By David Rainer
Al Dept. of Conser & Nat. Resources
Want a beautiful piece of wildlife or nature art that you can carry with you wherever you go? Plus, you get a heck of a deal. You can get that piece of art for just $5 when you take advantage of Alabama’s new hard-card licenses currently on sale for the 2019-2020 hunting and fishing seasons.
For an additional $5 fee, purchasers can select from eight different cards that depict a variety of outdoors scenes. The art scenes include deer, turkey, freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, wildlife heritage with an indigo bunting, sandhill crane and shooting sports. A deer and feral hog adorn the inaugural bait privilege license.
A total of 32 license privileges are eligible for purchase as a hard card, including annual hunting and fishing licenses for residents and non-residents, state duck stamp, Wildlife Heritage and bait privilege licenses. Trip licenses, lifetime licenses and no-cost privileges are not included in this feature.
“We worked so hard for years to get away from a paper license to something electronically so people could have it on their phones,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “That’s been really good for a lot of people, but we get a lot of requests for a hard-card license that people can put in their tackle boxes or keep in their wallets, so they can have that with them if they don’t have their phones or whatever reason.”
Blankenship said other states have seen collectors’ markets develop for similar hard licenses with a variety of outdoors scenes.
“We had seen in Florida and some other states where the hard cards have become collectible,” he said. “We wanted to create hard cards with multiple wildlife and nature scenes that people could choose from. If they love saltwater fishing, they can pick a saltwater species. If they love freshwater fishing, they could choose a freshwater fish. If they hunt deer or turkey, they can get those.
“Particularly for our Wildlife Heritage licenses, we wanted to create a card for bird watchers or people who may not hunt or fish but enjoy using Forever Wild lands or State Parks. They can support the Department by purchasing the Wildlife Heritage license and the hard card that goes with that. So, we have a hard card that fits just about everybody.”
Blankenship hopes people will embrace the hard cards here as they have elsewhere.
“From what we’ve seen in other states, a lot of people like to buy the whole set that is available for that year,” he said. “They might have their license privileges added to one card and then buy the others so they can have a hard card without a license privilege attached to it. While that option is not available this year, we’ll see after this year what the demand is for that.”
With all the distractions of the modern world, from computer games to smartphones, license sales for outdoors activities have been struggling to maintain status quo. Blankenship said the general public doesn’t really understand the importance of license sales to conservation and wildlife and fisheries management through the ADCNR.
“We are a self-funded agency, so license sales and Parks revenue fund all the work that we do at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,” he said. “That’s why we think the Wildlife Heritage license and the hard card that goes with it might be a good way for people to support the Department. We can match those license sales with federal funds and do good work for the resources of our state.”
ADCNR receives three-to-one federal matching funds for licenses sold through the Sport Fish Restoration Act and the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.
The Sport Fish Restoration Act levies an excise tax on manufacturers, producers, and importers of sport-fishing equipment as well as small engine and motor boat fuel taxes paid by recreational anglers and boaters. A 10% tax is levied on sport-fishing equipment, while a 3% tax is paid on electric (trolling) motors. Tax is also levied on motor boat and small engine fuel, and other import duties are levied on boats and a variety of fishing equipment.
Those funds are distributed according to the number of licenses sold and land mass. The number of licenses sold determines a 60% share of the funding, and 40% percent is based on the land and water area in a particular state.
The Sport Fish Restoration Act requires that 15% of all restoration money be spent on public boating access. It also requires Alabama and other coastal states to fund marine recreational fisheries projects at a ratio determined by the number of resident freshwater to saltwater anglers.
Pittman-Robertson funds are derived from an 11% federal excise tax on the manufacturers of sporting arms, ammunition, and archery equipment. Handgun manufacturers are taxed at a 10% rate. One-half of the excise tax on handguns and archery equipment must be used for hunter education and shooting ranges.
For hard-card collectors, Alabama’s wildlife and nature images will change annually. After this inaugural roll-out of the hard cards, Blankenship said there is a possibility that the photos of the winners of the annual ADCNR Photo Contest could be used to adorn each year’s edition of hard cards.
“We have a lot of ideas about what we can do with the hard cards,” he said. “Really, we decided to do the hard cards for two reasons. One was to meet the demand for people who wanted a hard card to put their license privileges on, and the other was to find ways for other people to support the work of the Department.”
The easiest way to obtain a hard license with the wildlife and nature scenes is to purchase a license online and click on the link to purchase a hard license. Buyers can choose one or all eight of the cards at $5 per card. License purchasers who use retail outlets can also obtain a hard license. For those who want to get a hard card after a license has already been purchased, go online and use the “Replacement/Additional Hard Card” link to purchase any or all of the eight cards.
