Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015 Alligator Season Causes Confusion for Some Alabama Hunters

by David Rainer

To quote the warden in “Cool Hand Luke,” the classic Paul Newman movie, “What we have here is failure to commun’cate.”

Despite the best efforts of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and its Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) to explain the changes for the selection process for the 2015 alligator season, a bit of confusion remains.

Before the 2015 season, the draw process for the alligator tags was strictly a “luck of the draw” proposition. It didn’t matter how many times you were drawn or not drawn, the process was blind to previous seasons.

Obviously, people who watched as certain “lucky” individuals seemed to get tags regularly while they were left out were understandably upset.

That is why a weighted preference-points system was instituted this year. Results from the 2014 draw were entered into the system. Those who applied in 2014 and weren’t drawn received one point.

However, if those individuals were not drawn again this year, their chances of being drawn in 2016 and later years increased exponentially.

WFF Wildlife Biologist and Alligator Program Coordinator Chris Nix said there was a misunderstanding about how the preference-points system works.

“Even though the people who weren’t drawn in 2014 have a preference point, it’s still just one preference point,” Nix said. “What we need to do is really explain the preference-points system and how it will work in future years. It’s not a quick fix. There is no way we can fix it in one year, but the strides we’ve made should resolve the problem in future years.”

Nix said the way the system works, starting with the 2014 season, is to take the number of years the individual has applied and not been drawn and cube it.

In other words, one preference point cubed is still one. However, if that individual was not drawn again in 2015, then you take two points and cube that to equal eight preference points and then add one for that year’s application for a total of nine points for the 2016 drawing.

When it’s time to draw the tags, the system is set up for two draws. The first draw, which accounts for 85 percent of the tags, will come from those applicants with preference points. The remaining 15 percent of the tags will be pulled from the non-preference-points pool.

“For the people who have not drawn a tag, we’re trying to give them an upper hand, giving them better odds of pulling an alligator tag,” Nix said. “We can’t do that exclusively. We still have to give people who are putting an application in for the first time an opportunity to draw.

“Each preference point is like having another entry into the drawing. But that one is not going to make as big a difference as they would in three years. Then they would have 28 points. It accumulates at a very quick rate. If people are patient, in three to four years, it’s almost a guarantee that they will draw a tag.”

There is one caveat that everyone who wants to participate in the alligator season must be aware of – the only way to keep preference points is to apply for a tag each year.

“If you apply for three years and for some reason you don’t put in that fourth year, you lose all the preference points you had accumulated,” Nix said.

“We have tried to make this process as fair as possible,” said WFF Director Chuck Sykes. “We feel this system will provide all Alabama gator hunters with the best opportunity to successfully draw a tag. Unfortunately, there were a few hunters who assumed they would automatically get a tag if they were unsuccessful in drawing one last year. Well, you know the old saying about what happens when you assume something.

“The only other issue I have seen is people not being able to attend the mandatory training class. I really hate it for the hunters who successfully draw a permit but have a conflict and can’t attend. But, it plainly states on the website at registration that all hunters must attend the training class in the area where the tag was drawn – and the dates are given. We had roughly 4,000 hunters apply to receive one of the 260 tags.  That is approximately a seven-percent chance at drawing a tag. So, there will be a few alternates this year who will be ecstatic that someone had a conflict and could not attend the class.”

This year, another change is that Lake Eufaula will have its own separate zone. In past years, most hunters selected for the Southeast Zone traveled to Lake Eufaula in their quest to harvest an alligator. In an effort to better distribute this harvest pressure throughout the Southeast Zone and to more closely manage the Lake Eufaula population, the Lake Eufaula Zone was established.  The Southeast Zone hunters will have the option to either pursue their gators on private lands (with landowner permission) or on the various rivers such as the Pea and Choctawhatchee that occur in that zone.

“We continue to observe and survey the populations of each zone annually,” Nix said. “Due to the data we received, we broke out Lake Eufaula to protect and enhance that particular zone. Twenty tags are what we felt comfortable with for Lake Eufaula. And there is an 8-foot length restriction on Lake Eufaula in order to protect the females in that population.”

