CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT PROPOSES FEE INCREASE
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Hunting, fishing and boating in Alabama will cost more if a bill proposed by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is passed in the upcoming legislative session. If approved, it will be the first time in 17 years those fees have increased.
State officials say the money is needed to raise salaries for conservation officers, often called game wardens, and to hire new officers. State biologists who work in the department also would see a salary hike. The bill also provides incremental fee hikes that would provide budget increases, if necessary, in years to come.
Barnett Lawley, state director for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, along with members of the Conservation Department's advisory committee, discussed the fee increases and other issues during at the Alabama Farmers Federation's Commodity Organizational Meeting in Birmingham Feb. 13. The panel fielded questions during the Federation's Wildlife Committee meeting.
Under Lawley's plan, fees would increase from $16 to $24 for a resident annual hunting license and from $9 to $12 for a resident annual fishing license. Boating licenses vary depending on the size of the boat, but would be along those same lines, Lawley said.
Lawley said there has been no opposition to the increase, adding that several hunting and wildlife groups in the state that have weighed in on the measure have supported it. Several members of the Federation's State Wildlife Committee say they favor the fees increase providing some conditions are met, namely wildlife research funding and establishing a limit on the number of bucks harvested annually.
"Research is so important," said Trey Montgomery, chairman of the Federation's State Wildlife Committee. "You've got to have data to make changes, and the state of Alabama is way behind in collecting data on our wildlife resources. We're 25 years behind our neighboring states on research and data. Mississippi started its research in 1995 so they've got 12 years advantage on us right now."
Montgomery, who operates a hunting lodge in Greene County, and other hunters present for the meeting said they'd also like to see a change in state hunting laws regarding the harvesting of whitetail bucks. He said the state's laws for harvesting bucks are too liberal.
"We're shooting nearly 80 percent of our year and a-half old bucks, another 10 percent are dying from natural causes and that's not leaving but 10 percent for breeding stock," Montgomery said. "We need at least 50 percent retention, and we're just not getting that right now.
"There was a time when Alabama was known for trophy bucks - big bucks - but with so many smaller bucks being taken each year, those young bucks never have time to reach that level. That's sending hunters to other states which have managed and controlled their buck population with the mindset of growing large, trophy bucks."
Montgomery said there are number of ways to achieve that retention, any of which he would support. Those measures include a tagging system, where a hunter could harvest and tag three bucks a year, and antler size restrictions.
During a recent meeting of the Conservation Advisory Committee, Lawley was authorized to appoint a committee to study restrictions on buck harvests. He said the committee is being chosen and will have a report ready in May for the full advisory committee. Federation Wildlife Division Director Steve Guy is among those already appointed to the committee.