilities, we hope to be able to host more regional, national and international dog trials.”

Several important members of the outdoors community were also remembered at the Board meeting, including WFF Conservation Enforcement Captain Marisa Futral, former State Senator and Conservation Advisory Board member Jack Biddell, and James “Big Daddy” Lawler, a media personality and champion of Alabama’s outdoors, especially in the Black Belt region.  Former Conservation Advisory Board member Dr. Bob Shipp also passed earlier this year.

“We had a great loss in Marisa Futral,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “She is going to be very difficult to replace in the Department. We will miss her and her work ethic and what’s she’s done for shooting sports and hunter education. We also want to mention the passing of Senator Jack Biddle, a former member of the Conservation Advisory Board. Many of you know Big Daddy Lawler from Wilcox County, who promoted hunting and fishing in the Black Belt and got the word out across the state and country about what we have to offer. He will be missed.”

Co-winners crowned in ALBBAA Big Buck Photo Contest

Olivia Faulkner, a second-grade student at Troy Elementary School, harvested her first buck on Thanksgiving Day 2023. (Photo Courtesy of Alabama Black Belt Adventures)

Chad Stinson harvested a 13-point velvet buck. It was his first harvested buck with a bow. (Photo Courtesy of Alabama Black Belt Adventures)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Feb. 29, 2024) – The Alabama Black Belt Adventures 12th annual Big Buck Photo Contest received dozens of entries and thousands of online votes.


In the end, two photos – one of a smiling 7-year-old girl after harvesting her first buck and a Pintlala man who harvested a 13-point velvet buck – stood above the rest. The two photos were separated by only four votes, so Olivia Faulkner and Chad Stinson have been declared co-winners of this year’s contest.
“We’re so appreciative that so many people submitted photos in this year’s contest, and the votes were being cast right up until the contest’s final minutes,” said ALBBAA Director Pam Swanner. “These two photos clearly resonated with voters, and we think it’s appropriate to honor both entries. What’s really special is both photos commemorate truly memorable hunts. For both hunters, Alabama’s Black Belt definitely delivered a memorable experience.”


Stinson and Faulkner will each receive a game camera valued at approximately $175 courtesy of Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative in Selma.


Stinson said his big buck appeared on his game camera for the last three seasons, eventually showing up virtually every day at 6:30 a.m., and again at 5:45 p.m. On the first day of the season, he went to his deer stand on family land in Montgomery County around noon hoping to get his first bow kill.
“I sat there for five hours and 45 minutes, and he ran in there with a group of bachelor bucks. A six-point came out and then an 8-point. … Right behind him, here he comes,” Stinson said. “They come right up to me and they are literally at 29 yards. That’s what I’ve been practicing – 30 yards. That’s all I need. So, I draw back and those two small bucks come out and that big buck, you see how they grow so big. They’re smart. He stood behind that six-point that entire time.”
The moment required Stinson to exercise patience, but it wasn’t easy.


“It got so bad, I could feel my quiver hitting my cheek,” he said. “I was shaking so bad. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the six-point bent down to eat and he stood straight up, and when he did, that was my only opportunity, and I let it go.”
It was Stinson’s first time to harvest a buck with a bow, and the fact that the 13-pointer was a velvet buck made it more memorable.


For Faulkner, she harvested her first buck on Thanksgiving Day on a hunt on leased land in Montgomery County. The buck arrived with several others, but she spooked it by accidentally dropping her headphones in the shooting house.
“We were both down in the dumps about it,” said Morgan Faulkner, Olivia’s father.
Things changed just a few minutes later.


“He came back from the woods,” said Olivia, a second-grade student at Troy Elementary School. “I was really scared and shaking before I took the shot. It was my first buck, and I was really happy about that.”
The Black Belt includes the following 23 counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

Do not handle bats, ADPH cautions

The public is cautioned not to handle bats. Bats, along with raccoons, are the primary reservoirs for rabies in Alabama. Rabies is a viral infection in mammals that is transmitted by bites, scratches or other contact with infected saliva. Rabies virus is present only in saliva and nervous tissue; it is not transmitted through contact with guano (bat feces), blood or urine from infected animals.
Rabies is a fatal disease if left untreated, but it is preventable if proper treatment is received soon following the bite or scratch. Anyone exposed to a bat should consult with a medical provider immediately.


Estimates vary, but generally it is estimated that only a small percentage of the bat population is positive for rabies. Oftentimes infected bats will not be able to fly or will be out during the day, but bats can also be infected without showing signs. Therefore, laboratory testing is the only definitive method for identifying rabies-positive bats that may have exposed humans. In 2023, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) reported 13 laboratory-confirmed rabies-positive bats.


According to Dr. Dee W. Jones, State Public Health Veterinarian, the most important step to take following a potential bat exposure is not to kill the bat by blunt-force trauma. He states, “The challenge is collecting the bat without further exposing yourself, so gloves should be worn and a shovel, net or other tools can be used to avoid touching it if possible.”


The ADPH recommends putting the bat in a container with air holes and taking it to a licensed veterinarian for euthanasia. Dr. Jones states that trauma to the head of the bat is the most common reason that accurate testing cannot be performed. The result of mauled or damaged specimens is people must take treatment for rabies who otherwise would not have needed to if testing could have been performed. The treatment regimen is one dose of rabies immunoglobulin and a series of four vaccine doses over a two-week period.


Bats are considered to have a higher risk for rabies transmission to humans than other wildlife because of a unique feature not found in most other common rabies carriers. Bats have very small teeth that can puncture the skin. Their bites are often somewhat painless and may not leave characteristic bite wounds.


Although most people should definitely feel a bite from the bat, there are some situations in which a person could be bitten and not be aware of it. Examples of people that could be exposed and either not know it or not be able to tell someone include the following:
· A person sleeping
· A person with a mental disability
· An infant or toddler


For this reason, there are very strict guidelines concerning bat exposures to reduce the chance of rabies infections.


According to Dr. Jones, “Exposure to bats is more complicated than other animal bites because not only is there a lack of awareness that bats can have rabies, but also that their bites may be much more subtle than the typical animal bite.”


Bats have been the sole cause of all human rabies fatalities acquired within the United States over the past 20 years. Alabama has had one human death from rabies in that period, but many more reported exposures that resulted in the need for rabies preventative treatment.


Although, bats do have an associated public health risk, they are a very important species to nature. They consume insects, biting pests and pollinate flowers; the only problem arises when there is human contact.


“Problems arise when bats and humans inhabit the same dwellings,” Dr. Jones said. “It is common for bats to roost in the rafters and attics of houses, schools or other buildings and occasionally some of the bats can get inside of the living quarters. Contrary to popular thought, the age of the building doesn’t necessarily indicate the risk of having a bat roost. We have investigated reports of roosts in newer buildings and sports stadiums on school campuses, as well as older buildings in the community.”
The ADPH recommends that people should follow the advice of wildlife officials, licensed exterminators and contractors on how to exclude bats from a building. Follow these basic steps to best protect yourself from exposure to bats and rabies:


· If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, seek medical attention immediately.
· If you awaken and find a bat in your bedroom or in the room of an unattended child or a mentally disabled person, seek advice from your medical provider and report it to your county health department.
· If possible, collect the bat in an escape-proof container with air holes and take to a local veterinarian for euthanasia. Do not induce trauma by blunt force.


· If you see a bat in your home and you are sure no human or pet exposure has occurred, confine the bat to a room by closing all doors and windows leading out of the room except those to the outside. The bat will probably leave soon.


Please refer to alabamapublichealth.gov for more advice about bat infestations and exposures.

Grow More, Give More

Food insecurity is an urgent problem in Alabama. In fact, approximately 1 in 4 children face food insecurity, and it affects about 2 million Alabama residents overall. The term food insecurity is associated with people that have a lack of regular access to the nutritious food needed for an active and healthy life. Through the Grow More, Give More program, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System looks to make a positive impact in the lives of these people.
Grow More, Give More enables home gardeners to help combat food insecurity. Both experienced and novice gardeners will find the information and resources needed to have successful gardens of every size. The project also encourages gardeners to grow an extra row and share healthy food with their neighbors and larger communities.
How It Works
To help you Grow More, check out Alabama Extension’s abundant resources to boost your growing potential, whether growing in containers, raised beds, or a traditional in-ground garden. As for Give More, some gardeners may want to share with neighbors, while others might deliver their harvests to a food pantry or a regional food bank.
Need More Information or Have Questions?
Have questions about getting started with Grow More, Give More? Reach out by email to [email protected]. Alabama Extension home grounds agents can answer questions as well. Find the home grounds agent serving your county here. Got specific questions about growing a particular vegetable or dealing with an insect pest? Call the Alabama Master Gardener Helpline at 1-877-ALA-GROW.
February’s Grow More, Give More Harvest of the Month is Swiss chard! Find growing instructions as well as yummy recipes that use Swiss chard below. Sun: Plant in full sun (6 to 8 hours). Space 4 to 6 inches apart within rows or 4 to 6 plants per 5-gallon container. Plant mid-February through mid-March for spring harvest and in September for fall harvest. Soil: Amend with organic matter to create a well-drained soil. Avoid planting in unamended sandy or heavy clay soils. If the soil test shows the pH is below 6.2, apply lime at the beginning of the growing season or as recommended. For proper drainage in a container garden, use potting mix and ensure containers have drainage holes. Alternatively, consider using self-watering containers.
Water: Keep soil consistently moist but not saturated. Apply 1 to 2 inches of water each week. Keep leaves dry to avoid fungal diseases. Mulch helps retain moisture.
Plant: Direct sow seeds 1⁄2 inch deep. When sprouts are established, thin to 4 to 6 inches apart. Start seedlings 3 to 4 weeks before planting, and slowly harden off 1 week before moving to the garden. If buying transplants, choose those with healthy color and a stocky appearance. Dig the planting hole as deep as the root ball. Firmly pat down the soil and water deeply.
Fertilize: In the absence of a soil test, apply an all-purpose fertilizer (8-8-8 or 10-10-10) at planting, according to label directions. Reapply beside plants, 4 to 6 inches from the stem (side-dress), 2 weeks after transplanting or 4 weeks after sowing seeds.
Insects/Diseases/Weeds: Scout plants frequently for insect and disease damage. Use insecticidal soap (for soft-bodied insects) or Bt dust or spray (for caterpillars, or worms). Spray fungicides regularly to suppress common fungal diseases. Always follow label instructions. Mulch inhibits weeds and diseases.
Harvest: Harvest at 50 to 75 days, when leaves are about 8 inches long. Harvest time varies depending on the variety.
Other: Swiss chard is a close relative of the garden beet that doesn’t develop an edible root. The leaves’ green portion is edible, and the broad midrib can be steamed and eaten like asparagus. Because of its upright growth and large, attractive leaves, swiss chard can be used as an ornamental in borders and display beds.
Visit www.aces.edu/go/growmore for more information.

Lentil, Mushroom, and Swiss Chard Soup
Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, washed and chopped
1 celery stalk, washed and chopped
1 cup mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
8 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 bunch Swiss chard leaves or 4 cups of spinach, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
In a large pot over medium heat, cook oil, onion, carrots, celery, and mushrooms for 5 minutes.
Stir in lentils, broth, and spices.
Cover the pot and reduce heat to low.
Cook for 20-30 minutes until lentils are tender.
Stir in chopped Swiss chard or spinach and cook for 5 minutes.
Divide soup into bowls and serve with whole grain bread, if desired.
https://extension.umd.edu/programs/family-consumer-sciences/snap-ed/eat-smart/recipes/lentil-mushroom-and-swiss-chard-soup/
USDA Kibbeh Khamoustah
This traditionally Kurdish dish is delicious, fresh, and flavorful! The beef dumplings are enjoyed in a soup that is loaded with Swiss Chard. This will be your newest family favorite!
Ingredients
1 pound ground beef, 85% lean (coarsely ground, if available)
1 tablespoon salad oil
1 cup matzo meal
1 1/2 cups semolina
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
6 cloves garlic, chopped (use 6-7 cloves)
10 scallions, chopped
6 cups Swiss Chard (2 bunches)
lemon juice (optional)
Directions
Wash hands with soap and water.
Fry ground beef in a small amount of oil.
Prepare the dough by mixing matzo meal, semolina, water, and salt.
Wet hands and shape into walnut-sized pieces.
Roll out dough into a small circle and fill with 1 Tablespoon of meat.
Seal the dough. Continue until all the dough and meat is used.
In a large pot, heat a small amount of oil and fry garlic until golden.
Add the scallions and Swiss chard. Mix well.
Cook about 10 minutes.
Cover with water and continue to cook until boiling.
Add lemon juice, to taste (optional).
Add stuffed dough to soup and cook 15 more minutes.
Notes
Kibbeh Khamoustah is a Kurdish dish. Kibbeh, or dumplings, are stuffed with meat, traditionally lamb or beef, and served with soup.
https://www.myplate.gov/recipes/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap/kibbeh-khamoustah

Ever wonder what these early spring/late winter wildflowers are called? These are called Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule Linnaeus).This plant on the left is an example of an albino one. They are in the mint family. Learn more at http://www.floraofalabama.org/Plant.aspx?id=2410 Photo by Kasey DeCastra, Sumter County Record Journal & Moundville Times Community News Editor

Uphill Battle Continues on Bobwhite Quail

(David Rainer) The northern bobwhite quail is struggling to adapt to habitat changes across the Southeast.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Now that the white-tailed deer season has ended, hunters will likely turn their attention once again to small game like rabbits, squirrels and the bobwhite quail, although quail hunting is nothing like it once was.

When fence rows from small farms and family gardens crisscrossed Alabama and the Southeast, the bobwhite flourished. Since large-scale farming operations became the norm and many families moved to urban and suburban areas, the quail habitat has significantly diminished and so has the number of wild bobwhites.

“Unfortunately, we can’t turn back the clock to the habitat we had at landscape levels in 1970 and prior,” said Steven Mitchell of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. “We do have some private lands that manage for wild bobwhites, and they have to intensively manage year-round for wild quail. They have the resources to do that, and they have good populations there. When I say good populations, I’m talking about how many (dog) points per hour. Some places find four or five coveys per hour. That’s the old Southern style hunting off of horseback and mule-drawn wagons. So, they’re moving, and they have some big running dogs. That’s how they can find those numbers per hour hunting.

“But they have also put in the work on the habitat to have that number of wild birds.”

Mitchell, who recently turned over the Upland Game Bird Coordinator position to Brandon Earls, said WFF tries to improve habitat for quail whenever possible on ADCNR’s wildlife management areas (WMAs) throughout the state.

“It’s difficult to manage public areas for just quail,” Mitchell said. “We have to manage for multiple species, but we do have areas that we consider ‘quail emphasis’ areas, where the management is more focused on improving quail habitat conditions. We continue to identify and expand emphasis areas where feasible. Though bobwhite densities remain low, we have seen some positive responses.

“We still have people who are very interested in quail hunting. Quail hunters are still finding some birds on WMAs. Some have reported finding a few coveys in a three- or four-hour hunt. Those successful hunters contribute their success to weather and scenting conditions. Colder days were reported to be better due to increased movement of quail to satisfy their higher metabolic rates during lower temperatures. Cool, moist days are also best for dogs to locate bird scent.”

One of the emphasis areas is the Boggy Hollow WMA within the Conecuh National Forest,  cooperatively managed by WFF and the U.S. Forest Service. This acreage of Conecuh National Forest is being converted into bobwhite habitat through selective timber thinning and more frequent, smaller prescribed burns. Timber thinning increases sunlight reaching the ground, encouraging the growth of native grasses and forbs to provide food and nesting habitat for the quail. The quail harvest on Boggy Hollow is limited, with a daily bag limit of four birds and a season that ends on February 10, while the private land quail season runs through February 29. Visit https://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/wildlife-management-areas for a list of WMAs and the hunting opportunities available. For more information about quail, go to www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/quail-hunting-alabama for links to the publication Ecology and Management of the Bobwhite Quail in Alabama, authored by former WFF Wildlife Biologist Stan Stewart.

“We’re still continuing the work with the U.S. Forest Service on Boggy Hollow,” Mitchell said. “We’re working to manipulate the habitat management scheme there to benefit quail. We’ve seen some success, but the density of quail is still low. Habitat on Boggy Hollow is being improved through timber thinning, prescribed fire, and establishment of wildlife openings and early successional habitat.” 

Mitchell returned to how the landscape across the Southeast has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. Those changes have made it difficult for the wild bobwhites to adapt.

“Small farms, brushy fence rows, and unproductive ground left to fallow made up the landscape back then,” Mitchell said. “With those old fence rows and more crude equipment compared to what we have today, it was a different type of farming. It was patchwork farming, and that was everywhere. Those old fence rows, hedgerows, and small fields provided nesting, brooding, and escape cover for quail. It was ideal habitat for quail. All that is different now with clean farming. Fence rows got cleaned up, and you have farming from tree line to tree line. That’s one reason for the reduction of habitat across the quail range.

“Timber management has also changed over time to more short-term rotations. Closed-canopy pine stands don’t provide habitat for quail. Some beneficial habitat is provided after planting, but the canopy closes after a few years and shades it all out as those trees put on vertical growth. Many more years pass until the first thinning, which lets some sunlight get to the ground and improve conditions for quail. But as that canopy closes back, the cover decreases again until the next thinning.”

The attitude of some landowners has also shifted from trying to manage for a huntable quail population to providing enough habitat where they can at least hear the bobwhite’s distinctive whistle.

“We get several of those calls,” Mitchell said. “We have people with different acreages who say, ‘I haven’t heard a quail here since I bought it. What can I do?’ We provide services where we do a site visit and recommend what a landowner should do. That doesn’t mean they are going to have quail, but we can help guide habitat improvements to try.

“Timber density is usually a starting point on most properties. Cover for quail can’t grow without sunlight getting to the ground, so you have to open up that canopy. With that, nesting conditions improve, and brood-rearing conditions improve. Quail spend their entire life on the ground, and their survival depends on having proper ground cover available year-round. Terms for quail cover include escape or loafing, nesting, and brood-rearing cover. Without getting too far in the weeds on cover types, brood-rearing cover is usually the most lacking habitat component on properties we visit. This is simply weedy areas where adult quail raise chicks. Brood cover provides overhead protection from predators and bare ground underneath allowing quail chicks easy movement to forage for insects.”

Another crucial management practice is the use of fire for controlled burns, which improves the habitat for a wide variety of birds and wildlife.

“You need a good burn plan,” Mitchell said. “Quail are called the firebird. Fire is the cheapest and most efficient tool in the box for creating and maintaining quail habitat.”

The good news is hunters can find numerous quail plantations scattered all over the state, with the greatest concentration  in the Alabama Black Belt region. Visit www.alabamaquailtrail.com for a list of plantations and lodges that offer hunts on flight-conditioned, pen-raised quail.

For the 2022-2023 season, Alabama had 9,427 quail hunters overall. Of those, 2,700 hunted wild quail and harvested a little more than 27,000 quail. Including the quail plantations with pen-raised quail, hunters harvested more than 370,000 birds overall.

“Anybody who is wanting a lot of shooting, hunting pen-raised birds is the way they’re going to have to go,” Mitchell said. “Wild birds can still be found on most WMAs but be prepared to put in a lot more leg work than gun work.”

For those who want to help monitor the quail populations in Alabama by reporting quail calls, Quail Forever and its partners developed the “Bobscapes” mobile app that allows users to report hearing a quail, which is then entered into a national database.

“Private landowners and public land users can both take a lead role in future conservation efforts by helping define population distribution and abundance of bobwhite quail across their range,” said Jessica McGuire, bobwhite program manager for Quail Forever’s Working Lands for Wildlife. “It’s an app (bobscapes.org) on your phone so when you hear a bobwhite you can record it, and it sends it to us. The app asks if the citizen wants more information. If yes, it will connect them with us. Our biologists may reach out if you ask for more information, but the information is kept private.”

Fight Cogongrass at No Cost to Landowners

For the third year, financial relief will be available soon to assist Alabama landowners adversely affected by the non-native, invasive noxious weed, cogongrass. The application period for the Cogongrass Mitigation Program will launch on February 20, 2024, at 8:00 a.m. Central Time, and the portal will remain open until March 29 at 5:00 p.m. Central Time or until the threshold of 150 applications is reached. Eligibility for the funding requires that applicants be private, non-industrial landowners. Property with cogongrass infestations must be located in any of the 67 counties of Alabama, although the landowner is not required to reside on the property or within the state. There is no minimum or maximum acreage ownership requirement to enroll. It is a cost-free program.

Administered by the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC), the Cogongrass Mitigation Program is made possible through a grant from the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Plant Protection & Quarantine (PPQ). The goals of this program are to reduce the number of infested acres, eliminate the damaging effects of cogongrass on existing ecosystems, and improve the productivity of sites impacted by the weed. Additional objectives include slowing the spread of current establishments of cogongrass and preventing introductions into new areas of the state.

To apply for this funding or for further information regarding additional eligibility requirements, please visit the Cogongrass Mitigation Program section of the Alabama Forestry Commission’s website at forestry.alabama.gov/Pages/Management/Cogongrass.aspxYou may also email the AFC Cogongrass Coordinator at [email protected] or contact your local AFC office.

The mission of the Alabama Forestry Commission is to protect and sustain Alabama’s forest resources using professionally applied stewardship principles and education, ensuring that the state’s forests contribute to abundant timber and wildlife, clean air and water, and a healthy economy. For more information about the Alabama Forestry Commission, visit the AFC website at forestry.alabama.gov

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 25 in the city of Ashford, Alabama by a Purple Martin enthusiast – one of many 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 migration of these unique birds can be reported and tracked through a community science project called the Scout-Arrival Study.
“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 ensure the future of Purple Martins, 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 [email protected] or calling 814-833-7656.

Forever Wild Board Commits to Feral Hog Mitigation

 (ADCNR, William Malone) Trapping the whole family group (sounder) is the most effective method to control populations. Feral swine can quickly damage wildlife openings with rooting activity.

By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

As the Forever Wild Land Trust (FWLT) is preparing for its first meeting of the year on February 1, 2024, in Montgomery, the FWLT Board of Trustees will be focused on an initiative adopted at its last meeting of 2023 to spend up to $1 million to enhance existing efforts to mitigate the impact of feral hog populations.

Many landowners in Alabama and other states in the Southeast will testify about their struggle with ongoing issues related to feral swine populations. These nuisance feral swine populations can be found in all 67 counties in Alabama.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) State Lands Division, which administers the Forever Wild program, and ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division are in a constant battle to control the feral hog populations on the properties they manage. With no methods currently available to completely eradicate the feral swine populations, ADCNR staff spend a great deal of time and money working to reduce feral hog populations on ADCNR and Forever Wild properties. Several of these properties have adjacent acreages.

State Lands Director Patti McCurdy said the Board passed a motion at the November meeting to authorize the use of up to $1 million of stewardship funds for feral hog control measures.

“The motion passed with the instructions for us to explore any additional practices available to efficiently and effectively mitigate known populations as well as continue efforts to monitor for the emergence of additional nuisance populations and, finally, spend those funds wisely,” McCurdy said. “While management efforts on Forever Wild acreage, as well as the Department’s acreage overall, have been extensive and ongoing, we remain as frustrated as private landowners with just how pervasive and destructive the feral swine populations continue to be.”

During fiscal years 2019 through 2023, those efforts successfully removed more than 5,800 feral swine from ADCNR and Forever Wild properties. During the same period, hunters reported harvesting more than 465 feral swine.

“Just like every private landowner in Alabama has been experiencing, this is an ongoing struggle, and we’re no different,” McCurdy said. “The Board wanted to provide an additional spotlight on this challenging issue and concentrate our efforts on a specific initiative for this year. Forever Wild Board Members are very dedicated to identifying needs and pursuing tract enhancements. Last year, the Board adopted an initiative designed to enhance public access to all Forever Wild properties.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), feral hogs cause more than $1.5 billion in damages to property, agricultural interests (crops and livestock), native wildlife and ecosystems each year as well as cultural and historic resources. Estimates show that feral hogs cause $50 million of damage in Alabama annually.

“The damage comes in many forms,” McCurdy said. “On our acreage, many times it is basic ground disturbance causing issues with the wildlife habitat and recreation. The ground disturbance can cause issues with trail maintenance and other areas of recreational use, such as wildlife openings. That impact to the ground as well as habitat is difficult to reverse because it is ongoing. Like cogongrass, you’re looking at perpetual mitigation. Just like private landowners, we have to be prepared that we have a long-term fight on our hands.”

Board member Jimmy Parnell, President and CEO of the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA), introduced the feral hog motion after hearing from his constituents.

“I heard from our producers and farmers all across the state that they perceived that Forever Wild land was something of an incubator for wild hogs,” Parnell said. “They said they trap their land and the neighbors’ land, but the hogs keep coming out of Forever Wild land. I’d heard that for a good while and decided we needed to do something. I made the motion to spend up to $1 million and asked Forever Wild to put together a plan. It will be incrementally spent to figure out ways to deal with this. I don’t know that you will ever eliminate hogs on Forever Wild land, but you can sure reduce the population.

“I personally prefer to use professional trappers or eradicators. I think that’s the sure-fire way to get rid of hogs. We run into this with farmers. It’s fun for a little while, but a lot of them get tired of it after a few weeks. You need somebody who’s on it every day, not just for the sport of hunting the hogs.”

Parnell does expect the Forever Wild budget in the future will contain a feral hog mitigation component.

“I think this is a good start, and my guess is there will be some appropriation for this each year,” he said. “The funds are there. We have funds for maintenance. In my mind, this is to maintain that land.”

“Management of ADCNR and Forever Wild lands is a priority for us,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of ADCNR and Chairman of the Forever Wild Land Trust. “That management includes prescribed fire, habitat enhancement, timber management, removing or mitigating invasive plants like cogongrass and removal of predators and invasives, including feral hogs.  I appreciate the Forever Wild Board recognizing this and authorizing a ramp-up in feral hog removals. It is not a one-and-done type of activity. It will take continued effort to make a dent in the hog population. 

“One additional enhancement we discussed with the Board was working toward adding the use of contractor services as a management tool, not only to provide additional manpower but also to add a fresh eye and fresh perspective to the management strategy, starting from monitoring for signs of an emerging nuisance population to development of a holistic management plan and then effectively executing it. So, we will be increasing staff efforts in coordination with initiating targeted use of contractor services. I appreciate the work our staff has done, and will continue to do, but I also am thankful for additional resources to fight this on our properties.”

Another invasive species that landowners and those who manage public lands must deal with is cogongrass, which McCurdy likens to feral hog infestations. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cogongrass has now infested more than 75 percent of Alabama’s counties. This federally regulated noxious weed was introduced in the U.S. in 1911 as packing material in the port of Mobile. Estimates show that cogongrass costs more than $7.5 million in lost timber production in Alabama alone. ADCNR staff will continue cogongrass treatment efforts as well.

WFF Wildlife Biologist Andrew Green said that feral hogs are prolific breeders and reach reproductive capacity at six months. Each sow can produce a litter of piglets twice a year.

“It’s crazy the number of pigs they can have in a short amount of time,” Green said. “We have them in every county, but the areas with the most damage are the Black Belt soil region, the Wiregrass and Coastal Plain. They are more prevalent in agriculture areas that are planting peanuts, cotton or corn.”

Green said trapping is currently the most effective method of controlling wild hog populations. An effort to use sodium nitrite bait to reduce feral hog populations is still under development, according to Green.

“Trapping the whole sounder (family group) is about the only effective method,” he said. “And it’s not for the faint of heart. You have to put the work in. You can’t just throw up a trap.

“The number one thing is to pre-bait. The number two thing is pre-bait. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got them coming in and acclimated to the trap, whatever type you have. You don’t have to have the Cadillac or necessarily the poor man edition. A trap is a trap if it works well. The thing is you want to get every animal in that sounder. Make sure every hog that is coming in to the pre-bait is in the trap before you set the trigger.”

WFF offers technical assistance and guidance for landowners with feral hog programs. Under the National Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program, landowners can receive cost-share assistance for equipment to deal with the feral swine. Visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/feral-swine-eradication-and-control-pilot-program for more information.

Alabama residents can purchase a $15 license ($51 for non-residents) to hunt feral hogs and coyotes at night. The season to hunt those animals at night begins at 12:00 a.m. on the day after the last day of gun deer season in that zone. The season ends 30 minutes prior to sunrise on the opening day of archery deer season in that zone. There is no bag limit, but you must have a valid annual resident or nonresident nighttime feral swine and coyote hunting license.

“Trapping is the number one route to control hogs,” Green said. “You can also shoot them at night outside of deer season when it’s legal to do that. In some cases, you can put enough pressure on the sounder that they may move off your property.”

Nine year old, Windham McCray, took this 8 point last weekend in Orrville in Dallas County. He is the son of Lance and Jennifer McCray of Faunsdale and the grandson of Larry and Peggy McCray of Moundville and Rolfe and Jane Singleton of Demopolis. Care of Rita Lewis Voice of the ‘Ville with a Little Bit of the ‘Boro Column

Jan. 16th snow day

Photos by Travis Vaughn, MVT Editor, Travis Baxter, Kate Lynn Harper, Sharon James, & Robert Tigert.

Sixteen year old Brett Cole of Greensboro got his first deer of the season (11 points New Years Day on the family farm just south of Greensboro. He is the son of Jessica & Ralph Cole Jr. Grandparents, Annette & Glenn Fondren and Geneva & Ralph Cole, Sr., & Great Grandfather Wesley Averette. Photo submitted by Voice of the ‘Ville with a little bit of the ‘Boro Columnist, Rita Lewis

USDA releases new hardiness zone map for United States

2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for Alabama.
(Photo credit: USDA)

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — For the first time in more than a decade, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new hardiness zone maps. These new changes bring a new level of climate accuracy, allowing people to intelligently select plants that thrive best in their region. An Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests agent said this tool should prove fruitful for all Alabama gardeners.


Down to the street you live on, the 2023 USDA Hardiness Zone Map shares — in detail — what climate conditions plants need to thrive at a given location. The zones are measured in color-coordinated scale, ranging from extremely cold climates (1a) to warmer, tropical climates (13b). The map uses the previous 30-year average annual extreme minimum winter temperature to determine plant hardiness.
According to the last hardiness zone survey presented in 2012, Alabama’s zones ranged from 8a to 7a. The zones for 2023 have shifted to a warmer range from 9b in the coastal region to 7b in extreme north Alabama. The majority of Alabama is now zone 8a and 8b.


Brian Brown, Alabama Extension home grounds regional agent, said a decade’s worth of new data will exponentially improve planting decisions.


“This new version includes data collected from several thousand more weather stations throughout the U.S.,” Brown said. “This makes it much more accurate. The hardiness zones in Alabama have shifted north, which is an indication of the change of temperatures over the past 30 years.”


Microclimates
A microclimate is a uniform climate of a local site or habitat. These miniature biomes are everywhere, and something as small-scale as a backyard can have its own microclimate.
Brown said these small areas are something homeowners need to pay attention to, in addition to consulting the hardiness zone map


“The USDA hardiness zone map is an important tool in determining what plants you select,” Brown said. “But something homeowners also really need to pay attention to is the effect of microclimates as well. For example, plants growing on the southwestern side of a house may be exposed to extreme temperatures in the summer. And during winter, a north-facing side of the house may have more shade and possibly see more damage if we experience a harsh cold front.”


To get the most out of seasonal plantings, referencing this governmental resource is necessary for success. The USDA offers this hardiness zone map as the standard for gardeners and growers.
Sometimes, using large databases can be confusing. To assist with learning more about climate maps and what and when to plant, Alabama Extension agents are a phone call or short drive away. Find contact information for your county Extension office and experts near you through the Extension directory.


For more information about gardening and programming, visit the Lawn & Garden section of Alabama Extension’s website, www.aces.edu.

Alabama Outdoors
Marine resources asks anglers for help with fishing effort survey

PHOTOS: (David Rainer) Alabama’s iconic red snapper is one of the reef fish that will be covered in the MRD pilot survey. The landing of a greater amberjack must be reported through Alabama’s Snapper Check system.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
If you fish in Alabama coastal and/or offshore waters, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Marine Resources Division (MRD) may soon ask for your help as it begins a pilot study in 2024 to gain data on recreational fishing effort for Alabama’s private anglers and state for-hire captains.


Alabama’s survey is similar to the effort survey currently used by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to estimate the fishing effort for its saltwater anglers. The survey is a partnership among NOAA Fisheries, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission and the ADCNR/MRD.
MRD will contact licensed anglers and for-hire captains weekly to gather fishing trip information from the previous week.


“Over the last few years as we moved to the state management of red snapper and looked at how some other species are federally regulated, Alabama and some other states have had concerns about how the federal surveys have gone, especially when it comes to effort, how many people are participating in a fishery,” said MRD Director Scott Bannon. “We feel that between the estimates of red snapper landings from the federal survey and Snapper Check, the Snapper Check estimates are much more representative of the amount of harvest occurring in Alabama. Fishing effort is where most of the difference between the two estimates comes from, and we feel like there are ways to estimate effort better.


“Florida has basically moved to its own system, and Louisiana and Texas have systems of their own. Mississippi and Alabama have chosen to have a trial year of 2024 to implement state data collection systems for all species. We’re going to do some side-by-side comparisons of the federal survey numbers compared to the states’ pilot survey numbers.”


Significant changes were made within NOAA Fisheries’ private recreational survey method in 2018. The largest of the changes was contacting individuals via mail from randomly selected mailing addresses in coastal states, which resulted in much higher estimates of fishing effort. Those higher estimates were large enough to cause concerns within the marine fisheries management community regarding the accuracy of Alabama saltwater fishing effort.


The biggest contention has to do with Alabama’s signature saltwater species – red snapper, which thrives off Alabama’s coast. Alabama has the largest artificial reef zone (www.outdooralabama.com/saltwater-fishing/artificial-reefs) in the United States with nearly 1,100 square miles designated for habitat enhancement. Beginning in 2012, the populations of red snapper and other popular reef fish have been estimated annually through research from the University of South Alabama’s School of Marine and Environmental Sciences. Recently, this research has been funded by anglers who purchase a Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement with their Alabama saltwater fishing license.
As many Alabama residents and offshore anglers remember, the Gulf states were granted state management of red snapper in 2018, which included using state data collection programs to monitor harvests. Along with small increases to the annual catch limit (quota), the red snapper seasons also increased since implementing state management. Bannon said that system worked very well. However, NOAA Fisheries insisted that harvest estimates from Mississippi, Florida and Alabama data collection programs be calibrated to recognize the difference between the federal effort surveys and the state surveys.


As a result of calibration, Alabama’s private recreational anglers had a 51% decrease in the 2023 red snapper quota. Alabama’s private recreational catch limit went from 1,122,662 pounds in 2022 to 558,200 pounds in 2023. For the 2024 season, MRD anticipates an increase in quota because of a calibration modification approved by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) in August 2023.


Bannon said that NOAA Fisheries, also known as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), has admitted its effort data might not be as accurate as once thought.


“The National Marine Fisheries Service recently came out with an announcement that their effort numbers for private recreational vessels in a subsample of East Coast states have been inflated by 30-40%, and they’ve known that since 2019,” Bannon said. “They have admitted the data they are presenting to us may not be accurate. So, our goal is to develop a more accurate system so we can make better management decisions.”


Bannon said the inaccuracy of the federal survey will be a topic of discussion at upcoming meetings of the Gulf Council. The Gulf Council meets January 29 through February 1 at the Hyatt Centric French Quarter in New Orleans, followed by a meeting April 8-11 at The Lodge at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama.


“Alabama has been in the forefront of reef fish management for the last decade,” said Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship. “We have shown through Snapper Check that data collection at the state level is much more accurate in the red snapper fishery and can better be trusted for management decisions. As we have said for years, the estimates of effort and catch coming from the federal MRIP program is just not reflective of what we all see in our state. Their own staff has now admitted their system is potentially flawed. This new state-led survey is what we need to do to take away more of the uncertainty of red snapper harvest as well as the other federally and state-managed species.”
Bannon said he wants anglers to be aware that those receiving a call for the pilot survey will see a 985 area code and the caller ID may say South Central Planning, the company hired to conduct the survey, which is the same company that is conducting the Louisiana survey.


“This will be a phone survey and email survey, and we want people to be aware of it, and we want people to participate, because we want to increase the accuracy and benefit the people of Alabama and all of the Gulf Coast,” he said.
Each week, a current list of licensed saltwater anglers and state-licensed for-hire captains will be used to randomly select a small group of anglers who will be contacted to ask about fishing trips finishing in Alabama in the prior week. Anglers and for-hire captains will be contacted by email first. If no email response is received within a day, telephone calls will be made over the next week. Surveys for private anglers will take very little time with only eight base questions to answer. Results from the private angler surveys will be sent from the contractor to MRD staff. State charter captains will be contacted by MRD staff and asked similar questions.


“Our goal is to provide an account of fishing effort,” Bannon said. “Effort (the number of fishing trips) is an integral part of the fisheries management equation.”


It is anticipated MRD staff will be able to produce effort estimates on a weekly basis, a notable improvement to the minimum of 45 days needed to generate estimates within the federal survey.
By using the list of licensed anglers to contact, the accuracy and precision of the calculated effort estimates will likely increase. As part of the pilot study, catch estimates will be calculated for several species of interest, including red snapper, and compared to NOAA Fisheries’ estimates.
“Although we intend to compare pilot survey estimates to federal survey estimates throughout 2024, it will take us until early 2025 to do the final comparisons,” Bannon said. “There is a possibility that we could continue the pilot survey in 2025 if preliminary results show significant differences and we are able to put the funding in place.


“We really want to urge those who are contacted to participate. As I always tell people, the more real data you put into these surveys and evaluations of fisheries, the better the answers. You’re making fewer assumptions when you have better answers. Our efforts and the cooperation of those who participate in the survey should help provide the best opportunities to participate in the commercial and recreational fisheries. If the pilot survey replaces the federal survey, it should positively affect everyone who fishes in the Gulf of Mexico as we make management decisions.”

