Forever Wild Program Aquisitions

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources maintains detailed information about the Forever Wild program.  While this information in itself is not sufficient for an informed vote by a legislator, it does provide insight into the acquisition process and rationale for aquiring certain properties.  Let’s look at a few properties listed by the DCNR:

THE PERIWINKLE SPRING ADDITION TRACT in Madison County consists of 40 acres that serve as an addition to Monte Sano State Park. The tract has one of the only permanent springs in that portion of the mountain, and also supports a small population of federally listed wildflowers. Objectives: habitat conservation, outdoor recreation, scientific research and education Date Acquired: February 20, 2004 Property Value: $100,000

THE BLOWING SPRINGS CAVE TRACT in Lauderdale County has cave habitat that is vital to the threatened gray bat. This 60 acre property will be preserved primarily to protect the existing and future population of this species at this location.  Objectives: Habitat conservation (Contribute to the recovery of the threatened gray bat in the southeastern United States), outdoor recreation, scientific research and education Date Acquired: April 15, 1998  Property Value: approximately $122,000

THE WEHLE TRACT in Bullock County consists of 1,505 acres of rolling pine hills and hardwood branch bottoms that will be used for public recreation and a nature preserve. Approximately 640 acres are included in the adjacent Barbour County Wildlife Management Area. This purchase involved a discounted sale, whereby the landowner voluntarily sold the tract for 50% of the appraised value. Objectives: Habitat conservation, outdoor recreation, scientific research and education  Date Acquired: October 28, 1994  Property Value: approximately $2,000,000

THE COLDWATER MOUNTAIN (Dedicated by Forever Wild Resolution as the Doug Ghee Nature Preserve and Recreation Area) TRACT in Calhoun County consists of 3,924 acres of a high, pine-hardwood covered mountain along Interstate Highway 20 that casts its shadow onto portions of Anniston and Oxford. The tract secures a large portion of the local watershed for Coldwater Spring, a unique ecological environment and source of drinking water for local municipalities. Objectives: Habitat conservation, outdoor recreation, scientific research and education  Date Acquired: October 2, 1998  Property Value: approximately $2,530,000

THE MONSANTO TRACT in Marshall County consists of 209 acres of a mountainous, pine-hardwood covered peninsula on Lake Guntersville that is being managed as both an extension of Guntersville State Park and to provide nesting habitat for the growing local population of Bald Eagles. Objectives: Habitat conservation (Bald Eagle habitat), outdoor recreation, scientific research and education Date Acquired: September 13, 1994 Property Value: approximately $141,000.

Alabama must keep Forever Wild

Alabama State Representative Randy Davis (Republican-96) wrote an editorial for The Huntsville Times “Alabama must keep its Forever Wild law” (no link available yet):

…there is one piece of legislation that all Republicans and Democrats alike should commit to pass early this session.  The Forever Wild program was approved in 1992 with an overwhelming majority of 84 percent of Alabamians voting in support of its creation.  It’s even more popular today, but… the funding will sunset in 2012 unless reauthorized by the Legislature.

…These lands not only provide opportunities for all Alabamians to enjoy our great outdoors, but also create a significant impact on the local economies where these lands are located.

…This program generates significant economic development and tourism in Alabama that results in new jobs and increased revenue…  This makes Forever Wild, by far, a net positive when it comes to our state budget and the creation of new jobs for Alabamians.

Davis is sponsoring the Forever Wild law in its current form (“as is”) in the State House, joined by State Senator Scott Beason (Republican-17) in the Senate.  The “as is” part is important – last year some legislators wanted to raid the fund for road construction.

Protect Forever Wild is an organization working to pass the Forever Wild law:

Created in 1992 by a constitutional referendum that garnered 83 percent of the vote, Forever Wild is a program dedicated to preserving Alabama’s most beautiful and environmentally sensitive land, all while expanding the recreational opportunities available to the public.
 
Forever Wild keeps our water and air clean, protects our wildlife, and helps ensure that our children will have the opportunity to experience the natural wonders of our beautiful state.

I urge every member the Republican caucus to vote to reauthorize the Forever Wild law “as is”.  It’s the right thing to do…

School dilemma no easy fix

Kevin Wendt, editor of The Huntsville Times, wrote today’s editorial “School dilemma no easy fix” (no link available yet). 

