I’m sitting at my dining room table with my deck door open, listening to the sound of a gentle breeze rustling tree leaves, and the blip, blip and plop, plop sounds of acorns falling on the deck. The blips are from small water oak acorns, the plops from larger white oak acorns. I feared that the white oaks would fail to produce a crop this year for the fourth in a row, having seen so many tiny immature acorns falling from the trees several weeks ago, but I was wrong. At least two pounds or more of mature white oak acorns have fallen on my deck so far this fall and they’re still falling. That’s good news for the critters in my woods that prefer the acorns over other foods this time of the year, including deer and turkeys. But my creeks still have no running water and my pond is eight feet below full-pool. The weatherman tells us that El Nino weather should prevail this winter and spring, causing more rain than usual in the Southeast. I hope the weatherman’s prediction is correct.
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Alabama’s Forever Wild Land Trust program will be on the November 6 general election ballot, as Amendment 1, to allow voters to decide whether the program will remain in place for another 20 years. The program receives funds amounting to ten percent of the interest from the Alabama Trust Fund, which is derived from gas royalties from the state’s submerged lands in coastal waters. The amount is capped at $15 million with additional amounts from federal matching fund grants assisted by contributions from the Alabama Nature Conservancy and other affiliated organizations. Purchases of $50 “Forever Wild car license plates” also help fund the program.
Properties purchased since the program’s inception total 227,000 acres, and include spectacular areas such as the Walls of Jericho in Jackson County, additions to state parks, outdoor recreation lands, and wetlands in Mobile and Baldwin counties. The program has enjoyed widespread support from environmental groups, outdoor recreationists, and the general public. In a recent column I mentioned that former football coaches Bobby Bowden, Gene Stallings, and Pat Dye have publicly announced their support, and more recently Buckmasters, a hunting organization, and Mike Crow, President of the Montgomery Retriever Club as well. Crow said the National Field Trials for retrievers are scheduled to be held at the M. Barnett Lawley Field Trial Area, located in Hale County, which was acquired by Forever Wild. Crow points out that the event is an example of how Forever Wild helps economic development, and says that motels within a 100 mile radius of Greensboro are reporting full-occupancy for the weekend of the National Trials, Oct. 20-21.
Another Forever Wild Project, the Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail, near Anniston is proving to be a major tourist attraction, with visitors from Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. The Walls of Jericho attracts over 300 visitors on nice weekends. Alabama Senator Gerald Dial, whose district includes a portion of Lee County, says he is concerned that removal of lands being purchased by Forever Wild from the real estate tax rolls may be harmful to the economy of the state and communities, but most in a position to know believe otherwise. They believe that sales taxes, lodging taxes, and purchases by visitors would more than replace any losses of real-estate taxes. Sen. Dial may wish to inquire how governing agencies of Calhoun, Mobile, Baldwin, Hale, and Jackson counties feel about how Forever Wild land purchases are affecting the economies of their respective counties.
Even including the 227,000 acres added to the total of public recreational and conservation lands in the state, Alabama still ranks lowest in public ownership of such lands. The average percentage of public land devoted to conservation and/or public recreation in southeastern states is 12.5 percent. In Alabama, the percentage is 4.08 percent. I have read that Alabama’s largest economic business is tourism. Keeping the Forever Wild Program intact should enhance the state’s attractiveness to tourists. I urge my readers to vote “yes” on Amendment 1.
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The Third Alabama Nongame Wildlife Conference was held in Auburn last July. Among my interests was the bird committee’s opinion on the status of two “yard birds” that were formerly abundant but are much less common now. They are the Eastern Towhee and the Gray Catbird. The committee agreed that the Towhee was declining because of “house cat predation, habitat loss, and pesticides in yards.” Catbird decline was “possibly due to house cat predation.” I assume that the people who believe that feral house cats should be trapped, neutered, and released, couldn’t care less about the birds and other native animals killed by the exotic feral cats.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.