Winter Solstice Sunrise in West Alabama. Photos by Kasey DeCastra, Moundville Times Community Editor

Nine year old, Huck McKinney, got his first buck this past week, hunting along with his dad! He is the son of Mac and Audra McKinney, of Greensboro. Submitted by Rita Holifield, Voice of the ‘Ville with a Little Bit of the ‘Boro Columnist

Auburn researcher awarded project to assess Alabama’s biodiversity

Five-Year project will examine outcomes of state’s habitat biodiversity

Red-shouldered Hawk.jpg: The Auburn University research team will assess critical surrogate species such as the Red-shouldered Hawk, a species that has similar habitat needs of rare or threatened species which may be more difficult to detect or monitor as part of project that will examine the effects of habitat management on wildlife communities using Alabama’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). Photo credit: Charles Patrick Ewing; January 2016.

The Alabama Department of Conservation of Natural Resources (ADCNR) has awarded Auburn University’s College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment a five-year project to examine the effects of habitat management on wildlife communities using Alabama’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).

Most land in Alabama is privately owned, with only 4% of its lands protected. As ecologists are staring down the ongoing global biodiversity crisis, the state continues taking action to ensure conservation efforts are as effective and efficient as possible.

“We have to be fastidious about taking care of public lands in Alabama,” said Jonathon Valente, an Auburn assistant research professor in the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment (CFWE) and assistant unit leader for USGS’ Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, who will lead the multidisciplinary research team conducting the study.

The project builds on previous work funded by ADCNR for the first Inventory and Conservation Planning Project (ICP) conducted on ADCNR lands between 2008 and 2010. The goal of the original project was to examine the habitat characteristics preferred by different species and use that information to build a plan for maximizing wildlife habitat for all species on WMAs.

“You might call this ICP 2.0,” said Valente. “We will go back to those same state lands to evaluate how landscapes have changed as a function of management, assess how wildlife communities are responding and evaluate outcomes.”

One of the big questions this project hopes to answer is how habitat on WMAs has changed since the last study and how these changes compare to the goals outlined in ICP 1.0. In other words, Valente said, “Did our management actions match the intended outcomes?”

Valente’s team also plans to leverage remote sensing technology to assess the relative importance of these WMAs in supporting biodiversity compared to nearby private lands.

“The world is changing around those WMAs — ownership changes, development comes in — so we are thinking about how the relative importance of WMAs has changed compared to the lands surrounding them.”

Five College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment graduate students will be hired to work on the project to work closely with Valente and other faculty with relevant expertise. One student will be hired to do an exhaustive vegetation survey, categorizing habitat types and determining how the vegetation has changed since the earlier project.

The other four graduate students will examine how the populations and communities have changed for birds, bats and mammals. Sampling will include human observers recording bird songs and sightings, humane traps and cameras to examine mammals and specialized high-frequency audio recording devices to record bats.

While the project scope includes a broad assessment of avian and mammal species — game and non-game — some key objectives include monitoring habitat for species that ADCNR has deemed of greatest conservation need (GCN). Many of these species are so sparsely populated that they are difficult to detect and monitor.

“The Southeastern American kestrel (Falco sparverius palus) and the Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) are both GCN species in Alabama’s State Wildlife Action Plan,” Valente said. “Both species tend to occupy agricultural or disturbed spaces with low canopy cover and high ground cover, and results from ICP 1.0 revealed that indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea), which are relatively common in Alabama, have similar habitat preferences. Thus, researchers on ICP 1.0 determined that indigo buntings can serve as a surrogate species for Southeastern American kestrel and Brazilian free-tailed bat because if you’re providing habitat for buntings, you’re likely providing habitat for the other two species.”

Graduate students will be working with CFWE faculty specializing in each of the key areas.

Robert Gitzen, a small mammal and population modeling expert, will supervise the two students working on bats and small mammals. Lana Narine specializes in remote sensing and will co-advise the graduate students in linking vegetation structure data with land cover maps of vegetation structure. Chris Lepczyk is an avian ecologist and will co-advise students working with bird communities. Finally, Jana Willoughby, another leader in the project, will collect preliminary genetic data from small mammal species to study connectivity and genetic isolation among the areas.

They’ll receive support from ADCNR through collaboration with Amy Silvano, the assistant chief of wildlife for ADCNR but also worked on the first ICP project.

“We appreciate her institutional knowledge and enthusiasm for implementing this project,” said Valente.

Monitoring the effects of management activities often isn’t feasible because of budget and personnel restraints, Valente says.

“I applaud ADCNR and their effort to monitor how their actions have played out so they can better evaluate the impact of their management actions or change course where needed,” said Emmett F. Thompson Dean Janaki Alavalapati. “An adaptive approach is critical to preserving biodiversity, and it’s something too often neglected.”

(Written by Jessica Nelson)

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The Auburn University College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment is a flagship institution for natural resources-based degrees including environmental conservation and management, geospatial and environmental informatics and sustainable biomaterials and packaging. The college serves as the backbone for Alabama’s $30 billion+ forest, wildlife and natural resources related enterprises. Its mission is to create next-generation professionals and leaders, to develop new knowledge and disseminate science-based solutions to our clientele to improve the social, economic and environmental well-being of citizens in Alabama and beyond.

ALBBAA launches 12th year of Big Buck Photo Contest
The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) will again showcase the bountiful whitetail deer hunting available in the Black Belt’s 23-county footprint with the 12th year of its Big Buck Photo Contest. The ALBBAA Big Buck Photo Contest, which takes place online and began earlier this week, will run through Feb. 16, 2024, and is sponsored by the Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative in Selma. Photos of bucks harvested during archery and firearms season are eligible. Here are rules and guidelines for this year’s contest: To enter the contest, hunters must upload, through the ALBBAA website, a photo of a buck harvested from within the 23-county Black Belt region. The buck must be harvested during 2023-2024 whitetail deer season. The winner of the contest is selected exclusively through online voting. Voting will also be conducted on the same page where entries are submitted – https://alabamablackbeltadventures.org/news-more/shoot-the-black-belt/big-buck-photo-contest/ Visitors to the contest webpage may vote once per day, per entry, per IP address. In the case of any dispute, the decision of ALBBAA is final. Photo contest winners from the previous two years are not eligible for entry. ALBBAA reserves the right to approve or disapprove of the photo submitted. Cause for disqualification of photo can include, but is not limited to, the following: The photo content presents the subject in an unethical or disrespectful composition. The photo content is perceived to cast a negative perception of hunters and their contribution to the management of wildlife. Voting violation which imposes an unfair advantage to others. The contestant who receives the most online votes before voting ends in February will receive two game cameras valued at approximately $350 courtesy of Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative. The 2023-24 deer season ends Feb. 10, 2024, but voting will continue through midnight on Feb. 16, 2024, to allow additional voting time for photos submitted after the final weekend of hunting season. The Black Belt includes the following 23 counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

Alabama’s Fire Alert Reinstated to Include All 67 Counties

Effective immediately, the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) has re-issued a Fire Alert for all 67 counties in the state. In the 32 northern counties (roughly north of Interstate 20), no burn permits will be issued. In the 35 southern counties (south of Interstate 20), certified prescribed burn managers will have the option to obtain a one-day burn permit. There will be no exceptions to this rule. Anyone who burns a field, grassland, or woodland without a burn permit may be subject to prosecution for committing a Class B misdemeanor.

During the past seven days, AFC wildland firefighters have responded to 111 wildfires that scorched more than 1,881 acres of forestland in Alabama. Drought conditions are expected to worsen as no rain is forecast for the next week, and October is historically the state’s driest month. This extremely dry weather creates a greater-than-average potential for outdoor fires to escape easily and spread rapidly, taking longer – and more firefighting resources – to contain and ultimately control.

To report a wildfire, call the Alabama Forestry Commission at (800) 392-5679. For more information on the current wildfire situation in the state or any other forestry-related issues, contact your local AFC office or visit the agency website at www.forestry.alabama.gov/Pages/Fire/Totals.aspx  The Alabama Forestry Commission is the state agency committed to protecting Alabama’s invaluable forest assets as well as its citizens.

Alabama Outdoors
Maddox optimistic about upcoming waterfowl seasons

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) annual waterfowl survey indicates overall duck numbers are down, Seth Maddox remains optimistic about Alabama’s 2023-2024 waterfowl seasons.
Maddox, Assistant

Wildlife Section Chief for the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), said the USFWS survey occurred on the breeding grounds in the upper Midwest and Canada before the success of the hatch was known.


“The previous year we had some poor habitat conditions in the breeding grounds,” Maddox said. “This year, it looks a lot better as far as more water on the landscape. So, even though the overall population is down, the hatch reproduction was probably really good because of the better habitat conditions. That means we should see a lot of young-of-the-year ducks coming down. We should have an increased fall flight for this year.”


Maddox said the USFWS survey is conducted in May after the males and females are paired. The count is for paired ducks and lone males. In late May and June, the paired ducks start breeding, and the hen will produce a clutch of eggs that will hatch in about a month.


“After they hatch, the hatchlings will hang out with their mom,” he said. “They feed themselves, but they will stay together. It takes about 45 days to grow flight feathers and be fully flighted. At that point, they are kind of on their own.”
The start of the fall migration depends on the species with some patterns dictated by the length of the days and others by the availability of food and suitable habitat.


“As days get shorter, gadwall and blue-winged teal start moving south,” Maddox said. “Mallards and green-winged teal are weather migrators, so as the temperatures drop, they start moving south. But they don’t all move at once. Some tend to hang around and tough it out as long as they can. Some go to traditional wintering areas right away. It’s kind of a mixed bag for mallards, for example. Some might go straight down the Mississippi alluvial valley to their traditional wintering grounds. Some may hang out in Minnesota and Iowa until they are forced out by ice and snow. It depends on the individual bird and what it’s traditionally done.


“The juvenile birds are more likely to keep pushing south. And it depends on the conditions during that southward migration. They may stop at different sites if there is really good food there and may hang on longer to build up those reserves. If they stop at a site and the conditions aren’t good, not a lot of food on the ground, they will be going south quicker.”
Alabama’s most hunted and harvested duck, the wood duck, apparently had a good breeding season as well.


“We really had a good banding season for wood ducks,” Maddox said. “It’s our number one harvested duck statewide. I think we’ll have a lot of wood ducks on the landscape this year. So, it should be a good wood duck year. We banded almost 900 birds this summer, which is a good number. The production looks really good, which is a byproduct of the wet spring and summer we had.”


Although the Gulf Coast states have been in drought conditions this fall, Maddox said the conditions during the summer were much more favorable for the waterfowl habitat.
“Prior to the dry fall, we had a pretty wet summer,” he said. “There should be plenty of food on the ground. On our waterfowl management areas, the crops and moist soil native vegetation are looking good. We had enough rain for those to grow and produce seeds. We should have plenty of food when they arrive.


“I’m not too worried about current conditions. Traditionally, October is our driest time anyway in Alabama. We should start getting rain in November, and that should open that food source up when those birds arrive here.


Maddox said the duck seasons in the northern Midwest have already opened, and he has heard some good reports of hunting in those areas with prairie potholes and abundant lakes.
Regarding Alabama’s early teal season in September, Maddox said it was feast or famine.
“The teal pushed through pretty quick,” he said. “We had one good weekend. If they were there today, they could be gone tomorrow. If you had water, you probably had teal. If you didn’t, you weren’t going to get any.”


The regular waterfowl season for ducks, coots and mergansers is set for November 24-25 and December 2 through January 28, 2024. The bag limit of six ducks is unchanged. The limit may include no more than four mallards (no more than 2 may be female), three wood ducks, one mottled duck, two black ducks, two redheads, one pintail, two canvasback and one scaup. The coot limit is 15 per day, while the merganser limit is five per day, only two of which can be hooded mergansers.
The goose season is currently open through October 28 and then will be the same dates as duck season. The aggregate bag limit for dark geese (Canada, white-fronted, Brant) is five per day. The limit for light geese (snow, blue and Ross’s) is also an aggregate of five per day.


“It’s the same story every year,” Maddox said. “We’re at the bottom of the funnel of the flyway. We’ll get gadwalls and ringnecks. They are going to come down because the days are getting shorter. They should get here in early to mid-November. From there, we’ll get a mixing of other species, but it’s very weather dependent. The abundance of those other species will be determined by those winter weather patterns.”


Maddox said the number of waterfowl hunters continues to increase across the state, based on the number of duck stamps sold.


“We don’t have a physical duck stamp anymore, so we don’t have collectors buying stamps,” he said. “Last year we had a record year for the third year in a row for duck stamp sales at 38,396.
“Typically, what we see is opening day drives the bus. If we have a good opening day, we have increased participation. The weather drives a lot of that. If the weather is in the 80s, it makes for tough duck hunting. But I really gauge it on wood ducks because that’s our number one harvested species. The more wood ducks we have, the more hunters we have on the landscape.”

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 2023 through January 2024. To register for the hunts, call (334) 289-8030 starting October 2, 2023.
“We are honored to provide hunting opportunities for all Alabamians, including those with physical disabilities,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and Chairman of the Forever Wild Board of Trustees. “Access to outdoor activities such as hunting should be available to everyone who has an interest.”
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 may 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 22, 29
December 9, 13, 16
January 3, 10, 17, 20, 24
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.
For more information about the hunt details or registration process, call Brae Buckner with the ADCNR State Lands Division at (334) 868-1684, or email [email protected].
The FWFTA consists of 4,300 acres in Hale County and is managed as a nature preserve and recreation area. In addition to maintaining a sporting dog test ground and both youth and physically disabled hunting programs, the ADCNR State Lands Division is currently restoring the tract’s native prairie grasslands and managing its numerous ponds for public fishing events.
ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Youth hunt dates announced for Forever Wild Field Trial area

FWFTA Youth Hunt – Nick and Presley Anderson and Brae Buckner with ADCNR’s State Lands Division. Be sure to send in your trophy deer photos to [email protected].

The State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) 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 2023 through January 2024. Registration opens September 18 and runs until November 1. Hunters will be selected via a computerized, random drawing after registration closes.
“Youth hunts like these create great bonding experiences for families and help young hunters become responsible stewards of our natural resources,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner and Chairman of the Forever Wild Board of Trustees. “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.”
Youth Deer Hunt Dates
November 22, 29
December 9, 13, 16
January 3, 10, 17, 20, 24
Youth Duck Hunt Dates
December 9, 16
January 3, 10, 20, 24
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 detail.
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 Brae Buckner with the ADCNR State Lands Division at (334) 868-1684, or email [email protected].
The FWFTA consists of 4,300 acres in Hale County and is managed as a nature preserve and recreation area. In addition to maintaining a sporting dog test ground and both youth and physically disabled hunting programs, the ADCNR State Lands Division is currently restoring the tract’s native prairie grasslands and managing its numerous ponds for public fishing events.
ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

White tailed deer are a common site in West Alabama and these twin fawns wandered into a back yard to graze late Sunday afternoon. Photos by Gloriann DeCastra, age 7.
Email your outdoor photos to [email protected]. Not only will your photo be in the paper for free, but we also run them on our awards winning outdoors page. Be sure to tell us who took the photo and area. Just a town/community will be fine. We know how hunters and conservationists like to guard their area.

BOARsighted: A Look Into Wild Pig Management

By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Wild pigs are arguably one of the most detrimental wildlife species. These animals have the potential to decimate crops, wildlife habitat and food plots. Virtually every natural resource can be affected by these creatures. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System encourages all landowners and wildlife enthusiasts to learn more about these destructive animals. You may not be able to take the wild out of the hog, but you can take the hog out of the wild.
Mark Smith, an Alabama Extension expert of forestry and wildlife sciences, has dedicated his career to wildlife sciences. Smith began his service with Extension and Auburn University in 2007, where he has specialized in wildlife damage management­, especially wild pigs. According to Smith, eradicating a non-native species such as wild pigs can be a difficult process.
“Wild pigs compete for food and cover resources with some of the state’s economically important game species such as white-tailed deer and wild turkeys,” Smith said. “They can also have a significant impact on water quality in local watersheds.”
In Alabama, the greatest populations of wild pigs are in the southern half of the state. From central to north Alabama, pigs live in smaller pockets ranging to the Tennessee border. To see where the greatest pig concentrations are in your state, view the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service maps at www.aphis.usda.gov.
The Wild Pig Effect
According to Smith, who is also a professor in the Auburn University College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment, managing wild pig populations is critical in maintaining water quality.
“In one study conducted in Alabama from 2018 to 2020, researchers found that E. coli and fecal coliform concentrations were about three to four times greater in streams with wild pigs present,” Smith said. “This far exceeds Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concentration standards for recreational watersheds.”
To prevent private or local water resources from contamination by pig bacteria, a concerted effort to control pig populations is the best defense. Smith said the study concluded that – with reduction of pig population over time – concentrations of bacteria can reduce by up to 75%.
The presence of feral pigs also influences other wildlife populations. Because they are territorial as well as destructive, wild pigs often push other species out of their habitats. Smith said further research studies show this applies to wild turkeys and their reproduction success.
“When wild pigs are removed, turkeys were more abundant,” Smith said. “Immediate responses (one year after pig removals) were likely due to turkeys moving in from adjacent properties. However, researchers observed a significant increase in turkey poults between two to three years after wild pig removals, which was indicative of increases in either nest success or poult survival.”
Oh Deer
For deer hunters, there is no relief from the wild pig effect either. Having accurate information about a deer herd is critical for wildlife management and a successful hunt. Smith said wild pigs can also throw a wrench in those efforts.
“If you’re conducting camera surveys of white-tailed deer on your property to estimate deer abundance or maybe get an idea of the number of bucks roaming the property – you guessed it – wild pigs may have a significant impact on what you see and what you don’t see,” Smith said.
Corn is often a popular bait for game camera placements to attract wildlife. According to further research at Auburn University, feral pigs can also prohibit hunters from having accurate results when using baiting techniques to lure animals in front of cameras. In many instances, pigs were clearly captured competing with immature white-tailed bucks for food resources, causing them to disperse.
“If you’re conducting camera surveys and have pigs, know that your results will be a bit off,” Smith said.
Resources
Natural resources like food, water and shelter are imperative for a healthy wildlife population. Pigs, deer, turkey and many other species forage on the same food resources. Acorns are one of the most popular items on the menu, and Smith said there are no reservations for dinner in the wild.
“Acorns are an important food source in the fall and winter for many species, especially economically important game species like white-tailed deer and turkeys,” Smith said. “Another recent study found that wild pigs are a voracious competitor and may consume up to 23% of the acorn crop each year. However, when wild pig populations were significantly reduced the following year, acorn consumption dropped to only 7.2%.”
If it seems like a hog problem cannot get any worse, don’t forget about row crops. Agriculture producers and those who utilize row crops for food plots are no strangers to pig devastation. Wild pigs have rooting and wallowing behaviors, which damage soil and crops. Also, they can prey on livestock, especially newborn calves, lambs and goats. Smith said wild pig damage to agriculture likely exceeds $1 billion nationally each year.
Control
At the first sign of wild pigs, landowners should use control measures to get a handle on the situation. Wild pigs can reproduce quickly, providing little time before they can decimate resources. Smith suggests that adjoining landowners and managers work together to eradicate swine populations.
“It’s much easier to control wild pigs when they first invade and only a few individuals are present,” he said. “Significantly reducing or eradicating them takes a lot of work if done properly.”
There is a preferred method to removing pigs from small acreages at a time. By using premeditated, systematic and intensive practices, wildlife managers can successfully meet their goals.
“In most cases, hunting or opportunistic shooting of wild pigs will rarely control a population,” Smith said. “Live trapping using large, corral style traps and humanely euthanizing the pigs is the most cost- and time-effective means of removal.”
Pig Out
Utilizing unbiased scientific information from wildlife professionals is the best start to addressing a wild pig problem. To get pigs out, education and proven practices must come into play. This is where Alabama Extension can help.
Alabama Extension takes the expertise of Auburn University and Alabama A&M University to the people. Our educators in all 67 counties are environmental partners — bringing practical ways to better our homes, farms, people and the world around us. Our research extends knowledge and improves lives.
Want to learn more about wild pig management? Visit www.aces.edu or contact your local Extension office.

Fall is Prime Time to Plant Trees, Shrubs

By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — Fall is the right time to plant trees and shrubs, since the weather is cooler and plants are much less stressed than they are in the heat of summer. It is also a great time to get outside and work without getting soaking wet with sweat. Brian Brown, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home horticulture agent, said two of the most important things you should do before planting are take a soil test and correct any drainage issues.
Soil Testing
A soil test will provide gardeners with important information on the health of their soil — including how to adjust soil pH and other nutrients the yard may need.
“Soil test kits are available at your local Extension office, along with information on how to collect the soil and send it to the Auburn University Soil, Forage and Water Testing Lab,” Brown said. “If you’ve already completed a soil test, you are one step ahead. Follow the fertilizing directions recommended from the results of your soil test as you move forward with your planting plans.”
Fall Planting
Brown said most problems in the landscape have to do with water or a lack thereof. So, correcting drainage issues is a major step in keeping plants healthy. Too much and too little water will exhibit the same symptoms.
“Once you have found the ideal location for your plant, dig the planting hole two to three times the size of the root ball,” Brown said. “That will give the plant plenty of room to establish a good root system. One of the most important things you can do is not plant your new plant too deep.”
When planting, gardeners should make sure that they can can see the root flare at the base of the tree or shrub, which should be at ground level. It is also important to scarify the root ball. This entails taking the plant out of the container and breaking up the roots. Be sure to cut or break up any roots that are circling.
Brown said gardeners shouldn’t be afraid of cutting those roots.
“If you skip this step, you may end up with girdled roots, which will lead to a decline or eventual death of the plant,” he said.
Once the hole has been dug and the root ball has been scarified, place the plant into the hole. In Alabama, many have heavy clay soils, so it is wise to plant a couple of inches above the surrounding ground to help with drainage.
“Backfill the hole, being sure to eliminate any air pockets that may be there,” Brown said. “Water the new plant deeply. It will need to be watered often during its first few weeks.”
Spring Fertilizing
It is important to avoid fertilizing in the fall, which could result in new growth if warm weather persists. The new, tender growth could be burned by any early-season freezes. When spring arrives, Brown said it is best to fertilize plants based on the results of the soil test. Following these steps will ensure healthy, thriving plants.
More Information
For more information about fall gardening, visit www.aces.edu or call the local Extension office to connect with a local home grounds, gardens and home pests agent.

JaMarcus Smith caught this huge catfish at Moundville boat landing, recently. It weighed 43/44 lbs. He released it! Care of Voice of the ‘Ville with a Little Bit of the ‘Boro Columnist, Rita Lewis

What’s the Buzz about Honey?

By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — The arrival of fall generally signifies the end of honey harvest for most beekeepers in the United States. Always a popular sweetener, honey has made a comeback as consumers shift their preference toward local products. September is National Honey Month, which makes it a great time to think about the contributions of pollinators near and far, as well as the apiculturists who care for them.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System recognizes the value of the work that pollinators do in the state — in the backyard, on the farm and all of the places in between. Members of the Alabama Extension beekeeping team, Allyson Shabel and Jack Rowe, work together to provide resources, training and community for beekeepers in Alabama.
Local Honey
Rowe, an Alabama Extension regional agent, said honey can be used in cooking, for medicinal purposes, as a preservative and a sweetener.
“Honey is good for cooking, preserving foods and even just for sweetening,” Rowe said. “It is the sweetener of the whole past ages of humanity.”
He said one of the best ways to support communities and local people is by purchasing locally grown and produced products. Local honey is available at most farm stands or farmers markets.
“Local honey is one of those joys in our culinary lives,” Rowe said. “It is fragrant, tasty, supports local people and keeps the ideals of local life and food alive.”
Rowe said while honey is a favorite of many, there is a common misconception about its health benefits. Many believe that honey from local hives prevents seasonal allergies. However, this is not supported by scientific evidence.
“The plants the bees feed from are not the ones releasing airborne pollen,” Rowe said. “Also, honey never contacts any of our nasal membranes.”
Beekeeping Benefits
Shabel, an Alabama Extension urban regional agent, said beekeeping is a great hobby to help you connect to the environment around you. Beekeepers also play a key role in protecting and caring for local pollinators. Bees pollinate local crops for farmers, while also producing honey for communities.
“Protecting pollinator populations in your local environment is important,” Shabel said. “Many flowering plants in your landscape rely on pollinators to produce the next generation of seeds.”
Beekeeping also provides an opportunity to stay active. From lifting heavy boxes to wearing protective suits in hot weather, beekeeping requires physical endurance and disciplined time management to make sure the colony survives.
“Beekeeping can be physically demanding but very rewarding,” Shabel said. “It is a very physical hobby that requires strength and stamina.”
More Information
Rowe and Shabel share current events and information through their monthly beekeeping newsletter as well as through their At Home Beekeeping Series, which can be joined remotely via Facebook or Zoom on the last Tuesday of each month.
Learn more about protecting pollinators in the Pollinators section of www.aces.edu.

Additional fire precautions added at select state parks due to dry conditions

Ahead of Labor Day weekend, the State Parks Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has announced additional fire precautions for five State Parks in the southern portion of the state. Visitors and overnight guests at Gulf, Meaher, Bladon Springs, Roland Cooper and Frank Jackson state parks are being asked to take extra precautions with campfires and barbecue grills during the current dry conditions.
“As park guests plan for the upcoming Labor Day holiday, we ask that they keep the recent hot and dry conditions in mind when it comes to campfires and grilling,” said Greg Lein, Director of ADCNR’s State Parks Division. “Those conditions have increased the risk for wildfires at state parks in south Alabama. We encourage park visitors and overnight guests to be very cautious with campfires and grills during this period until we get some much-needed rain and the temperatures moderate.”
The additional fire precautions at Gulf, Meaher, Bladon Springs, Roland Cooper and Frank Jackson state parks include the following:
No campfires outside of designated day-use picnic areas, campgrounds or developed recreational areas.
Barbecue grills and gas-fueled stoves are permitted only in designated day-use picnic areas, campgrounds or developed recreational areas.
Do not use barbecue grills or gas stoves in areas that can scorch, burn or damage lawns or picnic tables.
Place barbecue grills a minimum of 15 feet away from any flammable material such as grass, weeds, wood chips, brush or park facilities.
Do not leave a campfire or grill unattended.
Completely extinguish all burning fuel such as wood or charcoal before disposing of it in an existing fireplace, fire pit or barbecue grill.
If you have questions about the additional fire precautions at Gulf, Meaher, Bladon Springs, Roland Cooper and Frank Jackson state parks, please contact the main offices of the individual parks. Contact information is available at www.alapark.com.
Park visitors are also encouraged to monitor each state park’s social media accounts for updates on fire precautions and restrictions. A social media directory for Alabama State Parks is available at www.alapark.com/social-media-directory.
ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Fall Hummingbird Feeder Etiquette Deters Wasps and Bees

By Katie Nichols
Hummingbirds make a much-anticipated arrival in the spring, but keeping them around in the fall takes a little effort on the part of residents. By the time August rolls around, they’re ready for a sweet treat to help them power through the heat until fall migration leads them south. What attracts hummingbirds? How can you keep the wasps and bees from harassing them when they return? An Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional agent answers these questions and offers tips for proper hummingbird feeder etiquette.
Keep the Bees at Bay
Bethany O’Rear, an Alabama Extension home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, said there are several approaches to keeping bees and wasps out of hummingbird feeders.
“Denying the insects access to the syrup is the best defense,” O’Rear said. “Feeders come in two main designs: inverted bottle or basin. Basin feeders are usually better at keeping bees and wasps away since the syrup level is too low for insects to reach but is in range of hummingbird tongues.”
There are several companies that make basin feeders. To purchase one, check online retailers or visit a local store that sells bird supplies.
“When selecting a feeder, buy one that is easy on the upkeep,” O’Rear said. “One of the best styles of feeders for keeping uninvited critters–such as bees and wasps–away is a style that doesn’t have yellow plastic flowers around the openings, since bees and wasps are attracted to yellow.”
If a more ornate hummingbird feeder is a nonnegotiable, try moving it just a few feet. If that doesn’t keep the critters away, O’Rear suggests removing the feeder for a day or two. Hummingbirds may begin working the area for their treat station, but there is no need to worry. They will still be looking for it when wasps and bees have given up the chase.
Visual Learners
O’Rear said hummingbirds learn to use feeders by watching other hummingbirds and through their own natural nosiness. Hummingbirds do learn to associate feeders with something sweet to eat and will often favor the style of feeder with which they are most familiar.
To attract hummingbirds, the color red works in flowers as well as feeders. However, avoid the use of red food coloring in the syrup mixture. It is unclear whether or not red food coloring has negative effects on hummingbirds, so it is best to avoid the dye altogether. The sweet spot for a mixture is four parts water to one part sugar.
“It is so important to avoid using honey in the feeder because it can develop a fungus that is fatal to the hummers,” O’Rear said.
More Information
While hummingbirds aren’t a year-round garden guest, you can make their stay pleasant with a handful of intentional modifications. Learn more about hummingbirds and taking care of them in the Extension publication, Hummingbirds in Alabama available at www.aces.edu.

Go back to school with Alabama 4-H

By Justin Miller
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – As students head back to school, Alabama 4-H is excited to welcome new and previous members to another exciting year in 4-H. Enrollment is now open for Alabama youths ages 9 to 18. Molly Gregg, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s assistant director for 4-H programs, said there are many ways students can become involved in 4-H.
“No matter your interest, there is something for everyone in 4-H,” Gregg said. “Alabama 4-H helps young people see themselves as unique, resilient, life-long learners who actively participate in their own future.”
Alabama 4-H is the state’s leading youth development organization. It is a part of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and works with young people in all 67 Alabama counties. For more than 100 years, Alabama 4-H has empowered youths to use their heads, hearts, hands and health to become their best self and achieve their goals.
“4-H believes that all young people, as members of families, communities and citizens of a global society, should have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” Gregg said.
There are many different types of 4-H programs and clubs. In fact, in the 2022 club year, Alabama 4-H offered more than 11,000 educational activities and more than 3,100 clubs statewide to its members. These programs and clubs are delivered by regional agents as well as community volunteers, corporate partners, alumni and parents. There are eight main programming categories including the following: animals and agriculture, creative arts, environmental education, healthy living, outdoor education, leadership and citizenship, science and technology. 4-H clubs are delivered both inside and outside of school. In-school clubs are one of the most important modes of delivery for 4-H. In fact, 4-H regional agents lead programming in more than 1,000 Alabama schools.
“In-school programs are a great way to introduce students to 4-H,” said Nancy Alexander, an Alabama 4-H specialist. “We hope that they come to love 4-H and engage in various 4-H clubs outside of school throughout their academic careers.”
The great thing about 4-H clubs that meet outside of school is that members can join and/or start clubs that focus on a particular interest. For example, members that enjoy fishing can be a part of their county’s sportfishing club. Parent and guardians can enroll their student in Alabama 4-H through the 4HOnline platform. Find more information about enrollment at www.Alabama4H.com, or contact your county Extension office to speak with an Alabama 4-H agent.
“Alabama 4-H has a commitment to helping young people thrive by providing opportunities to be healthy, caring and responsible,” Gregg said. “Let’s work together this upcoming club year to learn, lead and make a difference in our communities.”

New reef site available soon through Alabama’s Rigs to Reefs Program

Neptune Spar Photos courtsey of Chevron North America Exploration and Production

The spar section of the decommissioned Neptune VK826 oil rig located approximately 60 nautical miles off Alabama’s coast will soon become part of the state’s artificial reef system thanks to an agreement between the structure’s owner, Noble Energy, Inc., and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR).
This new reef site is being made available through the state’s Rigs to Reefs program, which allows ADCNR to repurpose decommissioned oil and gas rigs as artificial reefs that support a wide variety of marine life including many species targeted by anglers. In addition to donating the decommissioned rigs, the oil and gas companies are also required to make a donation to the Alabama Seafoods Fund to be used in research, monitoring, habitat restoration and management of Alabama’s marine resources.
“The Rigs to Reefs program allows us to keep these structures in the water to continue serving as productive habitat instead of being recycled onshore,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner. “These structures are often called ‘islands of life’ because they support everything from coral to pelagic fish and sea turtles. We are excited to make this new reef site available to anglers in the coming weeks.”
The rig’s platform was removed on July 24 and the massive spar (705 feet by 72 feet) will be towed from its current location and sunk at a depth of 700 feet approximately 55 nautical miles south of Mobile Bay in early August 2023. Anglers can expect to have access to the new reef site in late August or early September.
“Anglers will be able to visit the site when we publish the coordinates a few weeks from now,” said Craig Newton, Artificial Reef Coordinator for ADCNR’s Marine Resources Division. “Before publishing the coordinates we need to review the completion report from the contractors and confirm the resting location of the spar. This typically takes a few weeks from the time the structure hits the bottom.”
Known along Alabama’s Gulf Coast as the “Beer Can Rig,” the structure has provided important marine habitat for many species since going into service in the late-1990s. The durability of the spar structure will continue to support a stable offshore ecosystem and provide generations of anglers with access to quality outdoor recreation.
Learn more about Alabama’s Artificial Reef Program at www.outdooralabama.com/saltwater-fishing/artificial-reefs.
ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Controlling greenbrier in landscapes

By Cole Sykes
One of the peskiest — and most pointy — vines calls Alabama home. Greenbrier has the potential to take over a landscape and can become a thorn in your side as well as in your landscape. To mitigate the spread of this species, it is important to take steps outlined by professionals with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
Greenbrier
Known scientifically as smilax spp., greenbrier is known for its sharp thorns and its difficulty to control. This perennial plant grows with a viny growth habit that promotes underground growth in a tuber-like system. Greenbrier is a very resilient plant that thrives in a wide range of environmental conditions.
According to Alabama Extension Commercial Horticulture Regional Agent David Lawrence, greenbrier does not only spread with root systems.
“Female greenbrier plants produce berries that are consumed by birds and other wildlife which aids in spreading of this species,” Lawrence said. “Seeds are dispersed throughout the landscape, then germinate once environmental conditions are optimal.”
Greenbrier can also remain healthy in low-light conditions. This adaptation to sunlight exposure allows the species to grow in and around bushes, shrubs and other large plants.
Control
If greenbrier establishes in a landscape, it can become nearly impossible to physically remove because of thick tuberous roots that run in all directions. The most permanent method control is to dig up the vine and its root system. This can be laborious and should only be an option early in the greenbrier’s life cycle.
“Hand removal of the vine and as much of the root system as possible is the most effective form of control, however, new vegetative growth can emerge from any root material that remains in the soil,” Lawrence said.
In the right situation, chemical application can effectively treat greenbrier. Primarily, the most effective herbicides are non-selective, meaning that the chemical will apply the same treatment to all species it contacts. Therefore, applicators should be careful when applying to make sure they don’t harm desirable vegetation.
“Chemical control is best achieved with multiple applications made during the spring when new leaves begin to emerge,” Lawrence said.
For established greenbrier, snipping a vine as it appears from the ground and immediately applying a product containing a high concentration of glyphosate can help suppress the weed.
Every Brier Has its Thorn
Just like every night has its dawn, every brier has its thorn. To keep this pointy species at bay, mitigate the takeover of greenbrier in your landscape. Be sure to treat this weed at the appropriate time of year and with the appropriate method to ensure the best results.
Discover more expertise and find resources from Alabama Extension by contacting your local Extension office. Visit www.aces.edu to learn more about other Alabama weed species.

Fall-flowering plants make life easier for bees

By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.— “The hum of the bees is the voice of the garden,” is a quote that rings true throughout much of the year in Alabama backyards. However, the buzz gets quieter as summer continues into the fall. Because the relationship between bees and plants is unique and mutually beneficial, there are several ways that home gardeners can make the bees’ lives easier.
Much like the support avid hummingbird watchers provide to hummers throughout the hot summer, bees can benefit from some targeted tender loving care in your yard or home garden.
Kerry Smith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System administrator of horticulture outreach programs, said there is an abundance of flowering plants during the spring and early summer, but gardeners overlook planning the fall flower garden. Because it’s difficult to establish new plants in the summer heat, it’s important to plant fall bloomers in later winter and early spring.
“Paying special attention to have fall blooms around your home and garden will make a difference, as pollinators work to store up food for the cold winter,” Smith said.
Supporting Honeybees and Native Bees
Honeybees and native bees visit flowers to collect pollen and nectar for food. Pollen is essential to bees because it is their only natural source of protein. Without it, colonies would be unable to produce new bees and would eventually die.
Allyson Shabel, an Alabama Extension urban home grounds regional agent, said to produce honey successfully, beekeepers must have their colonies at peak strength when the major nectar-producing plants in their area begin to bloom.
“It is important for beekeepers to have a working knowledge of the nectar and pollen-producing plants in the vicinity of their apiaries,” Shabel said. “It is also important for the bees’ neighbors to understand their seasonal needs.”
A plant’s production and secretion of nectar are affected by many factors, such as soil fertility, moisture and acidity as well as garden location. For maximum honey production, consider allowing wildflowers to reseed nearby for supplemental bee pasture.
In addition to helping honeybees, it is also important to support native bee species. Jack Rowe, an Alabama Extension forestry, wildlife and natural resources regional agent, said neighboring honeybees are useful for home gardens. However, home-garden plantings are more likely to attract native bees such as bumblebees, leafcutting bees and mason bees.
“These insects will visit the home landscape more than honeybees, who tend to depend on large resources such as orchards and farm fields,” Rowe said. “It is important to support our declining native-bee populations, as they do most of the pollination in home landscapes.”
Fall Nectar and Pollen Plants of Alabama
Smith and a host of colleagues with Alabama Extension have developed a list of plants that grow year-round and are beneficial for bees. Plants that grow and flower in the fall include the following:
Sedum
Sweet autumn clematis
Many salvias
Hyssop
Horsemint and other bee balm species
Boneset
Buckwheat
Cotton
Moss rose (Purslane)
Numerous species in the Aster family
Ironweed
Goldenrod
Sunflowers
More Information
Learn more about beneficial plants for honeybees in the Alabama Extension publication, Nectar and Pollen Producing Plants of Alabama a Guide for Beekeepers. Also, other information is available in the Protecting Pollinators in Urban Areas publication series. Both resources are available at www.aces.edu.

Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest Opens August 1
The 2024 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest will begin accepting entries on Tues., Aug. 1. 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 Oct. 31. The 2024 photo contest will focus on traditional photography techniques and the use of handheld 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 10 photos per person may be entered in the following categories. You may enter all 10 in one category or among several categories. 2023 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 a traveling exhibit at various venues across the state during 2024. If your organization or venue is interested in hosting the 2024 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest Exhibit, please contact Kenny Johnson with ADCNR’s Communications and Marketing Section at [email protected]. To view the complete exhibit schedule, visit www.outdooralabama.com/photo-exhibit. Art teachers are encouraged to incorporate participation in the Young Photographers category into their art instruction this fall. For complete 2024 category descriptions and contest rules, visit www.outdooralabama.com/photocontest.

Choosing Safe Plants for Pets

By Cole Sikes
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — For some people pets are like family. They provide love and support that is important for a family bond. The same way parents protect their children, furry, four-legged family members require some of the same precautions. To keep them safe, make sure to choose home décor that won’t make them sick.
There are several plants that have the potential to be harmful to pets. Although these plants can be toxic to pets, there are no known cases of these plants causing harm to dogs or cats. The best way to avoid a tragic pet accident is to ensure pets are not left unattended in new environments.
According to Alabama Cooperative Extension System Master Gardener Program Coordinator Kerry Smith, everyone needs to learn some plant basics.
“Every plant is different, some need more sun, some need more shade,” Smith said. “Their water, soil, space and temperature requirements differ too. A plant grown in the right place will provide longer enjoyment for the gardener.”
She adds that plants are not only beneficial to the eye, but also to human health. Plants can help keep people mentally and physically healthy by providing better air quality, increasing ambient humidity and helping people relax.
The idea that every plant is different also relates to our canine or feline friends. Depending on which species is chosen, they can be harmful to pets.
“If you enjoy gardening indoors and have pets, it’s also important to consider your pet’s natural curiosity for their surroundings,” Smith said. “Learn more about each plant’s toxicity or safety before bringing home new indoor plants.”
Dangerous Plants
Dumb Cane
Dumb cane, scientifically known as Dieffenbachia spp., is a plant with large, variegated leaves. It is known to cause mouth and throat irritation, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting and upset stomach. It can even be fatal if ingested in large quantities.
English Ivy
A plant often used in hanging baskets, English ivy (Hedera spp.), is a trailing plant known for having long, free-hanging stems. This species causes severe vomiting or diarrhea if ingested. If you are hunting a decorative plant for hanging baskets, see Swedish Ivy below.
Jade Plant
A miniature tree-like species, Jade plant (Crassula argentea) has fleshy, succulent leaves. Skin contact with this plant may cause rash or burning sensation and ingestion often causes gastrointestinal issues.
Snake Plant
Famous for being nearly foolproof to grow, snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), can also cause a burning sensation or rash if in contact with skin. Vomiting and diarrhea are caused by ingestion of this species.
Safe Plants
Prayer Plant
Also known as the peacock plant, the prayer plant (Calathea picturata) has many varieties. Its leaf colors range from silver to rose to deep purple.
Swedish Ivy
This species can be deceiving because of its common name similarity with English ivy. Several other plant species are called Swedish ivy, but only Plectranthus australis and P. forteri are the safe plants for pets. Be sure to look for these names when purchasing a Swedish ivy plant. These grow well in multiple container types and are a pet-safe substitute in hanging baskets.
Peperomia
Even though this plant sounds like it belongs on a pizza, it is, in fact, a popular indoor plant. Peperomia (Peperomia spp.) has many varieties with different leaf types, colors, textures and sizes. Each of them is safe should pets take a nibble.
Spider Plant
Don’t worry, this plant will not spawn spiders, nor will it attract them to your home. The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is an easy plant to propagate. It produces specialized stems, or stolons, that grow plantlets. By cutting off the plantlets and potting them, anyone can grow their own spider plants to share with friends or family.
Making the Best Choice
These plants are just a few examples of how commonly planted ornamentals and shrubs can potentially be toxic for furry friends. Be sure to reach out to your local Extension expert to make sure a plant will not harm a pet before planting or potting.
For more information on plant species, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.

Alabama Department of Public Health issues 2023 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 2022 (492 samples; 40 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 34 bodies of water tested can be found on the ADPH website: https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/tox/fish-advisories.html
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.

Gardian of the plant and area of the front portch this Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) lives with Tommy McGraw, Moundville Times’ publisher. They are also known as a Carolina Green Anole, they are common throughout the Southeast and is the only native lizard capable of changing color. It is unrelated to true chameleons. Anoles belong to the Iguanidae, a family of arboreal lizards that also includes iguanas and chuckwallas. Males court a female b display his dewlap, a red pice of skin under his throat, and bobbing his head at a female.Males protect their territory with dominance displays, bobbing at other males in a push-up like movement, flaring their dewlaps, and then turning to the side and arching their backs to enlarge their profiles. This contest continues until one male assumes a submissive posture, bobs his head, and retreats. The brown phase of the green anole should not be mistaken for the brown anole (Norops sagrei), an invasive species from the Caribbean recently reported in extreme southern Alabama. Brown anoles are generally a darker uniform brown and do not display the faint markings seen on the backs of green anoles in their brown phase. Learn more at https://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/green-anole/ Photo by Kasey DeCastra, SCRJ & MvT Community News Editor Email your cook critter photos to [email protected]. They run for free and are oun our award winning outdoors webpage the week after they run in print.

This Eastern Box Turtle visitor waddled into a Tuscaloosa back yard. Their preferred habitats are wooded wetlands and moist forested areas. Box turtles are considered omnivorous, because their diet consists of a wide variety of food items, such as flowers, roots, fungi, berries, snails, slugs, insects, fish, frogs, salamanders, snakes, and eggs. Young turtles are carnivores, but after they reach the age of five or six years, they become primarily herbivores. It is illegal to sell and/or purchase Eastern box turtles. Alabama Wildlife Federation will work with you to find injured box turtles that need a new home. If the turtle is uninjured, it is best to leave it alone if not in immediate danger. Learn more at https://www.outdooralabama.com/turtles/eastern-box-turtle and https://www.alabamawildlife.org/oc-box-turtle-habitat/ Photo by Kasey DeCastra, SCRJ & MvT Community News Editor. Email your cook critter photos to [email protected]. They run for free and are oun our award winning outdoors webpage the week after they run in print.

Road-killed deer in Florida panhandle positive for CWD

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will be increasing chronic wasting disease (CWD) sampling surveillance efforts in southeast Alabama after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced the confirmation of a positive CWD test sample from a road-killed deer in Holmes County, Florida.


Due to the detection of CWD in Holmes County, Florida, ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division will deploy additional self-service, drop-off CWD sampling freezer locations throughout southeast Alabama and increase CWD surveillance efforts, as outlined in Alabama’s CWD Surveillance and Response Plan. For more information about CWD sampling and a map of self-service, drop-off CWD sampling locations statewide, visit www.outdooralabama.com/cwd/cwd-sampling.


Alabama’s first case of CWD was detected in Lauderdale County in northwest Alabama in January 2022. Since 2022, there have been only three cases of CWD detected in Lauderdale County. To date, the disease has not been detected in any other Alabama county.


Hunters are ADCNR’s most important partner in the management of CWD. Samples voluntarily submitted by hunters during deer season assist ADCNR with statewide CWD surveillance. ADCNR will also continue to partner with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) on statewide CWD monitoring. ADAI’s assistance with testing samples allows ADCNR to better serve the public and provide timely information on the distribution and extent of CWD in Alabama.


Among deer, CWD is a progressive, fatal disease that commonly results in altered behavior due to microscopic changes in the brain of affected animals. An animal may carry the disease for years without outward indication. In latter stages of the disease, signs may include listlessness, lowering of the head, weight loss, repetitive walking in set patterns and a lack of responsiveness.


During deer season, hunters throughout the state are encouraged to provide deer heads for CWD sampling. The public is also encouraged to report roadkill deer and deer displaying unusual behavior to their local WFF District Office. Contact information is available at www.outdooralabama.com.
It is important that the public be familiar with Alabama’s CWD regulation and the CWD regulations in other states. To review Alabama’s regulation and the latest information about CWD in the state, visit www.outdooralabama.com/cwd-info.


ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Open Woods Weeks Announced for the Forever Wild Sipsey River Complex
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) State Lands Division announces four Open Woods Weeks at the Forever Wild Sipsey River Complex located in Tuscaloosa County. The 2023 dates are: June 23-July 2, July 21-30, Aug. 18-27, Sept. 15-24. On those dates, the main gate will be open from Fri., 4 p.m., through the following week until Sun., 4 p.m During Open Woods Weeks, the public can drive into the property along the main gravel road leading from the Jack’s Drive parking area to the south gate. Due to seasonal wet conditions and activities related to public hunting opportunities, the gates remain closed to vehicular traffic at other times during the year. This Forever Wild outdoor recreation area features 7,155 acres of beautiful bottomland forest along the Sipsey River available for canoeing, birding, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, biking, picnicking and wildlife photography. For those wanting to hike, bike or horseback ride during the Open Woods Weeks, be mindful of increased vehicular traffic. In the event the Sipsey River is out of its banks and flooding the roads, the dates will be rescheduled. Please visit www.alabamaforeverwild.com/sipsey-river-complex for scheduling updates and additional information about the Forever Wild Sipsey River Complex. ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Taking Care of Tomatoes

By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — Tomatoes are by far the most popular plant in the vegetable garden, but they can also be the most problematic. Eliminate the questions and begin the official summer season with proper tomato care.


Weather, insects and viral, fungal and bacterial problems are all challenges every gardener faces when growing backyard tomatoes. Having an awareness of potential problems before they arise is one way to make sure the backyard tomatoes thrive. Mallory Kelley, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, said there are many things to watch for when growing tomatoes to ensure a healthy crop. As the hot and humid summer starts up, Kelley provides the following tips to keep plants healthy.

When it comes to water, Kelley recommends starting with drip irrigation or hand watering only at the surface of the soil to avoid splashing. Then, gardeners should prune off any of the tomato plants’ lower limbs that are touching the soil and apply mulch.
“Mulching your tomatoes keeps the plants moisture level consistent and will help prevent blossom end rot,” Kelley said. “Applying mulch also helps control weeds where insects like to overwinter and eliminates competition for the fertilizer you have applied.”
Mulch also creates a barrier between the plant leaves and the soil to suppress many of the fungal problems that come from the surface of the soil.

For diseases and insects, time is of the essence. Remove yellow and brown-spotted leaves as soon as they appear. If a fungicide plan is not in place, start a fungicide application to prevent early blight.
“No tomato grower can avoid this problem,” Kelley said. “It’s best to apply a preventative fungicide when the plants are healthy and there is no disease present. Products with the active ingredients chlorothalonil and mancozeb will control early blight.”
Kelley said copper is an option to control bacterial issues. It is best to scout daily for all of these problems, as well as insects.
“Go out and inspect for armyworms, fruit worms, hornworms and stinkbugs,” she said. “These are the main insect problems on tomatoes.”
Products that contain Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) will work when the worms are young, but Bt will not kill any other bugs. Gardeners can also use products containing carbaryl to control larger worms. Kelley said carbaryl will eliminate a wide variety of insects it comes in contact with—even larger worms if they ingest enough of it. However, the damage has been done by the time worms are large, so treatment may not be necessary. Bifenthrin is another insecticide that will control stinkbugs and some of the other pests gardeners may find.
“Don’t wait until your plant has no more leaves before you start your search for the hornworm,” Kelley said. “Scout today because the plant may not be there tomorrow.”

Want to learn more about what may be affecting tomato plants and what you can do to help tomatoes thrive? Call the Master Gardener Helpline at 1-877-ALA-GROW (252-4769) or reach out to the your county’s Extension office for more direction. You can also learn more about growing, canning and storing tomatoes through Alabama Extension’s many regional workshops. To find the next workshop near you, visit www.aces.edu and search tomato in the calendar

Mastering the art of freezing garden vegetables

By Justin Miller
Imagine enjoying the freshness of garden vegetables even in the depths of winter. How is this possible? Gardeners can use the power of their home freezer to lock in summer freshness. Bridgette Brannon, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food safety and quality regional agent, said when done correctly, freezing is a great way to ensure quality vegetable freshness for eight to 12 months.
“Freezing is quick, easy and it retains foods’ natural color, flavor, texture and nutritive value better than other methods of preservation,” Brannon said.
Freezing versus Canning
Canning is a popular method used to preserve foods. However, that process can be quite time consuming. While there are pros and cons to each method, Brannon said freezing is far less time consuming and easier to learn than other methods of preservation.
“When freezing vegetables, the freezer is your equipment, and it does most of the work for you,” Brannon said. “All you must do is wash, blanch, pack the food in freezer containers and freeze.” For example, if you want to store green beans, you can prepare and freeze dozens of pounds of them in just a few hours. Comparatively, when canning, you can only can 14 pounds of green beans (7 quarts) in the same time frame. Brannon said that doesn’t even include the time it would take to prepare the canning equipment and jars.
“When canning, you also can’t just put the jars in the canner, seal it and then leave it there until you are ready to come back,” Brannon said. “You must stay with it the whole time from start to finish.”
The Fresher the Better
Gardeners can freeze nearly any vegetable. However, there are several that are prime options for freezing. These include corn, green beans, squash, peas, broccoli and greens such as spinach, kale and collards. There are a few vegetables that do not bode well in the freezer including cabbage, celery, cress, cucumbers, endive, lettuce, radishes and potatoes.
“Cucumbers and cabbage would not do well frozen to use as in a raw salad,” Brannon said. “However, they could be frozen as a marinated product like as freezer coleslaw or freezer pickles.” When picking vegetables to freeze, time is of the essence. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to have the produce picked, prepped and packed in the freezer within two hours of picking them. In general, vegetables are better if they are picked early in the morning, right when the dew is off the vines. When picking vegetables to freeze, remember tender and just-matured ones are best.
Wash, Blanch, Pack and Freeze
The first step to prepping vegetables is a thorough wash. This is the perfect time to look for and remove inferior or overly mature vegetables. After washing, it is time to blanch. Blanching is a cooking method in which the vegetables are quickly cooked with water to stop the enzyme action. If not blanched, this enzyme action can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.
After the vegetables have been properly blanched, they must be shocked in cold ice water to stop the cooking process. Submerge the vegetables into water that is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit or below to stop the cooking process.
“Right after the vegetables cool, pack the vegetables as meal-size portions in moisture- and vapor-proof freezer containers,” Brannon said. “Be sure to pack the vegetables tightly so you remove as much air as possible.” To keep track of when the vegetables were stored, label and date the containers before putting them in the freezer. Do not overload the freezer, because this will add to the freezing times. For more information, in-depth freezing instructions are available in the Alabama Extension publication Freezing Summer’s Bounty of Vegetables available at www.aces.edu.

ALBBAA Launches 2023 Best Fish Photo Contest

Alabama’s Black Belt features some of the best fishing found anywhere in America. There’s Lake Eufaula along the Georgia border. There’s Miller’s Ferry on the Alabama River near Camden. There’s the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers in West Alabama. The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association is again sponsoring its annual Best Fish Photo Contest, which gives anglers of all ages the opportunity to showcase how they enjoy the bountiful fishing in the Black Belt. No matter where in the Black Belt you hook a fish this summer, the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association wants to see your photos. Photos submitted for the 2023 version of the Best Fish Contest, which opens June 2 and runs through Aug. 31, can show any type of fish caught in the Black Belt during 2023. All photos for the contest must be entered through the Alabama Black Belt Adventures’ website. Voting will be conducted exclusively on the same page: https://alabamablackbeltadventures.org/news-more/shoot-the-black-belt/best-fish-photo-contest-2023/ The contest winner will receive a prize package featuring an assortment of Road Runner crappie and bass fishing lures donated by TTI Blakemore. The package is valued at more than $250. Visitors to the contest webpage may vote once per day, per entry, per IP address. In the case of any dispute, the decision of ALBBAA is final. ALBBAA reserves the right to approve or reject any submitted photo. Cause for a photo’s disqualification can include, but is not limited to, the following: the photo content presents the subject in an unethical or disrespectful composition; the photo content is perceived to cast a negative perception of anglers and their contribution to the management of wildlife; voting violation which imposes an unfair advantage to others; previous winners of the Best Fish Photo Contest from the past three years are not eligible to take home the prize. Anglers are also reminded to comply with all fishing laws, including purchasing a valid Alabama fishing license.

Extension Office News You Can Use
Black angus cattle and tomato workshops; and welcome Stephannie Nixon

By: Jovita Lewis, County Extension Coordinator
Black Angus Cattle Workshop: The Hale County Minority and Disadvantaged Farmers Educational Foundation hosted its Second Annual Black Angus Cattle Workshop on May 13, 2023. Founded in 2018, by Cornelius Joe of Greensboro, Alabama, this nonprofit organization has the mission of educating minority and disadvantaged farmers in producing the best quality Black Angus cattle for sale in Hale and surrounding counties, for commercial and individual sales. Local cattle farmers were invited to learn about calf working, vaccines, and health and safety while on the farm. Group participation was fun-filled and hands-on, as participants were allowed to give vaccination shots to some of the calves. The property is used as a demonstration and training site to provide practical, agricultural education to farmers and ranchers to be more cost effective in the field of cattle production. The educational foundation encourages youth participation to expose them to the various careers in agriculture and land management. A special thank you is extended to: Alabama State Representative Curtis Travis, District 72, Sun South John Deere, Pennington Seed, Greensboro Farmer’s Cooperative, Hale County Extension, Citizens Bank of Greensboro, The People’s Bank of Greensboro, Poarch Creek Band of Choctaw Indians, and Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension. Donations to help further the mission of the educational foundation are welcome. Inquiries should be emailed to [email protected].
Tomato Workshop Scheduled: The Alabama Cooperative Extension System will have a Tomato Workshop on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, starting at 2:00 pm at the Hale County Extension Office, located at 701 Hall Street in Greensboro, AL. This is a free workshop. Topics will cover tomato production practices and preservation. If you lack garden space and would like to grow a tomato, container gardening may be an option. The workshop will include a container gardening demonstration with a 5-gallon bucket: “Gardening in a Bucket.” Presenters will be Alice Moore, Olivia Fuller, and Rudy Yates, Regional Extension Agents with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. If you have questions concerning the meeting, reach out to the Hale County Extension office. Plan to attend? Register by 12 noon on Tuesday, June 13, by calling the Hale County Extension office at (334) 624-8710 or email [email protected] .
Welcome Stephannie Nixon: With excitement, the Hale County Extension Office extends a huge “Extension welcome” to Stephannie Nixon, our new 4-H Regional Extension Agent, for Hale and Perry Counties. On April 17, Mrs. Nixon hit the ground running to begin her stint with Cooperative Extension by participating in “Rabbit Showmanship Training” with other 4-H Regional Extension Agents. Day two included orientation to 4-H with Beth Yates, West Central 4-H SET Leader. Getting ready for 4-H Camp, participating in 4-H Team Meetings, and helping to host the West Central Alabama 4-H Competitive Events Day has immersed Stephanie into her new role. A resident of Sawyerville, graduate of the University of Alabama, former 4-H Volunteer Leader, and former Hale County Library Director, Mrs. Nixon’s area of expertise will be 4-H and youth development in Hale and Perry Counties. Welcome Aboard!
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University) is an equal opportunity educator, employer, and provider. If you need a reasonable accommodation or language access services, contact the Hale County Extension office at (334) 624-8710. We provide educational programs that serve all people regardless of race, color, national origin, age, disability, sex, gender identity, marital status, family/parental status, religion, sexual orientation, political beliefs, reprisal, or because all or a part of an individual’s income is derived from any public assistance program. Everyone is welcome!
 That’s All Folks: Until next week, here’s a thought to remember: “No farmers, No food, No future.”

This year’s Free Fishing Day is June 10, 2023

Each year, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources designates a “Free Fishing Day” for the public to fish recreationally in public waters without a fishing license.The event is part of National Fishing and Boating Week, which runs June 3-11, 2023. 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. 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 Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement and a free saltwater angler registration.

ADPH observes Healthy and Safe Swimming Week 2023

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is participating in the annual Healthy and Safe Swimming Week, May 22-28, 2023, an initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The goal of this week is to maximize the health benefits of swimming by promoting healthy and safe water activities. Each of us plays a role in preventing illnesses and injuries linked to the water we share and swim in this summer and year-round. This year’s theme is “Got Diarrhea? Don’t Swim!”
Germs can spread if someone is sick with diarrhea and has an accident in the water. Germs in the water can make people sick if they swallow just a mouthful of contaminated water. Although most germs are killed within minutes by chlorine or bromine at the recommended levels, the germ Cryptosporidium (or Crypto) can survive in properly treated water for more than seven days.Pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds with proper chlorine or bromine levels and pH are less likely to spread germs. To protect swimmers’ health and safety, utilizing pool and spa water test strips will help to monitor chlorine and pH levels of swimming pools and hot tubs to decrease exposure to germs.
Take the following steps every time you enjoy the water to keep yourself and others safe from germs.
DOs
· DO stay out of the water if you are sick with diarrhea.
· DO shower before getting in the water. When chlorine mixes with dirt, sweat, pee and poop, there is less chlorine available to kill germs.
· DO take kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers every hour. Change diapers away from the water to keep germs from getting in.
· DO dry ears thoroughly with a towel when you get out of the water.
DON’Ts
· DON’T swallow the water.
· DON’T poop or pee in the water.
· DON’T sit or stand on the jets at splash pads. Sitting or standing on jets can rinse poop particles off the body and into the water allowing germs to enter. Additionally, drownings are the leading cause of injury or death for young children ages 1 to 14, and 4,000 people die each year because of drowning. Parents can play a key role in protecting the children they love from drowning by:
· Making sure to watch children and pets while they are in the pool.
· Fencing off the pool when not in use.
· Ensuring kids wear life jackets in and around natural bodies of water, such as lakes or the ocean, even if they know how to swim. For more information on Healthy and Safe Swimming Week, visit the CDC or for general healthy swimming guidelines, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/

Hammerhead Worms: New to Some, a Pest to All

By Justin Miller
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — Last year, the gardening world was set ablaze with the hot topic of the hammerhead worm—an invasive flatworm. With the arrival of spring temperatures, Alabama Cooperative Extension System professionals say these worms are back and here to stay.
Key Characteristics
Meredith Shrader, an Alabama Extension entomology diagnostician, said although the hammerhead worm was a hot topic last year, they have been around for a while.
“While this pest is new to some, it has been in the United States since the early 1900s, when it was accidentally introduced from imported horticultural plants,” Shrader said.
As its name suggests, the most prominent feature of the hammerhead worm is the hammer-like shape of its head. This worm is also much larger than other worms homeowners may be familiar with. Its body can be as long as 15 inches but is more commonly between 8 and 12 inches. Also, this worm can have between one and five dorsal stripes on its body. With their predatory and cannibalistic nature, hammerhead worms’ prey mainly consists of other annelids, such as the common earthworm.
“Hammerhead worms thrive in hot, humid environments,” Shrader said. “In Alabama, this spring has been perfect for these worms and is likely the reason many homeowners are seeing them out and about. The recent rains and warmer temperatures have enticed them to wander into gardens and yards in search of prey.”
Their Environment
The places in which you may find hammerhead worms can change depending on the weather. Some of their favorite hiding spots include in leaf litter or under rocks, logs or shrubs. Because they thrive in humid places, moisture is an important factor to them.
“If there is adequate moisture, we will continue to see hammerhead worms,” Shrader said. “However, if temperatures rise and the amount rainfall decreases, populations will crash, and the worms will become more elusive in our environment.”
According to Shrader, greenhouse environments offer these worms favorable conditions, so they may be found in those environments year-round.
Control Options
Because they feed on beneficial and native garden creatures, knowing how to control hammerhead worms is key for Alabama gardeners. Katelyn Kesheimer, an Alabama Extension entomologist, said it is important to realize that these worms reproduce asexually.
“Because they reproduce asexually, if you try to get rid of them by cutting them in half, you will only make more worms,” Kesheimer said. “Also, they possess a toxin, and we don’t have information on how harmful it is to humans, so I would avoid touching the worms if possible.”
There are several control options for hammerhead worm infestations. These include putting them in soapy water that they can’t crawl out of and crushing them to the point where there are no viable segments.
“Other home remedies include spraying them with vinegar, as well as dumping salt on them like you would with slugs,” Shrader said. “These are quick-fix options if you only have a couple in your yard. However, if you apply large amounts of salt or vinegar to the landscape, it may harm vegetation.”
Also, amphibians will eat hammerhead worms, so they may help keep population levels low.
Reporting Hammerhead Worms Unnecessary
While hammerhead worms are considered invasive species, there is no reporting system in place through the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries or any other agency in Alabama.
“If you find them in your yard, you can rid them from your yard using the techniques described above,” Shrader said. “However, their presence does not need to be reported to Alabama Extension or any other agency.”
More Information
For more information about other gardening and landscaping topics, visit the Lawn & Garden section of the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

Ticks and Lyme Disease: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, are on the rise in people and dogs. Reported cases in people in the U.S. increased from about 12,000 annually in 1995 to approximately 35,000 in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, not all diagnosed cases are reported and the CDC believes the true number of human infections is likely closer to 476,000 per year.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates products that are used to help prevent, diagnose, and treat this complex disease.
Who Gets Lyme Disease, What Time of Year?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection most commonly transmitted via the bite of infected ticks, which attach to any part of the body.
The CDC recommends you check your dog daily, especially after they spend time outdoors. Pay particular attention to the collar area and around the eyelids, ears, tail, under the front legs, and between the back legs and toes.
On people, you will most often find ticks in moist or hairy areas such as the groin, armpits, scalp, and other hard-to-see areas of the body. And while everyone is susceptible to tick bites, campers, hikers, and people who work in gardens and other woody, and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, are at the greatest risk of tick bites. As many a suburban gardener can attest, with the expansion of the suburbs and a push to conserve wooded areas, deer populations are thriving. Deer are important sources of blood for ticks and are important to tick survival and movement to new areas, increasing the contact between people and ticks that carry the bacteria. Read more about the lifecycle of the bacteria and how it is transmitted to people and dogs.
In most cases, a tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted. If you remove it within 24 hours, the risk is greatly reduced. Symptoms of Lyme disease may take 3-30 days or longer to appear.
In the majority of cases, tick bites are reported in the summer months when ticks are most active and people spend more time outdoors. But this can extend into the warmer months of early autumn, or even late winter if temperatures are unusually high. Similarly, a mild winter can allow ticks and other insects to thrive and emerge earlier than usual.
How to Safely Remove a Tick
Using fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick. Your goal is to remove the entire tick, ideally in one piece, including the mouth parts embedded under the skin.
Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, and some ticks carry other diseases. To avoid infecting yourself or your pet, never crush a tick with your fingers. For more information on the safe removal, disposal, and identification of ticks visit CDC.gov/ticks.
Safe Tick Removal With Tweezers
Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, and some ticks carry other diseases. To avoid infecting yourself, never crush a tick with your fingers. For more information on the safe removal, disposal and identification of ticks visit CDC.gov/ticks.
Prevention
What can I do to prevent Lyme disease?
Avoid wooded, brushy, and grassy areas, especially during warmer months (April – September), although tick exposure can occur anytime.
Wear light-colored clothing so that you can see ticks that get on you.
Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
Apply insect repellents on uncovered skin, and ensure the products are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and shoes that cover the entire foot.
Tuck pant legs into socks or shoes, and tuck shirts into pants.
Wear a hat for extra protection.
Walk in the center of trails to avoid brush and grass.
Remove your clothing after being outdoors, and wash and dry them at high temperatures.
Do a careful body check for ticks after outdoor activities.
There are no licensed vaccines available in the U.S. to aid in the prevention of Lyme disease in people.
Symptoms and Stages
Symptoms of early-stage Lyme disease include:
muscle and joint aches
headache
fever
chills
fatigue
swollen lymph nodes
Another common symptom of Lyme disease is a rash (referred to as “Erythema migrans”). As many as 80% of infected people may develop a rash, however the characteristic “bull’s-eye” rash appears only 20% of the time.
Later-stage symptoms may not appear until weeks or months after a tick bite. They include:
irregular heartbeat and/or heart palpitations
arthritis (usually seen as pain and swelling in large joints, especially the knee)
nervous system abnormalities
When left untreated, the bacterial infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system and cause permanent damage. Lyme disease is rarely fatal.
However, if not treated properly, Lyme disease can become a chronic illness where symptoms might continue for weeks, months, or even years after the initial tick bite.
Lyme Disease in Dogs
Dogs can get Lyme disease, too. Typical symptoms in dogs include swollen joints and lameness, fever, and loss of appetite. Experts in the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine say dogs with Lyme disease occasionally develop serious kidney disease that can be fatal.
There are ways you can reduce your dog’s risk for tick bites and Lyme disease, which also reduces the risk of infection for you.
Regularly check your dog for ticks.
Avoid allowing your dog to roam in tick-infested areas.
Treat your dog year-round with topical, oral and/or collar tick products. Talk to your veterinarian about which product is best for your dog.
Lyme disease occurs much less frequently in cats than in dogs, and cats’ susceptibility to the disease continues to be the subject of research. However, the same precautions for dogs apply to cats, especially if your cat goes outside, because ticks on cats can be transferred to people and ticks carry other diseases besides Lyme disease that are harmful to cats.
There are several FDA-approved products that treat and control tick infestations. A couple of tick products are also approved in dogs to specifically prevent infections with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease by killing the ticks that carry the bacteria.
Lyme disease vaccines are available for dogs, but not for cats. Talk to your veterinarian to see if vaccination is appropriate for your dog.
Lyme Disease Tests and Treatment
If you think you or your dog may have Lyme disease, contact your physician or veterinarian right away.
Your doctor or veterinarian may test for Lyme disease, and/or they may immediately begin antibiotic treatment, depending on the symptoms you or your dog exhibit.
Most blood tests check for the antibodies produced by the body to fight Lyme disease. CDC experts report it may take several weeks after a tick bite for initial antibodies to develop. Because of this, the blood tests may not be accurate if done soon after a tick bite.
For this reason, your doctor or veterinarian may recommend treatment with antibiotics before the diagnostic tests are complete. According to the CDC and other experts, people treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely.
In dogs, the more subtle early stages of Lyme disease often go unnoticed. Even if your dog appears healthy, your veterinarian may recommend yearly screening for Lyme disease, especially if you live in an area where Lyme disease is common. If your dog’s blood test is positive, your veterinarian may recommend additional testing, such as a urinalysis.

Take care to prevent an invasive species garden takeover

By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Beauty can be deceiving, especially in the garden. Invasive species of plants are often pretty or ornamental. Whether homeowners purchase a plant or it shows up like a weed, an invasive species can quickly become a problem. Protect the garden and prevent invasives from taking root.
What Are Invasive Species?
Nancy Loewenstein, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System specialist, said invasive species are non-native plants that have escaped cultivation and become weedy problems. While it can be hard to predict which species will become invasive, some frequently seen invasive plant characteristics include: competitive (rapid) growth, strong reproductive pressure (produce a lot of seeds quickly and sprout quickly after cutting), easily spread seeds (wind, water, birds and other animals), easy establishment. To access a list of invasive plants in Alabama, read the Alabama Invasive Plant Council’s publication. More information is also available in the Alabama Extension publication, FOR-2043 Invasive Plants: Exotic Beauties Can Have Devastating Results. More than 50% of the species on the Alabama Invasive Plant Council’s invasive plant list are escaped ornamentals. Seeds from invasive plants—including escaped ornamentals—may end up in the garden or landscape where they act as weeds and can become an extensive problem.
Danger of Invasive Species
In addition to being weedy pests, invasives displace native species. This means the species replaces native plants, therefore displacing native animals, insects and soil microbes that depend on the native species. “As an example, non-native plants support far fewer caterpillars and other insects that songbirds depend on to rear their young,” Loewenstein said. They can also impact water, nutrients, fire cycles, wildlife habitats, outdoor recreation, aesthetics, natural resource management and productivity.
Removal and Control
Once an invasive plant establishes, control is time consuming and may be expensive. The best way to stop the spread of aggressive invaders is to remove the plant entirely. For smaller species, deadheading to remove the flowers before the seeds form is an option. Gardeners and homeowners can also pull seedlings or small plants for effective control. Cut down larger woody species. However, the stump will likely re-sprout. Homeowners can prevent growth by treating the stump with a herbicide. “Herbicides can control many species, but care must be taken to avoid damaging desirable species,” Loewenstein said. “Make sure to read the herbicide labels to ensure proper use. In all cases, it’s easier to control invasive plants when there are only a few of them rather than after the infestation becomes large and daunting.” Increase the health of ornamental plants by avoiding and removing invasive species in the garden.
Read more about stump treatments in the Alabama Extension publication ANR-1465, Cut Stump Herbicide Treatments for Invasive Plant Control. For more information on how to remove invasives in the garden, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

Spring into spring free from fire ants

By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.— Gardeners preparing summer vegetable gardens may find their plots already teeming with life, but not the kind they would like to see. Fire ants are common in yards, flowerbeds, playgrounds and gardens throughout Alabama. Kelly Palmer, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System livestock and forages regional agent, said there are many common misconceptions when it comes to controlling fire ant populations in the backyard or garden. “This time of year, as homeowners get out in their flowerbeds or yards to begin preparations for planting, they may find several fire ant colonies have moved in over the winter,” Palmer said. “It is important to remember that most home remedies do not control fire ant populations.” Palmer said the best control method for fire ants is to use baits. While the Internet is riddled with natural remedies, the tried-and-true application of fire ant bait—by the label recommendations—is most effective.
Home Remedy Misconceptions
Palmer said she sees many social media posts seeking recommendations for backyard fire ant control during the spring. Although people share home remedy recommendations with good intentions, these methods do not provide effective control. Professionals do not recommend control methods such as grits, club soda, molasses, boiling water, mixing mounds together, gasoline or diesel fuel. These are not effective means of control. “Part of the allure to home remedies is that all of the suggestions are cheap, easy to access and include products we are comfortable using,” she said. “However, they will leave the user ultimately feeling frustrated as they will not provide actual colony control.”
Baits
The key to fire ant management is to control the queen. Fire ant queens can lay hundreds of eggs per day and can live for years. Worker ants pick up bait products and take them back to the mound where they feed it to the queen. Using baits ensures true colony control.
“Bait products are extremely safe for homeowners to use,” Palmer said. “They contain very little active ingredient (insecticide), are put out at low rates and leave no residuals. This makes them a great choice in areas where children and pets play.”
Choosing a Bait Product
There are many bait products on the market. All have label uses for different situations—whether those are lawns, gardens or pastures. This can make it overwhelming when trying to decide on which product to buy. Palmer said there is no one-size-fits-all choice when it comes to choosing a bait product. Bait selection varies greatly depending on the person’s needs. Palmer said homeowners should answer the following questions: How fast do you need control? Where do you need control? How much are you willing to spend? Once these questions are answered, contact your county Extension office. Agents there will be able to recommend products to meet individual needs and work toward a summer free of fire ants. For specific fire ant control information, people can reach out to Palmer at [email protected]. More information on fire ant control is also available at www.aces.edu.

Alabama Extension provides resources for private well owners

By Cole Sikes
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Water connects everyone and everything in Alabama. From drinking water to recreation, this liquid necessity plays an important role for all walks of life. Many people rely on ground water to bathe, cook and even drink. This places a responsibility on private well owners to ensure proper water quality for their families. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System provides an invaluable resource for water well owners–the Private Well Program.


About the Private Well Program
The Alabama Private Well Program has been delivering education and outreach services since 2020 to help stakeholders with private water resources. Thousands of Alabamians utilize private water every year according to Jessica Curl, Alabama Extension water program coordinator.
“This program engages with the public through the creation of resources housed on the Alabama Cooperative Extension System webpage, webinars and in-person workshops,” Curl said. “In 2022, the available resources were expanded upon with the establishment of the Private Well Program Online Course.”
Curl explains that several topics for course participants introduce users to essential to proper well ownership and safety. Each attendee will learn about private water systems during the online course.


A Threefold Resource
By using a threefold approach—an online course, webinar series and digital print content—there is a Private Well Program resource for everyone. Curl said these resources are essential for Alabamians who are responsible for the maintenance, testing and treatment of well systems.
“Wells can become contaminated through failed maintenance, improper construction or poor stewardship practices around the well,” Curl said. “Access to these resources allows well owners to have a proactive hand in ensuring that their water quality remains safe.”
Topics included in all private well resources pertain to aquifers, well construction standards, water testing basics and interpreting results, water well maintenance and where to get your water tested.


The Best of the Best
Alabama Extension personnel, researchers, agency partners work together to provide education to well owners. This collaboration sets research priorities while also establishing a well owner network. This trustworthy team delivers nonbiased, scientific information to assess needs and identifies issues.
The group crafted its educational topics and curriculum after utilizing a statewide needs assessment for Extension personnel. Survey results determining approximately 36% of respondents contact county offices at least once a month with well water questions. Creators of the Private Well Program listen to communities’ needs and develop needs-based programming. Key components provided by feedback were inserted into program materials.
For any well owner, Alabama Extension’s Private Well Program web page is a worthwhile resource. To learn more about the program and its resources, visit www.aces.edu.