Lake Eufaula hunters can pursue gators during daytime and nighttime hours from sunset on August 14 to sunrise on October 5. Only nighttime hunting is allowed from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the remaining zones. Lake Eufaula Zone encompasses the public Alabama state waters only in the Walter F. George Reservoir (Lake Eufaula) and its navigable tributaries, south of Hwy 208 (Omaha Bridge). This zone excludes the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge.

The Southeast Zone (excluding Lake Eufaula and its associated tributaries) includes the private and public waters in Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Russell counties. This zone will have 40 tags for 2015.

There are no length limits on any area except for the Lake Eufaula Zone.

Again this year, the Southwest Zone will have the most tags, 150. The Southwest Zone includes the private and public waters in Baldwin and Mobile counties and private and public waters in Washington, Clarke, and Monroe counties that lie east of U.S. Highway 43 and south of U.S. Highway 84.

The West Central Zone, where Mandy Stokes’ world-record gator of 15 feet, 11 inches was taken last year, will again have 50 tags. The West Central Zone includes the private and public waters in Monroe (north of U.S. Highway 84), Wilcox and Dallas counties.

Successful applicants will be required to attend and complete the Alligator Training Course, provided by the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries staff, associated with the zone where the tag was drawn. After completion of the course, drawn applicants will be eligible for an Alligator Possession Tag.

For the Southwest Alabama zone, the course will be held twice on July 25 at the Five Rivers complex in Spanish Fort, Ala. The first class will be from 10 a.m. until noon. The second class will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

For the Southeast Alabama and Lake Eufaula zones, the course will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Aug. 8 at the Chamber of Commerce Office in Eufaula, Ala.

The course for the West Central Zone will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Aug. 1 at the Central Alabama Farmers Co-Op in Selma, Ala.

Those who are selected for the Southwest Alabama hunt and have attended the course at Five Rivers as a permittee or alternate in prior years may be exempted from this requirement. All others will be required to attend this year’s class at Five Rivers in Spanish Fort. If you were selected for the West Central Alabama hunt and have attended the course at the Central Alabama Farmer’s Co-Op in Selma as a permittee or alternate in prior years, you may be exempted from this requirement. All others will be required to attend and complete this year’s class at Alabama Farmers Co-Op in Selma.

Nix said individuals drawn in one zone cannot attend the Alligator Training Course for another zone.

“It’s very specific,” he said. “You must attend the training class for the area where the tag was drawn.

“This year, we’ve added an alligator training video. There is a link on the page when the hunter accepted their tag. We encourage hunters and alternates to watch the video before attending their training classes.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is at Pluto


After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface -- roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.

“I’m delighted at this latest accomplishment by NASA, another first that demonstrates once again how the United States leads the world in space,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple missions orbiting and exploring the surface of Mars in advance of human visits still to come; the remarkable Kepler mission to identify Earth-like planets around stars other than our own; and the DSCOVR satellite that soon will be beaming back images of the whole Earth in near real-time from a vantage point a million miles away. As New Horizons completes its flyby of Pluto and continues deeper into the Kuiper Belt, NASA's multifaceted journey of discovery continues."

“The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match.”

Per the plan, the spacecraft currently is in data-gathering mode and not in contact with flight controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physical Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Scientists are waiting to find out whether New Horizons “phones home,” transmitting to Earth a series of status updates that indicate the spacecraft survived the flyby and is in good health. The “call” is expected shortly after 9 p.m. tonight.

The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world.

"Pluto was discovered just 85 years ago by a farmer's son from Kansas, inspired by a visionary from Boston, using a telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Today, science takes a great leap observing the Pluto system up close and flying into a new frontier that will help us better understand the origins of the solar system.”

New Horizons’ flyby of the dwarf planet and its five known moons is providing an up-close introduction to the solar system's Kuiper Belt, an outer region populated by icy objects ranging in size from boulders to dwarf planets. Kuiper Belt objects, such as Pluto, preserve evidence about the early formation of the solar system.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, says the mission now is writing the textbook on Pluto.

"The New Horizons team is proud to have accomplished the first exploration of the Pluto system,” Stern said. “This mission has inspired people across the world with the excitement of exploration and what humankind can achieve.”

New Horizons’ almost 10-year, three-billion-mile journey to closest approach at Pluto took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006. The spacecraft threaded the needle through a 36-by-57 mile (60 by 90 kilometers) window in space -- the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball.

