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…

Happy New Year to The Huntsville Times

I resolved that my first post about The Huntsville Times would be positive.  John Peck wrote an editorial “Going wild after Forever Wild”:

Alabama’s Forever Wild land preservation program has been wildly successful in acquiring environmentally sensitive property and setting it aside as permanent public green space.

Since voters overwhelmingly approved the program in 1992, Forever Wild has acquired more than 200,000 acres of wild lands including the Walls of Jericho in Jackson County, mountaintop trails around Huntsville, eagle roosting areas around Guntersville and 35,000 acres of wetlands in the Mobile delta.

The properties are bought using a portion of interest earnings off the $3 billion Alabama Trust Fund fed by oil and gas leases…

The official expiration of Forever Wild isn’t until Oct. 1, 2012, but already outside interests are setting their sights on the trust in ways that could decrease its buying power even if Forever Wild wins another 20-year continuance.

Some lawmakers want to tap the Alabama Trust Fund for a $1 billion road building program. Contract holders with the cash-strapped prepaid college tuition plan also want to siphon money from the trust. Recent news reports revealed that the Alabama Farmers Federation is eyeing the trust for farm, soil and water conservation efforts.

Any drawdown on the principal would reduce interest earnings, of which 10 percent is now dedicated to Forever Wild.

Former Times editor John Ehinger was  supportive of Forever Wild and I’ve linked to his columns before.  I’m pleased to see that the new editorial board is just as supportive of this program.  If only The Times would name the “lawmakers” (State Senator Lowell Barron – Democrat) who want to tap into the Trust Fund; don’t leave us hanging…

Thanks Kevin Wendt – I hope The Times makes lots of money and gets lots of new subscribers and wins plenty of major awards this year.  We here at Flashpoint are always willing to nudge you onto the right path to prosperity. Just know that our critiques come from a place filled with love and respect…

While I’m being all warm and cuddly, I’d like to invite The Times to cover the Huntsville Governor Candidates Forum on March 2, 2010.  All seven GOP gubernatorial candidates have committed to attend the forum, which promises to be the largest debate in the State.  The Young Republicans and Right On Huntsville would certainly appreciate the press attention.

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Back to a Forever Wild-related topic, this time from the Montgomery Advertiser, “Birding trail more popular than expected”:

When the North Alabama Birding Trail opened in September 2005, local tourism and state conservation officials predicted tourists would flock to Alabama to see bald eagles, waterfowl, warblers and other birds.

About four years later, those officials said the response to the trail, which includes 12 sites in and around the Shoals, has exceeded expectations.

“We have a tremendous amount of people coming by or contacting our office for information on the birding trail,” said Alison Stanfield, assistant director of Florence-Lauderdale Tourism. “Interest in the trail remains very high.”

…while there have been no studies to determine how many people visit the bird-watching sites, the trail is boosting tourism in the region…

Mark Sasser, coordinator of the non-game wildlife section for the conservation department, said the success of the North Alabama Birding Trail is spawning a proliferation of bird-watching trails throughout the state.

He said the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel will create a series of birding trails with hopes of including all 67 counties. He said wildlife watching is one of the fastest-growing forms of outdoor recreation in America.

The State really should try to quantify the success of the Birding Trails (in terms of human visitors).  I know that the Forever Wild program suffers from the same lack of good information.  People like the parks, but without this information, we’re just guessing at how successful the program might be in economic terms.

We know that in environmental terms, like plant and wildlife diversity and conservation, or in terms of clean water and protecting watersheds, Forever Wild is successful.  But people pay the bills, and some people (Lowell Barron and some other Democrats) don’t love baby birds and fluffy bunnies and pretty flowers as much as the rest of us.  They’d rather pave paradise…

Friends of the Preserve and Sanctuary

As y’all know, I’m a big tree-hugger and I love me some Alabama.  Actually I’m a water-hugger but that makes no sense, except that we drink the water from the Flint River so protecting the area around our water supply is pretty important.  I attended the Friends of the Hays Nature Preserve and Goldsmith Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary annual meeting this evening at the Monte Sano State Park Lodge. 