Ins and Outs for 2023 Spring Turkey Season

By Cole Sikes
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Turkey season is one of the shortest hunting seasons on the calendar. However, this shorter timeline only makes Alabama turkey enthusiasts savor it that much more. As hunters head to the woods to hear that unmistakable echo of a wild turkey, there are a few things to consider for the 2023 season.
Get to Know Your Bird: Eastern Wild Turkey
The Eastern wild turkey is the only turkey subspecies native to Alabama. This subspecies lives in mixed pine and hardwood ecosystems especially in bottomland and upland areas. In these regions, turkeys will forage from mast-producing tree species in the forest.
Mark Smith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System professor of forestry and wildlife sciences, said turkey populations can fluctuate each year because of several reasons.
“Poor hatches during previous years, weather and changes in habitat on or surrounding the hunting property are some of the causes of population change,” Smith said. “Although there seems to be a noticeable decline of turkey populations throughout their range, many areas still support stable or increasing local turkey populations.”
The typical mating season for Eastern wild turkey begins in early March, a few weeks prior to the beginning of Alabama turkey hunting season. During this time, mature male turkeys (gobblers) will audibly gobble, drum and physically strut to entice courtship with a hen. This is where the hunt begins.
Smith said there is a lot of great science-based research currently ongoing related to wild turkey ecology and management. For those wanting to keep up with with the latest science, Smith recommends listening to the Wild Turkey Science podcast. Through this series, Will Gulsby at Auburn University and Marcus Lashley at the University of Florida take your knowledge of turkeys to a whole new level in a conversational format.
2023 Turkey Season Rules and Regulations
Smith said there are a few things that hunters need to be aware of during the 2023 hunting season.
Dates
This year’s spring turkey season began with a youth-only hunting weekend March 18 and 19. Most areas of Alabama (Zones 1 and 3) will begin their hunts March 25 and conclude May 8. Hunters in Zone 2 (northwest Alabama) will have to wait until April 1 to begin hunting.
“Probably the most significant change that hunters must be aware of is that decoys are still prohibited during the first 10 days of the season,” Smith said.
Hunters in Zones 1 and 3 can began to use decoys April 4. Those that live in Zone 2 can use decoys from April 11 until the end of the season May 8. Don’t know what hunting zone you are in? Check out the Outdoor Alabama turkey season map to know which hunting dates apply to your area.
Bag Limits
It is also important to note that there are certain limits related to the number of gobblers harvested, both overall and within specific areas.
“For turkey harvests in 2023, the bag limit for turkeys remains at four gobblers, with only one gobbler permitted per day,” Smith said. “This limit includes both the autumn and spring hunting seasons.”
Smith said no more than two gobblers can be harvested from any one Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Community Hunting Area (CHA) or National Forest Ranger District. Also, hunters can harvest no more than one gobbler during the first 10 days of each season from each WMA, CHA, and National Forest Ranger District.
As always, to help with population monitoring, hunters must immediately record each bird harvest within 48 hours to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). Hunters may complete this task in a few different ways. The most convenient option is to record your harvest in the Outdoor Alabama mobile app. From the palm of your hand, you can send your harvests to ADCNR. You can also store your Alabama hunting licenses on the app. Hunters can also document their harvests through the Outdoor Alabama website, www.outdooralabama.com, or by calling (800) 888-7690.
More Information
Before heading out the door, make sure you have the correct hunting license along with your harvest record (paper form or on the app). If you’re hunting a WMA, be sure to purchase a WMA license and obtain a map permit at the check-in station. For more information on wild turkeys, visit the Wildlife section of the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.

ALBBAA launches annual Big Gobbler Photo Contest

This photo, submitted during the 2022 Big Gobbler Contest, shows Mary Elizabeth Kyser and the bird she harvested in Hale County.


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (March 22, 2023) – As Alabama’s 2023 turkey season begins, the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) reminds all hunters to enter the 11th annual Big Gobbler Photo Contest.
The ALBBAA’s annual Big Gobbler Photo Contest is designed to showcase Alabama’s Black Belt, which is widely regarded as one of America’s best areas for wild turkey hunting, while also highlighting seasoned and new hunters. The winner of this year’s contest will receive a collectible trumpet call hand-turned, numbered (only 200 made) and signed by Preston Pittman and Ron Jolly.
“Springtime in Alabama’s Black Belt signals turkey season has finally arrived and hunters eagerly take to the woods in search of the elusive black beard gobbler,” said Pam Swanner, Executive Director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association. “If you’re looking to enjoy the thrill associated with pursuing the largest game bird in North America, the Black Belt is the perfect place to be. Our region also boasts stunning natural beauty and incredible local establishments for food, drinks and fellowship before or after your hunt.”
Alabama’s 2023 spring wild turkey season officially began with a youth-only hunting weekend on March 18-19. Turkey season in most areas of Alabama begins Saturday, March 25, and the season runs through May 8.
This year’s Big Gobbler Photo Contest, conducted online on the ALBBAA website, begins Saturday, March 25 and voting runs through Friday, May 12 to allow additional time for any photos submitted near the end of the hunting season.
Here are the rules and guidelines for this year’s contest:
To enter the contest, hunters must upload, through the ALBBAA website, a photo of a turkey harvested during the 2023 spring wild turkey season from within the 23-county Black Belt region. The winner of the contest is selected exclusively through online voting.
Entries can be submitted and votes cast online on the ALBBAA website – https://alabamablackbeltadventures.org/news-more/shoot-the-black-belt/big-gobbler-photo-contest/
Participants are limited to only one entry and must fully complete the online form with the necessary information, including person (or persons) in the photo and the county where the gobbler was harvested.
Visitors to the contest webpage may vote once per day, per entry, per IP address. In the case of any dispute, the decision of ALBBAA officials is final. Photo contest winners from recent years are not eligible for entry.
The ALBBAA reserves the right to approve or disapprove of a submitted photo. Cause for disqualification of photo can include, but is not limited to, the following:
— The photo content presents the subject in an unethical or disrespectful composition.
— The photo content is perceived to cast a negative perception of hunters and their contribution to the management of wildlife.
— Voting violation which imposes an unfair advantage to others.
All sportsmen and sportswomen are reminded to purchase a hunting license online through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources before heading afield.
Only photos of turkeys harvested in the Black Belt during the 2023 season are eligible, including any gobblers taken during the youth-only hunting weekend that was held March 18-19.
“We hope hunters will participate in the Big Gobbler Contest and showcase the amazing turkey hunting in the Black Belt,” Swanner said.
Alabama has one of the longest wild turkey seasons in the country. Hunters are allowed to harvest a maximum of four turkeys, gobblers only, during the combined fall and spring seasons. Hunters are limited to one gobbler per day. Decoys are allowed in the spring season only, but decoys are prohibited during the first 10 days of the season. In addition, mechanical decoys are illegal in Alabama.
Each bird harvest must be immediately recorded within 48 hours to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR).
Hunters are also reminded to comply with all game laws, including purchasing a valid hunting license.
The ALBBAA promotes and encourages ethical hunting and fishing practices. The Big Gobbler Photo Contest is designed to further educate the public on the abundance of natural resources found in Alabama’s Black Belt region.
“We recognize that turkey season provides a prime opportunity for families and young people to enjoy the outdoors and create lifelong memories,” Swanner said, “and that’s why we invite you to visit the Black Belt as the weather warms this spring.”

Straw bale gardens a great option for limited space

By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Want to grow a garden this spring but are limited on space? A straw bale garden may just be the right thing for you. While straw bales are good for composting, they also make great planters. These compact, ready-made gardens can be easily cultivated in a backyard, on the patio or on the front stoop.
“Straw bale gardening is simply planting vegetables into a straw bale that has been conditioned or gone through a composting phase,” said Dani Carroll, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent. “It is great for urban areas and homeowners with smaller plots.”
Benefits of Straw Bale Gardening
Carroll recommends straw bale gardening for everyone, especially for individuals who have difficulty handling tools like shovels or trowels. Since urban areas often lack good soil or space, straw bale gardens are a great way to take advantage of available space. They also contain great nutrients for plants, when properly conditioned. Carroll recommends certain types of plants for straw bale gardeners.
“I like to grow herbs, flowers and traditional vegetables,” she said. “Shorter plants like tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and greens tend to work best. Taller, larger or heavier plants could knock the bale off balance, catch too much wind or simply be too large to plant in a single bale.” Transplants are the planting method of choice, as seeds are more difficult to germinate using this method.
Conditioning the Straw Bale
Before planting your garden, you have to condition the straw bale. Begin by purchasing a wheat straw bale. Carroll said wheat straw works best because pine straw does not break down enough and hay bales may contain more weed seeds.
The next step is adding fertilizer to the bale. Be sure to use a water-soluble fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. It is also important to saturate the bale with water before adding the fertilizer and thoroughly rewatering the bale each time fertilize is added. On day 10, add 1 cup of dolomitic lime over the top of the bale and water it in. After that, add some balanced fertilizer for several days until the conditioning (or composting) process is finished. The process should take approximately two weeks. Once conditioning is complete, you can plant the garden just like you would any other garden. Carroll recommends backfilling the hole around the plant once it is in place to fill any gaps and help the root system grow. Maintenance for the straw bale garden is the same as if it was a basic, in-ground garden. Carroll said gardeners should make sure to water regularly until their straw bale gardens have finished producing. Gardeners may be able to get more than one planting out of one straw bale. However, once the bales are depleted, the Alabama Extension’s Straw Bale Gardening Guide recommends recycling the bales. They make great mulch and compost. More great tips are available in the guide at www.aces.edu. Straw bale gardening is a great way for anyone interested in gardening to give it a shot. Visit www.aces.edu to learn more about this and other gardening topics in Alabama. Also, contact the Master Gardener Helpline this spring for assistance with your lawn and garden needs.

Pollen: a sticky situation for the better

By Cole Sikes
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – The appearance of pollen typically marks the beginning of spring, and it ­literally shows. If your vehicle or home recently received a natural paint job, there is a positive meaning behind the new look. According to Alabama Cooperative Extension System experts, people should view pollen in a different shade other than yellow.
What is pollen?
Simply defined, pollen is a powder-like substance that is produced by flowering plants and trees. Every tiny grain of this substance contains reproductive material known as male gametes that are used in fertilization of flowers–ultimately producing a seed. According to Alabama Extension Home Grounds Regional Agent Mallory Kelley, humans have a direct relationship with pollen. “Without pollen we would not exist,” Kelley said. “We can thank it for all of our fruits and vegetables that we eat every day.” Kelley explains that pollen is released differently by each plant and at different temperatures and times of the year. For example, when cool crops such as cabbage, kale and broccoli receive consistently warmer temperatures, their natural defense is to begin reproducing. The plant(s) will begin to grow longer shoots to produce flowers and begin pollinating. As a secondary reaction, bees will also begin pollinating these plants as well. Pollen is primarily transported by insects and wind–causing everyone to see it latch onto virtually everything in sight.
Where does it all come from?
In 2023, the common association of pollen’s coming out party with a particular month of the year has not proven to be accurate. Alabama’s consistent warmer temperatures during February has caused plants to begin pollinating earlier than usual. “Temperature certainly has an effect on pollen dispersal,” said Drew Metzler, an Alabama Extension forestry and natural resources regional agent. “In most years, I typically don’t see pine pollen dispersal in central Alabama until mid-March. Because we have had a string of consistently warm weeks in February and early March, it has accelerated the dispersal process by several weeks.” According to Metzler, all trees in Alabama pollinate including hardwoods and pines. In order to produce a viable offspring, cross pollination is necessary for trees to produce seeds. Trees are pollinated primarily by insects, birds and wind. Some examples of wind-pollinated trees are Southern yellow pines (i.e., loblolly, longleaf, shortleaf and slash) as well as oaks. “Because they are dependent upon wind pollination, these trees tend to saturate the air with pollen because it is dry and light, allowing it to travel through the air for miles,” Metzler said. “Pine pollen is the most notorious because it tends to be much larger than hardwood pollen. This is the reason why people can literally see clouds of it this time of year–both in the air and when it settles on vehicles and homes.”
Remedying a Sticky Situation
For those who are not fans of pollen–especially those with seasonal allergies–any remedy for removing or avoiding pollen is welcomed. Spring normally brings frequent rains that knock it out of the air as well as off of vehicles, roofs and outdoor furniture. “We are used to getting more consistent rainfall,” Kelley said. “We have been more dry than normal, so we need more rain to arrive.”
Other practices to prevent pollen from interfering with everyday activities are: Bring in outdoor furniture cushions to reduce exposure. Keep windows closed so that pollinated air doesn’t infiltrate your home. Exercise inside rather than outside. Take showers more frequently–especially prior to going to sleep to reduce potential contamination in bedding. Bathe pets more often because their fur typically carries pollen granules much like human hair.
A Different Point of View
Although pollen can be overwhelming at times, it serves as a perennial reminder of life’s cycles. The old saying don’t curse the rain applies in the same fashion to pollen. Too much rain (in this case pollen) can have negative effects; however, its purpose is pure, and many forms of life rely on it. Each season when everything seemingly has a yellow tinge, remind yourself that nature is at work–ensuring that our everyday needs are met.
For more information on pollinating plants and pollinators, search pollen in the search bar of Alabama Extension’s website, www.aces.edu.

Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Day
The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has designated Saturday, February 4, 2023, as the second of the 2022-2023 hunting season’s Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days. The first of the two special waterfowl hunting days took place November 19, 2022.
On February 4, youth under age 16 who are accompanied by a licensed adult hunter as well as military personnel on active duty and veterans (as defined in section 101 of U.S. Code: Title 38) may hunt for waterfowl statewide. Regular waterfowl season shooting hours, bag limits, legal arms and ammunitions apply to the special days. Hunting area rules and regulations also apply.
To participate in the hunt, youth must be accompanied by a licensed adult supervisor. Only one firearm will be allowed per youth and only the youth hunters will be permitted to utilize the firearm for hunting unless the adult meets the requirements of a veteran or active-duty military personnel. The adult supervisor must remain within arm’s length of the youth at all times and may accompany up to two youth participants during the hunt. The adult is also expected to review the rules of firearm safety and hunter ethics with each youth and ensure they are followed.
Youth is defined as an individual age 15 years and younger. Adult is defined as an individual age 21 years and older, or as the parent of the youth. The adult must have a state hunting license, state and federal waterfowl stamps and a free Harvest Information Program registration. Veterans and active duty military personnel must be in possession of a valid proof of service such as a military ID, Veterans Administration ID, veteran ID, veteran validation on their driver’s license or a copy of their DD Form 214. Possession of the mandatory hunting licenses and stamps is also required.
For more information about the Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days, contact WFF Migratory Gamebird Coordinator Seth Maddox at [email protected] or (334) 242-3469, or visit www.outdooralabama.com/waterfowl.
ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Big Buck Photo Contest continues, hunters encouraged to donate to Venison Provisions 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Jan. 13, 2023) – Deer hunters know the rut is in full swing throughout Alabama’s Black Belt.

As deer become more active, hunters will spend more time in deer stands in hopes of harvesting a trophy buck, and the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) wants you to share your deer hunting photos through its popular Big Buck Photo Contest.

“We’ve already received more than two dozen photos for this year’s contest, but we want to make sure people understand they can still submit photos and be part of it,” said Pam Swanner, director of the ALBBAA. “We see so many entries showing young people hunting with family members or youngsters experiencing the thrill of harvesting their first deer. It’s gratifying to see that, because the contest is designed to celebrate the bountiful hunting the Black Belt is known for and showcase the wonderful family memories hunting provides.”

The contest takes place online, runs through Feb. 10, and is sponsored by Tutt Land Company. Any photo from the current hunting season, which began in Fall 2022, can be submitted. The contestant who receives the most online votes before the season closes in February will receive a $300 gift card sponsored by Tutt Land Company for use at any outdoor retail outlet. 

Here are the rules and guidelines for this year’s contest:

To enter the contest, hunters must upload, through the ALBBAA website, a photo of a buck harvested during the 2022-23 white-tailed deer season from within the 23-county Black Belt region. The winner of the contest is selected exclusively through online voting.

Entries can be submitted and votes cast online on the ALBBAA website – https://alabamablackbeltadventures.org/news-more/shoot-the-black-belt/big-buck-photo-contest-2022/

Visitors to the contest webpage may vote once per day, per entry, per IP address. In the case of any dispute, the decision of ALBBAA is final. Photo contest winners from the previous two years are not eligible for entry. 

ALBBAA reserves the right to approve or disapprove of a submitted photo.  Cause for disqualification of photo can include, but is not limited to, the following:

n  The photo content presents the subject in an unethical or disrespectful composition.

n  The photo content is perceived to cast a negative perception of hunters and their contribution to the management of wildlife.

n  Voting violation which imposes an unfair advantage to others.

ALBBAA reminds all sportsmen and sportswomen to purchase a hunting license online through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources before heading afield. Additionally, successful hunters are also reminded to report their harvested deer through Game Check.

“It’s no secret that the Black Belt offers some of America’s very best deer hunting,” Swanner said. “We encourage people to keep submitting photos and voting online to pick the winner of this year’s contest.”

ALBBAA also encourages hunters to donate to Venison Provisions, a non-profit organization, based in Macon County, that processes donated deer and delivers meat to church pantries, food banks or other charities dedicated to helping feed the hungry.

Any hunter can donate a harvested deer by delivering it to Shana’s Place in Shorter, and some choose to pay all or a portion of the processing cost as a way to support Venison Provisions. The charity also provides a pick-up service to empty walk-in coolers throughout Alabama for deer camps, plantations and hunting preserves.

“Our goal is to connect the tons of unwanted, fresh, natural meat harvested by Alabama hunters with the over 20% of households statewide that are food insecure,” reads the Venison Provisions mission statement on its website, which also includes budget friendly recipes and a page for online donations.

The Black Belt includes the following 23 counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

We’ve had some phenomenal sunsets this week. Did you know you could run your sunset, sunrise and outdoor photos for free? Not only that, but we put them up on our outdoors page at www.recordjournal.net. EMAIL the original photo unedited to [email protected] and we will get them in the next available edition. Be sure to give us the town or area you took the photo and your name so we can give you credit. Photo by Kasey DeCastra, MvT & SCRJ Community News Editor

Breaking the ice: will plants recover from recent freeze damage?

By Justin Miller
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – The hiring of Auburn University’s new football coach, Hugh Freeze, isn’t the only freeze Alabamians experienced in December. A stretch of temperatures in the teens and below–including one of the coldest Christmases in decades–caused damage to shrubs, trees and other plants across Alabama. This has left many homeowners asking if their plants will recover from this freeze damage.
Symptoms of Freeze Damage
Freeze damage on plants presents itself through a few symptoms. Mallory Kelley, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, said the first symptom people will notice is a discoloration on the plant’s leaves.
“This discoloration can range from light yellow and tan blotches to jet black,” Kelley said. “This could be present on various spots on the leaf or on the entire leaf.”
For plants that are in pots or planters, this discoloration is often a bad sign. This is because they didn’t have the protection that plants in the ground typically have. Ground temperatures are often much warmer than air temperatures, so the ground acts as insulation for the plant’s roots. However, these plants may survive this damage, depending on the type of plant and its natural hardiness.
After the leaf discoloration, the leaves will most often begin to fall off the plant. Unlike their potted counterparts, the likelihood of trees and shrubs surviving this damage is much greater. Kelley said with these plants, most of the time there is no cause for immediate alarm.
“Most times this defoliation is no reason to panic, as most of our evergreen plants will leaf out again with no issues come spring,” she said.
Checking for Dead Material
After a freeze event, it will take months, or even spring temperatures, to definitively know if the plant survived the damage. However, Kelley said there is a test people can do now to check for dead material on the plant.
“Most times the dead material will be the tissue out on the tips of the branches and stems, as that is the newer and more susceptible tissue,” Kelley said. “Use your fingernail to scratch just below the bark to look for green and white, healthy looking material. Also, bend the branch slightly.”
If the area below the bark is brown and snaps off when bent, that plant material is dead.
“Whenever plant material is dead or damaged, we recommend that you always remove it immediately,” Kelley said. “Damaged material will collect water in the cracks and crevices and cause further rot down into the healthy material.”
To properly remove dead material, Kelley said to make cuts near the tip of the stem and continue further into the canopy of the plant. With each cut, examine the center of the stem.
“If there is brown discoloration in the center of the stem, continue to make cuts until that is no longer present,” Kelley said. “Once you see the green and white material, you have reached the healthy tissue.”
More information about freeze damage on plants is available in the Alabama Extension publication Cold Injury to Ornamental and Fruit Trees available at www.aces.edu. Winter has just begun, so there will be plenty of additional cold snaps that require preparation. For information on protecting your plants from a freeze event, read Protecting Plants During Frost Advisories.

Deck the halls with backyard greenery

By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Deck the halls with backyard greenery! Instead of heading to the store for decorations, why not take advantage of natural décor found around you? Lucy Edwards, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System coordinator for Chilton County, has some helpful tips for transforming your home into a winter wonderland.
Greenery
One of the most popular natural decorations of the holiday season is greenery. Edwards recommends following three important steps when gathering live greenery.
Remember that the plants are being pruned.
Carefully consider which branches to cut and which to leave.
Distribute cuts evenly around the plant to preserve the natural form.
When making a trip to the backyard or woods, there are some ideal evergreens to keep an eye out for.
“For decorating indoors, the best types of greenery to use include pine, fir and cedar,” Edwards said. “If you are decorating outdoors, it is best to use hemlock, spruce and broadleaf evergreens.”
Once the greenery of choice is cut, the challenge is to keep it fresh for as long as possible. For the best results, Edwards offers the following tips:
Use clean, sharp pruners.
Cut the ends of the woody stems at a diagonal angle to allow them to take in more water.
Immediately put cut ends in water.
Keep the greenery out of direct sunlight.
Immerse greenery in water overnight. This will allow the cuttings to absorb the maximum amount of moisture.
Spray dry foliage with an antitranspirant product–such as Wilt-Pruf–to help seal in moisture. However, do not use this product on juniper berries, cedars or blue spruces.
Store greenery in a cool location until use.
Display away from a heat source.
As greenery and fruit withers, replace throughout the season.
Kissing Ball
Looking to get crafty with the greenery? Edwards has the perfect, creative use for sprigs of greenery.
Mistletoe and Christmas go together like milk and cookies. However, mistletoe can often be difficult to come by. As an alternative, use Kissing Balls to carry on the tradition.
“Kissing balls are made of short sprigs of boxwood or other greenery,” Edwards said.
Oddly, the easiest way to construct a kissing ball is to use a round potato as the base. The moisture from the potato helps to keep the cut greenery fresh. After grabbing the potato, fasten a piece of wire to it for hanging. Next, insert evenly sized sprigs of greenery into the potato to completely cover it.
“To make inserting the greenery a little easier, try making starter holes in the potato with a metal skewer or toothpick,” Edwards said.
The greenery sprigs should form an evenly rounded ball. Once completed, decorate with ribbons or berries. Hang the ball from chandeliers, doorways or windows.
Bring the beauty of the outdoors in this holiday season with backyard greenery. For more helpful holiday tips, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu. Read Green Traditions for the Holidays or Holiday Spending.

Outdoor Alabama Weekly
Alabama Deer Hunters Asked to Share the Hunt

(ADCNR) Alabama deer hunters 19 and older can Share the Hunt and possibly win a hunt with Jackie Bushman. WFF Outreach Coordinator Marianne Gauldin, left, helped Yvette Harris harvest a doe during a recent mentored hunt.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division is teaming with Buckmasters on an outreach program to promote hunting across social media platforms.

The Share the Hunt initiative (https://buckmasters.com/Share-the-Hunt), which kicks off November 19, encourages deer hunters to introduce new people to the hunting opportunities available in Alabama’s great outdoors and record the hunt to share on social media. Each hunting mentor who participates will receive a Buckmasters subscription and discount codes for some great hunting gear.

Don’t fret if you’re not a Buckmasters member. The Share the Hunt promotion is open to everyone!

All participants must be 19 years old or older, including the new hunters. A new hunter, or mentee, is defined as any adult who has not purchased a hunting license in the past three years. Mentors are required to submit photos of their hunt along with a brief description of the experience to be eligible for the rewards and be considered for Mentor of the Year. Bonus points will be given to mentors who share their experience on social media.

“I think everybody should know by now that hunters and license sales have been dwindling for the past several decades,” said Chuck Sykes, WFF Director. “We (WFF) created the Adult Mentored Hunting Program, Go Fish, Alabama!, and Shooting 101 to reach a new audience.”

Sykes said the Adult Mentored Hunting Program was started after he realized that even some WFF employees weren’t hunters. They wanted to learn to hunt but were hesitant to ask someone to take them. He hopes the partnership with Buckmasters will expand that outreach exponentially.

“With Share the Hunt, we’re working with Buckmasters, trying to reach their membership to stress to them how important it is to share their experience and teach someone new how to hunt,” he said. “Honestly, hunters I’ve seen over the years kind of live in an echo chamber. The people we associate with most are fairly like-minded, and most of us hunt. When you ask most hunters how many people buy a hunting license in Alabama, they think it’s 40 to 50% because that’s the group of people they hang around with. In reality, it’s 4% or less who buy a license.

“There are people we work with, go to church with, go to kids’ events with who would really like to learn to hunt and be more self-sufficient. They’re just a little hesitant to ask for that assistance. We need to step out of our comfort zone and ask people if they want to go and teach them what we know.”

Sykes cautioned new hunters’ expectations can be completely different from those of us who grew up hunting.

“Something we have discovered through the years is that the motivations for hunting for these late-onset hunters, people who didn’t grow up hunting, are not what our motivations are,” he said. “They have no hunting tradition. They didn’t learn it from their grandfather or their father. You can’t talk to them about the tradition of hunting, and, most of the time, you can’t talk to them about the thrill, the sportsmanship, the ability to hunt an animal in its own backyard and get a sense of accomplishment from that. That does not resonate with them.

“They’re all about the food. Food joins a bunch of people. That’s something we enjoy. So, we have to make that the center, not that challenge of killing a big deer, not the thrill of the hunt, not the tradition. It’s about providing quality protein for the family and being self-sufficient. That’s what motivates most of the late-onset hunters. Now they may eventually get to the tradition part if they like it and hand it down to their kids. Once they do it long enough, they may get to the excitement and thrill of the hunt. Right now, those messages are lost.”

Sykes said the partnership with Buckmasters on Share the Hunt is a pilot program that will capitalize on the deer-hunting organization’s expansive membership.

“We don’t have the manpower to scale up the effort,” he said. “We felt partnering with Buckmasters was a natural fit. They have the membership and can reach potentially hundreds of thousands of seasoned hunters who could easily take one person a year and make a difference. Where we (WFF) can take maybe 100 people per year, they can take maybe 100,000 a year. We’re just trying to scale up what we know works.”

Jackie Bushman, founder and CEO of Buckmasters, agreed his organization and WFF have the same goals with Share the Hunt.

“Chris Blankenship (Conservation Commissioner) and Chuck are personal friends, and I think we’re all looking at the same thing – increase the numbers in our sport,” Bushman said. “I’ve always made this comment, if the 11 to 12 million deer hunters in the U.S. took one person with them, we’d have 24 million hunters.”

Bushman said he understands the access issue with hunting land and the aging of current hunters, but those hurdles must be overcome.

“If we love the outdoors and what we look forward to each fall, are we willing to share a hunting lease or private land?” he asked. “We’re not talking about family members. We’re talking about somebody that might be at the ballpark with you, or somebody at church, or somebody in business who has never experienced a hunt or maybe never even thought about it.

“Are we willing to take someone 19 or over out and teach them how to shoot, teach them about the shooting sports, buy them a license, and then take them hunting to see if they can get their first deer? There’s a lot of landowners who have management programs to shoot does. It doesn’t have to be a buck, although it can be. A lot of folks are looking for people to come in and help shoot the does.”

Bushman agrees with Sykes that the best method of outreach to newcomers is through social media.

“We want you to take someone hunting and take plenty of pictures,” Bushman said. “We want you to share the experience online and give back to the sport you’ve been taking from. That’s what it’s about. We’ve got sponsors who are going to provide digital coupons to the mentor and mentee. And somebody is going to win a hunt with me just to say thank you. The question is how can we help our sport? How can we leave a legacy?”

Bushman, who started Buckmasters in 1986, has hunted deer all over North America and has bagged some giant bucks. He said people have asked him the same question for the past 30 years – what is his favorite buck?

“People are probably thinking that’s the Alberta (Canada) buck or the Montana buck,” he said. “No, it goes right back to Myrtlewood, Alabama, when I was 15 years old. We were doing a dog hunt, and that 6-inch spike came across the top of that ridge. I shot him with a 12-gauge and 00 buckshot. In my mind, it’s like it happened yesterday. That’s what got me hooked on deer hunting.

“That’s what I hope, that these mentees who go out for their first time will have the same feeling that you and I had on our first deer. It’s a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of being a part of the conservation movement. It’s a feeling that’s priceless.”

Special Waterfowl Hunting Days for Youth, Veterans and Active Military Personnel for 2022-2023

The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has designated Saturday, November 19, 2022, as one of the 2022-2023 hunting season’s Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days. The second of the two special waterfowl hunting days is scheduled for February 4, 2023.
On those days, military personnel on active duty, veterans (as defined in section 101 of U.S. Code: Title 38), and youth under age 16 who are accompanied by a licensed adult hunter may hunt for waterfowl statewide. Regular waterfowl season shooting hours, bag limits, legal arms and ammunitions apply to the special days. Hunting area rules and regulations also apply.
To participate in the hunt, youth must be accompanied by a licensed adult supervisor. Only one firearm will be allowed per youth and only the youth hunters will be permitted to utilize the firearm for hunting unless the adult meets the requirements of a veteran or active duty military personnel. The adult supervisor must remain within arm’s length of the youth at all times and may accompany up to two youth participants during the hunt. The adult is also expected to review the rules of firearm safety and hunter ethics with each youth and ensure they are followed.
Youth is defined as an individual age 15 years and younger. Adult is defined as an individual age 21 years and older, or as the parent of the youth. The adult must have a state hunting license, state and federal waterfowl stamp and a free Harvest Information Program registration. Veterans and active duty military personnel must be in possession of a valid proof of service such as a military ID, Veterans Administration ID, veteran ID, veteran validation on their driver’s license or a copy of their DD Form 214. Possession of the mandatory hunting licenses and stamps is also required.
For more information about the Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days, contact WFF Migratory Gamebird Coordinator Seth Maddox at [email protected] or (334) 353-2057, or visit www.outdooralabama.com/waterfowl.
ADCNR 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. Learn more www.outdooralabama.com.

Black Vultures Test Positive for Avian Influenza in Montgomery County

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in cooperation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has confirmed Eurasian H5 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in wild black vultures in Montgomery County, Alabama. This is the second confirmation of HPAI in Alabama. In February 2022, a singular case of a wild, hunter harvested American wigeon tested positive in Limestone County.
In a statement from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier said: “We are aware of this detection and are partnering with ADCNR to assist in response. All poultry owners and growers should be reminded to maintain strict biosecurity and to report any sick birds to our office. For more information about poultry biosecurity and how to report sick birds, please go to our website www.agi.alabama.gov.”
Eurasian H5 HPAI was detected in the United States in January 2022 in South Carolina and has since been detected in 48 additional states, including Alabama. HPAI H5 viruses infect the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of birds, can spread rapidly, and cause high mortality in infected poultry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk to humans from Eurasian H5 HPAI is low. For more information about the risk of avian influenza to humans, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/h5n1-virus.htm.
The USDA monitors for the disease in commercial poultry operations, live bird markets, and migratory wild bird populations. Samples were collected for testing from a publicly reported die-off of black vultures in Montgomery County. Preliminary tests performed at the Mississippi Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Lab discovered the non-negative cases, which were then confirmed positive for H5 HPAI by the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.
Wild birds can be infected with avian influenza without appearing sick. The public should avoid contact with any dead or dying bird. If contact occurs, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and other birds. Hunters who handle wild birds should dress game birds in the field when possible and practice good hygiene to prevent any potential disease spread. Remains from processed birds can be buried where the animal was harvested or double bagged and disposed along with normal household waste.
The public is encouraged to report dead or dying bird sightings to ADCNR for collection and testing. To report a sighting, call ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division at (334) 242-3469.
For information regarding HPAI and domestic poultry, please contact the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Contact information is available at www.agi.alabama.gov.
ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Pitts Hooked On Winter Crappie Fishing on Coosa Reservoirs

PHOTOS: (David Rainer) Capt. Lee Pitts slides the landing net under a big white crappie at Neely Henry Reservoir. Pitts said Neely Henry and Weiss Lake have slab white crappie and black crappie. During the winter, the crappie are found on river and creek ledges in some kind of structure.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

If you love to head to the woods this time of year to pursue white-tailed deer, Capt. Lee Pitts is right there with you. However, if you want to take a break from the deer stand and catch crappie on Weiss or Neely Henry reservoirs, Pitts is your man.

“If you want to catch crappie this winter, I’m ready,” Pitts said as we headed out on Neely Henry, an 11,235-acre impoundment on the Coosa River in northeast Alabama. When he’s not on Neely Henry, he’s fishing Weiss, a 30,200-acre Coosa impoundment.

“Weiss has a lot more open bays and open water,” he said. “On the days you’re dealing with wind, Neely Henry is more of a river system. In the winter, the crappie tend to get more on the ledges and creek channels in that deeper water. So, on Neely Henry, you can get protection from some of that north wind. Also, on Neely Henry, there’s a 9-inch (minimum) length limit on crappie. If you’re looking to take some fish home for the freezer, Neely Henry has great options on that. I’m not saying Neely doesn’t have big fish, because Neely has some big white and black crappie.”

The minimum length limit is 10 inches on Weiss Lake, known as the “Crappie Capital of the World.”

Pitts said finding structure is the key to catching crappie during the colder months. The guides and serious crappie anglers work with Alabama Power Company to deploy fish habitat, such as cane beds with concrete blocks.

“On these ledges, I’m looking for the brush,” he said. “On Weiss and Neely, all the guys put their own brush in. We have multiple places with cane beds. We’re putting them out off the edges of the breaks in 10 to 12 feet of water, and we’ve got some even in 18 to 20 feet of water. That gives you options if the fish have not pulled up in the shallower water. If they’re still deep, you’ve still got plenty of structure to catch these fish.”

Pitts uses a drop-shot rig with the bait deployed about 6 inches above the lead. On tough days, he’ll go to minnows, but he prefers to use a variety of crappie jigs.

“I like the Bobby Garlands, the Slab Slayers and Baby Shads,” he said of his jig choices. “With this cold water, they don’t have to move a lot to make it have action. You can just quiver that rod tip, and you still get a lot of action without moving the bait out of the strike zone. That’s what I prefer.

“In December, we’ll start doing some trolling. Even though it’s still wintertime, these fish will start migrating toward the bays. The bait starts moving toward the bays, and these fish are just following them. Some fish will stay on the ledges, but a lot of them will start moving toward the bays.”

Pitts said his trolling technique depends on where the fish are located in the water column when they start heading for the bays.

“You may be in 20 to 30 feet of water, but these fish may be suspended at 10 or 12 feet,” he said. “That’s when you have to pay close attention. I watch my Humminbird electronics all through the day so I’ll know what depth those fish are staying in. I like to use either a 1/24th (ounce) or 1/16th jig head. That seems to give it more action even at a slow speed. If I have to, instead of going to 1/8th. I’ll go with a BB or some type of split shot above the bait, so I’m still getting the depth I need, but I’ve got a bait that will dance around in the water column.”

As far as weather, Pitts prefers days with some sunshine and a light ripple on the water. When it gets windy, it makes it difficult for a proper bait presentation.

“If the front of the boat is going up and down and the rod tip is jumping around, you’re not going to be very productive,” he said. “But I’ll go fishing with whatever weather we’ve got. If you’ve got a little ripple, that’ll push those fish onto the cover instead of just roaming and that will help you with the vertical bite.”

When the fishing starts to transition to the springtime bite, Pitts obviously changes tactics.

“You’re moving and covering more water,” he said. “You’re not fishing as slow or staying with vertical structure. The fish are not holding on the structure or anything in particular. They are following that bait. If you can find the right kind of bait when it starts getting to be spring, the fish are feeding up and getting ready for the spawn.”

Pitts said in late March and into April, the fish will start migrating from the bays and river channels into shallower water, heading to the backs of the creeks and tributaries.

“We’ll have two or three waves of fish that will come in during the spring,” he said. “If you follow a wave of fish as they come in and start feeding, you may find them at the mouths of the creeks and bays for a week or two. Then all of a sudden, they’re in on that secondary point, and then they’ll move all the way to the backs of the creeks and bust up in that shallow water and get on brush.

“Usually, the black crappie will come in first. So, in late January and February, most of what we’re catching will be black crappie. About a month later, you’ll start seeing white crappie. The white crappie will stay on the river longer than the black crappie.”

When the crappie spawn starts to wind down, the fish will start moving back out onto the main river and search for structure.

“That’s when dock-shooting starts coming into play, because Neely Henry has so many docks on the river, the backwaters and the bays,” Pitts said. “Dock-shooting is kind of like playing golf. You might hit 100 terrible shots before you hit that one. You hit that one cast just right and skip that bait under the dock and that line twitches; it’ll keep you coming back.

“Whether it’s a permanent dock or a floating dock, the fish like to get up under them and get out of the sunlight and feed up before they start migrating back to the river ledges.”

Pitts said when he gets clients from out of state, they don’t really understand the quality of crappie that live in Neely Henry and Weiss.

“I tell them we’ll catch some 12- to 14-inch fish, and they’ll say, ‘We’ve got those at home,’” he said. “I tell them our fish are pretty thick. All of a sudden, they’ll catch a 12-incher and say, ‘Look at the shoulders on that fish!’ Our fish have some meat on them.”

Not only is Pitts one of the top crappie guides in northeast Alabama, he’s also a cancer survivor. He’s convinced the great outdoors helped him through his recovery.

“I was having some health issues and, thank goodness, my wife (Laura) talked me into getting it checked out,” he said. “When they found the cancer, I was in surgery the next week to put a port in my chest. When I healed from that, they started an aggressive chemo treatment. I went through 12 rounds of chemo. They let me heal from that, and then I went through five weeks of radiation five days a week.”

Surgery followed the radiation, and Pitts said it was two weeks before he was back on his feet. The doctors told him the quicker he got up and got moving, the better it would be, but he wouldn’t be able to deer hunt that year and probably wouldn’t be able to guide that next spring.

