By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Several dog deer hunters made the long drive from Baldwin County to Lake Guntersville State Park last weekend for the second Alabama Conservation Advisory Board (CAB) meeting and were surprised by what transpired.

Those hunters were scheduled to testify on behalf of the practice of using dogs to hunt deer in the county, but when the meeting started, the three scheduled to speak found out a compromise had been reached. Board member Bill Hatley of Gulf Shores had stated at the first CAB meeting this year that he was considering a motion that would put Baldwin County on the permit system, which requires those who hunt deer with dogs to obtain a permit. That permit could be revoked if complaints or violations occur after the permit is issued.

Instead, Hatley said further talks with those involved with dog deer hunting had convinced him not to pursue the permit system for Baldwin County right now.

“At the last board meeting, I told everyone present I would pursue action in Baldwin County and Monroe County as it related to dog deer hunting,” Hatley said. “Since that time, I have done some thorough investigation. I have talked with Don Knight (Alabama Dog Hunters Association). I have talked with Susan Morrow (Baldwin County dog deer hunter), and I feel like they have made tremendous strides in Baldwin County. At this time, I will not make any motion as it relates to Baldwin County.”

Monroe County dog deer hunters, however, were placed under the permit system after Hatley’s motion was approved unanimously by the board.

Board member Joseph Dobbs of Bessemer followed with a motion that would ban dog deer hunting in Chilton County. Only one hunting club had the required permit to hunt deer with dogs during the 2014-2015 season. Dobbs said he continued to receive complaints and made the motion to ban dog deer hunting in Chilton County. That motion also passed unanimously.

Board member Dr. Warren Strickland asked the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division to research why the starting dates of the spring turkey season in adjacent counties in north Alabama are different. Jackson County’s turkey season opens on March 15, while Madison County’s turkey season doesn’t start until April 1.

“I’d had several turkey hunters ask why Madison County can’t open the season in mid-March,” Strickland said. “I’ve talked to several biologists and asked Chuck (Sykes,

WFF Director) to look into this and see if there is any biological reason why we could not consider opening Madison County on March 15 instead of April 1.”

Board chairman Dan Moultrie of Birmingham also asked Director Sykes about the possibility of turkey restocking efforts in Madison County.

Sykes said his staff would compile the information and have it available at the next board meeting. That meeting has yet to be scheduled.

Board member Grady Hartzog of Eufaula asked if any reports were available on the status of the closed turkey season in that portion of Geneva County south of Alabama Highway 42, east of Alabama Highway 167, west of the Houston County Line and north of the Florida line.

WFF’s Ray Metzler, Acting Chief of the Wildlife Section, said wildlife biologists in that area had done camera surveys in the closed area and had detected very few turkeys. Metzler suggested the area remain closed until a huntable population is available.

Moultrie mentioned the decline of the wild turkey population in Southeast states and asked Director Sykes to address that situation.

“When I go to meetings with my counterparts in other Southeastern states, they are also experiencing somewhat of a decline in turkey populations,” Sykes said. “We did not have the data to support whether we did or not. But we are not in a vacuum. If they are experiencing a decline, more than likely, we are too.

“We just embarked on a major study with Auburn University – in fact they’re trapping turkeys right now – to do a five-year research project. We are in the process of gathering that data right now.”

Board member Dobbs asked about the participation of turkey hunters in the Game Check Reporting System, a voluntary system to report the harvest of white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.

“Turkey hunters seem to be reporting better than deer hunters right now,” Sykes said. “The numbers are pretty decent right now. It’s still being processed, but it looks like between 10 and 15 percent of the harvests are being reported. That’s considerably better than the three percent from deer hunters.”

Sykes also highlighted the new “Full Fans and Sharp Spurs” publication that was recently completed on the 2014 turkey season.

“With our (WFF) brood studies and gobbling count, we have an Avid Turkey Hunter Survey out now, where people from all over the state are helping us gather quality information from people on the ground, listening to turkeys, hunting turkeys,” Sykes said. “We’re doing everything we can to get caught up right now. Our staff is doing a good job, and I think with the Game Check information, our Avid Turkey Hunter Survey and our brood count from our biologists and enforcement officers, we’re going to have some hard information in the next couple of years we can make some quality decisions on.”

Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. then used his Outdoor Alabama app on his iPhone to call up the current information on turkey harvest in Alabama under Game Check.

“It shows that 36 jakes have been killed statewide and 644 adults (gobblers) killed,” Commissioner Guy said. “Chuck and I talk about this often. The more reports we can get through Game Check, that gives us the data we need to evaluate the season. We do appreciate all the turkey hunters reporting their harvests. We don’t make their private information public. This is just another tool we talk about to help us get it right.”

In fisheries business, the board heard testimony on catfish and striped/hybrid bass. Randy Blelew, a commercial fisherman on the Tennessee River, said he is concerned that catfish are being overharvested and asked the board to consider reducing the number of catfish being taken from the river. Blelew said he knows the board implemented protection for catfish that are 34 inches and longer (one per person daily limit) but is concerned about the number of smaller fish being taken.

“They’re catching 1,000 fish today, 1,000 fish tomorrow,” Blelew said. “At some point, that's going to have a negative impact on the overall catfish populations. There needs to be some sort of control on it."

Tony Cooley, who owns Cooley Grocery near Guntersville Dam, asked that striped bass and hybrid (striped bass/white bass) bass be stocked below the dam. He said in years past anglers could expect to catch stripers in the 25- to 30-pound range on a regular basis. Cooley said that size fish is now rarely caught at the dam. “You might see two 25-pound fish all year now,” Cooley said.

Michael Key of Walker County appealed to the board to maintain current trout fishing regulation on the Sipsey Fork. Some anglers have asked for a catch-and-release section of the Sipsey Fork, the only place in Alabama with a year-round trout fishery. However, Key asked that the whole section remain under the current five-fish creel and possession limit.

PHOTO: (David Rainer) Attendees at the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board held recently were treated to this view from the Lake Guntersville State Park and Resort atop Taylor Mountain.

###