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September 21, 2010 / V A Nichols

Alabama hunters outraged by lost opportunity to kill

On Monday, September 20th, a compassionate man took an online stand against hunters outraged by the actions of a federal game warden.
You can read the story of what outraged the hunters below.
The focus here is on the commentator, who stood his ground in the al.com comment section and repeatedly asked why it was good to teach children to kill as the hunter-commentators repeatedly stated.

The identity of the commentator, ‘Slappy,’ is not known.
Slappy September 20, 2010 at 10:40AM

1bamanative wrote:
“It’s people like you who I never, unfortunately, seem to encounter face to face to have discussions on topics like this one.”
— Ah yes, resort to threats of violence. Why am I not surprised, coming from someone who takes joy in killing something. Put down your gun, and then let’s see how tough you are…

brasstown wrote:
“I am a very educated person, have earned numerous degrees from highly esteemed Universities during my lifetime and I will say this….” –
— Your point being???? Did I say or even allude to anything about hunters’ educational levels??? Please don’t put words in my mouth.

“I can only guess that you think it would be better to stay inside and play X-box….”
— Well, you’d guess wrong. And once again, you’re trying to put words in my mouth. I despise the fact that so many children are being raised by video games and TV. But what’s wrong with taking them out for a hike, or go canoeing? Why do you have to instill a joy of killing an animal in them?

jimmy wrote:
“I agree with brasstown. If you don’t get kids interested in something as wholesome and traditional as hunting,…”
— Ah, yes. There’s nothing quite as wholesome as violently taking a life, is there? Just makes me want to go hug my mother.

“To the Slappy that made fun of the little boys that saved his money: Would you have been happier if he saved his money to buy a bag of dope and then rob your house and kill your family or be with his dad learing how to behave and do things the right way in life?”
— I’d much rather he be with his dad going on a hike to appreciate nature’s beauty, or doing volunteer work, or going canoeing, or camping, or bird watching. Why can’t hunters appreciate being outdoors without killing something?

I think that it is outrageous that people would be outraged because an opportunity to kill animals was lost!

Perhaps you feel slighted by the 20:1 ratio of non-hunters to hunters in Alabama.    I feel no sympathy for you.

Here is Mike Bolton’s take on what happened:

Bolton: Canceled youth event in Macon County leaves Alabama hunters seething at federal conservation officials

I have rarely seen hunters join forces and get really angry about something, but this time they are seething. E-mails are flying and angry hunters are burning up the phone lines.

Last Saturday, 97 kids scheduled to participate in an Alabama Department of Conservation sponsored youth hunt in Macon County were sent home after being told they would be arrested if they hunted.

The reason? A federal conservation officer from U.S. Fish and Wildlife examined the fields prior to the hunt and said they were illegally planted. Alabama Department of Conservation officers and officials rushed to the scene and were dumbfounded. They claim the fields were perfectly legal.

Allan Andress, the chief of law enforcement for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, probably said it best: “There were a lot of disappointed kids and parents. They were upset and rightfully so.”

The state and federal guidelines on how to legally plant a field and hunt dove on that field seem straightforward. The guidelines explain that hunting over a field is legal as long as the field was a normal agricultural planting and it was harvested or manipulated in accordance with a state’s Cooperative Extension Service recommendations.

These youth hunts were going to be held at E.V. Smith Experiment Station belonging to Auburn University. Andress says the dove fields were planted in accordance with Experiment Service recommendations on Experiment Station land.

Jeff Rawls, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife enforcement officer who declared the fields were illegal, would not comment when contacted. He said any comment would have to come from U.S. Fish and Wildlife headquarters in Atlanta. A spokesman there issued this statement:

“This past Saturday one of our federal wildlife officers met with our state enforcement colleagues and talked about the preparation of the field where a youth hunt was to be held later in the day. After their conversation about its condition, state officials decided to cancel the hunt. We too are disappointed that an opportunity for young people and their mentors to get outside and hunt was missed.”

Andress said he canceled the youth hunts not because the fields were illegal but because “we didn’t want to drag innocent people into this problem.”

Rawls, a former conservation officer for Alabama, was most concerned with whether the seeds were evenly distributed, Andress said. Andress said he walked the fields and as in any normal farming practice the seeds were heavier in some areas and lighter in others.

“It is subjective,” he said. “It was uniformly distributed. We believe we were well within the law. He did not.”

Andress said he has been in repeated contact with U.S. Fish and Wildlife since the incident, trying to get some clarification. In the meantime, the state plans to continue its youth dove hunts using the same planting practices.

Andress also said that Alabama dove hunters should be assured that there are no plans to alter planting regulations. “If they plant using normal agricultural practices, we will stand behind them.”

Of the 97 youths who were signed up for the hunt, 26 would have been first-time hunters. One had saved his money for a year for his first shotgun just for the hunt, according to former conservation department Commissioner Charley Grimsley, who was outraged by the incident.