“I had just leased a piece of property before the surgery, and it was all ridge property,” he said. “I had the surgery on September 23, and, by the last three weeks of bow season, I was climbing stands and shooting my bow. Then during the gun season, I would just sling a rifle over my shoulder and walk up and down those ridges, enjoying the woods. There were several days when I would sit on a rock and wonder if I was going to make it back or not. But I think just getting out with my hunting and fishing, I think that’s what helped me heal and keep going. I went right back into guiding. I wasn’t 100%, but I was out there pushing it.

“The biggest thing is my wife said God gave me a platform with my hunting and fishing and the people I’m in contact with. There’s been so many people who have come up to me at a tournament or on a guide trip and told me about a spouse or relative who was going through it. When they see me, I think it helps their anxiety about getting through it and being okay.”

Visit www.pittsoutdoors.com/ for information or call 256-390-4145 to book a trip.

“I’m not big on technology, so just call me and we’ll talk fishing,” Pitts said.

Governor Ivey joins in celebration of new boating access

With a recreational boat in the background, Governor Kay Ivey joins in the celebration of the opening of Demopolis City Landing. Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship emphasizes the need for new access to public waters and public lands for hunting and other recreational use. Governor Ivey prepares to cut the ribbon at The Launch at ICW in Orange Beach last week. (David Rainer, Hal Yeager)

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey recently joined in the celebrations of major improvements in boating access in west central Alabama and at the Gulf Coast with ribbon-cutting ceremonies at Demopolis City Landing and The Launch at ICW.


Governor Ivey joined local leaders and dignitaries on the banks of the Tombigbee River on Thursday to open Demopolis City Landing, enabling the area to capitalize on the increase in fishing participation and providing the ability to host local, regional and major fishing tournaments on the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers.


“I am honored to be here to cut the ribbon on the new boat ramp here in Demopolis,” Governor Ivey said. “Truly, this first-class project demonstrates the efficiency of Alabama cooperation. Working together with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), the City of Demopolis and Marengo County brought this $3 million investment to west Alabama, which will provide millions of dollars of economic benefit to our Black Belt region of the state.”


The Demopolis City Landing provides a four-lane boat launch with 53 paved parking spots, three handicapped parking sports, green-space parking for hundreds more and 250 feet of docking space.
“Here in Alabama, we are presented with the unique opportunity to not only use our state’s bountiful natural resources to grow our economy but to improve the quality of life of Alabamians through the encouragement of the use of our outdoor recreation,” Governor Ivey said. “This project will allow the Demopolis community to capitalize on great fishing on the Black Warrior and Tombigbee rivers. In fact, with this facility, Marengo County can now host regional and national bass tournaments to help promote access to these waters. Our friends at Alabama Power Company and B.A.S.S. (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) have continued their longstanding partnership by providing a pavilion for a much-needed space for organizations, from local bass clubs to the largest tournaments, to hold their weigh-ins. And folks, I have participated in a bass weigh-in, so I know that having some space will be yet another plus.
“I fully expect to watch the tourism industry grow even more after the opening of this boat ramp here in Demopolis. We’re known as ‘Alabama the Beautiful’ for a reason, and this opening will allow more of our families, from far and near, to get out and experience our great state. Folks, this project is not an end but just the beginning. In the next few weeks, Commissioner (Chris) Blankenship and the Conservation Department will be developing more boating access like here in Demopolis, but I know this one here in Marengo County will be tough to beat. May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.”


Marengo County Commissioner Jason Windham said the project went through many starts and stops before it reached fruition.


“I was about ready to throw my hands up, but Freddy (Padilla with Alabama Power) said you’ve got to finish it; you’ve got to do it,” Windham said. “Land the plane and get this project started.”
Bids for the project came in double the original estimate. To continue the project and complete the landing, ADCNR increased the funding they were providing, and the Marengo County Commission, the Marengo County Economic Development Authority, the Marengo Parks and Recreation Board, the Demopolis Parks and Recreation Board and the City of Demopolis formed a coalition to help fund the additional local match for the project. Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. provided funding toward the construction of two pavilions. Local businesses and companies provided other assets to complete the pavilions.


“It’s been an amazing adventure and amazing journey,” Windham said. “What we figured out was that when the City of Demopolis and Marengo County need to come together, they do. I’m proud to stand here today and say we landed the plane.”


Demopolis Mayor Woody Collins added, “If we tried to thank everybody, we’d be here for hours. There were so many people behind the scenes that have contributed. We know who you are, and we appreciate you so much.”


Commissioner Blankenship said he and Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos traveled to Demopolis and met with Padilla and Demopolis and Marengo County officials and quickly recognized the need for the launch facility and what it could mean for this area.


Commissioner Blankenship and Deputy Commissioner Poolos returned to Montgomery and met with ADCNR staff to devise a plan to find funding for the project and move it up in the priority list of other projects scheduled around the state. They also worked with the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers to speed up the permitting process to allow the work to proceed.


“The passion these guys have for their community and their plan to do something big like this was contagious,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “None of us had the money to do this project alone, but we figured that if we all pulled together, we could get it done. As with any project like this, there were challenges, but any time I called Jason or the mayor, these guys were great, and we worked through every problem. When the bids came in double, I was so thankful we were able to work together to make this happen. The river above flood stage, the bids over budget, soupy soil, rock that had to be drilled to put the pilings down, relocating endangered mussels and other issues were handled quickly and professionally, which goes to show that, if you’re interested in working together and want to make things happen, you can.”


Commissioner Blankenship said the improvements in access to Alabama’s great outdoors have numerous benefits that may not be readily recognized.


“Alabama is truly blessed with woods and waters from one end of the state to the other,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Black Belt is such a beautiful and important part of our state. I’m glad to be here to dedicate this new facility. With the spectacular fishing in all the various waterways, demand for boating access is through the roof here in Demopolis. Building public access is a priority for me as the Commissioner. Acquisition of public hunting land and other public recreational land, building tournament-style boat ramps and piers, trail-building and blueway creation are all in progress around the state.


“Expanding outdoor recreation is one of the biggest opportunities that we have to retain workers in Alabama,” he said. “Having a facility like this in west Alabama will really help this part of the state capitalize on the natural resources that God so richly blessed this area with.”


On Friday, Governor Ivey and Commissioner Blankenship headed to Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast and the dedication of The Launch at ICW (Intracoastal Waterway), just across the canal from The Wharf.
The new launch facility provides a great deal of access to the Gulf Shores-Orange Beach area with about 200 trailer parking spots and a multiple-lane boat ramp. The $19 million project was a joint effort with GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act) funds from the State of Alabama and Baldwin County. Governor Ivey committed $10.1 million in state GOMESA funding, while the Baldwin County Commission committed an additional $8.1 million in county GOMESA funding. Another $750,000 from local county funds supported the project.


With more than 1,700 feet of water frontage, the 47-acre property in Orange Beach has a ramp capable of launching six boats at once with docking facilities. In addition to lighted parking, that facility has six covered pavilions with picnic table seating, a grand pavilion, and more than a mile of concrete sidewalks and boardwalks throughout the pavilion and launch areas.


“This large capacity boat ramp was much needed in Coastal Alabama,” said Commissioner Blankenship. “The project was done first-class. The design and beefy materials for the piers, boardwalks, pavilions and restroom facilities were designed to withstand the numerous tropical events that impact this area. It was built right and should be here to provide access to our great boating and fishing resources for decades to come. The Launch at ICW was a dream of Senator Chris Elliott and others. We had numerous conversations on how to make it happen. I am so glad to be here today with Governor Ivey to see this dream is now a reality.”

Alabama Extension’s Operation Grow helps
veterans adjust to civilian life

Dawn Smith, Lone Oak Farm
Dave Flounders, Samson’s Strength

By Ann Chambliss
Making the transition from active duty to civilian life can be a difficult and sometimes lonely challenge for U.S. military veterans. In fact, the Alabama Department of Veteran’s Affairs reports that Alabama has one of the highest veteran suicide rates in the United States. Often, there are limited outlets that can help veterans deal with the physical and mental challenges they experience. Through the world of agriculture, Operation Grow works to help veterans better overcome these barriers.
Operation Grow’s Mission
Operation Grow is an Alabama Cooperative Extension System project under the Beginning Farmer Program with funding provided by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI). Through education and networking efforts, the project provides needed training for military veterans interested in agriculture.
“Serving our veterans in their farming journey is such an honor,” said Project Coordinator Harli Willis. “The resources we provide are available for all veterans and their families, and we are seeing outstanding, positive results.”
Curtis Pippin, program coordinator for the Auburn University Veterans Resource Center, is a veteran who–like others–has struggled with the transition from military to civilian life. He said Operation Grow is making a big impact on veterans’ lives.
“I believe Operation Grow and the leaders behind its development are doing all the right things to truly provide a hand up to veterans,” Pippin said. “The project is special not only because of the opportunities it provides to aspiring veteran farmers but mostly because of the connection it creates between communities and their local veterans.”
A Part of Something Bigger
Dawn Smith, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Airforce, found peace in farming. After her military service, Smith started working a civilian job. However, after 10 years at that job, Smith said she felt a pull to leave that job behind to start farming. Smith and her husband are now the owners of Lone Oak Farm in Notasulga, Alabama.
“It took me 10 years after retiring from the military to figure out what I wanted to do,” Smith said. “It was very hard because I couldn’t find the same comradery as in the Airforce. I was frustrated with my job, with the environment and being in an office every day.”
Farming was new to Smith, but Operation Grow helped get her started by connecting her with regional agents, publications, online resources and other connections to Alabama Extension.
“Farming helps you become part of something bigger than yourself again, similar to what you experience in the military,” Smith said.
Getting Through the Tough Times
Dave Flounders served in the military for 31 years. As someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Flounders finds that working on his farm in Lineville, Alabama, has helped him get through tough times.
“I really enjoy the work that goes into making something grow,” Flounders said. “From starting the seeds in a greenhouse to transplanting them in a field, it is a different mindset. Watching it grow is really something special.”
Flounders uses his love of farming to help other veterans that are struggling with homelessness and unemployment. In 2015, he purchased his farm and created a veteran village called Samson’s Strength. Along with his team, Flounders created the mission and vision of fostering independence and sustainable living habits for veterans.
“I wanted to work with veterans,” Flounders said. “When you have veterans together, they get it. It’s a brotherhood or sisterhood. They are bound together by what they have been through together.”
Flounders serves Operation Grow as a member of its steering committee. This group uses their real-word experiences as veterans to guide the project in its efforts to help veterans. Flounders said that each person’s experience coming out of the military is different. That’s why having a support system like Operation Grow is so important.
“Coming out of the military and going into civilian life is very hard,” Flounders said. “They (veterans) need a strong support system, and Operation Grow can offer that.”
Operation Grow has garnered strong support from partners across the state, including the ADAI, the Alabama Department of Veteran Affairs and the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission. Rick Pate, the commissioner of ADAI, believes this is the perfect project to help veterans.
“We have been looking for an opportunity to help veterans and beginning farmers, so it was a perfect match when Alabama Extension came to us with the Operation Grow proposal,” Pate said. “With the program’s infrastructure, I am looking forward to helping veterans get started farming.” For more information on the Operation Grow project and its efforts, visit the Operation Grow for Military Veterans web page on the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

Reduction in Hunting Accidents Reaches Milestone

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

(Hunter Safety Systems) Using a quality harness and remaining attached to the tree at all times are keys to treestand safety. Products like the LifeLine keep hunters attached to the tree while climbing to or descending from a treestand. Always use a rope to pull up your bowhunting equipment or unloaded firearm to your treestand.

More than 200,000 hunters will pursue the abundant game in Alabama this season, which means hunter safety should be at the forefront of any outdoors adventure. Captain Marisa Futral, Hunter Education Coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, would love to see a repeat of the 2021-2022 season, when zero fatalities were reported for hunting accidents.

“Last year was a good year,” Futral said. “Everybody needs to keep up the good work. There were no fatalities in firearms or treestand accidents. We had fewer treestand accidents than firearms incidents, which is unusual.”

WFF Director Chuck Sykes hailed the milestone and recently emphasized the progress made in reducing accidents in the field.

“Hunter safety is a priority for us at WFF,” Sykes said. “So, at the February 2020 Conservation Advisory Board meeting, I made a special PowerPoint slide out of our yearly hunting accidents showing that we had been slowly decreasing the numbers for the past several years.

“Zero fatalities during last season was a monumental occurrence. That’s the first time since WFF began keeping records in 1973 that we have had zero hunting-related fatalities. I certainly hope we can carry this over to this upcoming season.” 

Futral said five treestand accidents and 10 firearms accidents were reported. Of the firearms accidents, four were self-inflicted.

“Those self-inflicted accidents include stumbling and falling, or the trigger got caught on an object,” she said. “The key is that the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. Be aware of where the muzzle is pointed just in case of an accidental discharge.

“Also, no dove hunting accidents were reported, which was good. We had two waterfowl hunting incidents. One was self-inflicted, and one happened when the victim was covered by a shooter swinging on game.”

Two turkey hunting incidents were reported with the victims located behind the turkeys. One quail hunting incident and one hog hunting accident were reported, while four accidents occurred during deer hunts.

“The deer hunting incidents were basically careless handling of firearms,” Futral said. “The hog hunter stumbled and fell.”

Though not fatal last season, these accidents underscore there’s never a time to get complacent.

“Complacency will get you in trouble,” Futral said. “The number of treestand accidents are trending in the right direction. This is the lowest number of treestand accidents that we have had. We just need everyone to remain diligent about treestand safety. Most treestand accidents happen when you’re going up or coming down the tree. Make sure you have a quality safety harness, and the rule to follow is to remain attached to the tree when your feet leave the ground until your feet are back on the ground. We also had one accident happen when a hunter was moving a treestand, so be diligent when putting stands up and taking them down.

“I do think word is getting out about our safety outreach, on both treestands and firearms. Hunter education definitely helps, and our PSAs (public service announcements) are helping. I do think hunters are more aware of being safe when they’re hunting.”

Futral urges all hunters to follow the 12 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 holding and one leg 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 within reach even while you are suspended in your fall-arrest system. In the event of an incident, remain calm and seek help immediately.
  • Watch for changing weather conditions.
  • 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 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.

As for firearms safety, Futral stresses the 10 commandments of safe firearms use:

  • 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 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.

Practicing fire safety in the fall

By Cole Sikes

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Fall is a popular season for bonfires, campfires and prescribed burning in Alabama. To spread the word on practicing fire safety, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional agent informs everyone about responsibly enjoying autumn’s beautiful weather.

Ryan Mitchell said a thoughtful planning and careful execution are key to safe burning.

The Fire Triangle

Fire needs three components to thrive: oxygen, fuel and heat. This trio is referred to as the fire triangle. Without the existence of all three elements, fire will not thrive. Removing only one of these items will cause any flame to slowly burn out or disappear completely.

The term fuel refers to any material—living or not—that fire can use to spread. This can include anything from light, flashy fuels such as grasses or shrubs, to larger materials like stumps and piled storm debris that take longer to extinguish. Of course, in dry conditions, the ignition rate for these fuels is exacerbated by the lack of moisture in the air and the material itself.

Prescribed Burning

When driving through Alabama in the fall and winter months, large clouds of smoke rising into the blue sky may be alarming. However, these clouds are likely prescribed burns – the intentional burning of forest or agricultural land.

The use of prescribed fire has proven to be a very beneficial tool in agriculture and forest management. In crop fields it removes debris prior to the next planting, controls weeds and reduces pests/diseases. In forestry, running a low-intensity fire through a forest floor reduces hazardous fuel loads, decreases natural competition for timber, allows sunlight to reach the forest floor, improves wildlife habitat and nourishes the soil.

Before intentionally setting a fire, experienced practitioners conduct hours of planning to create a prescription of conditions needed to meet specific objectives. Prescribed fire is a safe way to apply a natural process, ensuring ecosystem health and reducing future wildfire risk.

“If you choose to conduct a prescribed burn, safety is of the utmost importance,” Mitchell said. “Under the wrong conditions, fire can easily get out of hand and affect property and life.”

Mitchell said everyone should contact the Alabama Forestry Commission for a free burn permit before initiating a burn more than one quarter of an acre in size. Also, check the agency’s website for any potential burn restrictions in the area.

There is also a training course for those who aspire to become a certified prescribed burn manager. The Certified Prescribed Burn Manager course covers 32 hours of discussion, planning and study of Alabama fire laws. Any individual who is interested in the use of prescribed fire as a management tool is encouraged to participate in the program.

Bonfires, Campfires and Burn Piles

Most Alabamians enjoy sitting around a good campfire or bonfire. These events are a popular way to bring people together during this time of the year. However, they can become dangerous if not executed responsibly.

Before grabbing those marshmallows, ensure the proper handling of fire – especially when starting it. Remove all flammable materials around a fire site including loose debris, brush, fuel cans, etc. before lighting a flame. This will mitigate the opportunity for fire to spread to undesirable places, such as vehicles or structures.

Never walk on top of a large pile to ignite it,” Mitchell said. “This action can potentially lead to falling or becoming stuck while fuel is rapidly burning.”

Mitchell adds that it is not a good idea to use gasoline or other accelerants that may give off explosive vapors. Using this method has the potential to cause severe injuries.

Feeling the Burn

Now that fall has come to stay, continue to practice responsibility when managing property or huddling around the fire.

For more information on burning techniques and safety tips, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

Hunters Commended for Cooperation at CWD Meeting

By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

One of the messages the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division wanted to convey last week at the CWD (chronic wasting disease) public meeting in Florence was to thank Alabama hunters for their response during the 2021-2022 white-tailed deer season.

WFF Outreach Coordinator Marianne Gauldin was among those greeting attendees at the meeting.

“It was great to see so many members of the community interested in the health and future of our wildlife resources,” Gauldin said. “Our staff also appreciates the opportunity to interact with them and openly discuss these topics and further understanding of this disease and related regulations.”

Amy Silvano, Assistant Chief of the WFF’s Wildlife Section, said last week’s meeting was a follow-up from the January 2022 public meeting held when the first case of CWD was confirmed in Lauderdale County in northwest Alabama.

When the first case was confirmed on January 6, an emergency regulation was signed the next day to establish the CWD Management Zone (CMZ) in Lauderdale and Colbert counties, encompassing the high-risk zone (HRZ) of Lauderdale County west of U.S. Highway 43 and the buffer zone (BZ), the remaining area east of Highway 43 in Lauderdale County and all of Colbert County. The emergency regulation also extended the either-sex deer season on all open permit, private, and WMA lands, removed the seasonal and daily bag limits for antlered and unantlered deer, and removed the antler restriction for deer harvest in the CMZ. It became mandatory for any deer harvested within the HRZ to be made available for sampling. Hunters were strongly encouraged that deer harvested in the BZ be sampled. Carcass restrictions were also put in place that prohibited the transport of deer carcasses and deer parts in the CMZ. Deer harvested in the HRZ must remain in the HRZ, and deer harvested in the BZ must remain in the CMZ.

“The reason for relaxing harvest regulations in Lauderdale and Colbert counties for the remainder of the season was to remove barriers for us to get samples,” Silvano said. “We were relying on our hunters to get those samples. We had 30 days left in the 2021-2022 season, so we wanted to engage our hunters, who have always been our best cooperators in managing the deer herd. When we had our first positive, we didn’t know what the extent or distribution of the disease could be in that area.”

Prior to last season’s emergency regulation, WFF had received 65 samples from the CMZ as part of their normal CWD surveillance sampling procedures. After the emergency regulation went into effect, a total of 968 samples were collected from hunter-harvested deer in the CMZ, with 499 coming from Lauderdale County and 469 coming from Colbert County. This increased number of samples meant that WFF had access to more information about the distribution of the disease. 

“We really do need to thank the hunters for providing us with that information,” Silvano said. “From those 968 samples, it wasn’t the best-case scenario – that we didn’t detect anything else – but we only detected one additional positive from a hunter-harvested deer, which was only a couple miles southeast of the original positive. That did not change any of our lines. It was detected in the HRZ and still 10 miles or more from Colbert County.”

Because the emergency regulation was only in effect for 120 days, it was replaced with a new CWD regulation that went into effect on July 15. The zones and carcass transport restrictions remained the same. Under the new regulation, the baiting or supplemental feeding of deer is banned within the CMZ.

“We put in the ban because, unfortunately, we detected a second case,” Silvano said. “This regulation is put into place to help minimize the risk of disease spread. Baiting and supplemental feeding congregate animals at a certain point. CWD is a highly contagious disease. The carcass transport and movement regulation also helps to minimize the risk of spread.”

During the final 30 days of the 2021-2022 season, all hunter-harvested deer in the HRZ were required to be submitted for sampling. Under the new regulation, WFF will conduct mandatory sampling on deer harvested on open permit and private land on two weekends in the HRZ and two weekends in the BZ. The mandatory weekends in the HRZ are November 19-20 and December 3-4, 2022. The mandatory weekends in the BZ are November 19-20, 2022, and January 7-8, 2023.

All deer harvested by hunters on public land in the CMZ are required to be sampled. Those public lands include the Freedom Hills WMA, Lauderdale WMA, Seven-Mile Island WMA and Riverton Community Hunting Area.

“Those mandatory weekends correspond to the weekends when we have peaks of harvest, opening weekend and during the rut,” Silvano said. “Outside of those weekends, we highly encourage people to voluntarily drop off hunter-harvested deer at the self-service freezer locations (www.outdooralabama.com/cwd/cwd-sampling). Those will be available 24/7. Check the interactive freezer location map. We are adding freezer locations as we get a new cooperator location. We have freezers in several counties throughout the state. You should be able to find one near you.”

Silvano said after the deer harvest regulations in the CMZ were relaxed during the last 30 days of the 2021-2022 season some hunters were concerned that too many deer would be harvested in the CMZ, impacting the population in the area. Silvano said that is not what happened at all. Game Check indicated harvest increased only about 15 percent during the last 30 days of the 2021-2022 season compared to same period during the 2020-2021 season.

“That was fantastic and is what we needed for us to get CWD samples,’ she said. “But Game Check numbers indicated we had an overall decrease for the entire season in the CMZ. In Lauderdale County alone, we had an estimated 20% decrease in total harvest from the 2020-2021 season. Overall, we took less deer out of that area compared to the previous year. We were not decimating the deer population.”

WFF Director Chuck Sykes said as hunters prepare for the 2022-2023 deer season, which starts in October with archery season, he hopes the prevalence of CWD in Alabama will remain very low.

“I can’t say we’re not going to find another positive; I just hope it’s slow to spread and slow to come in from a different area,” Sykes said. “Last year, when we announced the positive, there was a lot of speculation and misinformation that was stirred up. After the social media warriors slowed down and took a breath, it settled down. The hunters responded extremely well. They provided the samples needed. I think it went as well as it possibly could have. I’m hopeful this year will be the same. We just want people to be calm. I’m going to have my deer tested. If I take a deer off the farm in Choctaw County, I’m possibly going to cook it that evening. Unless something makes me consider otherwise, I’m not concerned. I will submit some heads off our property for testing to help with our statewide surveillance.

“We want people to continue hunting and enjoying the outdoors. Be smart about CWD. Be aware of the risks and challenges and act accordingly.”

For more information about CWD in Alabama, visit www.outdooralabama.com/cwd-info.

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 Nov. 2022 through Jan. 2023. To register for the hunts, call (334) 289-8030 starting Oct. 3. 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 may 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: Nov. 23, 30; Dec. 14, 17, 21, 28; Jan. 4, 7, 11, 18, 21, 25. 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 outdooralabama.com. For more information about the hunt details or registration process, call Brae Buckner with the ADCNR State Lands Division at (334) 868-1684, or email [email protected].

Waterfowl survey produces mixed results

The most common waterfowl species encountered by Alabama is the wood duck like this one taken by B.J. Davis in Choctaw County.
(Justin Grider, Billy Pope) Michael Horger bagged this gadwall from a layout boat on the Tennessee River.
Registration for sandhill crane hunts continues through 8 a.m. September 28.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
For the first time since 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was able to conduct the waterfowl breeding population survey, and the results were mixed. Overall waterfowl numbers in 2022 were down from the 2019 count, but the number of breeding ponds observed in 2022 was up 9%.
Seth Maddox, Migratory Bird Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, said the numbers were about what he expected.
“I’m not really surprised,” Maddox said. “It had been dry the previous year (2021) on the prairies, so there was a lot less water available for breeding. That would drive the population of a lot of these species down from the 2019 numbers. Most of it is habitat related.”
The overall estimate for 2022 was 34.2 million ducks, compared to 38.89 million in 2019. Numbers of mallards, considered the keystone duck species, declined 23% compared to 2019 numbers, down 9% from the long-term average. Gadwall numbers were down 18%, but they are still 30% above their long-term average. American wigeon was down 25%, 19% below the long-term average, and northern pintails were down 21%, 54% below their long-term average.
The pintail count of 1.78 million ducks is the number that concerns Maddox the most.
“The northern pintail is on a pretty precipitous decline,” he said. “We’re actually within 30,000 birds of closing the season down. That’s all tied to habitat on the prairies. They’re kind of a niche species. They like to nest in crop fields, and a lot of their nests get destroyed by agricultural implements when they are working those fields. Historically, they’ve nested in the short-grass prairies, but a lot of that short grass has been turned into agriculture, and the birds are not dealing very well with the transition to the new landscape up there. It is concerning. I expect that within the next couple of years we’ll see a closed season if there’s no change.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for waterfowl populations, however, because several species are doing well.
“A few species are up,” Maddox said. “Redheads are up. Blue-winged teal are way up, and their population continues to grow. Early teal season should be good. The count doesn’t tell the whole story because the habitat has now rebounded. So, we had a really good year of breeding this summer. All the counts were taken before nesting and breeding occurred. We should, based on the habitat conditions this year, have had a really good hatch, and we should have a good fall flight.”
The early teal season opened on September 10 and runs through September 25 with a six-bird daily bag limit. Hunting is from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
In the latest survey, blue-winged teal numbers increased 19% and are 27% above the long-term average. Redhead numbers were up 35% from 2019 and 36% over the long-term average.
“Most species are doing pretty good over the long term,” said Maddox, who recently attended a Mississippi Flyway Council meeting in Orange Beach, Alabama. “It doesn’t really concern me that much that we had a one-off incident of poor habitat conditions.
“What happens is those prairie potholes need to regenerate,” he said. “It’s a good thing that they dry out every once in a while. You get sunlight to the soil. The seeds in the soil can grow and put abundant vegetation back in those potholes and increase their food source for nesting and brood-rearing. It’s a good thing to have a reset, and we have good conditions this year. The rain and snow came back to the prairies in the winter and spring, so there’s plenty of water for brood-rearing. The fall flight should be up from what it was. We had a pretty poor season last year because there weren’t many birds in that fall flight, the winter migration South.”
Maddox said the liberal bag limit of six ducks per day will remain in effect for 2022-2023 and 2023-2024. That daily limit may include no more than 4 mallards (no more than 2 of which can be females), 3 wood ducks, 1 mottled duck, 2 black ducks, 2 redhead, 1 pintail, 2 canvasback and 1 scaup. The aggregate bag limit for dark geese (Canada, white-fronted, Brant) is 5 per day, which is the same limit for light geese (snow, blue and Ross’s). Visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/waterfowl-hunting-alabama and click on the link for the Alabama Waterfowl Hunting Guide for season dates.
“I just got back from the Flyway meeting where we set the frameworks for 2023-2024,” he said. “There are no closed seasons on any of the species. My guess is we could see a closed season on pintails for the 2024-2025 season.”
While the fall flight should be improved, Maddox always cautions that waterfowlers hunting in Alabama may not reap the full benefits of the fall flight.
“We’re at the southern end of the flyway in Alabama,” he said. “No matter how many ducks are on the landscape, we still need cold weather, snow and ice to have good numbers. We’ll always have some ducks, but to get good numbers, we need ice cover north of us.”
Unlike last year when many of the ducks that made it to Alabama had experienced previous hunting seasons, the good conditions in the prairie this past year could bring some less-savvy birds into the state.
“These birds that make their first migration south are kind of naïve to the area and the hunting pressure,” Maddox said. “Typically, those are the birds that get harvested. We typically harvest two young birds to every adult bird. Last year, with the poor fall flight, we saw a reduction in harvest because the birds had been here before and had experienced hunting pressure. The more young birds in the fall flight typically equates to better hunting.”
In other migratory bird news, registration for the sandhill crane season opened on September 7 and runs through 8 a.m. on September 28. Drawn hunters will have until 1 p.m. on October 5 to pass the ID and regulations test and accept their hunting status. The season dates are December 3, 2022, through January 8, 2023, and January 16-31, 2023. The daily bag, season and possession limit is three sandhill cranes per permit holder.
“The sandhill crane season is going really well,” Maddox said. “This will be our fourth season under the experimental season rules from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At the last flyway meeting, we asked for an operational season. Moving into the future, we’ll have a season in perpetuity as long as the population stays healthy.
“Along with that, starting in the 2023-24 season, we’ll be able to offer more opportunities. We’ll have more permits and tags to give out.”
The sandhill crane hunting zone is limited to North Alabama and encompasses the Tennessee Valley and Weiss Lake to ensure hunters don’t encounter any birds from experimental populations in Mississippi and Florida. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/sandhill-crane-hunting-alabama for more details.

Youth Hunt Dates Announced for Forever Wild Field Trial Area

Nick Anderson, his daughter Presley, and Brae Buckner with ADCNR’s State Lands Division after a successful youth deer hunt at the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area in Hale County.

The State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) 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 2022 through January 2023. Registration opened September 13 and runs until November 1. 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. “Youth hunts like these create great bonding experiences for families and help young hunters become responsible stewards of our natural resources.”

Youth Deer Hunt Dates

  • November 19, 23, 30
  • December 14, 17, 21, 28
  • January 4, 7, 11, 18, 21, 25

Youth Duck Hunt Dates

  • December 14, 17, 21, 28
  • January 7, 11, 21, 25

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 Brae Buckner with the ADCNR State Lands Division at (334) 868-1684, or email [email protected].

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.

ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Indian Meal Moth: A Pesky Pantry Pest

Photo care of @AlabamaCooperativeExtensionSystem

By Cole Sikes
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Fall is one of the most important seasons to inspect your home for pesky pantry pests. An Alabama Cooperative Extension System entomologist urges everyone to be on the lookout for the common Indian meal moth.
Identification


Plodia interpunctella, also known as the Indian meal moth, is a household food pest. These moths get their name from their initial discovery in the United States after feeding on Indian corn, also referred to as maize. Their primary food source are grains and powdered products which are often found in food storage locations.


Adult moths can be identified by folded forewings containing three black stripes. Between each stripe is a brownish-red color that extends to the head. A fully-grown Indian meal moth can reach 12 to 13 millimeters in length.


Life Stages and Habitat
A female moth can lay up to 400 eggs in a lifetime. The moths will lay eggs on food sources such as grains, cereal, dog food and other stored foods.
“Infestations are year-round but are more common in the fall and winter when larger amounts of food are stored indoors,” said Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Extension entomologist.
After about seven days, the eggs hatch and the larvae will begin feeding on the source. Adults, however, do not feed on these grains. Signs of an Indian meal moth infestation are most commonly noticed after adults begin flying around homes or finding webbing in a stored food product. You may also find small pale-colored caterpillars
Hu said infestation inside homes can start from purchased food packages or outside populations.
“In neighborhoods with mature, nut-bearing trees, the moths can work their way indoors by first finding bird seed or pet food stored in a garage where the garage door remains open for extended periods,” Hu said. “Additionally, the moths are attracted to light and will self-spread from the pantry to any places with other foods.”


Moth Control
At full maturity, these moths live no more than 25 days. However, people don’t need to consider waiting for Indian meal moths to die off as a control method.
First things first, the best control method is prevention. To prevent Indian meal moths, remove the source of the infestation. This includes discarding infested products, bagged foods and any other identified sources.
The second hurdle is a deep cleaning process. Hu recommends using a vacuum to clean the corners of shelving, pantries and cabinets to eliminate any possible eggs. You may also consider utilizing a toothpick or a needle to clean out crevices, cracks and little pegs of adjustable shelving. Sanitizing pantries or other infested food storage areas is a necessity when treating Indian meal moths. These sites are notorious for collecting moth eggs, larval webs and pupal cocoons. Clean shelves and pantries with a wet cloth soaked in soapy water.
A final recommended step is to caulk and seal crevices and cracks inside the shelving.


More Information
Home pests can be difficult and frustrating to prevent and control. With proper education about these foes, everyone can be proactive in their home defense efforts. For more information about other home pests and how to prevent them, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.

Gopher Tortoise Conservation Gets a Boost in South Alabama

Gopher tortoise project at Geneva State Forest WMA – Kenny Johnson, ADCNR Radio transmitters were attached to 90 of the gopher tortoises released in the Geneva State Forest WMA.

Gopher tortoise project at Geneva State Forest WMA – Kenny Johnson, ADCNR ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship, USFWS Gopher Tortoise Lead John Tupy, WFF Director Chuck Sykes, USFWS Southeast Region Director Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, and USFWS Alabama Section 6 Coordinator Shannon Holbrook participated in the tortoise release.
USFWS Southeast Region Director Leopoldo Miranda-Castro and ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship release a young gopher tortoise into a starter burrow.
ADCNR, USFWS, Eckerd College and Birmingham Zoo partnered to release 98 young gopher tortoises into the Geneva State Forest WMA. The tortoises will be monitored as part of an ongoing conservation project.

Gopher tortoise conservation reached a new level recently when the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) teamed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Eckerd College and Birmingham Zoo to release 98 young tortoises into the Geneva State Forest Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Covington County.

The gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species, which impacts about 365 species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates in the sandy-soil habitat across their southeastern range.

Jeff Goessling, an assistant professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, who is on the forefront of the tortoise conservation efforts, said the gopher tortoise burrow is the key to the species.

“This is an important animal for a lot of species,” Goessling said. “It’s the burrow that has that function. They spend about 98 percent of their life in that burrow.”

The Geneva State Forest WMA gopher tortoise project, led by Goessling, is funded through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund (Section 6 program) with USFWS, which provides funds for conservation efforts for listed, at-risk and endangered species on non-federal land.

Amy Silvano, Assistant Chief of Wildlife for ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, thanked Eckerd College and the Birmingham Zoo for their contributions to the project.

“Both of these entities have stepped up to do the research and raise the headstart (hatchlings) tortoises that we released,” Silvano said. “And I also want to thank Dr. Craig Guyer for all his work on this project and his continued dedication towards gopher tortoise conservation in Alabama.”

WFF staff, Eckerd College representatives and Birmingham Zoo staff constructed starter burrows at the WMA in preparation for the release.

Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship, WFF Director Chuck Sykes, USFWS Southeast Region Director Leopoldo “Leo” Miranda-Castro, USFWS Alabama Section 6 Coordinator Shannon Holbrook, and John Tupy, Gopher Tortoise Lead for the federally listed range out of the USFWS Hattiesburg office in Mississippi, participated in the tortoise release.

Goessling said pioneering work done by Guyer, professor emeritus at Auburn University, revealed that population density of gopher tortoises is an integral part of a viable population of the animals.

“When the state acquired this land, we started to think about how to conserve gopher tortoises here,” Goessling said. “It became clear that, while the number of tortoises here is probably viable, the density was far below what would normally be viable for a species in a habitat like this – open, high pines, xeric (low moisture) soils and maintained with prescribed fire. Craig had an idea a decade ago of how to intensively manage populations that were large enough but not dense enough with tortoises scattered in numerous small groups across large areas.

“We said what if we take a site like this with 100 to 200 adult gopher tortoises and intensively manage them. We could likely produce a population that has a high survivability for the foreseeable future.”

It took about two years for researchers to document the tortoises across the WMA. A 40-acre pen was constructed, and numerous tortoises from the 9,000-acre WMA were relocated to the pen.

“We thought this was a cool project, but 100 tortoises is not where we wanted to be,” Goessling said. “We wanted to get more if possible.”

The researchers then focused on females producing eggs, which are buried in the soft soil on the apron of the tortoise burrow. Eggs from six nests were collected the first year, followed by another 11 nests last year. The eggs went to Goessling’s lab at Eckerd College to hatch, and the young tortoises were then raised at both Goessling’s lab and the Birmingham Zoo.

The tortoises released at Geneva were 1-year-olds and 2-year-olds. Goessling said those tortoises exhibited a much faster growth rate than those of wild tortoises.

“Our biggest 2-year-old is about the size of a 10-year-old in the wild,” he said. “Our headstart tortoises, under captive conditions, have blown the growth rate out of the water for tortoises in the wild from either Alabama or Florida. Alabama tortoises for some unknown reason are really small as adults, and we are excited to see that their young were able to grow so fast.

“The work done by the state here has been great. We can raise tortoises in the lab, but at the end of the day, we can’t be tortoises for them. They need to be wild tortoises out here in open canopy, pine sand hills.”

Some of the young tortoises were released into a smaller pen, and the others were released on an adjacent site with no restrictions of movement.

Goessling said the next step will be monitoring the animals with radio transmitters affixed to one of the rear scutes (shell plates) on 90 tortoises, 30 of which are the animals head-started in captivity. Goessling said studies indicate that a population density of one female per acre is optimum because females are territorial.

“We can identify home range and spatial activity so that, when this pen goes down, we can find out if they’re staying here and are successful in building this core population,” he said. “Or, say, five years from now, we can find out if they are not maintaining fidelity. Long-term monitoring is the next step.”

Guyer applauded the recent efforts to enhance the gopher tortoise populations in Alabama.

“In my opinion, our state has taken a leading role in gopher tortoise conservation with interactions with the Fish and Wildlife Service and also the Gopher Tortoise Council,” Guyer said. “I’ve been studying gopher tortoises down here for the last 40 years, starting in the Conecuh National Forest and this new area down here. The data that are being used to make these life and death decisions about gopher tortoises, a bunch of it is coming from Alabama.

“Managing animals in Alabama is a lot different from the peninsula of Florida. Those studies in Conecuh indicate a smaller number of animals on a smaller land area, say 10 to 20 acres with 20 animals, can become stable or grow. But they have to be managed. We have to convince managers that if they’re doing prescribed fire on three-year intervals, they’re wasting their time. It has to be every two years. As long as we can maximize our efforts on these small areas with high intensity management, these smaller pockets are going to be viable. Most of this data is coming on the state level. Our hats should be doffed to the folks at the state level who have positioned us quite effectively in these leadership roles.”