Wendt writes about the “conversation” and “community-wide discussion”, then identifies types of “dialogue” that “do not help”.  Wendt uses the example of the NAACP’s “provocative quote” (“violent revolution”) then overreaches to balance it with an example of south Huntsville “passing letters to parents about the inevitability of busing”, in effect blaming south Huntsville parents for responding to NAACP provocation.  Of course, if all you read is The Times, you may not know that the NAACP proposed busing as a solution.

Wendt asks “What is the solution?” to the “enrollment demographics” of a school system divided into “predominately black” and “predominately white” neighborhoods.  Wendt then highlights three points:  “transformative” Lee High School, new construction to replace some north Huntsville schools, and the “spirit of community involvement” at Lincoln Elementary.

I think that Wendt makes some good points, but he overstates the success at Lincoln when he says that “involvement from churches and volunteers helped generate some of the best test scores in the city”.  The 10 to 1 student teacher ratio and hundreds of volunteers and an innovative principal did have a tremendous impact, but Lincoln wasn’t transformed into one of the best schools – it was average – and Wendt should’ve known that from reading his own newspaper. 

Lincoln could have been expected to score in the 20s (like MLK) on 3rd grade SAT tests, but scored in the 40s (like Providence).  The best schools in Huntsville scored in the 80s (and all schools in Madison scored in the 70s and 80s).  Lincoln’s 5th grade performance was better with scores in the 60s (better than Providence), but still, not the best.

As for new construction in north Huntsville – I agree with Bob Harrison – the next new school built in Huntsville should be in north Huntsville (located where the demographic study supports construction).

And as for the new Lee High School – it is an ongoing train wreck.  The new location is terrible – the campus is split by a busy railroad track.  Students must cross the tracks to reach the ball fields.  Then there’s parking… Parking at the new Huntsville High is a problem at times, but at least there is a neighborhood for on-street parking to handle the overflow.  The new LHS has limited parking and no overflow.  Then there are the demographics, and I’m going to agree with Bob Harrison twice in one article – there may not have been a need for a new school in that area.  Expecting the new LHS to be “transformative” when it starts with these self-imflicted limitations may be a bit too much.

Wendt (who I like in real life) ends by asking for ideas:

“But this is just a start.  There are hundreds more ideas that could lead to a better system overall.

The Department of Justice letter highlighted the depth and complexity of the challenge.

So here is a question to you: How would you define success in our school systems?”

BTW CSPAN is airing the National Governors Association meeting - the education panel was worth watching.  Summary:  discipline, high standards, better teachers, better principals.  One of the world-class techniques discussed involved tailoring instruction to individual students – Huntsville’s own Appleton Learning Center has researched and developed assessment tools to do just that.  Appleton is developing cutting-edge education methods that measurably improve student academic performance.  That is success.

HCS discipline

Discipline in the Huntsville City Schools is one of the issues of concern to the Obama Department of Justice and the NAACP.  The HCS Student Incident Report summary for 2009 / 2010 does show a striking difference between incidents reported at Huntsville City Schools, but why? 

The HCS SIR report doesn’t provide race information, but the DOJ / NAACP  claims there are “significant racial disparities in student discipline” (I’m guessing the reports they saw had more detail than what is made publicly available).

The Obama DOJ and the NAACP don’t seem to care about why – they’re more interested in “eliminating racial disparities in student discipline”.  Do they mean that each time a black child is disciplined that a white child must be disciplined?  Or should discipline be meted out based on demographics:  should whites be disciplined 60% of the time to reflect the City’s racial makeup – or should whites be disciplined 48.7% of the time to reflect the racial makeup of the school system?

How about this for an out-of-the-box solution:  discipline children whose behavior warrants it, regardless of race.

Here’s some real numbers if you want to “read more”…

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Forever Wild new land purchases

Thomas Spencer of The Birmingham News wrote “Forever Wild pursuing three land purchases”:

Trustees approved buying more than 2,500 acres at the Barbour Wildlife Management Area, one of the largest and oldest state-owned public hunting areas. They also authorized pursuing 2,125 acres in Jackson County, which would add land adjacent to Forever Wild’s Wall of Jericho, a popular destination for hikers and horseback riders. They also voted to buy 30 more acres on Baldwin County’s Weeks Bay.

