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Alabamians can hunt sandhill cranes for the first time since 1916

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has announced that Alabama will have a sandhill crane season. This is the first time that Alabama hunters will have the opportunity to hunt, legally, a sandhill crane in 103 years.

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division will conduct a draw hunt of 400 permits to hunt sandhill cranes. Alabama is just the third state east of the Mississippi River to hold a sandhill hunt.

“The last sandhill crane hunting in Alabama was in 1916,” said Seth Maddox, WFF migratory game bird coordinator. “This is the first time in 13 years that we’ve had a new species open to hunting. The last was alligator in 2006. It’s pretty exciting.”

The sandhill crane season will be split with the first segment from Dec. 3, 2019, to Jan. 5, 2020. The second segment will be Jan. 16-31, 2020.

Hunters will be limited to harvesting just three birds in the entire season. They can take all three birds on the same day if they so choose. A hunter may not harvest or possess more than four cranes.

“This sandhill crane season came about through the feedback of hunters,” Maddox said. “They started seeing increased numbers of sandhills while they were out hunting other species, especially waterfowl. Hunters wanted the opportunity to hunt this species in Alabama. They’d heard about the seasons in Kentucky and Tennessee from their friends. Hunters have paved the way for the species recovery of sandhill crane. We want to provide hunting opportunities when they are available.”

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a sandhill crane management plan in 2010 that included a hunt plan for the Mississippi Flyway, which includes Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

“Kentucky was the first state to take advantage of that,” Maddox said. “They opened their season in 2011. Tennessee opened their season in 2013. We’ll be the third state east of the Mississippi to have a sandhill season this year.”

Thirteen states west of the Mississippi River already have sandhill crane hunting seasons.

“We started counting sandhills in 2010 in conjunction with our aerial waterfowl surveys,” Maddox said. “We conduct the aerial surveys each fall and winter. Since 2010, we’ve seen a 16 percent increase on average per year in the state.”

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Alabama has been granted a three-year experimental season, beginning in 2019.

WFF opted to make the season a limited draw with 400 permits that will be issued through a computer-controlled random draw. Those drawn must complete the process. Once approved, each permittee will be issued three tags for a maximum total harvest of 1,200 birds.

The registration process is limited to Alabama residents 16 or older or Alabama lifetime license holders. Applicants must have their regular hunting license and a state waterfowl stamp to apply. To hunt in a Wildlife Management Area, they also need a WMA license.

The registration process will open in September and be open for several weeks. The drawing will occur in October.

Hunters will have to take an online test that includes species identification and regulations. They will not be issued the tags until they pass the test.

While the tags allow a hunter to take sandhill cranes, hunting whooping cranes is still illegal and hunters need to be able to identify which crane they are looking at when in the field.

Maddox said the five-year average for sandhill cranes is 15,029 birds. The majority of migratory sandhill cranes are found in the Tennessee River Valley with some birds wintering in Weiss Reservoir on the Coosa River.

Sandhill cranes like wetland habitat with emergent vegetation. Even though they are a wading bird, sandhill cranes are not predators and don’t eat fish or other aquatic species. They like grain, corn and often feed in grain fields. While Alabama will sell a baiting license for hog or deer hunters, it is still illegal to hunt any birds, including sandhill cranes over bait.

Hunting will be limited to North Alabama in a zone that runs from the Georgia state line down Interstate 20 to Birmingham, then north of I-22 to the Mississippi state line. The North Alabama flock being targeted generally move on to Georgia.

“There are areas south of Birmingham associated with non-migratory populations in Southeast Mississippi and in Florida,” Maddox said. “Those birds are protected. That’s why we chose to keep it in North Alabama.”

All permit holders will be required to take a postseason survey provided by WFF after the season. Failure to comply with the post season survey requirement will result in not being eligible for the drawing in the future. USFWS is requiring WFF to have the survey requirement in order be allowed to continue the experimental seasons.

Maddox acknowledged that WFF has received said WFF received some negative feedback from persons opposed to crane hunting but said, “The callers did not know much about the species.”

Maddox credited hunters and habitat restoration for the tremendous recovery in the sandhill crane population.

Alabama is an outdoorsman’s paradise with a large population of deer, hogs, and turkey. There are also huntable populations of geese, quail, ducks, coyotes, beaver, opossum, squirrel, rabbit, doves, fox, alligator and other species along with tremendous opportunities for both saltwater and freshwater fishing.

This report is based on information from an original article by ADCNR’s David Ranier.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Environment

Pike County Public Fishing Lake will be temporarily closed beginning December 23

During the closure, water levels at the lake will be lowered by approximately 6 feet.