WFF’s Ericha Nix, a non-game biologist who leads the gopher tortoise project team, said gopher tortoises have been petitioned for listing as threatened or endangered under USFWS guidelines.

“We looked at our lands to be proactive and create gopher tortoise populations,” Nix said. “We had surveys done on our public lands and found that some of our lands have 100 to 200 tortoises, but they don’t have the density needed to be viable.

“The Alabama Forestry Commission and its state forest next door does have a viable population of about 500 animals, but they have been managing for decades with prescribed fire. We found an area with suitable habitat with canopy and soils, which is how we got started with this project.”

Nix said WFF will continue to search for other sites to enhance the gopher tortoise habitat and possibly keep the animals off any imperiled lists.

“The more viable populations we create, the more we can prove to the Fish and Wildlife Service that we do have tortoises in viable populations, and we also take that regulatory burden off of private landowners,” she said. “We’re hoping we can show this as a demonstration area and show our industrial partners that they can take a 250-acre area and manage it for tortoises. We’re currently working with the (Alabama) Department of Corrections to assist in relocating tortoises from their project areas. We have developers reaching out to us with tortoises. It helps them and it helps us by building viable populations.

“For gopher tortoises, habitat loss continues to be our number one issue, either through development or the solar (panel) farms that are hitting us really hard right now. Every tortoise counts in Alabama. We do not have the animals that they do in Florida.”

Silvano said gopher tortoises aren’t the only species to benefit from the intense management practices on the home range of the tortoises.

“One of the other benefits for this particular site is we manage it both for game and non-game species,” Silvano said. “This is a good example of how, when you manage the landscape for ecosystem function, it’s going to be beneficial for all critters, not just game. We want the public to know that when we manage the habitat, it benefits all species.”

Zach Hayes, a wildlife biologist aide at Geneva State Forest WMA, said after ADCNR purchased the property in 2014, intense work was done to improve the habitat through thinning the pines and performing prescribed fires.

“We had to open this place up extensively,” Hayes said. “We couldn’t plant our wildlife openings because of all the gopher tortoise burrows in those areas. We needed more open property for the tortoises to utilize, so we opened the canopy to get some light on the forest floor. With prescribed fire, we were able to reclaim our wildlife openings and plant food sources for the other wildlife to use.

“I love being a part of this. What’s good for gopher tortoises is good for turkey, quail and deer.”

Alabama’s State Butterfly in Moundville

“Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are among Alabama’s most common and familiar butterflies. They fly throughout the state and are on the wing spring, summer, and fall. The first brood emerges early in the spring, and female-seeking males are common sights as they search by soaring up, over, and through trees. They are also frequent members of “puddle clubs”, where they congregate to sip salts from roads and stream banks. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is Alabama’s official state butterfly. Mallieve Breeding, Selma’s beloved “Butterfly Lady” led the effort to convince the state legislature to choose Eastern Tiger Swallowtail rather than the Monarch. She declared that Monarchs only passed through Alabama on their way to somewhere else, while Eastern Tigers choose to live here.” Learn more at and help catalog sitings at https://alabama.butterflyatlas.usf.edu/species/details/108/eastern-tiger-swallowtail.
These Ruby throated humming birds are fattening up before the migration to South America in Moundville at Regina’s feeders. Visit aces.edu/blog/topics/forestry-wildlife/hummingbirds-in-alabama/ for more hummingbird information and to learn about the 14 species you might be able to see right now, and hummingbirdcentral.com/hummingbird-migration.htm to help catalog your sightings. Send us your outdoors photos! Not only will you get in the paper, but also on our award winning outdoors page on Moundvilletimesl.net. We post new stories every week. Photos by Regina Davis, Moundville

Down to Earth: Alabama farmers grow more while using less

Growing more. Using less. For farmers, it’s just that simple.
“A lot of data is out there to help us make decisions to improve factors we can control on the farm,” said Jordyn Upchurch, who raises poultry, cattle and hay with husband Chris in Clay County.
For years, farmers and industry experts have analyzed that data to select superior traits in plants and animals. That’s created innately efficient crops and livestock that glean higher yields with fewer inputs.
Take the poultry industry. Today, it takes 1.82 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of chicken. Fifty years ago, that required 2.4 pounds of feed, per the National Chicken Council. Chickens are humanely and efficiently grown in houses, which saves water and energy — a boon in Alabama’s hot climate.
A low feed conversion rate and high average daily gains help farmers like the Upchurches raise more flocks, providing more protein for a growing population.
The U.S. is a global leader in beef production efficiency, too, producing 18% of the world’s beef with only 6% of the world’s cattle, according to the Beef Checkoff.
Thanks to improved genetics, nutrition and herd management, U.S. farmers produce more beef per animal. Today, farmers produce the same amount of beef with one-third fewer cattle than in 1977.
Farmers also pinpoint cattle breeds ideal for their farms and consider heat tolerance, mothering ability, weaning weights, yields and even what grass the animals can digest.
“We pick them for what works in our environment,” said Chris, who raises SimAngus cattle. “We have a lot of fescue grass (which has a seasonal toxicity), so we need animals that work in a fescue environment.”
Jordyn added, “And that makes our cattle more efficient. It’s hard to change what kind of grass grows on your place, but you can change your genetics. It’s almost like a process of elimination.”
Other than delicious and nutritious steaks, roasts and burgers, there are hundreds of uses for cattle byproducts — asphalt, ink, dyes, adhesives, plastics and more.
That waste-not-want-not outlook links row crop and livestock farmers. More than 95% of poultry bedding material is recycled and reused to fertilize hayfields or land for row crops, like cotton. Cotton lint, or fiber, is then made into clothes, towels and dollar bills. Meanwhile, cottonseed is used for oil and cattle feed because it’s rich in fiber, protein and fat.
Brian Glenn and his brother, Don, raise row crops in Lawrence and Morgan counties. They capitalize on biotechnology, such as genetic modification, to reduce costly inputs and improve weed management. Roughly 90% of corn, cotton and soybeans grown in the U.S. have been improved through biotechnology.
“Genetics have changed so much,” Brian said. “The potential is in the seed.”
Twenty-five years ago, the Glenns shot for a yield of 130 bushels per acre on corn. Today, they’re able to harvest 200 bushels an acre. Tools like variable rate technology help. Variable rate farming requires machinery that changes the rate at which it applies fertilizer, seed and other inputs across a field based on need.
“We are spoon-feeding plants,” Brian said. “We take last year’s yield map (or an average of several years) and calculate the removal of ingredients a plant will need to grow. That’s what we base our rates on.”
Data banks and a penchant for sustainable production helped farmers nearly triple production over the last 70 years, while inputs like land, fertilizer and energy have remained stable, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
In 1990, farmers would have needed almost 100 million additional acres to harvest the same amount of corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat produced in 2018. That’s more than the land area of Montana.
As Brian looks across fields of non-irrigated, no-till corn and soybeans, he said he’s proud of the strides farmers continually make to efficiently use — and protect — the land.
“My goal is to leave the planet better than we found it, to make a living and ensure a wholesome, quality food crop,” Brian said.
Down to Earth partners include the Alabama Agribusiness Council, Alabama Association of RC&D Councils, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries, Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama Forestry commission, Alabama Poultry & Egg Association and Sweet Grown Alabama.
Interact with @DowntoEarthAL on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and visit www.DowntoEarthAL.com for more information.
Down To Earth Definitions
Feed conversion rate: A ratio of the amount of feed required to the amount of weight gained by a farm animal
Average daily gains: Amount of weight a farm animal gains in a 24-hour period
Inputs: Farm business expenses, such as fertilizer or feed
SimAngus: A mix breed of Simmental and Angus cattle

Preparing for the fall and winter hunting season

*Correction: A previous version stated “planting fields by broadcasting seed for the sole purpose of attracting and hunting doves is not prohibited.” That statement is incorrect. The article now correctly reflects dove hunting law. Planting fields by broadcasting seed for the sole purpose of attracting and hunting doves is prohibited. 

By Tanner Hood
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Fall is almost here and avid game hunters are looking forward to a season of sitting by the dove field or in the deer stand. Doves are in season, and it won’t be long before deer hunters can hit the woods with bows and firearms. An Alabama Cooperative Extension System wildlife expert says it is important to properly prepare before setting out on your first hunt.
Dove Season
Dove season is a favorite of many Alabama hunters. For most, it is less labor intensive and time consuming than other types of hunting. The two dove game bird species in Alabama are the mourning and white-winged doves. Mourning dove is the most common during hunting season.
“Dove diets consist heavily of seeds, which makes agricultural fields and food plots attractive for feeding locations,” said Bence Carter, an Alabama Extension regional agent.
Many dove enthusiasts hunt over harvested soybeans, corn, peanuts and other small grains or planted food plots. However, it is illegal to trespass onto another person’s land, especially for hunting. Always ask for permission to use any agricultural lands for dove hunting from the appropriate landowner before planning a hunt.
In preparation for dove season, Carter said to scout ahead to make sure doves are present on the fields. It is also important for hunters to make sure their firearm is clean and ready for use. Hunters should also practice using their firearms with sporting clays.
“Planting fields by broadcasting seed for the sole purpose of attracting and hunting doves is not prohibited,” Carter said.
Deer Season
Deer season is another popular Alabama pastime and is a natural source of food for many families. Mark Smith, an Auburn University professor of forestry and wildlife sciences, said there are several things hunters can do to begin preparing for the upcoming deer season.
“Hunters should take their rifles out to the range, begin planting food plots and make sure their hunting areas are ready and accessible,” Smith said.
White-tailed deer is the only deer species in Alabama. Smith, who is also an Extension wildlife expert, said one of the most important things for hunters to do this year is to watch out for deer displaying symptoms of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).
“Common symptoms of CWD include weight loss over time, emaciation, lack of wariness, difficulty moving or standing, lowering of the head, tremors, listlessness and excessive salivation and urination,” Smith said. “However, perfectly healthy-looking deer can be infected because it takes time for symptoms to develop.”
Firearm Safety
Hunters should always practice firearm safety before and during hunting seasons. Smith and Carter both said that visiting a shooting range and becoming acquainted with your firearm is vitally important.
Hunters should conduct target practice and make sure their firearms are clean and safe for hunting. Also, discuss shooting etiquette with other hunters in a group to effectively ensure no one is injured by firearms during a hunt.
Follow the Law
Each hunting season has laws such as bag limits, necessary licenses, legal shooting hours and season opening and closing dates. In Alabama, dove season is divided into multiple zones that begin on different days. Deer season has different periods allotted for the use of certain firearm types and exclusively harvesting does or bucks.
“All hunters should follow the rules, regulations and bag limits to have a good and successful hunting season,” Carter said.
To view these laws, regulations and dates, visit the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) website at www.outdooralabama.com.
More Information
Continue to prepare yourself and others for the first hunt of the 2022 hunting season. More information regarding hunting seasons, firearm safety and preparation is available at www.aces.edu.

Registration for Sandhill Crane Season Opens September 7

Sandhill cranes take off en masse over an Indiana cornfield in late fall.

Registration for Sandhill Crane Season Opens September 7
Alabama’s sandhill crane season returns for 2022-2023 with 400 permit holders having the opportunity to hunt sandhill cranes in north Alabama. Registration for the limited quota permits opens on September 7, 2022, at 8 a.m. The 2022-2023 season is split in two segments. The first segment runs from December 3 to January 8. The second segment runs from January 16-31.
Registration is limited to Alabama residents ages 16 or older or Alabama lifetime hunting license holders. Applicants must also have their regular hunting license and a lifetime or annual state duck stamp to register. Exempt resident landowners or residents over 65 must obtain a free Game Check H.E.L.P. number to apply. A $10 registration fee applies for everyone.
If selected through a computerized drawing, hunters must then complete an online test that includes species identification and regulations. After passing the test, The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) will issue the permit and tags. In addition to a hunting license and state duck stamp, selected hunters must also obtain a federal duck stamp, a Harvest Information Program license, and a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) license, if applicable.
Sandhill crane hunting is restricted to a specified hunt zone in north Alabama. The daily, season and possession limit is 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 and waterfowl hunting.
Prior to the 2019-2020 season, the last sandhill crane hunting season in Alabama was in 1916. Since then, conservation efforts focused on improving habitat have helped sandhill crane numbers rebound more than 500% over the past 40 years. Those numbers have continued to increase as multiple states opened sandhill crane hunting seasons.
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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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.
Funding from those 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. Over the long term, conservation of habitat has played an integral part in the population growth of sandhill cranes.
For more information about the 2022-2023 sandhill crane hunting season, including the hunting zone location, how to register and how the permit holders are selected, visit www.outdooralabama.com/what-hunt/sandhill-crane-hunting-alabama.
ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Steve Forehand Installed as Alabama Wildlife Federation President

 Steve Forehand, Alexander City, was installed as President of the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) at the organization’s Annual Meeting on August 6, 2022. Steve has served on the AWF Board of Directors since 2007 and brings to AWF a passion and commitment for the conservation of Alabama’s wildlife, related natural resources, and outdoor pursuits.

“Steve has been an outstanding board member and leader. We are fortunate to have someone with his experience, talent, and energy serve as the next President of AWF. He will be an asset to AWF and we are looking forward to a productive year under his guidance.” stated Tim L. Gothard, Executive Director of AWF.

As AWF President, Mr. Forehand serves on the AWF Executive Committee, the AWF Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards Committee, and a variety of other AWF committees.  Throughout his tenure on the AWF Board, he has been a key leader in the success of AWF statewide and growing AWF membership and support in the Alexander City and Lake Martin area in particular.

Mr. Forehand serves as Vice President and General Counsel with Russell Lands. He is a graduate of Auburn University and the Cumberland and University of Alabama Schools of Law. He has also served his community through the years, including service to the Russell Medical Center, Alexander City Schools Education Foundation, Alexander City Board of Education, Alabama Water Resources Commission, Lake Martin Resource Association, Lake Martin Area United Way, and the Alexander City Boys and Girls Club.

Outside of work, Steve enjoys outdoor pursuits including quail and turkey hunting, golf, boating on Lake Martin, and spending time with his family. He and his wife Connie have two children and three grandchildren.

The Alabama Wildlife Federation, established by sportsmen in 1935, is the state’s oldest and largest citizens’ conservation organization.  The mission of the Alabama Wildlife Federation, a 501(c) 3 non-profit group supported by membership dues and donations, is to promote conservation and wise use of Alabama’s wildlife and related natural resources as a basis for economic and social prosperity.  To learn more about Alabama Wildlife Federation, including membership details, programs, and projects, contact AWF at 1-800-822-WILD or visit www.alabamawildlife.org.

Tiny surprise house guest: This little black-chinned hummingbird accidentally flew into the house during the hummingbird migration Tues., Aug. 16. Don’t worry. After holding a broom upside down, the bird climbed onto the bristles and gently was taken to the door where it flew out and had a drink at the hummingbird feeder. In Alabama the hummingbird migration goes from mid August – September. “In the fall, leave your feeders up as long as the birds use them. Hummingbirds are migratory and travel south across the Gulf of Mexico and Central America when weather conditions are favorable in the winter. A rubythroated hummingbird can migrate 2,000 miles from breeding site to wintering grounds. Don’t worry about keeping hummingbirds here longer than they need to stay. They know when it is time to leave for their winter quarters. In the late summer or early fall, just before migration, a lot of hummingbirds may use the feeders and then disappear overnight,” according to Jim Armstrong and H. Lee Stribling, from Alabama Extension. Visit aces.edu/blog/topics/forestry-wildlife/hummingbirds-in-alabama/ for more hummingbird information and to learn about the 14 species you might be able to see right now, and hummingbirdcentral.com/hummingbird-migration.htm to help catalog your sightings. Send us your outdoors photos! Not only will you get in the paper, but also on our award winning outdoors page on recordjournal.net. We post new stories every week. Photo by Kasey DeCastra, SCRJ Community News Editor

Fresh Fish Dominates in AWF Wild Game Cook-Off State Finals

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Alabama’s abundant freshwater fish took center stage recently at the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) Wild Game Cook-Off State Finals at AWF’s Lanark Pavilion in Millbrook.

Two of the top three recipes used spotted bass as their centerpieces, while a tasty bream dish rounded out the winners.

“AWF’s Wild Game Cook-Offs prominently display that responsible hunters and anglers properly utilize the game and fish that they harvest, and it makes great and healthy table fare,” said AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard. “At the State Finals, the best of the best is on full display.”

Alabama Ag Credit’s Taco Lot team, which created Taco del Lago with spotted bass, was crowned champion among the 10 teams that qualified for the finals by winning their regional events held across the state.

“We used spotted bass caught yesterday (the day before the finals) and cleaned,” said Andrew Harp, head cook on the team from Lake Martin. “They’re fresh. We took a flour tortilla, topped it with shredded cheese and put it on the grill to melt the cheese. We love the grill taste. The base is Conecuh sausage, followed by the fried fish. We use a Zatarain’s fish fry with a little added spice. Then we top that with a custom slaw with green and red cabbage. Then we drizzle Sriracha mayo and cocktail sauce on the top. And we top that off with a lot of love.”

Although the competition was stiff, with a variety of dishes across the wild spectrum – venison, elk, wild hog, catfish and wild turkey – Harp was confident in the team’s dish.

“It was extremely exciting,” Harp said. “It was nice to be validated with a trophy. We didn’t come here to lose.”

Harp’s team had been participating in the Wild Game Cook-Offs for years, preparing dishes made to ensure the spectators didn’t leave the event hungry. The 2022 regional competition was the first time they got serious about the contest.

“At Lake Martin, we decided to enter something fun, and it won,” Harp said. “We entered the same dish in the finals, so that taco is undefeated. Where this recipe starts is the only thing in that taco that really matters – the Lake Martin spotted bass. Let me tell you where you catch them. Right in the mouth.

“The best time to catch spotted bass is in the spring when they’re going to bed. But in August, they’re extremely difficult to catch. But we did catch enough fresh fish the day before the finals. We caught them at night on lights. We use underwater lights, which attract bait fish, and the big fish come down below.”

TACO DEL LAGO

Serving size eight

Two 2-pound spotted bass, filleted (four fillets will make eight pieces of fish)

1 quart buttermilk

Zatarain’s Crispy Cajun Fish Fri

1 gallon peanut oil

8 small flour tortillas

8 ounces Colby Jack cheese

8 pieces Conecuh sausage about 4-5 inches each, butterflied

½ head red cabbage

½ head green cabbage

1 bell pepper, thin-sliced

½ cup sugar

1 tsp. ground black pepper

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Sriracha mayonnaise to taste

Cocktail sauce to taste

“When we clean the fish, we drop the fillets in buttermilk,” Harp said. “When we get ready to fry the fish, we take them out of the buttermilk and dust them with the Zatarain’s fish fry. We drop them in the peanut oil at 350 degrees and fry them until they’re golden brown.”

While the fish is frying, Harp takes a small flour tortilla and sprinkles it with cheese and places it on a hot grill. Leave the tortilla on the grill only long enough to melt the cheese, about 10-15 seconds. The tortilla will become tough if grilled too long.

The Conecuh sausage is butterflied and placed on the grill. When the sausage sizzles, it’s ready to go.

“My marketing assistant, Brooklyn George, made the slaw at the Cook-Off,” Harp said. “She took half and half shredded red and green cabbage, sliced bell peppers, sugar, black pepper and the Greek yogurt and combined. You have to be careful about the amount of yogurt you use. I don’t like a lot of moisture in my slaw on fish tacos. Just a splash or two of apple cider vinegar adds just little more acidity. We didn’t use any onions at the event, but sometimes I will add onions to the slaw. If you want the leftover slaw as a side, add a little yogurt to make it a little wetter.

“We used already bottled Sriracha mayonnaise and cocktail sauce. When I make my own cocktail sauce, I use ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco to taste. I use one run of the mayo and about a teaspoon of cocktail sauce for each taco. It doesn’t take much.”

Harp admits the winning taco was not developed by trial and error. It actually came about by mixing random ingredients after he and his brother, Dustin, had finished a day of Lake Martin bass fishing.

“Everybody I’ve talked to has never seen or thought about putting Conecuh sausage in a fish taco,” he said. “I can tell where this came up one day. This spring my brother and I caught some fish, and 99 percent of the time, when we eat fish, it’s the day we catch it. We catch them, clean them and dip them in buttermilk. At the Lake Martin Cook-Off, we cleaned them about two hours before we cooked them.

“My brother and I were frying fish one night, and we had just randomly thrown some Conecuh sausage on the griddle as an appetizer. I looked at Dustin and said, ‘Let’s make fish tacos. We can put the tortillas on the griddle. Let’s just do something different.’ With those Conecuh sausages laying around, I threw one on the bottom of the taco. That was the first time I’d ever made it. The Lake Martin Cook-Off was the second time I made it, and the state finals was the third time.”

Harp said Taco del Lago likely will be retired from competition because he has something else in mind for next year.

“We’ll probably have some Lake Martin bass there to taste, but there’s a 99 percent chance the next dish will have alligator in it,” he said. “Gator is a real clean white meat, and it tastes good too. What might taste good is gator and Lake Martin bass in the same dish. I might do that.”

The runner-up trophy went to Consolidated Cookers from Madison County with their Big Pond Bream Taco. Head cook Phillip Hall presented the judges with tacos filled with crispy fried bream fillets with three different toppings – mango salsa, pico de gallo and coleslaw.

“The key is the fresh bream,” Hall said.

A fish dish that wasn’t in a taco took third place. The Spotted Bass and Grits Cakes dish was prepared by Co-Op Cut-Ups, winners at the Selma Cook-Off. The team also won the award for best presentation. Smokin’ Aces from Talladega was runner-up for best presentation.

Curt Green of the Cut-Ups said their preparation started just like Harp’s.

“We took fresh-caught spotted bass and filleted them,” Green said. “We coated the fillets in Zatarain’s fish fry and fried them.

“We made our Pontchartrain sauce with cream of mushroom soup, onions, cream-style corn, shoepeg corn, crab boil and some other Cajun seasonings. We also put crawfish tails, shrimp and crab meat in it. Depending on how much you want to make, you start with one can of each and add a capful of liquid crab boil, which is a different flavor most people don’t understand. Then we add a tablespoon of Tony Chachere’s.”

The day before the event, the team prepared jalapeńo cheese grits, placed them in a bread pan and chilled it overnight.

“We cut squares of grits cakes, dipped them in egg wash and rolled them in Panko bread crumbs,” Green said. “We fried the grits cakes and put the fried fish on top and poured the Pontchartrain sauce over all of it.”

Trust me, it was delicious.

If you missed the state finals, the AWF Wild Game Cook-Off regionals crank back up this fall. The first event is on September 15 at the Birmingham Zoo. Visit www.alabamawildlife.org/wild-game-cook-off/ for a list of upcoming events.

Registration for 2022 Youth Dove Hunts opens August 15

Dosson, Jennifer and Jamie McKemie enjoyed hunting as a family at a 2017 Youth Dove Hunt on the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area in Hale County. Dosson (left) and Jamie McKemie wait for action at a 2019 Youth Dove Hunt on the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area in Hale County. Photos courtesy of Jennifer McKemie

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 15, 2022. Although the hunts are free, online registration is required. The first youth dove hunts of the season begin on September 3. For more information including a complete hunt schedule, visit https://www.outdooralabama.com/youth-hunting/youth-dove-hunts.

Jennifer McKemie’s father, Bill Mason, recently retired as manager of the M. Barnett Lawley Forever Wild Field Trial Area (FWFTA) that is used for the WFF youth dove hunts in Hale County. Her family has participated in the annual event since 2014.

A hunter herself since early childhood, Jennifer is also actively involved in four bird dog field trial events at the FWFTA. “I’ve been outdoors all my life,” she said.

The McKemie family participates in a variety of hunting throughout the year, from deer and turkey to dove and duck. Jennifer’s husband Jamie did not grow up hunting but has joined the family tradition and especially enjoys turkey season. Their son Dosson, now 15 years old, began hunting when he was 6.

“Dosson enjoys being outdoors, having fun and spending time with friends,” Jennifer said. “But when he goes hunting, he wants to put meat on the table. And he is an excellent shot!”

For those who have never attended a youth dove hunt, Jennifer advises to just do it.

“So many kids don’t have the opportunity to go hunting,” she said. “There’s always someone willing to help, and they’re so much fun.”

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) stamp 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 is conducted. All hunters are encouraged to wear eye and ear protection.

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 https://www.outdooralabama.com.

A pollinator summer: caring for garden pollinators

By Katie Nichols
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.— Just because it is summer, doesn’t mean gardeners should forget about the pollinators. Even during the hot days of summer, these critters are hard at work. It is up to gardeners to make sure these pollinators have what they need to do their jobs.
Dani Carroll, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System 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, people 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 different pollinators are present at different times throughout the year. Also, pollinators do not feed on the same thing repetitively and prefer an assortment of foods. Incorporating a variety of flowers and herbs can help provide pollinators with options to keep them coming back to the garden for more.
Different Types of Pollinators
“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 cucurbit 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 cucurbit family relies fully on the services of a pollinator to carry pollen and bear fruit.
Controlling Pests
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 hornworm, simply picking the worm off of the plant is an easy and effective way to protect the crop.”
Late Summer Care for Garden Pollinators
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. Carroll 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.

Alabama’s commitment to sustainable aquaculture

By Cole Sikes
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Alabama is one of the most important aquaculture states in the country. From oysters to catfish, aquaculture farmers are committed to providing a healthy, sustainable product for consumers.
What is aquaculture?
When thinking of farming, your first thought might not be farming in water. This practice of using water to grow aquatic species is known as aquaculture. Aquaculture is important to Alabama as farmers raise catfish, crawfish, oysters, shrimp, sport fish, baitfish and other species for a wide variety of markets.
“Alabama is one of the most important aquaculture states in the United States, ranking 6th in aquaculture sales,” said Luke Roy, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System associate professor. “The catfish industry alone accounts for approximately 2,500 jobs in the state and a total output in sales of more $300 million each year.”
Alabama’s Dominant Aquaculture Species
Catfish is the primary farm-raised fish species in Alabama. Roy, who is a professional in aquatic resources, said the state currently produces 33 percent of the catfish raised via commercial aquaculture in the U.S. and is only second in production and sales to Mississippi.
In recent years, Alabama has raised nearly 100 million pounds of catfish on more than 16,000 acres of production ponds. Located mostly in west Alabama–Hale, Dallas, Greene and Perry counties are the primary producers of catfish in the state.
Scientific Research in Aquaculture
Professionals at Auburn University are currently performing a plethora of research to ensure the sustainability of aquaculture. Some of these projects include research that improves the efficiency of production systems, making them more cost-effective.
At the 1600-acre E.W. Shell Fisheries Center, feed management for commercially-produced aquatic species is currently at the forefront of research.
“Auburn faculty are working with commercial producers to develop better feeds and more efficient feed management techniques,” Roy said. “Other research studies are aiming at improving water quality and culture conditions as well as studying aquatic animal diseases, therapeutants and treatments.”
Feeding the Next Generation
A commitment to sustainable farming practices and techniques used by Alabama aquaculture producers will guarantee the success of this farming industry for future generations.
Like with most farming practices in Alabama, efficiency is the ultimate goal. By integrating sustainable production practices developed from research into aquaculture, farmers will ensure that every family has access to tasty, nutritious and safe protein sources. This mission is the driving factor for Roy’s work. Having grown up in a developing country, Roy was exposed to extreme poverty. Many families struggled to put enough food on the table to eat.
“Aquaculture seemed like a logical solution to help alleviate poverty and provide food for the hungry,” Roy said. “At that point I was hooked on aquaculture and have been ever since.”
To learn more about aquaculture and how it is important to Alabama, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu. You may also explore the aquaculture webpage to find more ways that farmers are using water resources to sustain Alabama.
Down to Earth: Agriculture Sustains Alabama
Alabama Extension is getting Down to Earth. Why? Because agriculture sustains Alabama. Whether your ag experience is in the grocery store, in the classroom or as your profession—Extension has a resource for you.
We are proud to be partnering with the Alabama Agribusiness Council, the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, the Alabama Forestry Commission, Sweet Grown Alabama and the Alabama Association of RC&D Councils.
Alabama Extension’s Down to Earth resources are available on www.aces.edu/go/DowntoEarth.

Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest Opens August 2
The 2023 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest will begin accepting entries on Tuesday, August 2, 2022. 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, 2022.
The 2023 photo contest will focus on traditional photography techniques and the use of handheld 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.
2023 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 a traveling exhibit at various venues across the state during 2023.
Art teachers are encouraged to incorporate participation in the Young Photographers category into their art instruction this fall.
An exhibit of the 2022 winning photos is currently on display at the Downtown Huntsville Public Library until July 31, 2022. It then moves to the South Huntsville Public Library until August 31. To view the complete exhibit schedule, visit www.outdooralabama.com/photo-exhibit.
For complete 2023 category descriptions and contest rules, visit www.outdooralabama.com/photocontest.
ADCNR 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.

Extension Office News You Can Use
Hale County Extension Office will participate in the Black Belt Birding Festival

By: Jovita Lewis, County Extension Coordinator
Black Belt Birding Festival: Your Hale County Extension Office will participate in the second annual “Black Belt Birding Festival” on Friday, July 29, 2022 from 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm at Lions Park, Greensboro, AL. Friday’s kick-off event at Lions Park is free to the public while prices for Saturday’s events vary. Visit https://alaudubon.org/event/2022-07-30/ to view the schedule and obtain additional information. We are partnering with the Alabama Audubon Society to provide educational information on birding. Our exhibit will feature information on the “Barn Swallow Bird” that makes its home near the entrance of the Hale County Extension Office. Feel free to stop by our table and learn something new. The Alabama Audubon’s Black Belt Birding Initiative is designed to bring the economic and environmental benefits of bird-based ecotourism to one of the country’s most economically challenged rural areas. Through this annual event, a positive difference for the Black Belt’s birds and the people who love them, will be made.

Growers Permits: Hale County is home to ten farmers, who have obtained their growers permits for 2022. These ten farmers not only sell produce, but put their blood, sweat and tears into growing some of the most colorful, best tasting, most nutritious produce ever. Why obtain a growers permit, you might ask? A growers permit allows farmers to sell raw produce, such as fruits, vegetables and eggs, tax-free and fee-free. These local farmers do not have to obtain licenses in multiple counties to sell goods in multiple counties. In addition, the growers permit allows farmers to sell their goods at any registered location within the state under one license. Our growers are in the midst of their harvesting season: Mr. Wayne Whitfield, Mrs. Krystal Harbin, Mr. Thomas Moore, Mr. Ernest Williams (Alabama Lifeline, Inc.), Mrs. Janice Clary (Silver Lane Farms), Mrs. Jessica Knight, Mr. Frank Hunter, Mrs. Ann Marie Benison, Mr. Randy Britford, and Mr. George Poindexter. Seek them out to purchase delicious, nutritious, high quality fruits and vegetables. Other growers who plan to sell “their wares”, should visit the Hale County Extension Office to obtain a growers permit. Bring along one valid form of identification, such as a drivers’ license, in order to complete the required paperwork.

New Extension Publication: We have a brand new publication called “Fresh From the Farm, Alabama Recipes”, that I believe you would enjoy! These tried and true recipes have been collected from Alabama farmers and feature produce that they themselves have grown. From stuffed bell peppers to squash casserole and from cup cobbler to biscuits with cane syrup, there’s bound to be a featured recipe that you and your family would enjoy! Feel free to stop by the office and pick up a copy if you would like. 
That’s All Folks: Until next week, here’s a thought to remember: “Life is better on the farm”.

A guide to Alabama’s venomous snakes

By Cole Sykes AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Summertime is in full throttle, and outdoor enthusiasts are being extra cautious because of snakes. Most native Alabama snake species are not venomous. However, there are several toxic species that you need to be able to identify.

Venomous Snakes in Alabama

According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Alabama is home to six venomous snake species. A bite from any of them is considered a medical emergency, and a victim must immediately seek treatment.

“Although snakebites are a serious issue around the world, only about five people die each year in the United States after an encounter with a venomous snake,” said Wesley Anderson, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System forestry, wildlife and natural resources specialist.

Snake Identification

Most of the state’s 44 snake species are harmless. The most important tool to safety is the skill to identify the snakes in your area.

Always use multiple characteristics whenever identifying a snake,” Anderson said. “Nonvenomous snakes will often act in ways that mimic venomous snakes.”

For example, many harmless snakes will flatten their heads. Just because a snake has a triangular head, doesn’t mean its venomous. Also, many nonvenomous snakes–along with copperheads and cottonmouths–will shake their tails when frightened. In this case, if you are solely using sound as a factor, this faux movement could lead you to believe you’re in the presence of a rattlesnake. There are also existing color variations and mutations among snake species. So, always use multiple defining characteristics to be more confident in your decision.

To brush up on your venomous snake identification skills, review the list below.

Copperhead

Copperheads are the most common venomous snake throughout Alabama and the primary culprit of reported snakebites. Like cottonmouths and rattlesnakes, they are vipers. More specifically, they are pit vipers and use their heat-sensing pits on their head to see under low-light situations.

Their name is derived from the copper color of their heads. They aren’t large snakes, with most measuring 2 to 3 feet long. Aside from the copper head, another characteristic to look for are their unique bands. The dark bands have smooth lines along the edges. From the side, they’re compared to a Hershey’s Kiss candy. From the top, they look like an hourglass. Young copperheads will also have chartreuse-colored tails.

Cottonmouth

Cottonmouths are a more aquatic relative to the copperhead. The terms cottonmouth and water moccasin for this species are synonymous. They are common but tend to be found less frequently than copperheads since they are primarily near water sources.

Cottonmouths are named for their behavior to gape and expose their light, white mouth lining as a warning when threatened. Adults tend to be larger than their copperhead cousins. An average adult measures between 2 and 4 feet. They have a similar banded pattern, however the edges of the bands tend to have a ragged or pixelated appearance. This pattern is often lost or obscured as they get older.

This banding cannot be relied upon as the sole identifying characteristic. Cottonmouths also have a dark mask that extends from the back of the jaw to the eye. Also like copperheads, the young will have a chartreuse tail.

“Cottonmouths are frequently confused with water snakes,” Anderson said. “One good way to tell them apart is by looking at the mouth. Water snakes have dark vertical bars on their lip scales; cottonmouths do not. Cottonmouths also have blocky heads with a sharp angle from the top of the head to the front of the face, preventing someone from seeing their eyes if looking at them from above.”

Pygmy Rattlesnake

Pygmy rattlesnakes are Alabama’s smallest species of rattlesnake. Adults only grow one to one-and-a-half feet long. This species is also known as ground rattlers. They do have a rattle; however, it is so small that it often sounds more like a buzzing insect than a rattlesnake. Identifiers of pygmy rattlesnakes are blotches on both their back and sides and a potential reddish-brown stripe down the spine.

Timber Rattlesnake

Timber rattlesnakes are medium-to-large rattlesnakes found throughout much of the state. Average adults measure 3 to 5 feet in length. They can measure up to 6 feet, but that is exceedingly rare.

Their solid black tail is a diagnostic characteristic for this species. Another characteristic to look for are the chevron markings extending down the middle of their back. Base color varies from light gray to brown. A rusty colored dorsal stripe is sometimes present.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is Alabama’s largest species of venomous snake. Adults average 4 to 6 feet long but can reach nearly 8 feet in length. They are easily identified by the diamond pattern on their back that runs the length of their body. The diamondback and timber rattlesnake can both be found in the southern part of the state, but diamondbacks tend to be in drier, more upland areas – especially longleaf pine forests.

Eastern Coral Snake

In Alabama, Eastern coral snakes are the only snake in the elapid family. This is a group of snakes that include cobras and mambas. Their tricolored (i.e., red, yellow and black) pattern makes them easy to distinguish.

However, there are two nonvenomous snakes – the scarlet snake and scarlet kingsnake – that mimic this species. For the Eastern coral snake, the red bands touch yellow bands. For the coral snakes’ counterparts, red bands touch black bands. Many people have heard the rhyme to differentiate the two, but Anderson no longer encourages teaching it.

“There are a couple reasons for the change in the coral snake rhyme,” Anderson said. “There have been documented cases of people misremembering the rhyme and being bitten by coral snakes. The other reason is that abnormal coral snakes exist that might, for example, have dark, bordering on black, red bands.”

Coral snakes have a short, blunt head that starts with a black band. The other species will have longer heads starting with a red band. If there is any doubt, do not handle any tricolor snake. The Eastern coral snake averages 20 to 30 inches in length but can reach nearly 4 feet. They also possess a potent neurotoxic venom that can result in paralysis and asphyxiation. It is a myth that coral snakes need to chew to inject venom. Remember, they are cousins to cobras.

More Information

Remember, it is vital that any venomous snake bite be considered a medical emergency. For the scoop on serpents in Alabama, contact your local Extension agent or specialist to learn about which species are in your area. Also, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu to learn more about Alabama’s snake species.

Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest Opens August 2

Elijah Lamb took first place in the Wildlife Category of the 2022 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest with this image of a bobcat in the Tuskegee National Forest.

The 2023 Outdoor Alabama Photo Contest will begin accepting entries on Tuesday, August 2, 2022. 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, 2022.


The 2023 photo contest will focus on traditional photography techniques and the use of handheld 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.


2023 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 a traveling exhibit at various venues across the state during 2023.
Art teachers are encouraged to incorporate participation in the Young Photographers category into their art instruction this fall.


An exhibit of the 2022 winning photos is currently on display at the Downtown Huntsville Public Library until July 31, 2022. It then moves to the South Huntsville Public Library until August 31. To view the complete exhibit schedule, visit www.outdooralabama.com/photo-exhibit.
For complete 2023 category descriptions and contest rules, visit www.outdooralabama.com/photocontest.


ADCNR 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.

