I would like to respond with a different opinion regarding the "Crack the Whip" article recently published by our former Alabama Wildlife Conservation Director Corky Pugh. In the article, Mr. Pugh suggests that the Conservation Department is being mismanaged by its "gyrations" of changed positions and over regulation such as the game-check system, further suggesting that the hunters, landowners and frontline employees of the Conservation Department are being "cracked" by the new administration. He insinuates that baiting is the real issue being one of the worst changes, and that all of these changed regulations will ultimately hurt Alabama’s hunters and prevent this state from attracting out-of-state hunters.
Change is sometimes necessary. In some cases, change is immediately welcome, and it is my opinion the changes being implemented by the new Conservation Department are good for the hunters and the landowners of Alabama. Why? Because many of the changes being implemented were requested by the hunters and landowners of this state. The new administration is bringing wildlife biologists and technology to the forefront in an effort to be proactive not reactive to many of the problems facing Alabama hunters.
For example, Alabama hunters have been trying for years to have the Conservation Department or the legislature properly define feeding because game wardens were taking different positions on their enforcement not only throughout the state but sometimes even within the same counties. The issue is referred to as "baiting" by the old administration, but is seen by the new administration as one of feeding. Many landowners and hunters like to supplemental feed to enhance wildlife and wildlife habitat on their properties, but not hunt the feed. Under the prior administration, however, landowners were told that if any feed was found on his or her property then no hunting could occur until the last grain was gone, plus a 10-day period, even though hunting was actually occurring hundreds of yards away from the grain. Some game wardens used regulations that said baiting was any "manipulation" of game through feed suggesting, if a game trail led to grain no matter how far away, the hunter could be ticketed. These forces combined to present a field day for game wardens to write tickets to unsuspecting hunters and landowners, many of whom were simply trapping hogs, using supplemental feeding programs and/or running legitimate farming operations. The new administration has sought to simplify this, as other states have done, by being proactive in defining what is acceptable feeding. This change helps, not hinders, the frontline game wardens by more clearly defining what is (and, more importantly, what is not) a game violation. Will this hurt future hunting in Alabama or perhaps fail to lure out-of-state hunters? I would submit that it will actually enhance the hunting as these same types of regulations have been implemented quite successfully in some of the more well-known and sought-after hunting destinations such as Texas, Florida and Canada. Were we correct in the past and everyone else wrong?
With the new changes, we can use feed effectively to trap hogs, which are the most damaging animals ever to be released into the wild when it comes to wildlife habitat. Hogs can have 2.5 litters per year, which simply multiplies habitat problems exponentially as time passes when this state is already facing reduced habitat and declining deer herds. We can also now use supplemental feeding which can, if implemented properly, enhance the quality of our wildlife; all without fear of hunting while trying to manage. Instead of game wardens having to spend time looking for the last piece of grain on the ground, they now are in a position to have more time to work with and assist hunters and landowners with more productive endeavors.
Through better data and studies on deer populations, we now are just beginning to understand the impact of proper predator control such as the issue of bobcats and coyotes. Coyotes can virtually eliminate deer fawn recruitment in certain situations. My Labrador has brought in three dead fawns recently, and he is well fed and has no need to survive in the wild. How many would just a single coyote raising its pups need to survive, not to mention a pack? In certain areas, however, coyotes may be a necessary check and balance on a deer population. Mr. Pugh states we do not need more data, but without proper wildlife biologists and data a hunter or landowner is really (pardon the pun) "shooting in the dark" when it comes to knowing how to properly manage his or her particular property. Again, this is another area where game wardens can be of assistance.
We now have under the new administration wildlife biologists who have the same enforcement training as game wardens, but who are committed to working with landowners and new technology to assess proper wildlife management and game issues - not by making decisions based on what will produce more tickets but based on growing, up-to-date data and proper resources.
We now have an extended hunting season for the southern part of Alabama to take advantage of the peak of the rut, all based upon different weather patterns in those areas. Again, a movement led by hunters.
It appears to me the new administration is listening to the comments and wishes of the real hunters and landowners of this state, and bringing about the appropriate changes to address them. Night hunting, improper dog hunters and poaching issues will always need to be dealt with, and the public still needs that enforcement protection. However, legitimate, honest and good hunters who were being turned into criminals under the former administration due to inconsistent policies, and vague rules and regulations, now have a more clear direction. With the recent changes, hunters and landowners do not have to live in fear of the game warden while trying to properly manage the wildlife and wildlife habitats on their property. Moreover, the department is living up to its name - "Conservation" - by ensuring the proper balance of healthy wildlife to hunt, thereby enhancing and preserving hunting for future generations.
Unfortunately, hunting is a dying sport throughout our country, and the only way to revive it is for parents and children to enjoy the outdoors by having good experiences doing it. I agree with our former Conservation Director that over regulation can hurt the hunting experience, but I believe he fails to see that these new regulations are designed to cure, not create, many of the problems hunters have been dealing with on their front lines. Trust will be what the Conservation Department will earn back instead of what it lacks.
James R. Delaney