ACA board has lots to ponder

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, March 2, 2016

By David Rainer

The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board has a great deal to ponder after the board’s first meeting of the year, held recently in Montgomery.

Before the board convenes again on March 26 at a venue to be determined, there will be several options to consider concerning the hunting seasons and bag limits.

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A presentation by Chuck Sykes, Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, provided the board with recommendations on season dates and bag limits.

Sykes proposed changes to the squirrel, rabbit and dove seasons as well as adding a no closed season provision for raccoons and opossums. Squirrel and rabbit seasons would run from Sept. 15, 2016, to March 5, 2017. Dove season in the north zone would shift dates from the first season split to the second split to take advantage of late-migrating birds. The North Zone dates would be September 10 through October 30 and December 8 through January 15, 2017. South Zone dates would be September 17-25, October 8-23and November 12 through January 15, 2017.

On the fishing side, Sykes proposed changes that would make it illegal to possess any largemouth bass less than 15 inches in total length on Pickwick Reservoir to be consistent with Tennessee and Mississippi regulations. The length limit on sauger would be increased from 14 to 15 inches, and the requirement for 100 percent cotton line on trotlines would be deleted.

Sykes also discussed with the Board options for the seasons and bag limits for deer ranging from keeping the 2015-2016 season with only date changes to a statewide deer gun season from Nov. 19 through Feb. 10, 2017. In areas that allow dog deer hunting, the season would be Nov. 19 through Jan. 15, 2017.

Sykes also posed a question to the board and those in attendance: “What percentage of Alabama residents buy a hunting license?” Sykes asked. “Don’t think about this group. I hope everybody in this group bought a hunting license.”

Sykes turned to the PowerPoint presentation on the screen.

“There are 4.8 million people in Alabama as of the 2014 census,” he continued. Sykes then pointed out the next bullet point, the number of hunting licenses sold last year – 178,614.

“That’s 3.7 percent of Alabama residents who bought a hunting license,” he said. “That’s pretty sad.

“Here’s how a loss of license sales impacts our budget. Sixty-six percent of every license dollar goes to pay for law enforcement. We cannot use any of our federal dollars (Pittman-Robertson Act and Dingell-Johnson Act) for law enforcement. Therefore, when license sales go down, the first thing that goes is law enforcement.”

Sykes said the WFF law enforcement staff is at a 30-year low. There are 33 counties with only one Conservation Enforcement Officer (CEO) and two counties without a CEO.

“We have got to do a better job of policing ourselves and policing our neighbors and fellow hunting club members to make sure everybody buys a license so we can afford to provide the services everybody is accustomed to,” he said.

Sykes received a number of questions concerning turkey issues. Sykes said there is a concern throughout the Southeast that the wild turkey population is on the decline, which has prompted an increased effort to obtain population data in Alabama as quickly as possible.

“We began an in-depth research project last year with Auburn University to finally get some baseline turkey data,” Sykes said. “In the proposed changes to the size lengths in fisheries, we have data to support those changes. We don’t have data to support turkeys right now. We’re getting it, but, historically, we do not have it.

“The Avid Turkey Hunter Survey, brood survey and gobble count were conducted again, trying to add to that baseline data. We conducted turkey-hunting listening sessions. It was monitored by Auburn researchers to find out what hunters wanted.”

Sykes said Auburn developed models from the listening sessions and provided those results to the Board.

However, Sykes informed the Board that there was insufficient data to support any changes at the present time to turkey seasons and bag limits.

For deer season, one proposal would reduce the number of days for antlerless deer harvests in one area of north Alabama. Based on landowner consultations and feedback from hunts and wildlife biologists, the recommendation is a 20-day either-sex season in that area (orange on the map). The rest of the state would keep the daily bag limit of one antlerless deer per day. Sykes said landowners within that restricted harvest area with a need for an increased antlerless harvest can contact WFF to enroll in the Deer Management Assistance Program, which would develop a site-specific harvest strategy.

In the continuing effort to keep Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) out of Alabama, WFF proposed an amended regulation that would prohibit the importation of certain deer parts. Only deboned meat, hides and antlers attached to a cleaned skull plate could be brought into the state.

“This is mirrored in many, many other states,” Sykes said. “This complements our existing CWD Response Plan that was instituted in 2012.”

Waterfowl hunters may see changes in shooting hours on WFF-controlled property as well as the establishment of resting areas with no hunting allowed. Also, the area between Battleship Parkway (Causeway) and the I-10 Bayway at the lower end of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta would become a waterfowl refuge.

The board also heard a presentation from Alabama Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship about the success of the Red Snapper Reporting System, also known as Snapper Check.

That Snapper Check data indicated the NOAA Fisheries overestimated the harvest of red snapper off the Alabama coast by more than double. Blankenship said Marine Resources had a productive meeting with NOAA staff from Washington and hoped to have Snapper Check certified as the appropriate program for measuring the red snapper catch for Alabama.

The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board unanimously passed a resolution commending Marine Resources for the success of Snapper Check. The resolution also gave the full support of the board to Marine Resources’ efforts to assume control of the red snapper management in state and federal waters off the Alabama coast.

WFF’s Sykes noted that compliance with the Snapper Check was much higher than Game Check for hunters because Snapper Check is mandatory. Sykes pointed out that the voluntary system wasn’t working, proven by a participation rate of only about 3 percent.