Brandon Moseley

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Pike County Public Fishing Lake (VIA OUTDOOR ALABAMA)

The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries announced this week that it will temporarily close the Pike County Public Fishing Lake near Troy for maintenance beginning Dec. 23, 2020. The lake is expected to be closed for four to six weeks.

During the closure, water levels at the lake will be lowered by approximately 6 feet in an effort to control excessive aquatic plant growth around the bank fishing areas. The lake will be reopened for fishing when the water level reaches full pool.

Until Dec. 23 the lake will be open for all of its normal recreational activities. Alabama is a sportsman’s paradise with year-round freshwater fishing, hunting and saltwater fishing opportunities that the whole family can enjoy.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made many activities including youth sports, sporting events, gyms, concerts, theaters, museums, arcades, roller rinks, parties, dining out and shopping malls too dangerous due to the threat of spreading the virus. The outdoor sports of hunting and fishing allow the whole family to participate while still maintaining social distancing.

Hunting and fishing in Alabama does require a license, but these are available at many different retailers, your county courthouse and online directly from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Lifetime licenses are also available.

Money used from fishing licenses as well as the sale of hunting and fishing gear are used to preserve and protect Alabama’s diverse wildlife resources and their habitats.

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More information about the Pike County Public Fishing Lake is available online.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: marine resources, state lands, state parks, and wildlife and freshwater fisheries. More information is available online about the ADCNR.

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SNAP recipients approved for additional aid in 20 counties hit by Zeta

Those who qualify automatically get an additional 40 percent of their monthly benefits loaded to their EBT cards. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta approaching the Gulf Coast. (VIA NWS/NOAA)

People living in 20 Alabama counties impacted by Hurricane Zeta who receive food assistance through SNAP will automatically get an additional 40 percent of their monthly benefits loaded to their EBT cards. 

Impacted counties are listed by the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) as: Autauga, Bibb, Butler, Calhoun, Chilton, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Dallas, Elmore, Lowndes, Mobile, Monroe, Perry, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, Tallapoosa and Wilcox.

“Many of Alabama’s families most in need are facing tremendous challenges putting food on the table in the aftermath of Hurricane Zeta. Offering a helping hand in the form of these replacement benefits will prevent hunger and ease their financial burden at an especially difficult time,” said DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner in a statement. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the additional benefits Sunday at the request of DHR, according to a press release from the department. The additional benefits are meant to replace food lost during the widespread power outages when the storm struck in late October.

Those who receive SNAP benefits and who live in counties not listed above, and who were without power for more than four hours following the hurricane, can request replacement benefits by visiting their local DHR office to complete an Affidavit of Loss to determine replacement eligibility.

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Longtime Alabama State Parks manager Tim Haney honored for lifetime service

Several Alabama State Parks employees were honored at the recent Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association’s Stars of the Industry Awards gala.

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From left to right: Cheaha State Park Superintendent was a finalist for the Small Hotelier of the Year Award; Emily Vanderford was a finalist for the Spirit Award; and Tim Haney, Operational Supervisor for the North Region,ß was honored as an Industry Icon Award recipient. (CONTRIBUTED)

The Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association honored 43-year State Parks veteran Tim Haney with its Industry Icon Award at the recent 2020 Stars of the Industry Awards gala.

Haney currently serves as Alabama State Parks’ Operational Supervisor for the North Region, his latest post in a career that started with the parks system in 1977.

“Tim Haney’s dedication and commitment to the Alabama State Parks system is unmatched,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Everyone in the parks system admires and respects Tim. He’s done it all during his career, from leading individual parks to now overseeing 10 parks and guiding them to financial security while implementing innovative programs.”

“There is no doubt that Tim Haney is one of the most respected and appreciated people within the State Parks system,” Blankenship said, “and it’s wonderful to see ARHA honor him for his many years of dedicated service.”

The Icon Award is largely considered the ARHA’s lifetime achievement award.

Haney joined the Alabama State Parks system as a parks worker at DeSoto State Park in 1977 and became a ranger at Joe Wheeler State Park in 1981. His career has included stints as assistant manager, assistant superintendent or superintendent at DeSoto, Joe Wheeler and Oak Mountain State Parks.

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In 2016, Haney became Operational Supervisor for the North Region of the parks system, giving him responsibility to oversee 10 parks. His list of successes includes achieving financial profitability among all 10 parks, erasing decades of backlogged maintenance to park facilities, creating new and innovative recreational programs, and leading the parks through the recovery from multiple natural disasters.