Brown Spot Needle Blight Affecting Pine Trees

Since early spring, the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) has been receiving phone calls from landowners and the public regarding pine needles suddenly turning brown. Many of these calls have been coming from counties in the northwest and northeast regions of the state. The culprit of the needle discoloration is believed to be the fungal disease known as brown spot needle blight. To date the disease has been confirmed in 36 of 67 counties in Alabama.

Historically, this disease has only infected longleaf pines (Pinus palustris). Brown spot needle blight can be killed using prescribed burns. However, this method is only effective for longleaf pine seedlings. In the last few years, the disease has also begun to infect loblolly pines (Pinus taeda) in young and mature stands. The cause for this change in behavior of the disease has yet to be determined, but it can be speculated that it may be a new sub-species that has evolved from the original fungal pest.

The first sign of infection is discoloration of the needles. Infected needles will contain circular lesions with a brown spot surrounded by a yellow halo. Over time, the infected area will turn brown with a dark red or dark green border. The discoloration begins in the lower portion of the crown and moves up as the disease spreads by rain and wind events. An easy way to identify the disease is if the pine needles look as if they have been scorched by fire, even though there has been no burn. This disease can reoccur over a couple of years and cause mortality to infected pines.

If you believe your pines are infected with brown spot needle blight and want needles tested, please contact your local Alabama Forestry Commission office. Laboratory tests can confirm the presence of the disease. Symptomatic needles are collected and brought to the Forest Health Dynamics Laboratory at Auburn University for confirmation.

The mission of the Alabama Forestry Commission is to protect and sustain Alabama’s forest resources using professionally applied stewardship principles and education, ensuring that the state’s forests contribute to abundant timber and wildlife, clean air and water, and a healthy economy.

Alabama Outdoor Weekly
Jacobs gains mobility freedom through Outdoor Ability Foundation

(Photos by Scott Phillips) Nate Jacobs now has the freedom to play in the creek in his new track chair. Nate was presented the chair by Outdoor Ability Foundation’s Scott Phillips, left, Grayson Phillips, right, and Donnie Yates. Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Lt. Brian Fisher and Officer Logan Black joined in the celebration with Jacobs.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Logan Black, a Conservation Enforcement Officer with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, approached Nate Jacobs and said she’d heard about him hunting a certain piece of property. Black played her part in the ruse well and had Nate squirming, wondering where he’d run afoul of the law.

That’s when Outdoor Ability Foundation’s Scott Phillips unveiled a new Action Trackchair that was being presented to Nate for his 16th birthday. The look of concern on Nate’s face quickly turned into a wide grin when he realized he wasn’t in trouble and the all-terrain wheelchair was for him.

Jacobs has been in a wheelchair since he suffered a stroke during heart surgery when he was 5 years old. He’s always loved to hunt and fish, but mobility has been a serious obstacle.

The way Outdoor Ability Foundation found out about Nate was through the Kidz Outdoors (kidzoutdoors.org) program, an organization started by Carol and Rick Clark of Hueytown to help kids with disabilities get outdoors.

“Nate had gone hunting with Kidz Outdoors, and Carol told me about him,” Phillips said. “I connected with Wes, Nate’s dad, and we made sure Nate didn’t know about the chair. We did the fundraising for the chair without him knowing it.

“We set the organization up based on our model, what happened to us. We go out and find the track chairs or whatever equipment is needed. I’m usually able to get these chairs at less than retail. We ask the families to raise half the money, and we raise the other half because it gets more people involved. It also lets more people know about the needs of the disabled kids who want their freedom to go hunting and fishing. You get family, friends and the community involved with the focus of let’s get this kid outdoors.

“Nate loves to fish and hunt. I told Wes not to stress about the money, that God will provide it. Once people know what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it, it will happen. It happened within a month.”

With fundraising just short of the goal, Donnie Yates, Phillips’ right-hand man at the foundation, reached out to Vance Wood, WFF officer and member of the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association (ACEOA), and asked if the association could provide the remaining funds for the chair. Wood made the presentation to the ACEOA board, which approved the funding.

The ACEOA has 140 members from State Parks, State Lands, Marine Resources and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

“Our mission is to perform public education and outreach and enhance professional standards,” Wood said of the ACEOA. “It was very satisfying to see Nate get the chair. We’re happy when we can help give a child the ability to enjoy what our great outdoors has to offer.”

Phillips added, “We got wildlife officers (Black and Lt. Brian Fisher) to help us present the chair. What was neat about it was Wes had trained Officer Black when she went through the police academy. We had that connection also.”

Phillips’ son, 23-year-old Grayson, has spina bifida, which led to the formation of Outdoor Ability Foundation in Gardendale.

“At the age of 10 Grayson wanted to go hunting,” Phillips said. “I did not grow up hunting, but we said okay if that’s what he wanted to do. We’ve told him all his life that he can do anything he wanted to, but he’ll have to do it differently. We connected with several organizations that took him hunting, and we’re very grateful for that. It gave him the bug to do more and more, but we didn’t have a way to get him from point A to point B.”

The lack of mobility was highlighted on a turkey hunt with Grayson.

“The guides had a popup blind for him,” Phillips said. “We knew where the turkeys were, but they wouldn’t come to us. We decided to take Grayson to a point a little closer to the birds. I had to throw Grayson over my shoulder and drag his wheelchair. The guides were gathering all the stuff they needed to get to the next position. It had rained and it was muddy, not good conditions to try to be doing this.

“I thought there’s got to be a better way to get someone in a wheelchair from point A to point B. I started to do some research and ran across Action Trackchairs.”

Phillips called the Action Trackchair rep in Georgia and asked about the chairs and the cost. When the rep quoted $12,000, he knew the family couldn’t afford it.

“I think Grayson was 13 or 14 at the time, and we didn’t have that kind of cash,” he said.

The Phillips family met the chair rep at a basketball tournament, where Grayson was playing for the Lakeshore Foundation, and he brought a chair for Grayson to test.

“He tried it and loved it, but we still didn’t have $12,000,” the elder Phillips said. “A few months later, I get a lead on a used chair. I called the people. It was their father’s chair, and he had just passed away. They wanted $8,500 for it. I told them I didn’t have $8,500, but if they’d give me a little time, I would try to raise that money.”

Phillips started a GoFundMe account, sold brownies, held car washes and other fundraising events. About half the money needed was raised from those efforts, and the deadline was coming up quickly. Then a private donor stepped in and graciously provided the remainder of the funds needed to purchase the chair.

“We met the people with the chair in Florida, where they lived,” he said. “Grayson got on the beach in the chair, and he was all over the place. It gave him the freedom to just go. We get back home, and he takes it to the woods, going everywhere he can go. He got his independence.

“When Grayson got his first deer after getting his chair, he wanted to drag the deer out of the woods, so that’s what he did. We decided at that time that we needed to help other disabled kids with the same desire to go hunting and fishing.”

Outdoor Ability Foundation was formed in 2014, and the first mobility chair was presented in 2016 to a youth in Gardendale. Nate’s presentation was the 14th for the foundation in seven states. Phillips also found out it wasn’t one-size-fits-all when it comes to dealing with disabilities.

“One of the kids had autism, so it’s not just mobility,” he said. “We try to find whatever adaptive equipment is necessary to help the kids. The father said he wouldn’t be able to mount the rifle to his shoulder and look through the scope, so we got him a screen that attached to the scope, and he was able to go hunting that way.

“The thing I talk about is being the game changer. When kids get these chairs or equipment, it’s a game changer, not only for the kids but for the parents.”

Wes Jacobs, a Tuscaloosa police officer who is involved with training at the Tuscaloosa Police Academy, agrees wholeheartedly with Phillips’ last statement.

“It’s made life so much easier for Nate and us,” Jacobs said. “It’s pretty much opened the door to so many opportunities for him to be independent that he would have never had without it.

“We live out in the country, so if we ever wanted to get outside and do something, we’d have to get him on the Polaris or get in the Jeep. The electronic chair he had is not made for the outdoors. A manual chair is not going to go over roots or through creeks with you trying to push it.

“Now we can put him in the track chair in the carport and he goes where he wants. He’s as happy as he can be. We took him to the beach, and he was able to go on the sand. It’s been great. It’s been a blessing, plain and simple. We’re very thankful to Kidz Outdoors and Outdoor Ability Foundation. They work well together on helping kids.”

Wes said Nate is a student at Berry High School, makes good grades and loves being around his friends.

“I love it,” Nate said of the track chair. “I can play in the creek and help Papa (his grandfather Arthur Williams) in the garden.”

Phillips added, “We need people to understand that it’s okay to go outside and have fun.”

Happy hummers: feeding hummingbirds in Alabama

By Katie Nichols
It’s summertime and the hummingbirds are here! While hummingbirds are a beautiful and exciting part of Alabama summers, feeding etiquette is still a mystery to many homeowners. However, it is a vitally important part of caring for the hummingbirds in and around the backyard.


White Granulated Sugar
Alabama Cooperative Extension System Forestry and Wildlife Specialist, Wesley Anderson, said it is important to use white granulated sugar when making sugar water.
“Only use white granulated sugar to make sugar water,” Anderson said. “Honey is not easily digestible for hummingbirds, and they will die from lack of nutrition. It could also encourage fungal growth that could harm the birds.”


He said powdered sugar, although white, contains cornstarch to prevent caking and clumping. The additive isn’t good for the birds and can encourage fermentation of the sugar water, so it should be avoided.
“White sugar has been purified to remove all of the molasses, whereas brown sugar has not,” Anderson said. “Molasses contains iron. Even though the amounts of iron in brown sugar and other foods are not harmful—and may even be helpful—to people, hummingbirds would consume enough iron from a brown sugar solution that it could be harmful.”


Red Dye
Anderson said it is best to avoid red dye altogether.
“The advice to remove red dye from solutions came out when Red Dye No. 2 was in use in the 1970s. It was a known carcinogen,” he said. “At that time there was concern it was having detrimental effects on hummingbirds, but no scientific studies were conducted. Red Dye No. 2 has since been pulled from the market.”


Today, many gardeners and homeowners use Red Dye No. 40 in many foods, drugs, tattoo ink and cosmetics. Anderson said while it is labeled safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human use and consumption, it is important to consider the size of a hummingbird. “Common hummingbird species, like the ruby-throated, only weigh about three grams—or the combined weight of three paper clips,” he said. “They are incredibly tiny in comparison to humans, so the amount of dye they would consume would far exceed any levels humans would consume.” Since there isn’t a clear picture of the negative side effects that could cause, it is best to avoid the dye. Anderson recommends using colorful feeders and planting red flowers near the feeders to increase the number of hummingbirds that visit the feeder.


Rescuing Hummingbirds
Many individuals encounter hummingbirds seemingly tangled in spiderwebs. Anderson said hummingbirds will actually use spider silk while constructing their nests. Larger spiders may even feed on hummingbirds. “If you come across a hummingbird stuck in a spider web and it’s still alive, you can remove it,” he said. “Remove all of the spider silk and allow it to rest. The rescuer may also offer sugar water—white granulated only—in a small cap or lid.” If the bird appears injured or doesn’t fly away, Wesley suggests finding a licensed wildlife rehabber. It is against federal law to rehabilitate an injured hummingbird without a license. Anderson cautions individuals to be mindful of the spider that wove the web. He said in Alabama, black and brown widows are the only medically significant species in Alabama that may entangle a hummingbird. For that reason, always exercise caution when removing a bird. For more information about hummingbirds, read the Extension publication Hummingbirds in Alabama available at www.aces.edu.

Extension Office News You Can Use
2022 Grassroots and Strategic Planning Input Meeting for Hale County Extension Office

Extension Staff, stakeholders, and community partners gathered for a group picture following the 2022 Grassroots and Strategic Planning Input Meeting for the Hale County Extension Office. Front Row, seated, from left, Stephannie Nixon, Hale County Library Director, Shalong Hamilton, SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educator, Ruby Smith, Blackbelt Small Ruminants Association, Kenosha Cade, C.H.O.I.C.E. Community Outreach, and Ann Benison, 4-H Parent. Second Row, from left, Jovita Lewis, County Extension Coordinator, Pastor Doug Jolly, First United Methodist Church, Sarah Cole, Abadir’s Bakery, Eddie Smith, Blackbelt Small Ruminants Improvement Association, Olivia Fuller, Regional Extension Agent, Diane Craig, HeadStart Center of Sawyerville, John Vanderford, Regional Extension Agent, Nancy Jennings, Magnolia Homemakers and Community Leaders, Cornell Richardson, Hale County 4-H’er, Willie Braggs, EFNEP Nutrition Educator, Antavion Benison, Hale County 4-H’er, Laura Miller, Regional Extension Agent, and Tera Glenn, Regional Extension Agent. Not pictured is Probate Judge Arthur Crawford, Shelby Marsh, Regional Extension Agent, and Polly Moore, Administrative Support Associate.

By: Jovita Lewis, County Extension Coordinator
The Hale County Extension Office recently sought feedback on ways to strengthen and improve educational programming in Hale County as well as ways to better serve the needs of Hale countians in the coming years.


More than 20 people met together for the Hale County Extension Office’s Annual Grassroots and Strategic Planning Input Meeting on Tuesday, June 28, at 11:00 a.m. in the Extension Auditorium of the Hale County Extension Office in Greensboro. Attendees included a diverse group of Hale County citizens varying in age, race, and expertise. The meeting was a mechanism for the community to learn about Extension’s Strategic Plan for the next four years, identify issues facing youth and adults, and discuss Extension programming that addresses the county’s needs.


Facilitated by Jovita Lewis, County Extension Coordinator, the meeting was introduced by a four minute video outlining Alabama Extension’s priorities for the next four years. The Strategic Plan’s Action Priorities include educational programming, marketing, stewardship of resources, cooperation, employee workforce development, technology and diversity, equity and inclusion. Following the overview of the 2022-2026 strategic plan, attendees gave feedback regarding the plan.


The next phase of the meeting allowed time for break-out sessions in the areas of Community Resource Development, Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources, Human Sciences Extension, and 4-H Youth Development. The four break-out sessions provided opportunities for robust conversation in a smaller, more intimate setting.


Following the break-out discussions and a delicious sandwich lunch prepared by The Stable, each facilitator was given an opportunity to summarize key points from their group discussion.


On behalf of the Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Break-Out Discussion Group, John Vanderford, Regional Extension Agent, reported that more information is needed on “alternative methods” versus “traditional methods” of farming. There is interest in hoop houses and the need to help farmers connect with available resources. Ways to avoid invasive harvesting is another pressing issue. Some residents do not understand the benefits of home gardening and/or how to start a garden as well as the importance of sustainable environmental gardening practices for good soil.


On behalf of the Human Sciences Extension Break-Out Discussion Group, Tera Glenn, Regional Extension Agent reported that affordable housing, insurance education, identity theft/scams, financial literacy, and money management are key issues facing Hale countians. Some local citizens lack parenting skills, basic life skills, coping skills, and early child care services while vaping/e-cigarettes/edibles pose problems for youth and adults. Other key educational needs noted were food portion sizes, lack of physical activity, utilization of parks and related outdoor activities, increased home cooked meals, better snack ideas for teens, and chronic disease management. Also, resume writing, soft skills, jobs seeking skills, professional communication/social media, and implementation of career fairs were at the forefront of this group’s discussion.


On behalf of the 4-H and Youth Development Break-Out Session Group, Laura Miller, Regional Extension Agent reported that some of the most pressing issues facing young people in Hale County included not knowing about after school opportunities or what 4-H has to offer, needing experiences that will enrich youth’s futures, making healthy living choices, and having access to technology. There is a lack of interest among young people in the 4-H program as well. Some of Hale County’s most successful 4-H programming includes the implementation of outdoor education activities (i.e., South Sandy Shooting Sports Range Day), technology (i.e., 4-H Tech Change Makers), and animal science (i.e., 4-H Rabbit Club, West Alabama Livestock Club). Group members felt the aforementioned programs are beneficial to the success and growth of Hale County 4- H. It was noted that the 4-H program makes accommodations when needed but increased communication in local newspapers as well as feedback about projects and fundraisers from community members is needed. Group members discussed continuing school programming and increasing involvement of established 4-H clubs.
On behalf of the Community Resource Development Break-Out Discussion Group, Pastor Doug Jolly reported that local businesses should be encouraged to open in Hale County and develop business plans so they can be here for the long haul.


Attendees stated they are looking forward to the return of the Hale County Chamber of Commerce to provide training opportunities and business development opportunities. It was noted that the pandemic still makes it uncomfortable for people to come together. The impact of losing large scale businesses (i.e., poultry processing plant, catfish processing plant, sewing plant) in Hale County is evident by their closure. This group was hopeful that Hale County would continue to have the opportunity to capitalize on traffic due to the widening of Alabama Highway 69. Group members discussed the need for youth and adult leadership programming, job training, and career counseling also.


One takeaway from this year’s meeting was the need to have a viable Farmers Market in Hale County to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables while giving seniors an opportunity to spend electronic benefits from the Farmers Market Authority. Attendees pledged to work toward this end. Perhaps, the biggest takeaway was the recurring theme of promoting the work of the Hale County Extension Office. Participants asked that a variety of communication efforts be continued including, local newspapers, flyers,and social media to help local citizens get a general idea of the many programs and activities that can positively impact their lives. The Hale County Extension Office was asked to continually find ways to promote partnerships, initiatives, and impact being made in Hale County.


The Hale County Extension Office was applauded for its educational efforts in the community as well as its many partnerships. Several announcements were made by community partners at the end of the meeting. Nancy Jennings, on behalf of The Greensboro Garden Club and the Magnolia Homemakers and Community Leaders welcomed those who have interest in either organization and sought out 4-H to partner with the Greensboro Garden Club in its beautification efforts for the city of Greensboro. Stephannie Nixon, Library Director, Hale County Library, announced receipt of a financial literacy grant and extended an invitation to others to partner for success.


Alabama Extension’s Grassroots survey is open until July 31 and can be accessed at https://www.aces.edu/go/grassroots Click on the link and give your input. We would love to hear from you. To obtain a paper copy of the survey or for more information, telephone 334-624-8710.

Magnolia Homemakers June 21st meeting

Ola Mae Hobson won bucket garden from Rudy Yates.

The Magnolia Homemakers and Community Leaders met on June 21 at Hale County Extension building. Presiding at the business meeting was Nancy Jennings, president. A devotional using a teacup analogy was shared by Jovita Lewis. In addition, Jovita served as hostess and introduced Rudy Yates, regional extension agent who presented the program, Bucket Gardens. Following the program, Mr. Yates drew the names of Barbara Kelly, Rollanda Cothran, and Ola Mae Hobson who were presented with gifts of tomato bucket gardens.
Members voted to bring supplies and other gifts each month to donate to the Hale County Animal Shelter.
Nancy Jennings led the craft project, American star yard stake.
The next meeting will be held on July 19 at 10:30 at the extension office’s auditorium.
Submitted by Anna Sledge Bailey

My son Ty Holifield has lived in California for 20 years. He moved to Crestline, Calif., 10 years ago! Each year, Crestline elects one of their own as ‘Citizen of the Year!’ This past Saturday, Ty was named Grand Poopah (Citizen of the Year), by his piers! Since he moved there, he has led a team of friends to clean Heart Rock of graffiti every year. Just this last year he helped direct traffic up and down the mountain, for several hours during a sudden snow/ice storm. Photo care of Voice of the Ville Columnist, Rita Lewis

Alabama Weekly

WFF Breaks New Ground with Night Shoot

PHOTOS: (Clint Patterson, Michael Weathers, William Malone) The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division recently held its first Night Shoot at the Cahaba River WMA Shooting Range.
William Malone uses thermal optics to control feral hogs on his property near Camden.
A look through Chief Weathers night vision optics reveals a warm barrel as the shooter continues to fire.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) continues to provide citizens with groundbreaking opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in new, innovative ways.

The ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s (WFF) Law Enforcement Section recently held a Night Shoot at the Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Shooting Range.

From what Law Enforcement Chief Michael Weathers can determine, Alabama is leading the way in this event, which allowed those who signed up to bring their night vision and thermal optics to the range to shoot at night.

“Number one, we think it’s very likely this is the first time a game and fish agency has ever hosted an event like this, where we open one of our state shooting ranges during what are normally closed hours and staff it,” Weathers said. “We did this so members of the public who own rifles with night vision or thermal sights can shoot or zero their guns in a safe environment.

“We had good public turnout and a lot of enthusiasm. The guys who came out and shot were glad to have the opportunity, and several traveled a pretty good distance to get there. We had one gentleman drive up from Lee County. He brought a rifle with a thermal sight. We got him zeroed, and he was very complimentary of us for opening the range, providing that opportunity. It’s hard to find a place to shoot, let alone a place to shoot at night.”

The WFF staff opened the Cahaba River Range at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night and brought in numerous WFF officers to oversee the range to ensure safety under the low-light conditions. Unlike the WFF Law Enforcement’s Firearms 101 sessions, where new or inexperienced shooters are provided with .22-caliber firearms and taught how to handle a firearm safely and improve their shooting efficiency, the Night Shoot officers did not offer instruction.

“We brought in some of our firearms instructors, not to teach, but to run the range and ensure safety on the range,” Weathers said. “We kept it open until 2 a.m. We had folks coming and going for most of the night.”

Weathers said shooting at night also presents challenges because of the low-light conditions that make safety paramount.

“Shooting on a range at night is a lot different than in the daytime,” he said. “If you’re downrange changing targets or scoring targets, you can’t see what anybody on the firing line is doing. And the firing line people can’t see that there are people downrange.

“We wanted to make sure that the folks who came out wouldn’t have any concerns or worries, that it was a safe environment. We used red lights. Any time the red lights were on, people had to step away from their firearms. If the red lights were on, that freed up people to go downrange and work on targets.”

Steel targets were used for those with thermal imaging equipment, and range officers used propane torches to heat the steel to increase the thermal profile. “It works like a champ,” Weathers said.

After the targets are ready, before the firing line goes hot, WFF officials use their own night vision and thermal optics to ensure no one is downrange before the red lights are turned off and the firing resumes.

“We just walked around and helped where we could,” Weathers said. “It was a great event. For us, it’s better utilization of a state resource. Our state shooting ranges are a low-cost state resource for everybody.”

Ryan Russell from Helena was one of those who made the inaugural Night Shoot, and he was able to shoot his .300 Blackout at the range.

“It was an interesting experience to shoot with a thermal scope,” Russell said. “Several people were out there with night vision optics. I got to see the difference between thermal and night vision and what to expect. I was able to learn from other people how to effectively use night scopes, how they handle and things you need to be aware of. Thermal scopes are great as long as you have a warm target to shoot at. Shooting at paper is tough with thermal, but the night vision was pretty cool.

“For a first time, I thought it went well. Going to a range, you never know who you’re going to interact with, but there were plenty of officers on-site to keep everybody safe. They had really good control of the range. I had both of my children out there with me. We felt safe at all times. I really enjoyed it, and we had a wide range of people out there. A couple of people there didn’t shoot. They were there to watch and learn.”

State Shooting Ranges are open to anyone who holds a hunting or fishing license or purchases a Wildlife Heritage license for $11.70.

“With the explosion in nighttime predator control hunting and the ownership of night vision and thermal equipment, we hope to do a lot more of these events to give folks the opportunity to come out in a safe environment to shoot their firearms with their night vision or thermal optics,” Weathers said.

Landowners and leaseholders could previously apply for a depredation permit to shoot feral hogs and coyotes at night, but the process was somewhat restrictive.

The Alabama Legislature passed a law that allows Alabama residents to purchase a $15 license ($51 for non-residents) to hunt feral hogs and coyotes at night with night vision, thermal optics or lights attached to the firearms during a specific season. The 2022 season started on February 11 and runs through November 1.

“Last year, we got a dedicated feral hog and coyote nighttime hunting season on private or leased land,” Weathers said. “That’s been a real success. A lot of folks are taking advantage of that. It makes it easier for those landowners to control predators. If you’re a member of a hunting club and the landowner allows it, you can buy that license (www.outdooralabama.com) and participate in predator control hunting during the off season.

“Because of the popularity in nighttime feral swine and coyote hunting and the increase in people who own night vision and thermal optics, opening the range at night was a good way for us to work with the public. And when people buy night vision or thermal scopes and firearms, those tax dollars go into the Pittman-Robertson Fund that is distributed to the states for a variety of uses, including purchasing shooting ranges and staffing them. This gives everybody an equal chance to better use the resources they’re paying for.”

Weathers said the Night Shoot was a great learning experience for the public as well as the WFF staff, and he expects to hold several similar events in the future.

“We know there’s a demand for this, a need for it,” he said. “We plan to host more of these events and move them around the state. By nature, they have to be staffed, and we can’t do it everywhere all the time. But we intend to conduct as many of these events as possible.”

Follow the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Facebook page on future Night Shoots. Visit www.outdooralabama.com for information on State Shooting Ranges and the nighttime hunting license for feral hogs and coyotes.

Alabama Weekly
Olmstead’s rescue comes with only minutes to spare

Olmstead has been an inshore guide on the Alabama Gulf Coast for more than 20 years.
The pounding of the waves against the boat grounded on the rocks left the vessel too damaged to repair.
Kevin Olmstead’s beloved Ranger bay boat was found in gear on the rock jetties at Bayou La Batre. Photos courtesy of Kevin Olmstead

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer said only minutes remained before he reached the point of no return. Kevin Olmstead of Fairhope, a veteran angler and fishing guide for more than 20 years, had been in the water in Mississippi Sound for 10 hours after being dumped overboard by a wave as he tried to retrieve a life jacket.

Olmstead was unable to grab the life jacket before he went over the gunwale of his beloved Ranger bay boat, and the outboard, which he thought was in neutral, was still in gear. Olmstead’s tenacity and desire to return to his wife and kids kept him hanging on despite the rough water and effects of hypothermia.

“I told my story because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself,” Olmstead said after numerous media outlets featured his tale of survival. “The story is ‘can I help someone?’ and not have to go through what I went through, because it was hell.”

Olmstead, 53, was wade fishing in the west end of Dauphin Island when he decided the conditions were getting too rough to stay. He got back in his beached boat and started what should have been a bumpy ride back to Fairhope.

“I was there by myself,” he said. “I shouldn’t have been over there in that kind of weather. I’m kicking myself for not making sure my throttle was in neutral before I unhooked my kill switch to put on a life jacket.

“I was in the Sound heading back to West Fowl River to cut off some time. It was getting rough. I eased the throttle back and thought it was in neutral. I unhooked my kill switch from my belt loop and stepped one foot out of the console to reach around and grab my life jacket. At that point, a wave hit the side of the boat and threw me in. As I came up, my head was almost bumping the boat. When I got my wits, I was looking straight at the ladder on the port side. I reached out to try to grab it. I got my index finger on my right hand over the ladder. As the boat pulled me, my finger slipped off.”

With wading boots on, he had no chance to catch the boat that was slowly moving away. He got out of the boots, but he knew he was in deep trouble.

“I went into panic mode really fast,” Olmstead said. “I knew I had put myself in the worst position I could put myself in. As soon as panic mode started, something calmed and I thought, ‘Now it’s survival mode. You can’t worry about what you just did. You can’t worry about what’s going to happen. I’ve got to figure out how to survive this.’”

Olmstead pulled his shorts off and tried to tie the ends of the legs to trap some air for flotation. It didn’t work, so he took his long-sleeved fishing shirt off and tied the sleeves to do the same.

“Meanwhile, it’s 3-foot waves out there,” he said. “I’m probably 2 miles from the only rig out there. I can’t see any poles or cans (channel markers) or anything out there. I might have had 3 inches of air in the ends of both of those sleeves, about the size of baseballs. I’m 135 pounds soaking wet. I held both sleeves against myself. I tested it with treading with my legs. I didn’t have to tread as hard to stay up.

“One of the hardest things was I was taking 3-foot waves over my head every two to three seconds. I was drinking a lot of saltwater, and I would have to hold my breath. The waves were trying to drown me.”

The tide was coming in at the time, but the waves were rolling in from the north, counteracting the effects of the tide.

“An hour went by, and I made it,” Olmstead said. “Then three hours went by, and I thought, ‘I’m still here.’ I had to be my own drill sergeant that day. I had to pump myself up. I had to clear my mind of any negative thoughts. Negativity wasn’t going to help me survive. And I talked to my kids and my wife, like we were sitting on the couch; anything I could do to keep myself calm as possible.”

About 3 p.m., Olmstead started feeling the effects of hypothermia, including convulsions and cramps.

With the rough conditions, he never saw another boater in the area, but he managed to get close to one of the pilings near the rig. With the tide turning, Olmstead knew he had one shot at getting to the piling before he was swept into the Gulf.

“I knew I had to get to something stationary to have a chance for someone to see me,” he said. “It was 100 yards away, but it seemed like a mile. I swam and swam one-handed because I was still holding onto those little bitty bubbles. It was getting dark, but I told myself that I’ve got to get there. When I got to a point to where it was 10 yards, that was about the time I was about ready to give up the whole day. That was probably 7.”

Somehow, Olmstead managed to reach the barnacle-encrusted piling and got on the up-current side and gripped the piling as lightly as he could with his feet and palms of his hands to keep from getting cut from the razor-sharp shells.

“I was tickled pink to be on that piling, and I wasn’t getting off of it,” he said. “I started seeing a little more boat action. I had seen the Coast Guard jet fly over before I got to the piling, and I knew it had to be for me. Then I saw a boat that looked like it was coming from the rig, and they were going parallel to me. When they got even with me, I thought they were going to keep going. I said, ‘Oh, God, please, please.’ I couldn’t wave because I was afraid I would fall off the piling.

“I saw them turn and come toward me. It was my buddies Rick Tourne and Kyle Mitternight. Kyle was jumping up and down on the front of the boat when he saw me. That was a wonderful feeling.”

Olmstead later learned an armada of local boats was searching for him. Tourne’s strategy was to go to every piece of structure in the Sound that Olmstead could possibly cling to from Dauphin Island Bridge to the west side of the Sound.

“Rick asked Kyle if he could see that last piling,” Olmstead said. “Kyle said no, but Rick said they weren’t going to leave anything unturned. They came over, and I was elated. They got me in the boat, and the Marine Police came along not long after that.”

After Olmstead reluctantly was transferred to the Marine Police boat, a Coast Guard helicopter showed up and dropped a rescue swimmer into the water. The rescue swimmer deemed it too risky to try to lift Olmstead into the helicopter, and he was transported by boat to Bayou La Batre, where he was taken to The University of South Alabama (USA) Hospital via Life-Flight helicopter.

“The rescue swimmer said I had about 20 more minutes and I was going to be gone,” Olmstead said. “He said he wasn’t going to sugarcoat it for me, and he said he knew professionals who couldn’t have done what I just did for 10 hours. He said it was crunch time.”

Fortunately, Olmstead’s boat eventually washed up on the rock jetties at the State Docks in Bayou La Batre. Had the boat gone into the marsh or Gulf, nobody would have known at the time that something was amiss. When the boat was found in gear with the kill switch in place and the outboard running, they knew Olmstead was somewhere in the Sound and the intense search began.

“There are two things about this that are important. My wife and kids got me through this,” Olmstead said. “Something gave me the strength to make it through, and it was them. I didn’t want to leave them that way.

“Second, and most important, is the life jacket. You think it’s not going to happen to you. I’ve been on the water for more than 30 years. I’m the safest boater that I know. It can happen to you. I’m living proof. Don’t be a hardhead. I survived. I’ve got a great story, but the story is can I help somebody else to not be in that position. That’s the most important thing.”

Olmstead’s story of survival has already prompted action from boaters and anglers he didn’t even know. He’s received messages of support and copies of receipts showing the purchase of life jackets because of his ordeal.

“The effort of all my buddies – I can’t thank them enough,” he said. “I love all those guys. They are my heroes. I survived because I had to. I had to get home to my wife and kids. Those guys went out of their way to rescue me, and I’m forever grateful.

“But I don’t want anybody else to go through this experience. I hope this will draw attention to how important it is to wear a life jacket.”

Open Woods Weeks Announced for the Forever Wild Sipsey River Complex

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) State Lands Division announces four Open Woods Weeks at the Forever Wild Sipsey River Complex located in Tuscaloosa County near Buhl, Alabama.


The 2022 dates are:
June 17-26
July 15-24
August 12-21
September 9-18


On those dates, the main gate will be open from 4 p.m. on Friday and remain open through the following week until 4 p.m. on Sunday.


During Open Woods Weeks, the public can drive into the property along the main gravel road leading from the Jack’s Drive parking area to the south gate. Due to seasonal wet conditions and activities related to public hunting opportunities, the gates remain closed to vehicular traffic at other times during the year.


This Forever Wild outdoor recreation area features 7,155 acres of beautiful bottomland forest along the Sipsey River available for canoeing, birding, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, biking, picnicking and wildlife photography. For those wanting to hike, bike or horseback ride during the Open Woods Weeks, be mindful of increased vehicular traffic.


In the event the Sipsey River is out of its banks and flooding the roads, the dates will be rescheduled. Please visit www.alabamaforeverwild.com/sipsey-river-complex for scheduling updates and additional information about the Forever Wild Sipsey River Complex.


ADCNR 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. Learn more at www.outdooralabama.com.

Alabama Department of Public Health issues 2022 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 2021 (365 samples; 34 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 34 bodies of water tested can be found on the ADPH website. https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/tox/fish-advisories.html


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.

ALBBAA’s Best Fish Photo Contest
The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association wants to see your fish photos again this year. The 2022 Best Fish Photo Contest allows anglers of all ages to showcase how they enjoy the bountiful fishing in the Black Belt. Photos submitted for the contest, which opens May 28 and runs through Aug. 31, can show any type of fish caught in the Black Belt during 2022. All photos for the contest must be entered through the Alabama Black Belt Adventures’ website. The contest winner will receive a prize package that includes a guided fishing trip for a day on Lake Eufaula sponsored by Tony Adams of Gone Fishing with Tony and a two-night stay at Lakepoint State Park. Voting will also be conducted exclusively on the same page — https://alabamablackbeltadventures.org/bestblackbeltfishcontest/. Visitors to the contest webpage may vote once per day, per entry, per IP address. In the case of any dispute, the decision of ALBBAA is final. ALBBAA reserves the right to approve or disapprove of the photo submitted. Cause for disqualification of photo can include, but is not limited to, the following: The photo content presents the subject in an unethical or disrespectful composition. The photo content is perceived to cast a negative perception of hunters or anglers and their contribution to the management of wildlife. Voting violation which imposes an unfair advantage to others. Previous winners of the Best Fish Photo Contest from the past three years are not eligible to take home the prize. Anglers are also reminded to comply with all fishing laws, including purchasing a valid Alabama fishing license.

Alabama Outdoors Weekly
Voters Overwhelmingly Approve State Parks Amendment

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

By a wide margin, Alabama voters approved the amendment on Tuesday’s ballot to provide as much as $80 million in funding for improvements and enhancements to Alabama’s 21 State Parks.

“I would like to thank the voters of Alabama for their overwhelming support of our beautiful State Parks,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). “This will give us the funds to make much-needed improvements to the campgrounds across the state, bringing them into the 21st century. A lot of our campgrounds were built when camping was a pop-up camper and a tent. We’re way past that now with the larger motorhomes with three air conditioners that need 50-amp service. We want to make sure we provide for citizens and our guests moving forward. Our day use areas need some new bathroom facilities to try to expand the day use in our parks. We want to build some accessible playgrounds so that our citizens of all ability types will have the opportunity to play at our playgrounds and enjoy our parks.

“We have parks that don’t have cabins.  If people don’t have an RV or motorhome, they are not able to enjoy our parks as much as we would like. Our State Parks have been very successful the last few years under (Director) Greg Lein and our new Deputy Director Matthew Capps. Every dime we make at the parks we put back into the parks to do good work.”

During last weekend’s Alabama Conservation Advisory Board (CAB) meeting at Lakepoint State Park in Eufaula, Commissioner Blankenship welcomed Governor Kay Ivey, who won Tuesday’s Republican nomination without a runoff, to the Board meeting and highlighted her accomplishments in outdoor recreation.

“In the time that Governor Ivey has been in office, we (DCNR) have acquired 63,000 acres of property that has gone into public ownership for conservation and enjoyment of our citizens forever,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Thank you, Governor, for your leadership in allowing ADCNR to do good work for the people and natural resources of Alabama. In my 28 years at Conservation, I don’t ever remember a governor joining us at one of our CAB meetings.”

Governor Ivey highlighted the impact outdoor recreation has on Alabama’s economy as well as reiterating her support for State Parks.

“Hunting, fishing, hiking and outdoor recreation, as managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, is a $14 billion, with a B, economic driver for our state,” Governor Ivey said. “That’s especially important for rural areas. I thank the men and women of the DCNR for their hard work and their passion that they display every day to ensure we have fish, wildlife and access to public lands and waters, both today and tomorrow for future generations. Conservation also manages our beautiful Alabama State Parks, many of which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. With this bond money, we can make the needed improvements and upgrades to our State Parks.

“One thing is for sure. In a state like Alabama, folks are passionate about hunting, fishing and wildlife, and they have plenty of opinions of how they should be managed. Commissioner Blankenship and his team do a wonderful job of balancing long seasons with appropriate bag limits to ensure that we don’t overharvest the bounty that God has blessed us with. Alabama is truly a great place to hunt, fish, camp, hike and spend time in the great outdoors. So, y’all keep up the good work so that we remain Alabama the beautiful. Thank you for having me today, and may God bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.”

State Parks recently held ribbon cuttings at several parks, including Cathedral Caverns, where a new campground was opened. State Parks worked with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to use rubberized asphalt to pave roads and parking lots at Guntersville State Park. The Joe Wheeler State Park campgrounds that were destroyed by a tornado in 2019 have reopened, and a project at DeSoto Falls included dredging an area of the river there and a new beach for the day-use area. The rubberized asphalt will be used to pave the roads and parking lots at the day-use area. Also, all 1,300 overnight units at State Parks received new mattresses.

“We also recently celebrated an addition of 1,650 acres (Belcher Tract) at Oak Mountain State Park, the largest park in our system, right there in fast-growing Shelby County,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “That was monumental. That was purchased by the Forever Wild Land Trust, which is managed by State Lands and Director Patti McCurdy. You don’t get those opportunities very often, and I’m thankful to the Forever Wild Board for moving on that.”

