Legislation could halt mandatory harvest reporting for hunters
by David Atchison
Proposed legislation, if approved, would prohibit a mandatory deer and turkey harvest reporting system approved by the Alabama Department of Conservation and National Resources, which was also cited as a reason for closing the fall turkey hunting season.

Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, introduced the legislation last week.

Derek Trotter, the communications director for Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said SB454 was referred to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. That Committee is chaired by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and Sanford.

Sanford said the bill would prohibit increased red tape for deer and turkey hunters by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“Putting more red tape on hunters sounds like an idea the federal government would dream up, not the Department of Conservation in a strong pro-hunting state like Alabama,” Sanford said. “This sport generates a nearly $1 billion annual economic impact for our state, and we should be working to increase that number. I’m afraid increased regulations would have the opposite effect.”

The proposed regulation requires that hunters call in a 1-800 number and report any deer or turkey harvested within a 24-hour period. Hunters can also report their harvest at the Outdoor Alabama website.

The Conservation Advisory Board passed the mandatory game check, which would go into effect for the 2013-2014 season, at last month’s advisory board meeting. It was the same meeting the board voted to eliminate the fall turkey hunting season in the state.

Although the Conservation Advisory Board can approve new hunting and fishing regulations, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner N. Gunter Guy, who was appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley, has the final say as to whether new fish and game laws recommended by the Conservation Advisory Board go into effect.

Guy cited the new game check program as one of the reasons to eliminate the fall turkey season.

Guy said that it was not cost-effective for the department to collect information about turkeys harvested during the fall, because only six counties allow fall turkey hunting. He said the game-check program is a state-wide registration system.

Alabama has always offered a fall and spring turkey seasons.

The decision of the board to close the fall turkey season ruffled the feathers of turkey hunters across the state, and while the Conservation Advisory Board is putting a choke hold on fall turkey hunting, some turkey hunters say the Conservation Advisory Board needs to consider a more liberal fall turkey hunting season instead of closing the fall turkey season altogether.

“We should be opening fall turkey seasons in other counties instead of closing them,” said Johnny Ponder of Munford, one of the more vocal opponents to the closing of the fall turkey season. “Alabama sports the second-largest population of wild turkeys in the nation and our DCNR is restricting turkey hunting for no reason. It just doesn’t make good sense.”

Wildlife Biologist Steve Barnett, the District 5 wildlife supervisor for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Wild Turkey Project study leader, said there is no biological reason to close the fall turkey season.

Barnett said the DCNR’s approach to estimating game populations is not scientific. Wildlife officials use game cameras, road counts and hunter surveys to help estimate game populations, paying special attention to the survival of newly spring hatched birds.

He said game-check is just another tool wildlife officials can use to estimate the health of deer and turkey populations.

Barnett said harvest data may not necessarily reflect the standing population, but the number of deer and turkey harvested by hunters in each county.

Barnett estimates the turkey population in Alabama at 400,000-500,000.

Mobile attorney J. Harris Oppenheimer, who is also an avid turkey hunter, said his research shows that Alabama has the highest density of wild turkeys of any state in the country, at approximately 9.85 turkeys per square mile. The state with the next highest density of turkeys is Tennessee with 7.52 turkeys per square mile.

“Every state, with Alaska the only exception, has sufficient populations of wild turkey to allow hunting,” Oppenheimer said. “Every one of these 49 states allows spring hunting of turkeys. Prior to the abolishment of Alabama’s fall season, 41 of these 49 states offered fall hunting opportunities.”

He said the only states that do not offer fall turkey seasons are Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina and Utah.

“Many states offering fall hunting opportunities for turkeys allow the harvest of hens, but Alabama did not, so the harvest of hens, which is the only controversial topic I am familiar with regarding fall hunting, is not an issue,” Oppenheimer said.

He said Alabama hunters are restricted to harvesting only five turkeys per season, during the combined fall and spring seasons.

Oppenheimer said the Alabama Department of Conservation has not recorded any fall turkey hunting accidents in recent history.

According to the recently released minutes of the DCNR Conservation Advisory Board March 9 meeting, only one board member voted against eliminating the fall turkey season in Alabama. Dr. Gary Lemme, director for the Alabama Cooperative Extensive System in Auburn, voted not to eliminate the fall turkey season in Alabama.

Last year, hunters could legally hunt turkeys in the fall in Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Clarke, Covington and Monroe counties.

Turkey hunters are expected to address the Conservation Advisory Board at the May 4 meeting at Joe Wheeler State Park about reinstating the fall turkey hunting season.

Oppenheimer said people could also sign a petition to help restore the fall turkey hunting season at http://www.change.org/petitions/hon-n-gunter-guy-ala-dept-of-conservation-and-natural-resources-restore-fall-turkey-season-in-six-alabama-counties.

© 2013