ECMS petition finally becomes state law

Published 2:17 am Monday, May 15, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
More than a year ago, Shiren McGlothren's eighth-grade science class at Escambia County Middle School presented a petition to Senator Pat Lindsay and Rep. Skippy White to make the Alabama Black Bear the state's official mammal.
However, the bill along with the black bear went into hibernation, only to be heard of again last January when Sen. Lindsay got the Senate to vote 25-0 for his legislation declaring the black bear as the official state mammal.
The last step according to a spokesman from Sen. Lindsay's office would require the bill to be passed by the House and signed by the governor to become a law.
That last step finally came on April 12, 2006 when Governor Bob Riley, joined by students from Escambia County Middle School, passed Senate Bill 76, making the black bear Alabama's official state mammal.
For the Escambia County students, their teacher Shiren McGlothren, and the Director at Turtle Point Science Center, Shirley West, it was the end of a long and productive class project. The project, which began over a year ago, was intended to teach the group of then-eighth graders how bills were prepared, presented and passed into law. The students chose the black bear to research and promote because it is Alabama's largest mammal and is in need of special attention.
"The students learned so much," said Shirley West, Director of Turtle Point Science Center. "It was a wonderful hands on experience for them. They were able to start from the beginning and have a positive outcome. Being able to make a difference meant so much to these kids and I believe they will carry this rewarding experience with them for a long time."
The students drafted the original proposal to make the black bear the state's official mammal and several groups across the state, including the Alabama Wildlife Federation, provided support.
"The AWF supported this project 100 percent," said Tim Gothard, the Executive Director of the AWF. "It will provide another useful venue through which we can highlight the Alabama black bear, and hopefully, secure the black bear for future generations."
Since that time the students have moved on to Escambia County High School where they are now freshmen.
"The students of ECMS on last year, dedicated themselves to ensuring that Alabama had an official state mammal," ECMS principal Zickeyous Byrd said. "This came about because of Ms. McGlothren a 7th grade science teacher here at the school. The students did the research and wrote the proposal to our representative asking for his consideration. A year later, here we are. They did it and I am so proud of them. Atmore has a lot to be thankful for already. This just adds to our collection."
Alabama was once common ground for the black bear, but now the species is limited to few areas of the state that are being examined by the Alabama Black Bear Alliance in an effort to determine how many bears there are, where they are and what their habitat needs are to survive.
A report from the Alabama Department of Conservation indicates that there are no more than 50 bears in southwest Alabama.
"We try to teach the kids conservation, and this initiative by McGlothren's students is part of that effort," Shirley West, director of Turtle Point said. "We teach students about wild animals and their importance in the food chain. The Black Bear is part of that and is such a unique animal. If the Black Bear were to be named as the state mammal it would educate the public about the bear's importance and hopefully help protect it. The population has diminished here for a number of years and we want to bring the Black Bear population back to Alabama."
According to West, there are higher concentrations of black bears in Mobile, Baldwin, Washington and Monroe counties with a few in Escambia, Conecuh and Covington. West also stated that a black bear was seen almost a year ago on Upper Creek Road just a few miles from the Turtle Point Environmental Center.

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