Commissioner Blankenship also provided an update on the effort to rebuild the portion of Gulf State Park Pier that was demolished by Hurricane Sally in 2020. The bids to do the work far exceeded expectations from the engineers.

“We thought the bids would come in between $4 million and $6 million; that was the estimated range from the engineering firm,” he said. “The lowest bid ended up being $12.5 million, so it was more than twice what we thought would be the high bid. We’re working with FEMA to get approval for the new amount. We’re not going to be shutting the pier down this summer to do the construction that we had planned. We’ll have to bid that again in late summer or early fall once we get the FEMA approvals.”

Alabama’s private recreational red snapper season opens Friday for four-day weekends (Friday-Monday) until the quota of 1.12 million pounds is expected to be reached.

“Just for information for the Board, NOAA Fisheries recently announced the South Atlantic red snapper season for 2022,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “It will be July 8 and 9. That is their season – two days. The work that Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon and Kevin (Anson, MRD Head Biologist) and their team have done with other Gulf states has made a huge difference. Had that work not taken place, our season in the Gulf would probably be two days. Our season last year was 124 days. That just shows tangibly that the work they do means so much for the economy and outdoor recreation in Alabama.”

Bannon said Alabama’s private recreational anglers will have an unusual opportunity during the Memorial Day Weekend to catch three of the state’s iconic offshore species – red snapper, greater amberjack and gray triggerfish. Triggerfish and amberjack seasons are open through May 31. Anglers are required to report the harvest of all three species through the Snapper Check feature on the Outdoor AL app.

“We call it the trifecta weekend for reef fish where you can catch all three species,” Bannon said. “If you plan to come to the Gulf Coast this weekend, the boat ramps will be congested, which is about the nicest word I can use. Bring your patience with you.

“Also, this year, reef fish fishermen must have a venting tool or descending device to reduce the number of dead discards.”

Bannon provided the Board with updates on recreational saltwater fishing license sales, red snapper and a much-improved oyster season. More than 140,000 recreational saltwater licenses were purchased for the current season.

“A lot of people are visiting the Gulf, and a lot of people are moving there,” Bannon said. “The increase in license sales reflects that. The Gulf Reef Fish Endorsement ($10 license) was created three years ago. We sold 23,000 the first year and more than doubled to 56,000 the second year. That helps identify the anglers participating in offshore reef fish fishing and those funds go directly to enhancing and managing offshore reef fisheries.”

Bannon also highlighted the recent work to expand Alabama’s already unparalleled artificial reef program. About 1,200 square miles off the coast of Alabama is designated artificial reef zones. The reef zones were increased about 115 square miles recently with the addition of the Christopher M. Blankenship Zone and additions to several nearshore reef zones. In the overall reef zone complex, MRD deployed 456 25-foot pyramid modules, 1,203 juvenile reef fish modules, 327 circalittoral (nearshore) modules and built four new inshore reefs.

MRD has also spent more than $10 million in recent years on oyster restoration, including the planting of cultch material and starting a “mounds and furrows” project that provides the oysters some relief from low-oxygen areas on the bottom.

“Oysters are not only important to catch and eat, I call them the foundational critters,” Bannon said. “In the estuaries, we need those oysters. They clean the water. They’re a sign of a healthy water system. They feed other species out there. Without oysters, the whole system is out of balance.”

The success of these oyster restoration efforts is revealed in the number of sacks oyster catchers have produced in recent years. The harvest went from zero for the fall 2018 through spring 2019 season to 11,333 sacks the following year. In the fall 2020 through spring 2021 season, 22,070 sacks were brought to market. In the most recent season, 50,020 sacks were harvested.  That translates into more than $4 million going into the pockets of the oyster harvesters.

“With the grid system, we can close one 500-meter area at a time,” Bannon said. “Our original harvest estimate for 2022 was 22,000 sacks. We harvested more than 50,000 because we could keep the catchers moving to new areas, and that also keeps from overharvesting certain areas. They quickly figured out the benefit to them and the oyster reefs.”

On the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) side, the Alabama Legislature passed legislation to create an enclosure gun deer season. It sets the hunting dates for those enclosures that opt into that season, which will be October 15 through January 6.

The Board also voted to allow the use of turkey decoys during the special youth and disabled hunting dates. For 2023 in Zones 1 and 3, those dates are March 17 and 18 for youth and March 24 for disabled hunts. In Zone 2, the dates are March 25 and 26 and March 31. 

Alabama Outdoors Weekly
Governor Ivey Asks for a ‘Yes’ on State Parks Amendment

PHOTOS: (Billy Pope) The State Parks Amendment is the only amendment on the May 24 ballot. To accommodate modern motorhomes and camping equipment, many sites will be upgraded to 50-amp electrical service.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Alabama boasts some of the most beautiful and highest-rated state parks in the nation. To maintain that beauty and integrity, a funding mechanism will be on the May 24 ballot.


The State Parks Amendment is the only amendment on the May ballot.
If approved by voters, the State Parks Amendment will authorize the issuance and sale of general obligation bonds of the State of Alabama of up to $85 million. The amendment proposes that $80 million be used to improve, renovate, equip, acquire, provide, construct and maintain state parks under the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). The Alabama Historical Commission will receive up to $5 million to do the same for public historical sites and public historical parks.


“It’s just real important that we all vote ‘Yes’ on that amendment on the ballot,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said recently. “We have so much natural beauty here, and it’s important that we offer our citizens and tourists the great opportunities to experience and enjoy them. With your support of the State Parks bond issue on May 24, we will soon have ribbon-cuttings on several renovated campgrounds, cabins and improved day-use areas in our 21 State Parks.”


The Alabama State Parks boast 2,600 campsites, 700 lodge rooms, 200 cabins and cottages, and over 300 miles of trails.
Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks Director, said while much of the Alabama State Parks infrastructure was built in the 1970s, some structures date back much earlier.
“Some of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) cabins go back to the late ’30s and early ’40s,” Lein said. “And we have a lot of outdated campgrounds. We’ve tried to do what we could with our available funding, like the renovation of the campground at Joe Wheeler that got hit by the tornado in December 2019. We ended up doing part of it. We still have a portion of that campground that needs to be renovated. But a prime example of a park in need of updating is Wind Creek State Park, which has a very large campground. None of the original sites have 50-amp service. That is true in several of our parks. Improving campsites so modern RVs can use them is a big deal to us.”


Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship made that point during the recent celebration of the addition of the Belcher Tract to Oak Mountain State Park.


“Alabama is blessed with great State Parks,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We have 21 beautiful parks around the state. Some of them were started in the 1930s and have been built during the last 83 years. Some of our campgrounds look like they were built 83 years ago. All kidding aside, when those campgrounds were built, camping was a pop-up camper, a tent, or a really small motorhome. That is what they were built to accommodate.


“That is not where we are today when you look at what Tiffin is building in Red Bay, luxury motorhomes with three air conditioners. People are living in their RVs, traveling around the country. We are working as a parks system to get into the 21st century, as well as adding some cabins and other amenities to help make our State Parks first-class and very sustainable.”


Commissioner Blankenship pointed out that during the past couple of years, the number of park visitors increased from an average of 5 million to approximately 6.2 million visitors.


“Outdoor activity was recognized as an ‘essential activity’ during COVID-19, and our State Parks remained open and operational during the pandemic,” he said. “I know many of you enjoy the State Parks on a regular basis. I hope the rest of you will give them a try soon.
“I describe our State Parks as gems. That is truly how I feel about them, although some of those gems need a little polishing to bring out their full sparkle and majesty.”
While Lein said upgrades to the electrical systems in the campgrounds is a big component of the planned renovations, other items need attention as well.


“Some of the work involves issues not visible to the public. Some parks require the installation of new water lines, while others require sewer improvements,” Lein said. “A lot of the funding gets spent on the pad itself. We will be redoing the pads that the RVs are actually sitting on, getting them level, creating new pad borders as well as paving the campground roads that access those sites.”


“Another big component of the campground renovations are the bathhouses. We’ve got some old bathhouses at some of these sites. Demolishing those bathhouses and constructing modern ones with A/C and heating systems is a big element of a campground renovation.”


Lein further noted that modern campers want to maintain connectivity, even as they enjoy getting away from the hustle and bustle.


“Wi-Fi is another component,” he said. “While we’re doing this, we want to add that modern convenience to make the new product even more attractive to the people who are looking for great campgrounds.” New cabins at several parks would be an additional attraction.
“Some of the parks don’t even have cabins, or very few, Wind Creek for example,” Lein said. “They’ve got a couple of very small cabins. Having something new and modern, like the Cottages at Gulf State Park, at Wind Creek would be a huge improvement.”


Lein said the increased attendance at many Alabama State Parks has allowed the system to do some needed maintenance and add a few new features, but the State Parks Amendment would be a huge step forward in meeting the goal of providing a State Parks System for the future.


“We have made progress, but with limited funding we have not been able to update our parks as quickly as we would like,” he said. “To renovate a campground, like Joe Wheeler, requires saving money for two or three years to build enough money to undertake a project like that. The passage of the State Parks Amendment gives us the means to quickly make the improvements and renovations and provisions for new things so that the public more quickly gets to be out there enjoying their State Parks.


“The State Parks System understands that the better our amenities, the better the experience we can offer. We don’t want just good State Parks. We want an exceptional parks system for the people of Alabama.”


Commissioner Blankenship added, “Governor Ivey has said this is very important for our State Parks and our state moving forward. With your support for the bond on May 24, we can make Alabama State Parks truly spectacular and provide for the outdoor recreational needs for our state for decades to come.”

Free Fishing Day is June 11

Charlotte Smallwood-Fishing the Coosa River, 2019. Photo by Charlotte Smallwood

On Saturday, June 11, 2022, 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 allows residents and non-residents to enjoy the outstanding fishing Alabama has to offer without purchasing a fishing license. The event is part of National Fishing and Boating Week, which runs June 4-12.


“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.”


To celebrate Free Fishing Day, ADCNR and Academy Sports + Outdoors are hosting a Go Fish, Alabama! event on June 11 from 8 a.m. to noon at Gateway Park, 3800 Davenport Dr., in Montgomery. The event is free to attend. All the necessary bait, equipment and tackle will be provided. Learn more at https://www.outdooralabama.com/GoFishAlabama.


Free Fishing Day also 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.
In addition, 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.


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 Outdoors Weekly
Tuscaloosa Wants in on Bass Tournament Bonanza

(David Rainer, Adam Hollingsworth) Adam Hollingsworth of the University of Alabama fishing team shows off a nice bass caught in Holt Reservoir near Tuscaloosa. Hollingsworth and partner Hunter Luke landed several big fish recently at a college tournament at Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi. Holt Reservoir holds largemouth bass and spotted bass, like this nice one Hollingsworth landed with a jerkbait.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Alabama is known for some of the best bass fishing in the world. Our state is blessed with an abundance of rivers, reservoirs and waterways teeming with numerous black bass species, which means bass fishing tournaments abound throughout the state. Except for one location – Tuscaloosa.

Stan Adams, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports’ Executive Director of Sports, and Adam Hollingsworth, president of the University of Alabama (UA) Bass Fishing Team, want to do something about that, and it all starts with awareness.

“If you Google Tuscaloosa and fishing, what pops up is Chuck’s Fish, a restaurant here,” Adams said. “What we are doing is trying to find something that will have an economic impact on the area. We’ve got this river; how do we use this?”

Adams contacted Dr. Hobson Bryan at UA and Bob Hale at L&L Marine in Northport, and they told him Tuscaloosa County was missing out on millions in the economic impact that bass tournaments can produce.

“We’re missing out on between $1.3 million and $3.5 million by not being able to have fishing tournaments on that river,” Adams said. “We knew this was huge. My boss and I went to the Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham right before the COVID shutdown and talked to Kay Donaldson with the Alabama Bass Trail.”

Donaldson, who runs the hugely successful Alabama Bass Trail (ABT), was asked how to get an ABT event in Tuscaloosa to fish the Black Warrior.

“You guys are going to have to start having more tournaments,” Adams said of Donaldson’s response. “Show us you can do it, and we’ll start talking about adding you to the trail.”

Adams said residents around Lake Tuscaloosa, a lake formed by damming the North River, are not interested in expanded bass fishing, which means the focus will be on sparsely populated Holt Reservoir and Bankhead Lake on the Black Warrior.

“It’s really a gold mine down here on the river,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure out how to market it. The more we market it, the more interest there is. That creates demand, and, politically, they’re going to have to build infrastructure because of the demand.”

Adams said he is talking to the City of Northport about building a boat ramp capable of handling larger tournaments.

“They have an area at Bankhead Dam where we want them to build a boat ramp that is six or eight lanes wide to accommodate a lot of boats and add parking,” he said. “I know the state of Alabama is all about fishing, and this is one of the untapped areas.

“Right now, everything is about Alabama football, and we appreciate that. But that’s just seven weekends a year. Fishing is our next focus. It can be a Monday through Friday deal, not just weekends. And we know fishermen come in days before the actual tournament, which has a real economic impact.”

Hollingsworth said Adams reached out for some advice on how to boost the Tuscaloosa area’s reputation for bass fishing. Holt Reservoir is a 3,296-acre impoundment in the picturesque Appalachian Highlands. Up river, Bankhead Lake is 9,200 acres and flows through Walker, Jefferson and Tuscaloosa counties.

“I told them I would absolutely help because I’ve fished these rivers and lakes all my life,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s a very versatile place. You can be throwing a swim jig in one place or be throwing a Shaky Head or jig against a wall in another place. You’re not limited. Holt has stained water with about 2- to- 4-foot visibility. If you go up to the dam (Bankhead), you get cooler water but with current. Going south, it’s warmer and it cleans up a little too. I enjoy fishing Holt because there’s a bigger population of fish, bigger fish as well.”

While Hollingsworth is more than willing to help with the marketing, his role is actually fishing as a member of the UA team. Hollingsworth is considerably older than his UA fishing teammates. The 34-year-old former policeman, Army veteran and current member of the Army National Guard decided to go to UA to get his degree in criminal justice to further his career in law enforcement. He’s graduating this week with almost a 4.0 average and plans to enter graduate school.

Before Hollingsworth became president of the UA bass fishing team, he helped get uniforms and graphics for the anglers’ boats, and he started adding sponsors to fund the expenses.

“Being this old in college is kind of weird,” he said. “I just try to be a role model for the other members of a team.”

Hollingsworth said he’s been hooked on fishing since he was limited to a cane pole and a bucket of minnows.

“I had a crappie rig and put a minnow on it and threw it out,” he said. “A big ol’ largemouth ate it. There were some people fishing right up from us, and their mouths dropped.

“That’s what really sparked my love for it. I kind of got away from it when I was in the military. When I got back here in 2012, I started fishing again. I got with my buddy Dwayne Allen, and he showed me pretty much everything. I learned how to fish a swim jig from him.”

Although Hollingsworth has a few plastic worms in his tackle box, they rarely see the daylight. Fishing slow is not his game.

“I like to fish fast,” he said. “I’ll get out a Shaky Head if that’s the last thing I can think of to catch a fish. Most of the time, I’m going to have a swim jig or a jerkbait in my hands. If it’s early in the morning, I’ll walk a Spook and throw a buzzbait. I like to move fast and cover a lot of water. In the summer, I will throw a crankbait.”

The UA fishing team competes in the Strike King-Bassmasters College Series, the Abu Garcia College Series, the ACA (Association of Collegiate Anglers) Bass Pro Shop Series and the Southern Collegiate Series, which will hold its state championship at Lake Eufaula later this month.

“I went to Eufaula for the first time two years ago,” Hollingsworth said. “That was the first time I’d seen gators on the water. I saw gators almost as long as the boat I was in. I thought, ‘Oh, my gracious.’ And I wasn’t far from Lakepoint State Park.”

After Eufaula, Hollingsworth and his fishing partner, Travis Pattillo, will be headed to Michigan to fish in Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay.

“That’s going to be a trip,” Hollingsworth said. “We’re going to have three teams there. I’ve never been there. Travis has never been there. What I’ve heard is it’s a Disneyland of smallmouths. We were just warned about the waves. I’ll have to learn how to drift fish.”

While he’s fishing in the South, Hollingsworth loves to fish for bedding bass.

“It’s a game, and I like that challenge,” he said. “It’s a competitive thing between me and the fish. I’ll lock onto a fish for an hour, especially if I see it getting madder and madder. When they flare their gills or turn sideways, you know it’s on.”

Waterkeepers Alabama Installs New Fish Consumption Advisory Signs Statewide

Alabama – Today (4-12-22) is Rivers of Alabama Day, and Waterkeepers Alabama is excited to announce they have completed a project to mount more than 45 new, more accessible fish consumption advisory signs at Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) managed boat ramps on impacted waterways across Alabama. These signs are intended to alert anglers heading out to fish about nearby fish consumption advisories issued by Alabama’s state agencies. Each sign features a convenient hotline that anglers can call toll free to hear a recording of the over 200 fish consumption advisories for the whole state.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper has mounted four signs at ADCNR boat ramps in the Black Warrior River watershed. Three of the boat landings are on Smith Lake, at Lion’s Park (Lick Creek), Smith Lake Park (Ryan Creek) and Smith Lake Dam (Sipsey Fork). The fourth sign Black Warrior Riverkeeper mounted is on Lake Tuscaloosa at the Binion Creek boat ramp. All advisories in the Black Warrior River basin are for fish contaminated with mercury from burning coal at power plants.

“Fishing is a great American tradition, especially in Alabama,” said Charles Scribner, executive director of Black Warrior Riverkeeper and past president of Waterkeepers Alabama. “We want anyone to enjoy fishing while being able to make informed decisions about fish consumption.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health updates and re-releases the fish consumption advisories each year. Waterkeepers Alabama is working to get this information into the hands of anglers that need it the most – those fishing for dinner. Fish consumption advisories are recommendations from the state to limit or avoid eating fish at certain locations due to testing results revealing health-hazardous contamination in fish tissues. These advisories are aimed to prevent long-term illnesses that can result from eating contaminated fish, such as reproductive dysfunction, cancers, and issues with child development. Waterkeepers Alabama hopes to reach a wide audience of anglers by utilizing the many popular public-access boat ramps that the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources manage.

Besides calling the hotline hosted by Coosa Riverkeeper that is featured on the signs, there are currently no other ways to access the advisories without a smart device or a steady internet connection. As much as 1 in 4 Alabamians do not have internet access, according to the American Consumer Survey, so these signs provide anglers with a route to access this vital public health information offline. Anyone can call from anywhere at any time to hear fish consumption advisories in Alabama by dialing (844) 219-7475!

“Folks eating fish in Alabama deserve easy access to such important public health information such as the fish consumption advisories. By working with Outdoor Alabama and our partners across the state, we are now able to provide a bit easier access through the hotline.” said Victoria Miller, Fish Guide Coordinator with Coosa Riverkeeper and project organizer. “However, more can be done to protect Alabama’s anglers by the state agencies regulating the advisories, like expanding testing efforts to include more water bodies and contaminants, and promoting the advisories more through their websites, social media, guidebooks, and other forms of official communication about the outdoors.”

Waterkeepers Alabama collaborated on this project with Outdoor Alabama, or the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, for permission to post at their public boat ramps and other partner groups to mount the signs, such as the Alabama Rivers Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Coosa Riverkeeper, and Mobile Baykeeper. Each sign is sponsored, mounted, & maintained by the organization’s logo found on the bottom left corner.

Waterkeepers Alabama is a regional entity of the Waterkeepers Alliance launched in 2018 to further connect and support Waterkeeper organizations on waterways that flow through and across Alabama. Those interested in finding out more about fish consumption advisories should visit WaterkeepersAlabama.org/Fish to see a map with the advisories for Alabama.

Powell Crowned Grand Champion at Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt

(Billy Pope) Linda Powell of Mossberg is presented with with Grand Champion trophy by Governor Kay Ivey and Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship at the Alabama Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt.
Conservation Advisory Board Chairman Joe Dobbs is presented with the third-place trophy by Governor Kay Ivey and Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship.
Rob Keck, right, and landowner/guide Ed McCurdy show off the gobbler that finished second in the competition.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Governor Kay Ivey and Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship were thrilled to revive the dormant Alabama Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt last week as numerous Alabama landowners treated business and industry representatives to our state’s renowned turkey hunting and abundant Southern hospitality.

The Alabama Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt is a premier event that was started in 2002 and last held in 2015. The invitation list of hunters is made up of corporate CEOs, corporate presidents, outdoor and entertainment celebrities, media representatives, and sponsors. The prospect list to fill the hunt slots comes largely from recommendations by the Governor, the Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. The event raises funds that benefit the many projects of the Alabama Conservation & Natural Resources Foundation, including scholarships at The University of Alabama and Auburn University. 

With a format change from previous hunts, participants gathered at the Prattville Marriott for the Fly-Down Social and Auction Monday night and then departed for their hunting areas. Instead of returning all the way to Prattville for a formal Tuesday night banquet, a few hunting lodges hosted regional dinners for the landowners and hunting guests near their areas. The participants returned to Prattville Wednesday for the official scoring of the harvested turkeys and the Governor’s Awards Luncheon.

Although hunters weren’t due back to Prattville until Wednesday, rumors started to swirl that Linda Powell of firearms manufacturer Mossberg had bagged a big bird on Tuesday’s first hunt.

That rumor was confirmed when Powell and guide Justin Rock of Riverview Farms brought the huge turkey to the scoring table at the Prattville Marriott on Wednesday.

Powell’s turkey weighed a whopping 25.13 pounds and sported an 11¾-inch beard with 1 1/8-inch spurs. Under the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) scoring protocol, the final score is determined by weight, plus double the length of the beard and 10 times the length of the spurs.

Powell topped all 64 hunters with a 71.13 total score to be crowned the Grand Champion of the 2022 Alabama Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt.

Powell’s bird played coy on the opening morning of the hunt, and that was just fine with her.

“I had a turkey located, so when we went to find that turkey, naturally, he wasn’t in the same place,” Rock said. “We moved around and got close to his roost. There was a wide-open road between us and the turkey. He gobbled good, responded good. We set up on the road, thinking he would walk right down the road, and we’d be done in 30 minutes.”

However, the turkey balked. Powell and Rock changed position three times to try to intercept the bird. They set up on a ridge and started calling. The turkey approached, but the brush was so thick, the hunters couldn’t see the bird. Then came a surprise.

“He ended up out there strutting right where we started – full circle,” Rock said.  

The hunters repositioned and attempted to call the gobbler down the road.

“He had a bunch of hens with him,” Rock said. “We called to the hens. They started coming our way with the gobbler behind. We could see him, but we had to wait for him to walk out from behind the brush. Miss Linda did a good job and put him down, no question about it.”

Powell, who was using Mossberg’s new Model 940 Pro Turkey shotgun, is no novice to turkey hunting with four World Slams to her credit, and she’s working on the fifth.

“I love Alabama to begin with, and it’s been several years since I’ve been here,” Powell said. “It was such a classic morning to go out and hear the gobbling. I think Justin was disappointed we didn’t get him on the first set-up, but I really wasn’t. I like the fact we had to work a little bit, and he kept responding.

“In my mind, it was just a perfect morning. It was beautiful and turkeys were gobbling.”

A close second at 68.86 total points was a person synonymous with turkey hunting – Rob Keck, former head of the NWTF now with Bass Pro Shops. Keck’s bird weighed 22.11 pounds with a 10-inch beard. One spur was 1 ¼ inches, while the other measured 1 3/8.

Keck marveled at the size of Powell’s bird and reflected on his history of turkey hunting in Alabama.

“What a turkey,” Keck said. “You don’t hear of a bird that big in Alabama. I killed my first turkey at Coosa Wildlife Management Area in 1969. I’ve never heard of a 25-pound turkey in Alabama. I don’t know what Tom Kelly would think of that.

“I had a great hunt with Ed McCurdy as my guide. We sort of struck out early, so we just started slipping around to see if we could spot one in one of the pastures. We came through a little ribbon of timber, and we saw this gobbler cutting across the pasture all by himself. I moved up the ribbon of timber onto a hill. I was looking at the fence lines because I didn’t want the turkey to get hung up on a fence.”

When Keck and McCurdy set up, Keck said the turkey responded to the first call.

“He just ate it up, but he was about 250 yards away,” Keck said. “I just kept giving it to him, and he gobbled every time I hit the call. Then he hung up at about 150 yards still in the timber. I started challenge purring with my mouth call and my slate. It will flat tear them apart.

“He got to the edge of the pasture, went in full strut and gobbled. I gave him a little more and then put the call down. He was coming. He would strut, stop and gobble; strut, stop and gobble. He was coming to fight. He came to within 25 yards, and there was just one little gap in that fence. He got there, ran the periscope up and the rest is history.”

Although Keck has chased turkeys all over the world, he said Alabama is a special place to him.

“I killed my first spring gobblers in Alabama,” he said. “I won the World Championship calling contest in Mobile. A lot of the work NWTF does was formulated right here in Alabama. This is the cradle of turkey hunting.

“I remember reading a story by Charlie Elliott in Outdoor Life back in 1969 about how Alabama had the longest spring turkey season. To me, Alabama is the mecca, like coming back to where it all started. So many states around the country have copied what Alabama has been doing for an awful long time. For me, I have so many great memories, so many great people I’ve met through the years, the conservation work, the ability to hunt here. I want to become an honorary Alabama citizen.”

Alabama Conservation Advisory Board Chairman Joey Dobbs was the second runner-up with another 20-pound turkey, 20.34 to be exact. The beard measured 10 3/8 inches, and the spurs were both 1¼ inches for a 66.09 total score.

Dobbs said the early morning set-up was a bust, and he and his guide, Tim Wilsford of Pintlala, were just about to give up. They had even unloaded their guns when Dobbs came to full alert.

“I heard a ‘cluck, cluck, cluck’ behind us,” Dobbs said. “We squatted down. We didn’t have time to get set up. Around the corner came six birds, six gobblers. This was the biggest bird, leading the way the whole time. Then a hen intercepted them and hung them up for about 30-40 minutes. Finally, they came around a tree where I had a good, clean shot and got him.

“Tim and his family were such wonderful hosts. I’m just so proud that we’re able to do this (Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt). COVID slowed us down the last two years. Getting this back and raising the money we’ve raised this year for the Foundation, I’m very pleased. The participation level was just fabulous.”

Governor Ivey was also pleased that the event went off without a hitch and raised valuable money for the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Foundation, which funds scholarships at the University of Alabama and Auburn University as well as numerous programs like Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, youth dove hunts, the Adult Mentored Hunting Program, Hunters Helping the Hungry, the Go Fish program, the Gone Fishin’ Not Just Wishin’ Exceptional Anglers Event and more.

“When we kicked things off on Monday, I said Alabama was blessed with our great outdoors,” Governor Ivey said. “I hope you all got a good glimpse of that. Not only is Alabama a great place to visit, it’s also a great place to come to live, work and play. To those of you who are considering coming to Alabama or expanding existing companies, I certainly hope you’ll make the choice to do so. We’d love for you to do business here in Alabama.

“I’d like to thank the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and Department of Commerce for putting this event together. I want to thank Chris Blankenship (ADCNR Commissioner), and I appreciate our many sponsors too. Without you, this would not be possible.  Bev Leigh was also an integral part in making our auction – and the event itself – happen. I also want to thank Ed (Poolos, ADCNR’s Deputy Commissioner) and Billy (Pope, ADCNR’s Communications and Marketing Director) for their hard work.”

Commissioner Blankenship said he wanted to thank several other people involved in the event.

“I wanted to make sure we recognize Bev Leigh, Craig Harris and the rest of the volunteers from the National Wild Turkey Federation who weighed and scored the birds and who put on very successful silent and live auctions,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “They were great partners in this event. I appreciate the Alabama Wildlife Federation and Tim Gothard for the AWF Wild Game Cook Teams that provided some great food at the Fly-Down Social.  We had 28 sponsors, and several of those sponsors made additional contributions because we had to postpone the 2020 event due to Covid.

“We had great participation from the landowners. By not having the Tuesday night banquet, we were able to spread it out. The winning turkey came from a little farther away. We probably wouldn’t have been able to hunt that bird if we hadn’t changed the format. Also, on Tuesday night dinners, people were able to talk business and develop relationships that will help them do business here in Alabama. It’s extremely important to our economy in using the outdoors to help grow business. We enjoy getting out in the woods or the hunting camp in a relaxed environment. A lot of business deals get done on the golf course, but I think we have just as many opportunities to do that in the woods or on a boat fishing in the outdoors in Alabama.”

Financial Assistance for Southern Pine Beetle Prevention
The Alabama Forestry Commission is inviting landowners to participate in its Southern Pine Beetle (SPB) Prevention Cost-Share Program. The goal of the program is to assist landowners financially with forest management practices that would decrease the chances of their pine stands becoming infested with SPB. The program launched on April 1, 2022, and the application portal will remain open for a few months. There are a few criteria that landowners must meet to be eligible for the cost-share program: (1) The land must be privately owned and located in the state of Alabama. (2) The property or stand which landowners wish to enroll cannot already be enrolled in another cost-share program (such as CRP). (3) Finally, any stand on the property landowners want to enroll must be 10 acres or more. To apply for either the first thinning practice or the tree planting practice of the SPB cost-share program, please visit the AFC website at www.forestry.alabama.gov, look under News & Events, and click on the link: “Financial Assistance for Southern Pine Beetle Prevention.” For more information or if you have questions regarding the Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Cost-Share Program, please email AFC Forest Health Coordinator Austin Reese at [email protected], or contact your local Alabama Forestry Commission office.

Alabama Outdoors Weekly
Black bear cubs collared in Northeast Alabama

The black bear cubs are handled so gently during the collaring process that they sometimes take a nap.
(Billy Pope) WFF’s Traci Wood is all smiles as she prepares to return a black bear cub to its den in northeast Alabama.
Sykes retrieves a bear cub from its den and passes it to Wood.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

To say Traci Wood has a passion for bears would understate her love for the small black bear populations on opposite ends of the state in northeast and southwest Alabama.

A beaming Wood, State Wildlife Grants Coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, recently was among a team of biologists and researchers who were able to place collars on a trio of bear cubs in DeKalb County near Mentone.

A research program under State Wildlife Grants is continuing to monitor the black bear populations in the state. In its fourth year, the study looks at cub survival and den habitat.

“We’re evaluating the types of den structures the sows are using,” Wood said. “We are collaring cubs when they are 7 weeks of age, around the 5-pound mark. It’s basically a GPS collar. We also insert a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag into them. That collar expands as they grow. After six to nine months, that collar will fall off. So, if we trap that animal later, the PIT tag will identify as a cub we had previously collared.

“What that collar also tells us is if that cub has died. If they die, we receive a transmitter signal, and we can find the location of the den and try to determine the cause of death. This will give an indication of how cubs are recruiting into the population.”

When the cubs become adults and are collared again, the research team gathers a great deal more information about bear habits and habitat.

“It tells us where they are going, if they’re having cubs in the future,” Wood said. “Hopefully, it’s a long-term look at the life ecology of a bear from when it’s born to its reproductive age.”

The previous summer, WFF and the Auburn University research team, with Hannah Leeper as the research associate in the field, trapped females and attached GPS collars to determine where they made their winter dens. With the dens located, the team was able to find the cubs this spring near Mentone.

The team will move to the Mobile area this weekend to start performing den checks to hopefully find cubs to collar.

“The cubs in southwest Alabama are born at different times than north Alabama cubs,” Wood said. “We really don’t know why. It could be due to genetic reasons. Those cubs should be big enough to attach cub collars.”

Although the study is focused on the bear populations in those two areas, Wood said that doesn’t mean bears aren’t denning and birthing cubs in other areas of the state.

When den locations are determined, the researchers carefully approach the den to determine if the sow has given birth.

“When we approach, the mom usually gets off the den and runs off right away,” Wood said. “We go straight into the den, collar, weigh and measure the cubs and put them back. It’s a very quick process because we want to reduce the stress to the den and mom. We want her to come back as quickly as possible. We don’t want her to think we are a threat.

“She usually comes back within an hour, which is kind of surprising. I think she can sense – hear and smell – when we’re gone. That’s good news the sows are returning to the dens. Later, with the GPS, we can determine if the mom stayed at the den, or she may move her cubs to a different den.

“A couple of weeks after we collar the cubs, they are out of the den, walking around with mom. They’re big enough to keep up with mom, and they’re exploring and climbing trees.”

Wood said the bear population in northeast Alabama is doing great with sows producing large litters.

“It’s not uncommon to encounter three cubs on average in a den,” she said. “Those cubs are very healthy, look very pretty, and they’re surviving in that first year, which is the most critical period because they’re small, vulnerable to predators, and it is a lot of work to keep up with mom.

“Those cubs in north Alabama have very good habitat as well. They have canyons, caves and rock outcrops. Because of the canyons, they’re not running into people, houses or barriers. Even though we’re not seeing many sows’ dens in caves, most of the time they den in windrows after a tree cutting. It’s very thick. That seems to be their preference. It’s very removed from people as well. We’re seeing high cub survival in north Alabama.”

After about a year, the yearlings will disperse, and Wood said some of the males travel into Georgia.

“They’re covering a very large range,” she said. “It’s a bigger picture than what you would think. The linkage between our bears in northeast Alabama and Georgia has very high potential because of the good habitat in that corridor.”

Unfortunately, the bear population in the Mobile area is facing many more hurdles to viability, mainly due to isolation and habitat.

“In the Mobile population, we are seeing more cub mortality,” Wood said. “It’s still a question mark for us on how to find answers and come up with solutions. They are a very genetically isolated population. They are surrounded by highways, the interstate and subdivisions. It has led to inbreeding and very low genetic diversity. It doesn’t bode well for them at all.

“Den habitat and habitat quality for the adult bears are not there. Their den is open, like a nest on the ground. There’s rarely coverage, exposing them to all the elements, not only predators but extreme weather like flooding in the (Mobile-Tensaw) Delta. All those factors play a part in cub survival. It doesn’t appear, at this stage of the project, that predators are the problem. It’s directly linked to the poor habitat. It leaves those cubs so vulnerable. They have a hard life from the get-go. But we’re trying to find the answers on how to protect that population.”

Wood said Auburn University has been a WFF partner for about a decade in this research on black bears, Alabama’s state mammal. Auburn leads the field work, trapping, collaring and tracking the bears as well as analyzing the data to provide a report to WFF.

“This assists us in making management decisions for bears,” she said. “It helps us evaluate the status of black bears in Alabama. It’s very important work.”

WFF and Auburn estimate the population of the northeast Alabama bears at 30-35 individuals. The southwest Alabama bear population is estimated at about 125 individuals, although Wood said some people in southwest Alabama think bears are everywhere.

“There aren’t as many bears in the Mobile population as people think,” she said. “They’re seeing the same bears over and over. The fact that they have such a restricted home range in the Mobile population means those bears are basically traveling in a circle with a radius of about 10 miles. Bears are a common sight in the general Saraland area.”

However, Wood said a black bear could be spotted just about anywhere in the state, especially during the summer months.

“Once the mom kicks them out at about 18 months of age, the young adult males roam,” she said. “But it’s not only the yearlings but older bears as well. The males are probably going to be looking for a mate or looking for a new home range. They can travel 250 miles.

“We’re starting to get more reports from the Birmingham area. Some of the north Alabama males come down that corridor and turn up around Birmingham and Alexander City.”

Wood said it’s important to be “Bear Aware” and realize any sighting during the summer is likely going to be a male bear passing through.

“If you have garbage out or you’re feeding wildlife, you should remove that food source for about two weeks, and the bear will move along,” she said. “Their activity is extremely food driven. They’re like little teenagers and get into trouble. Removing the food source is the key.

“But treat the bears as wildlife. Treat them as if they are dangerous. Typically, they’re not aggressive. They’re just looking for something to eat. You don’t want it to imprint on your food source because it’s going to keep coming back. That’s when it becomes a problem, but it’s more of a human problem than a bear problem.”

Wood hopes being “Bear Aware” will reduce human conflicts and people can enjoy just seeing a bear.

Speaking of bear sightings, WFF has set up an online reporting system for citizens. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/black-bear/alabama-black-bears and click on the “Report a Black Bear Sighting” link at the top of the page.

“This helps us know where bears are popping up,” Wood said. “This helps us in where our research is focused. It helps us work with our citizens on how to be ‘Bear Aware.’

“People love bears because the cubs are so cute, but it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. It’s briars, mud and mosquitoes. It’s extremely hard work, but I love it.”

Get a Permit Before You Burn
Spring is here and so is outdoor burning season in Alabama. State law requires that you obtain a permit from the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) before you burn any woodland, grassland, field, or new ground that is over one-quarter acre in size or lies within 25 feet of natural fuels, such as woods or grass. Obtaining a burn permit allows the AFC to know which fires are controlled and which are wildfires. If your proposed burn is less than one-quarter acre you do not need a burn permit.
Permits are free of charge and can be obtained in just a few minutes over the telephone. You can get a permit by calling the Alabama Forestry Commission dispatch center at (800) 392-5679. You’ll be asked a few questions about your burn such as, the location of the burn by giving the Lat/Long. (You can determine this information by using the AFC ‘Lat + Long Locator Map’ at https://forestry.alabama.gov/Pages/Maps/Locator.aspx.) Other information you will need to provide is the size of the burn, what you are burning (grassland/fields/forests), and the purpose of the burn.
In addition, you must have adequate tools, equipment, and manpower to stay with and control the fire the entire period that it is active to ensure that it doesn’t escape. Even though the burner has a permit, he/she is still responsible for any damage to others that may be caused if the fire escapes or smoke from the fire.
The permit may be canceled by the AFC for failure to comply with the terms of the permit, weather condition changes which cause erratic and dangerous fire behavior, or if the burn produces smoke which becomes a hazard to others or contributes to a degradation of air quality.
Some local municipalities issue their own burn permits. You will need to check with your local fire department for any county and city laws that may restrict outdoor burning. It is also a good idea to notify your local fire department that you will be burning.

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