Forever Wild is a wildly popular conservation program done the right way – Forever Wild buys property to preserve for future generations – we get to enjoy it in the meantime.  I love me some Alabama.

I haven’t been to the Barbour WMA but I know the Walls of Jericho and Weeks Bay. 

Today’s meeting was the first presided over by Gunter Guy Jr., Gov. Robert Bentley’s new director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Governor Dr. Bentley is a supporter of Forever Wild – as are many Republicans – I asked Huntsville area GOP candidates (except Jim Patterson, my own Rep – we talked about other things) two questions during the primary – do you support Forever Wild and Free the Hops – IMO the future looks bright for both issues.

More good news:

Madison County’s curbiside recycling program is getting its first major overhaul since 1991.

This afternoon, officials from the local Solid Waste Disposal Authority and Allied Waste announced that junk mail, cereal boxes, small cardboard boxes, paper bags, office paper, envelopes, newspaper inserts, paperback books and comic books can be recycled curbside starting Feb. 21.

OK, so I missed putting out the recyclables this morning, it’ll be there next week.  In other news, my compost pile is growing nicely.

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I’m looking forward to the results of the Beason & Nalley audit of the City of Huntsville, if only because that’s a normal part of doing business.  Huntsville Finance Director Randy Taylor does a fine job, but someone needs to watch him ;)

Huntsville school board: elected or appointed?

Huntsville’s own renaissance man Challen Stephens of  The Huntsville Times wrote “Huntsville school board: elected or appointed?”:

“I yearn for folks with a business background being able to get involved and make these hard decisions,” said Rep. Phil Williams, R-Toney, who is leading the call to do away with the little district elections. “I’m a bit frustrated we’re to this point.”

He said the city board’s failure to plan for anticipated state budget cuts now threatens the economic health of the whole area. Williams said he is speaking to lawmakers about a proposal to place board appointments in the hands of the city council.

…”I haven’t heard an outcry from the people for changing anything,” said Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison. “They’ve certainly got problems, but it didn’t happen over night … that’s why the people elected them. They’ve got to find a way forward.”

…Madison residents may apply to serve on the board. Each year the city council screens applicants, holds public interviews, and makes one appointment.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley said the system has worked “extremely well,” as voters hold council members accountable, while “apolitical” board members are freed from the competition between different parts of the city. “We’ve done redistricting four times in the last 11 years,” he said.

“There’s a lot of people who would not feel comfortable in an election process,” said Finley on Wednesday, “but they feel very comfortable in being appointed by a city council.”

The problems with the Huntsville Housing Authority should remind us of the dangers of unelected bureaucrats and appointed boards.

I like elections.  Political Science professor and TV hunk Dr. Jess Brown of Athens State does too (was I indoctrinated during his classes?), from his discussion this morning with the “most interesting man in Alabama” Dale Jackson on WVNN (AM770 / FM92.5).  While the HCS Superintendent’s job is technocratic, I’d be in favor of an elected Superintendent (like Madison County).

I also like partisanship.  I think that municipal offices (Mayor, Council, School Board) should be elected in partisan elections.  The benefits are: cost savings from not having a separate municipal election system, greater turnout, two shots at getting the best candidate (primary and general).

“I don’t have an answer for this” except “busing”

“I don’t have an answer for this”, said Dr. John Dimmock of the NAACP, about the 40 point achievement gap between white and black students in Huntsville City Schools.

Dimmock should have stopped right there.  Even though Dimmock says he doesn’t have an answer, he recommends “busing” as THE solution.  Dimmock offered no other solutions in his presentation.

This was the second public meeting covered by The Huntsville Times where forced busing was discussed – and not reported by The Times.  Ignoring the issue will not make it go away – the NAACP seems determined to bus kids from ‘white’ schools into ‘black’ schools and vice versa.  I don’t know of a school system that has significantly improved the academic performance of students because of busing.

Since it is Black History Month, let’s recall the history of the NAACP, which was founded by socialists including Mary White Ovington and W.E.B. Dubois  in 1909.

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