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David Rainer: Conservation board celebrates successes, remembers those lost

The first meeting of the Alabama Conservation Advisory Council in 2024 was to honor accomplishments and remember those who are no longer part of the conservation community.

The celebration began with recognition of two members of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Conservation (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship presented the award to WFF Executive Section Director Michael “Matt” Weathers and WFF Director Chuck Sykes at a meeting held last weekend at Auburn University. Awarded.

Director Weathers received the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Guy Bradley Award for his contributions to wildlife law enforcement. The award was established in 1988 to recognize police officers who have made outstanding lifetime contributions to wildlife enforcement, wildlife forensics, and investigative techniques.

“In 1905, Guy Bradley, a Florida game warden, became the first wildlife officer to be killed in the line of duty protecting our nation's wildlife,” Secretary Blankenship said. . “Law enforcement officers like Bradley are essential to virtually every aspect of wildlife conservation.”

Director Sykes presented Chief Weathers with a plaque and emphasized the significance of receiving the award, saying, “It's a big deal.''

“I am very honored to receive this award,” said Secretary Weathers. “Throughout my career, I have been very fortunate to have been guided and mentored by some of the brightest minds in conservation. I have had the opportunity to protect the natural resources of my home state. This has turned into a very rewarding career.

“With the support of Secretary Blankenship, Secretary Sykes, and all of our conservation enforcement officers, we have made significant changes, including expanding our public shooting ranges and continuing to modernize our law enforcement programs. There are many new initiatives that are being used as a blueprint for success. If you can work with people like this, success will be easier.”

Director Sykes was recently awarded the National Wild Turkey Federation's (NWTF) CB McLeod Distinguished Service Award. This award recognizes outstanding NWTF volunteers who have dedicated their lives to wildlife conservation and hunting heritage.

Chuck Sykes receives the CB McLeod Award from NWTF co-CEOs Kurt Dilloff (left) and Jason Burkhalter. (Billy Pope photo)

“This is one of the National Wild Turkey Federation's highest awards, and we are extremely proud of Chuck,” said Chairman Blankenship. “Chuck is also the president of the Fish and Wildlife Agencies Association this year. We are grateful for his contributions not only in Alabama but on the national level, and we look forward to bringing success to Alabama and sharing our efforts with other states. We could share and make a difference like in Alabama.”

Director Sykes said he realized the exclusivity of the McLeod Award while attending the NWTF Awards Banquet.

“I didn't realize how big of a deal this was until I sat down at the table that night and saw the list of winners,” said Coach Sykes. “NWTF royalty like Dick Kirby, Tom Kelly, and Dale Rome were on the list. I don't know if I deserve that award, but I'm honored to receive this award and be part of that group. I am very proud to be recognized.”

Commissioner Blankenship also informed the Board of various projects underway or scheduled to begin soon under the ADCNR umbrella.

“We are truly blessed with the natural resources and great people here in Alabama,” he said. “I am extremely grateful to be the Secretary of the Conservation Commission and the work this commission and staff do to enhance and protect our state's resources.”

Secretary Blankenship then listed ongoing and upcoming projects managed by ADCNR or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and implemented by partner agencies such as the Mobile County Commission, the Mobile Bay National Estuarine Program, and various coastal cities and towns. Ta.

“Many projects that were in the engineering, design and permitting stages are now under construction,” he said. “This is truly a testament to the work of our staff, the people of Alabama, our partner agencies, and Congress that have given us the ability to do good.

“Mobile and Baldwin Counties have more than $1 billion of projects completed, underway, or approved from Deepwater Horizon oil spill funding sources. Perhaps the last deposit from BP will be made.” An additional $500 million to $600 million will be injected into projects that will continue through 2031.”

Commissioner Blankenship mentioned coastal restoration projects that are underway from Gulf Shores through Gulf State Park to Orange Beach in Baldwin County and Dauphin Island in Mobile County.

Other projects include:

  • $26 million to protect Dauphin Island causeways and enhance habitat.
  • $22 million for the Theodore Industrial Canal project and wetland habitat protection south of the canal entrance.
  • $6 million to renovate Mobile County's Bayfront Park
  • $2 million for Dauphin Island ecotourism project

The Secretary also highlighted the reconstruction of the cabin at Lake Shelby in Gulf State Park.

“The cabins at Gulf State Park were destroyed by Hurricane Sally, as you may remember,” he said. “These 20 cabins were rebuilt at a cost of about $9 million and reopened to the public on February 1st. They are so beautiful. I think you'll enjoy it.