The speaker was Bill Finch, Conservation Director of the Alabama Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.  I’ll go ahead and note that I like most of what the Nature Conservancy does, and they’ve done great work by preserving Alabama’s natural heritage in concert with the State’s Forever Wild program (for example, they helped buy the Walls of Jericho in Jackson County).  I don’t like their support for cap and trade (which I think is an Enron-like scheme that does nothing for the environment and will harm the American economy).  More on Finch and Forever Wild later…

The Hays Preserve and the Goldsmith Schiffman Sanctuary are Huntsville City Parks out Governors Drive past Hampton Cove.  I’d like to acknowledge and thank Boeing for their $23,000 grant and the Alabama Homebuilders for their $1,000 grant.  One of the projects underway is the construction of an interpretive center  being designed by Greg Kamback which will be LEED certified (which seems to take “the longest time for the smallest building”), but it will be way cool and cheap to operate once built.  It will feature a native drought tolerant landscape, natural lighting inside (tube skylights, light shelf, windows), an airlock, and possibly a geo-thermal heat exchange (like President GW Bush’s house – he was an early adopter of the technology) and a vegetative roof (real plants on the roof with a recirculating rain barrel system).  The Nature Preserve is also trying to be a dark sky park – which means limiting the light spillage from parking lots and driveways.  Note – the HSV Planning Department is interested in re-writing the Lighting Ordinance to better accomodate dark sky areas.

Now, back to Bill Finch.  He was a managing editor of the Mobile Press Register and their attention contributed to the purchase of the  Mobile Tensaw Delta under the State’s Forever Wild program.  Notable quotes include the following:  “Alabama is the most diverse Eastern State” in terms of forests and aquatic life (i.e., we have more different species of fish, turtles, mussles, and crawfish).  “In some years of our worst drought, we were almost as dry as Seattle” (Mobile is the wettest City / Alabama is the wettest State in the CONUS).  Alabama is the “genetic reserve” for North America.

My favorite quote was “Fire is as natural as rain in Alabama”.

Finch spoke about the Nature Conservancy and Forever Wild’s efforts to preserve the Paint Rock watershed (coincidentally, I drove through the area last weekend – absolutely incredible after the rains).  “We have the possibility in Paint Rock of recreating a functioning landscape” and it’s “the last 19th Century Appalachian Valley”.

Finch also spoke of the threats posed by invasive species.  The top threats are 1) ‘Laurel Wilt’, which could kill most of the undergrowth in our forests, and 2) the ‘Emerald Ash Borer’, which could kill ALL of the ash trees in the State.

He also reminded the audience that the Alabama Forever Wild program expires in 2012 and warns that there may be efforts to redefine the program (keep the name, change the deal).  I encourage all State elected officials and candidates for State office to pass the Forever Wild program as it stands now.

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More thoughts and stuff.  The Monte Sano State Park Lodge is beautiful.  Thanks to the Hays and Goldsmith Schiffman families for their generosity in donating the Preserve and Sanctuary.  After the event, I ran into Bill Finch at Humphreys, which was pretty cool.  I also ran into Professor Tom and Vince, which was, again, pretty cool.  Prichard Distilleries up around Fayetteville makes an outstanding Double-Barrelled Bourbon (support your local businesses).

Beach Pre-Report 2009

It’s the time of year for me to  pay attention to Beach Monitoring and Baldwin County and related news.  Last year I wrote Beach Monitoring and poo, which was a primer for me on beach water quality: enterococcus bacteria and sewerage and runoff and source tracking.  This year I’m interested in the Cotton Bayou Beach area – and the water’s fine – the worst sample was still pretty good.  Here’s a link to the ADEM Coastal Alabama Beach Monitoring Program.

The City of Orange Beach is considering a Dog Park (“Dog ‘mess’ continues in Orange Beach”) , which has stirred up some controversy.  One of the sites under consideration is Waterfront Park:

The original location considered was a small piece of property, adjacent to Water Front Park, but Mayor Tony Kennon expressed issues with that site.

“We have done such a good job with Water Front Park and that whole area, to me a dog park just doesn’t fit in. I think it would be detrimental to the aesthetics of that area,” Kennon said…

“Can you believe that they are going to sit up here and vote to spend money to put a dog park on this property? You know what the dogs are going to do on it?  They are going to crap on it. Ten million dollars for a place for dogs to go crap,” McElroy said.

When asked where he thought the city should put the dog park, McElroy suggested a piece of land just behind City Hall.

If the Orange Beach City Council needs another reason NOT to locate the dog park at Waterfront Park:  the Beach Monitoring reports show that the water quality has been over the safe threshold several times in the past few years and been close to unsafe several more times.  The City Council should consider the impact that dog poo runoff would have on the water quality (dog poo was one of the possible sources of contamination in the swimming advisory I wrote about last year).

BTW, Candidate for Governor Bradley Byrne and candidate for Agricultural Commissioner John McMillan both have ties to Baldwin County.

On a semi-related note – Alabama’s Forever Wild program is up for renewal in 2012 – keep that in mind as you consider candidates for the 2010 elections.  Be sure to ask candidates if they support Forever Wild.