Because New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched – hurtling through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 mph, a collision with a particle as small as a grain of rice could incapacitate the spacecraft. Once it reestablishes contact Tuesday night, it will take 16 months for New Horizons to send its cache of data – 10 years’ worth -- back to Earth.

New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple rovers exploring the surface of Mars, the Cassini spacecraft that has revolutionized our understanding of Saturn and the Hubble Space Telescope, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. All of this scientific research and discovery is helping to inform the agency’s plan to send American astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

“After nearly 15 years of planning, building, and flying the New Horizons spacecraft across the solar system, we’ve reached our goal,” said project manager Glen Fountain at APL “The bounty of what we’ve collected is about to unfold.”

APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the mission, science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page.

Monday, July 13, 2015

@OakMountainSP - Oak Mountain Archery Park Opens August 4, #BhamAug4


photo by Casito

Alabama’s eleventh community archery park will hold its grand opening at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 4, at Oak Mountain State Park. The Oak Mountain State Park Community Archery Park is located within the park on Findley Drive near The Oaks golf course. The public and media are invited to attend the grand opening ceremony.

The archery park will be open year-round during daylight hours for recreational shooting, competitive tournaments and outdoor educational programming. The facility includes an eight-target adult range from 15 to 50 yards, an eight-target youth range of 5 to 20 yards and a four-target range of 10 to 40 yards. The park also features a 12-foot shooting platform for bowhunters to practice shooting from an elevated position.

 

Use of the archery park is free for those under 16 years of age or over 65 years of age. Oak Mountain entry fees still apply. Alabamians ages 16 to 64 must have a hunting license, Wildlife Management Area license, or Wildlife Heritage license in order to shoot. For non-residents, an annual Wildlife Management Area license or non-resident hunting license is required. Licenses are available from various local retailers or online at outdooralabama.com.
 
Oak Mountain joins 10 other community archery parks currently in operation throughout the state including Athens, Cullman, Dothan, Demopolis, Decatur, Foley, Heflin, Lincoln, Tuscaloosa and Ozark. These facilities are one component of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) effort to increase awareness and participation in the life skill of archery.
The Oak Mountain archery park was made possible by the following sponsors: ADCNR’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Alabama State Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Archery Trade Association, and the City of Pelham.

Other recreational activities available at Oak Mountain State Park include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, geocaching, golf, BMX and pump tracks, playground areas, basketball courts, kayak and paddle board rentals, and cable skiing among others.


For more information about the Oak Mountain State Park Community Archery Park, call the park office at (205) 620-2520. For more information about Oak Mountain State Park, visit www.alapark.com/oak-mountain-state-park.

Monday, July 6, 2015

#Obama Administarion: July 20 Official Date for Normalizing Relations with #Cuba

On July 1st President Obama announced his intentions to re-establish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States of America, effective July 20.

The U.S. Department of State has also notified Congress it will convert the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba to U.S. Embassy Havana, effective on the same date. 


On July 1, the U.S. and Cuban Interests Sections exchanged presidential letters declaring mutual intent to re-establish diplomatic relations and re-open embassies on July 20, 2015.

According to President Obama the U.S. and Cuba have agreed to develop “respectful and cooperative” relations based on international principles, including the promotion and encouragement of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

The duties of the U.S. Embassy will continue to include the same functions as those of the U.S. Interests Section, including consular services, operation of a political and economic section, implementation of a public diplomacy program, and will continue to "promote respect for human rights."

According to the Obama Administration the U.S. Embassy in Havana will operate like other embassies in restrictive societies around the world, and will operate "in sync with our values and the President’s policy."

"Normalizing relations is a long, complex process that will require continued interaction and dialogue between our two governments, based on mutual respect. We will have areas of cooperation with the Cubans, and we will continue to have differences. Where we have differences, deeper engagement via diplomatic relations will allow us to articulate those differences clearly, directly, and when appropriate, publicly. Throughout our diplomatic engagement, the United States will remain focused on empowering the Cuban people and supporting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba."

Travel restrictions and the embargo on Cuba are still in effect and the Administration has no plans to alter current migration policy, including the Cuban Adjustment Act.

U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control will continue to administer the regulations that provide general licenses for the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba.