For the first time in history, all hunters will be participating in valuable harvest data collection.
Until the regulation became effective July 19, 2016, Alabama was only one of three states that did not have a hunter harvest reporting system that gathers valuable data for state wildlife agencies.
I would like to pass along our thanks to those of you who attended one of the educational Game Check seminars this summer. The mandatory Game Check program should prove to be one of the most progressive management tools implemented by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division in decades. For the first time in the history of the WFF, all hunters will be a part of the data collection process. Near real-time harvest data will be gathered on deer and turkey throughout the state. This data will be accessible to all hunters as well as our biologists. We are confident, over the next few years, trends observed in the harvest data will allow us to better set seasons and bag limits for hunters in Alabama. The success of this program is dependent on hunter participation. That is why we scheduled over 30 seminars throughout the state in an attempt to inform as many hunters as possible. These seminars consisted of a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation describing in great detail the Game Check program and the most efficient way to enter data into the Game Check system followed by a question/answer session. The question and answer portions typically lasted an hour to 1.5 hours. The participants took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions on myriad conservation topics on predator control, antlerless harvest goals, waterfowl management, the latest on ongoing research and many others. The one common thread that was prevalent throughout the seminars was the abundant misconceptions about the Game Check program. Therefore, I would like to clarify some of these misconceptions.
All deer, both bucks and does, and turkeys must be entered into the Game Check System this hunting season.
Misconception 1: WFF is placing an undue burden on the hunters of this state by requiring them to report game harvest.
Fact: Game Check is not a novel idea created by the ADCNR. Many states throughout the country have similar systems. In fact, some states still require hunters to physically carry harvested game to a centralized check station where a biologist gathers valuable biological information. As of the penning of this article, Alabama is one of only three states that does not have a mandatory data-recording system (physical tag, physical check station or online reporting).
In Alabama, a limit of three buck deer was implemented through the regulatory process beginning in the 2007-2008 hunting season to help provide improved age structure and a better sex ratio of Alabama’s white-tailed deer populations. This regulation has been an overwhelming success in improving the quality of animals harvested and has improved hunters’ satisfaction. Hunters were required to maintain a harvest record that indicated when they killed each of their allotted three bucks and also their five turkeys. The paper record of the harvest did not provide WFF with any information regarding the temporal and spatial (when and where) distribution of the deer or turkey harvested in Alabama. Since that time, a large segment of the hunting public has continued to request a more rigid tagging system due to their desires to ensure all hunters were abiding by the deer- or turkey-harvest limits.
After carefully investigating the options available to WFF, a decision was made to implement a telephone/internet-based reporting system (Game Check) very similar in design to systems used in many other states throughout the United States. Requiring hunters to place a physical tag on a deer or turkey would significantly increase expenditures by WFF and it would not provide data regarding the health and harvest distribution of our deer and turkey populations. The Game Check rules are easy to comply with and will provide a simple and efficient way to gather biological information. They also will help our conservation officers greatly in enforcing deer and turkey limits.
Misconception 2: Game Check was instituted to increase revenue for WFF. Hunters will be fined $500 for failure to report their harvest.
Fact: Revenue from fines imposed by district judges as a result of game and fish violations accounted for less than 2.2 percent of the WFF budget, including all conservation officers, wildlife and fisheries biologists, and support staff, over the past three years. We do not expect to increase revenue to our agency as a result of implementing the Game Check system. Again, the primary reason for implementing this system is to collect harvest information for deer and turkey to better manage these resources of our state for the sustainable benefit of all Alabamians. Furthermore, it is important to note that WFF has historically operated well within its budget without cost overruns or any General Funds revenues.
Regarding the costs of fines, the vast majority of WFF violations are classified as a Class C Misdemeanors that carry fines from zero dollars to $500. The Administrative Office of Courts maintains a recommended fine list for most WFF offenses. According to the AOC fine list, the recommended fine for harvest-record violations is $50. Although most judges follow this list, the final assessment of the fine is determined by the district judge, not WFF or the conservation officer.
Misconception 3: I don’t have internet or cell service at my camp. It’s not practical for me to leave and ruin my hunt to check in a deer.
Fact: WFF realizes that some rural areas of Alabama have limited internet or cellphone service; however, we maintain that most hunters are willing to assist the WFF with the data-collecting process if it will improve compliance with daily- and seasonal-bag limits as well as provide valuable information regarding harvest distribution of deer and turkey. The new regulation allows the hunter 48 hours to report each deer and turkey harvest. Remember, conservation officers live and work in the same areas where the hunting takes place. They understand the areas of the counties with limited service. Therefore, officer discretion will be utilized to a great extent. Again, the reason for Game Check is to gather biological information, not issue fines.
In addition, the Outdoor Alabama app available to smartphone users will allow hunters to import harvest data even if no cell service is available. Utilization of the Outdoor Alabama app is by far the most efficient way to enter data into the Game Check system.
Misconception 4: Game Check is going to cost more for the Alabama hunters.
Fact: The funding for the entire project comes from the budget of WFF. Game Check has not caused any increase in license costs for Alabama hunters. In fact, other than consumer price index increases that were approved by the state Legislature, hunting license fees have only been increased five times for Alabama residents over the 106-year history of the division.
There are three ways to report your harvest: smartphone app, online at www.outdooralabama.com and 1-800-888-7690. But, the easiest and most reliable way is through your smartphone.
Misconception 5: The information gathered through the Game Check system is only accessible to WFF staff.
Fact: The data derived from Game Check will be available to anyone through the Outdoor Alabama website. Hunters will be able to access this information in almost real time to see the deer or turkey harvest on a county-by-county basis throughout the state.
Misconception 6: A voluntary reporting system would work just as well.
Fact: A voluntary Game Check reporting system has been in use for the past three seasons with dismal participation. Less than 20,000 deer were reported for the 2013-2014 season. Approximately, 16,000 deer were reported the next season. As of Feb. 11, 2016, only 15,138 deer were reported. This proves that a voluntary system will not work.
The ADCNR, through its WFF Division, is charged with managing, protecting, conserving and enhancing the wildlife resources of Alabama for the sustainable benefit of the people of Alabama. White-tailed deer and wild turkey are by far the most utilized wildlife resources in Alabama and drive the $2.6 billion economic engine that hunting provides to our state’s annual economy. Because these resources are so important to all Alabamians, managing them in a sound manner with the best biological data available within the means of our Department and the state’s hunters is crucial.