After purchase, the hard licenses will be mailed to buyers within 10 days. If you plan to hunt or fish before you receive your hard card, be sure to keep a paper copy of your license or have it available on your smartphone.
For deer and turkey hunters as well as red snapper anglers, don’t forget that when you purchase a hard card, you still must comply with harvest reporting requirements. Hunters who hunt deer and turkey should report through Game Check, while red snapper anglers should comply through Snapper Check. The easiest way to comply is to use the Outdoor Alabama app. Otherwise, hunters must retain a paper record of their harvests.
The new Reef Fish Endorsement is now available for purchase and will be required beginning September 1 to possess any reef fish species in Alabama waters. Marine Resources Division (MRD) Director Scott Bannon said enforcement will be out educating the public regarding the endorsement.
“Anytime we have a rule change we try and make efforts to inform the public about the change and allow some time for adjustment to the rule,” said Bannon.
Another option for those who purchase licenses for the 2019-2020 seasons is the ability to round up their purchase to the next nearest dollar. If they choose, that extra money can be designated for research in wildlife, freshwater fishing or saltwater fishing. Also new this year is the ability to opt-in for annual auto-renewal of licenses.
Visit outdooralabama.com/license-information for more information on available licenses.
Pictured: A total of eight hard cards will be available for most license buyers for the 2019-2020 seasons, including the inaugural bait privilege license.
But the real work of the center is rehabilitating wildlife that has been injured or orphaned.
The resident skunk, bobcat and otter were all failed attempts at people trying to make pets out of them. They became too tame for the wild but the owners didn’t want them anymore so the center took them in. The skunk was brought to the center because it was ill and never fully recovered.
“She couldn’t use her back legs, she was twitchy, her head was turning,” Vinson said of Luna Belle. “She was acting suspicious and we were worried she had a neurological disease. And we were very concerned about rabies which has no cure.
“We monitored her for a week and changed her diet drastically and she gained a lot of weight in the first three weeks we had her. They were giving her the wrong diet and that’s why wildlife shouldn’t be kept as pets. We use her as an educational ambassador and she’s goes out to programs with us.”
Animals rehabbed at the center have included pelicans and great blue herons, raising and releasing orphaned squirrels, several raptors including owls and osprey, armadillos among dozens of other species seen by the center.
Recently, cages for Jolene the bobcat and Izzy the otter were upgraded with Izzy getting a bigger water area and a slide into the water.
Having bobcats as pets is illegal in Alabama but Jolene was purchased legally from a breeder in Tennessee. When the owner brought it to a vet in Alabama for vaccinations it was confiscated.
“It was confiscated and the state called us and asked if we could accept a bobcat,” Vinson said. “We said absolutely. Because she was born and raised in captivity, she’s non-releasable. She looks like a cat, acts like a cat but she’s still a bobcat.”
Someone in Mobile County thought it would be a good idea to take in a juvenile otter after a flood on the Dog River.
“Someone with really good intentions decided to raise her much like many of our animals,” Vinson said. “They had her like four to six weeks during a very young phase of her life so she really got used to people. She was in their bathroom in their house and she thought ‘I’m a human or y’all are all funny looking otters.’”
The goal was to try and get Izzy rehabbed and released but she was too domesticated by the time she reached the Orange Beach center.
“They did bring her to us in hopes that we would be able to wild her up,” Vinson said. “After a couple of weeks evaluation, we said no. She’s going to be swimming up to people for food and she’s not going to know how to act like an otter.”
One of the most important parts of making the center successful are college interns. Currently most are from the southern part of the U.S. but, we have had interns from 10 states including as far away as New Jersey, Maryland and Michigan. Citizen volunteers also give time to help with the animals there.
“They are only given a small monthly stipend plus housing,” Vinson said. “My job posting says ‘are you ready to be overworked and underpaid?’ That’s literally what they are doing.”
They are also a vital part of the outreach to local schools where interns do more than just do animal demonstrations, Vinson said.
“We do a lot of stuff with the schools,” she said. “Last year we went to Orange Beach Elementary School and we did a program for every single class so we saw every single student at the elementary school. We’re in talks with the middle school and the high school for future programming and we hope to do that again.
“We have curriculum-based programs for them and it’s kind of unique. Each grade got something different. It wasn’t always just about the animals. For one grade we were teaching the senses and using our different animals and talking about their senses. Another grade was life cycles. They all saw kind of a different group and a different message.”
Next week: The center is getting a new home in the near future.
“This is an interim facility and our plans are to move to a new 10-acre facility with some Restore Act funding,” Stevens said.