“Tim Haney has been a mentor to so many state parks employees during his more than four decades serving in our parks,” said Greg Lein, Director of the Alabama State Parks System. “No one loves the parks system more, and I am pleased that he was honored by the ARHA in such a meaningful way.”

Several other State Parks employees or others connected to the parks ranked among the finalists for several other awards at Monday’s 2020 Stars of the Industry Awards gala:

  • Renee Raney, Small Hotelier of the Year Award: A 20-year parks veteran, she serves as superintendent at Cheaha State Park and manages a park with a hotel, restaurant, general store, swimming pool, cabins, chalets, group lodge, campground and historic buildings.
  • Emily Vanderford, Spirit Award: A five-year employee of the parks system, she spearheaded and managed the implementation of a new system-wide online reservation system, which launched in August 2020.
  • Back of the House Restaurant Employee of the Year, Dathan Terry, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | A line cook at The Lodge for two years, he is known as a reliable and hard worker who does whatever is necessary to get the job done.
  • Front of the House Restaurant Employee of the Year: Braquette Blair, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | A server assistant in Foodcraft, Blair has an unstoppable work ethic and has served as a banquet server, in-room dining server and restaurant server.
  • Best New Culinarian of the Year: Jacob Gibson, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | Gibson’s colleagues recognize him as a rising star in the culinary industry who has shown a willingness to share his talent and knowledge with others.
  • Hotelier of the Year: Bill Bennett, The Lodge at Gulf State Park | Since joining Valor Hospitality Partners in June 2013, he has served as Director of Sales, Regional Director of Sales and General Manager. His experience has proven invaluable in the successful opening and operation of The Lodge at Gulf State Park.

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Gun season begins tomorrow in two new deer zones

Gun season begins on November 21 in the rest of the state with special muzzleloader and air rifle seasons beginning on November 16.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Deer gun season begins Saturday in parts of the state. In July, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced the creation of two new deer hunting zones: zones D and E. Today in Zones D and E it is black powder musket and air rifle season. Deer gun season in those two new zones begins Saturday. In most of the state — zones A, B and C — it is still bow season. Gun season begins Nov. 21 in the rest of the state with special muzzleloader and air rifle seasons beginning on Nov. 16.

Zone D includes parts of Cullman, Franklin, Lawrence and Winston counties in North Central Alabama. Zone E includes areas in Barbour, Calhoun, Cleburne and Russell counties. Archery season for zones D and E opened back on Oct. 1. Gun deer season for antlered bucks will open in both zones on Nov. 7. Antlered bucks can be taken in zones D and E through Jan. 27, 2021. The unantlered deer harvest dates differ between zones D and E, and both zones close to unantlered deer harvest earlier in January.

Be very aware of where in the state you are at all times because different rules can and do apply. Some counties have as many as three of the state’s five hunting zones. Hunting deer with guns is legal and allowable in zones D and E but is banned if you hike outside of those two smaller zones.

Archery season in zone B goes from Oct. 15 to Feb. 10 for antlered bucks. For either sex from Oct. 25 to Feb. 10. Gun season in zone B is from Nov. 21 to Feb. 10.

You must purchase a license to hunt in the state of Alabama, and you must report any and all deer taken to the state. The game check app can be installed on your smartphone. Wildlife biologists use the data to set future hunting zones and harvest limits.

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

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Whitetail deer are the largest game species in the state with a harvestable wild population. Hunting for whitetail deer is the most popular of the hunting sports in Alabama. Hunting and fishing are a fun activity the whole family can enjoy, while social distancing due to the coronavirus global pandemic.

This will be the second year that Alabama has offered sandhill crane hunting. A select group of four hundred hunters won crane hunting privileges in a drawing in October. The state banned crane hunting a lifetime ago because the popular game species had dwindled so dramatically, Their comeback, like the restoration of deer, American alligators, and bald eagles has been a conservation success story. Eighty years ago all three species were threatened almost to the point of extinction in the state of Alabama.

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

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

Public Service Announcement

While hunting is one of the safest outdoor recreational activities, each year unnecessary and completely avoidable hunting accidents happen and some are fatal. ADCNR reminds hunters to practice hunter safety including routine treestand maintenance and safety checks, always using a full-body safety harness when hunting from a treestand, wearing hunter orange and practicing firearm safety. Guns and alcohol do not mix well.

For additional hunter safety tips, visit the hunter education section of outdooralabama.com.

(original reporting by Outdoor Alabama and WSFA contributed to this report.)

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