“Work has also been completed on the Lomar Beach parking lot and restroom facilities. The Gulf State Park pier, which was damaged by Hurricane Sally, is being rebuilt at a cost of $14 million.”

The Secretary also praised the $19 million Bayou La Batre Sewer Discharge Project, which has been in the works for 10 years.

“This project will move the outlet approximately four miles further offshore,” he said. “Importantly for the Council, if the outlet is relocated, it will open up more areas as licensed growing areas, which will help both the public reef oyster industry and the oyster farming industry. I'm saying that.”

Commissioner Blankenship noted that Gov. Kay Ivey awarded more than $67 million in GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act) funds to 26 projects in Mobile and Baldwin counties last July, and more projects are on the way. He pointed out that it is scheduled to be announced this spring.

He said boating access is a priority for the department, and more than $30 million will be committed to boating access over the next few years.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “Alabama has more navigable waterways than any other state, and we are committed to providing access to our citizens. Our Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, State Lands Division, and Marine Resources Division , and the efforts of state parks to provide boat access to these lands in the state. As Tim Wood (Selma board member) said, Selma's boat ramps are being built with multiple funding sources. , we are pleased to be a partner in that. We would like to thank Deputy Director Pools for bringing together multiple agencies to accomplish this project. This is a great opportunity for Selma to host a fishing tournament and This will be a great asset in bringing much-needed income to the region.”

Commissioner Blankenship also noted the importance of sport shooting to the future of wildlife conservation.

“We are building a new world-class shooting range near Columbiana and plan to expand our other shooting sports facilities in the coming years,” he said. “In the interests of the Board, shooters, who do not necessarily hunt, are the largest contributors to the Pittman-Robertson Program. It's amazing that mass shooters pay a large portion of our excise taxes. We're going to go the extra mile to support them and continue to increase revenue for that program. This goes beyond just mass shooters. , we feel it's a good investment for the state's wildlife.”

Meanwhile, Alabama State Parks is using its $80 million bond to implement various projects across the state.

“One of our largest projects will be the new Cheaha Hotel and Lodge,” Secretary Blankenship said. “It will be a beautiful facility on a cliff. We will use wood that is harvested from the ADCNR property and milled here in Alabama. The new lodge will be stunningly beautiful and a great example of sustainable construction methods using these natural materials.

“Larlene Lake will be completely rebuilt and Gulf State Park will be expanded with a campground on the site of an old golf course. Together, these three projects will be in the $50 million range.”

Other state park projects include:

  • $12 million renovation of Oak Mountain campground
  • $4 million renovation of Lake Guntersville Golf Course's cart paths, pro shop and cabins
  • DeSoto pool house and facility renovation work
  • $7.5 million expansion of Meeha Campground with new cabins and administration building
  • Renovated Monte Sano campground and cabins
  • $11 million in Wind Creek cabin construction and campground renovations
  • Joe Wheeler's Lodge and Pool Upgrades
  • New Pool Renovation and New Pool House at Rickwood Caverns
  • Lake Point Lodge and Cabin Renovations

“The driving range at Oak Mountain will be lit and generate revenue,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “This allows us to leverage the use of that facility and get people out after dark and when it gets a little cooler.”

Commissioner Blankenship said $2 million will be used to construct a conference facility and pavilion, expand the barn and paddock, and construct new restrooms at the Forever Wild M. Barnett Lowry Field Proving Ground.

“These projects will support more than 35 dog trials and events held each year,” he said. “With these new facilities, we look forward to hosting more regional, national and international dog trials.”

At the board meeting were WFF Conservation Executive Captain Marisa Futral, former state senator and conservation advisory board member Jack Biddell, and media personality and Alabama outdoors advocate James “ Important members of the outdoor community, including “Big Daddy” Lawler, also attended board meetings. Especially in black belt areas. Former Conservation Advisory Board member Dr. Bob Shipp also passed away earlier this year.

Commissioner Blankenship said, “We suffered a significant loss against Marisa Futrall.'' “It will be very difficult to replace her at the department. We will miss her and her work ethic and what she has done for shooting sports and hunter education. We will also miss her I would also like to mention the passing of Senator Jack Biddle, a former member of the Conservation Advisory Committee.

“Many of you know Big Daddy Lawler from Wilcox County. He promoted black belt hunting and fishing and spread what we have to offer throughout the state and nation. I will miss you.”

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