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Outdoor Alabama

Weekly Column by David Rainer

Conservation Advisory Board Limits Rods at Sipsey Fork

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board voted to limit rainbow trout anglers to two rods per person on the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River below Lewis Smith Dam and placed a portion of Colbert County on the dog deer hunting permit system at its recent meeting in Jasper.

The Sipsey Fork from Lewis Smith Dam to the confluence of the Mulberry Fork provides anglers with the state’s only year-round trout fishery. The Board voted to limit the number of rods per person to reduce any potential conflicts between anglers.

The importance of the Sipsey Fork trout fishery to the economy in the Walker County area was highlighted by Paul Kennedy, one of the people who spoke to the Board during public testimony.

“I ask (the Board) to join with us to plan for the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River to become a world-class fishing destination,” said Kennedy, President of the Walker Area Community Foundation. “Two years ago, we petitioned the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to be one of the communities it would adopt to help us develop a recreational-based economy. We were one of only 10 such sites selected in the United States.

“We have created a 31-mile blueway. We are working on a mountain-bike trail that surrounds this school (Jasper High School). One of the key opportunities identified in the planning process was that trout fishery. We have the opportunity to turn the Sipsey Fork fishery into the crown jewel of our local outdoor economy. I’m a registered Alabama forester, and I am very aware of the potential this fishery has for us and the state of Alabama. I’m asking (the Board) to work with us to make this a better fishery and a magnet for wildlife tourism, not just for Walker County but for all of Alabama.”

The Board also voted to place the area west of Highway 43 in Colbert County on the dog deer hunting permit system. In the system, the use of dogs for hunting deer in certain regions is prohibited except for those properties with a special permit from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). Those hunting clubs on the permit system must abide by the applicable regulations or the permit will be revoked.

After the Board recommended changes to the wild turkey season at its March meeting, adjustments to the 2021-2022 turkey season were approved. The turkey season in Zone 1, which covers the bulk of the state, will be from March 25 through May 8. Zone 2, which covers northwest Alabama, will be open April 1 through May 8. The dates for Zone 3, which includes Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Clarke, Monroe and Covington counties, are November 20-28, December 11 through January 1, 2022, and March 25 through May 8, 2022.

The daily turkey bag limit is one gobbler per person per day with a season limit of four, including fall and spring seasons. Decoys are prohibited for the first 10 days of the spring season and for all of the fall seasons.

Also approved at the Jasper meeting were WFF recommendations to close bobwhite quail and fox squirrel hunting on Bankhead National Forest and to establish a special nighttime season for feral swine and coyotes.

The Alabama Legislature passed a law to allow the nighttime hunting of feral hogs and coyotes with a new license that costs $15 for residents and $51 for non-residents. The 2021 season will be from July 1 through November 1. The 2022 season will be from February 11 through November 1. A new law also allows disabled veterans to buy lifetime hunting licenses at reduced prices to make it more convenient instead of renewing yearly.

ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship agreed with Jasper Mayor David O’Mary’s praise of the facilities at the Walker County Public Fishing Lake, which was annexed into the City of Jasper.

“I echo what Mayor O’Mary said about the Walker County Lake,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “It is a good example of great outdoor recreational opportunities at the same location. We have a great fishing lake with a boat ramp, an archery park and hiking trails. And there are plans to do other things to provide outdoor recreational opportunities for the citizens of Jasper and Walker County.”

Commissioner Blankenship also provided the Board with an update on ADCNR facilities and activities.

He said a tornado on March 25 went through a portion of Oak Mountain State Park but fortunately missed the campground.

“Speaking of Oak Mountain, the state park will be the venue for three events in the upcoming World Games in 2022,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “I don’t think that I knew initially how big of a deal that is that Alabama will host the World Games. I do fully appreciate they are going to hold three events at our state park. One of the areas hit by the tornado was where one of those events is to take place, so we have a real incentive to get that back to first-class before it is open to the people of the world.”

Commissioner Blankenship mentioned the setting of the red snapper season, which will start on May 28 with four-day weekends (Friday through Monday) until the quota of about 1 million pounds is met.

“Instead of projecting an ending date as we have done in the past, this year we’re using the Snapper Check system to monitor that quota every weekend and provide an update to the public on where we stand,” he said.

The Commissioner said boating and tournament fishing access will be improved with new projects at Roland Cooper State Park and Lewis Smith Lake Dam. ADCNR is partnering with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to construct a new overnight mooring and tournament pier at Roland Cooper. The Department also partnered with Alabama Power, Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, and Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society to expand boat launching and parking capacity and construct a tournament weigh-in pavilion at the Smith Lake Dam boating access area.

“Public boat ramps are very important for economic impact to the communities and getting people out on the water,” Commissioner Blankenship said.

The Commissioner reported that the Alabama Legislature approved a constitutional amendment for an $80 million bond issue for Alabama State Parks that will be on the ballot in 2022.

“This will provide the funds to State Parks to do renovations, build campgrounds, build cabins and really turn our parks into first-class facilities and bring us into the 21st century,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “When a lot of those campgrounds were built, camping was a tent or a pop-up camper. Now camping is done in half-million-dollar motorhomes with three air conditioners that pull 50 or 70 amps of electricity. In order for us to accommodate those campers, we need to upgrade those facilities to keep up with the times. That bond issue will allow us to do that.”

The Alabama Legislature also approved the Alabama Reservoir Management bill that would add $5 to boat registration fees to provide funding to deal with aquatic invasive species or invasive aquatic vegetation and public water debris removal. ADCNR will manage this program for the state.

“Marine debris is a problem in coastal areas with boats that sink or debris left after hurricanes,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “There had been no funds to take care of that. This bill will provide the means to better take care of our waterways in the state. Even though it wasn’t a Department bill, I’m excited about our role in keeping our waterways safe and clean.”

Commissioner Blankenship, who sits on the federal RESTORE Council, also highlighted the funding the state has utilized from the RESTORE Act and GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act) after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. An additional $81 million in funds have recently been approved for work in Alabama.

“That brings our total to over $900 million in projects that have been funded by either Deepwater Horizon funds or by GOMESA funds that are being managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,” he said. “That $900 million is a huge investment in coastal Alabama and is really going to make a generational difference in the resiliency of our coast. I think that’s a high point for our staff.”

PHOTOS: (David Rainer) The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board voted to limit rainbow trout anglers to two rods per person on the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River. The Alabama turkey season is divided into three zones. Zone 3 is the only one with a fall season. Minor changes were made to the Alabama deer zones for the 2021-2022 season.

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