“In this illegal action, the federal government turned what was supposed to be a positive first hunting experience into a nightmare for many children,” he said. “This action is both morally and legally wrong, and heads should roll.”

Mike Bolton’s outdoors column appears on Sundays in The Birmingham News. E-mail him at mbolton@bhamnews.com.

And another article from The Tuscaloosa News:

Officials: Dove shoot field in line with laws

Federal game warden claimed field was baited, shut down state event

By Robert DeWitt Senior Writer
Published: Monday, September 20, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.

State conservation officials expressed frustration after having to cancel a state-sponsored youth dove shoot Sept. 11 when a federal game warden claimed the field was baited.

“He’s attempting to change the rules during dove season, which hardly seems fair to hunters and landowners,” said Corky Pugh, director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. “He’s been on a campaign for about a month.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent John Rawls contacted Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries officials on the morning of Sept. 11, the day more than 90 children under the age of 16 and their parents or hunting mentors were to arrive at the field to hunt. Rawls raised issues about how the field was prepared, but state officials say the field was prepared according to state and federal guidelines.

“We believe the field was clearly legal,” said Allan Andress, chief of enforcement. “If he’d have shown me something that was clearly illegal, I’d have shut it down.

“We’re not going to put on a dove shoot and bait the field,” Pugh said.

Rawls is a former state conservation officer and was assigned to Tuscaloosa County in 2000. He was involved in a politically charged incident in which a citation was issued to a landowner at a shoot where several high-profile local officials were hunting. Former Tuscaloosa Mayor Al DuPont, former Police Chief Ken Swindle, Sheriff Ted Sexton, Probate Judge Hardy McCollum, Tuscaloosa News reporter Robert DeWitt and the other hunters did not receive citations for shooting over a baited field because the law held the landowner, not the hunters, accountable.

Rawls left the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries soon after and went to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Andress said he left Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries on “good terms.”

Federal officials issued a three-sentence statement about the incident.

“This past Saturday one of our federal wildlife officers met with our state enforcement colleagues and talked about the preparation of the field where a youth hunt was to be held later in the day,” said Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Atlanta. “After their conversation about its condition, state officials decided to cancel the hunt. We too are disappointed that an opportunity for young people and their mentors to get outside and hunt was missed.”

However, state officials said the only reason they closed the field was that Rawls threatened to ticket hunters and the people who prepared the field if the hunters shot over it. If conservation officers tell hunters they suspect the field is baited or if the field is prepared in such a way that it is obviously baited, hunters can be held liable.

“We could have shot the field, but we would have subjected all of the people who prepared it and all of the hunters to arrest,” Andress said.

The incident caught the attention of James Anderson, the Democratic nominee for attorney general. In a press release, he called Rawls a “rogue agent” and called on state elected officials to complain to federal authorities.

“My position is that the state conservation folks and Auburn University know how to legally plant a dove field,” Anderson said. “And to have some guy come in and ruin a hunt for 97 kids is just horrible.”

Anderson said Rawls was trying to “make a name for himself.” He said Rawls was obviously trying to embarrass Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries officials and draw attention to himself.

“Somebody’s supervisor needs to handle him,” Anderson said.

The field in question was a top-sown wheat field. Hunters can shoot over a top-sown wheat field because Auburn University’s Extension System says top-sown wheat is a legitimate agricultural practice when prepared in certain specific ways. The state says it met those specifications.

Pugh said Rawls had conversations with Auburn agronomists and tried to convince them top-sown wheat was not a legitimate agricultural practice. Pugh said Rawls tried to get Andress and Wildlife Section Chief Gary Moody to side with him on the issue. State officials will leave it up to Auburn to make a determination about proper agricultural practices, and it is not that state’s business to influence them, Pugh said.

“He did approach us with some concerns about the legitimacy of top-sown wheat as an agricultural practice in Alabama,” Andress said.

One state official who declined to be identified said Rawls took the position that top-sown wheat is illegal despite state and federal guidelines to the contrary.

Fleming, federal spokesman, did not respond to an e-mail from The Tuscaloosa News asking:

Whether hunters can legally shoot doves over top-sown wheat.

Whether federal officials would clarify regulations for state officials.

Whether Rawls had any personal reasons for his actions.

The Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries has sponsored its Step Outside Youth Dove Hunts for about 10 years. It has 40-50 fields prepared for doves around the state and, since its inception, more than 40,000 youngsters have attended the hunts.

“This program is viewed nationally as a model for recruitment and retention of hunters,” Pugh said.

Hunters who make a reservation can hunt for free as long as they have a valid Alabama hunting license and bring with them a child under the age of 16. The Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries joins in partnerships with landowners to prepare the fields.

The state provides seed and fertilizer, and the landowner prepares the field in accordance with the state’s specifications. The fields in Macon County were at Auburn University’s E.V. Smith Agricultural Experiment Station and in the Tuskegee National Forest. The state’s partners in the field were Auburn and the National Forest Service.

According to Pugh, Rawls contacted Andress on the morning of Sept. 11 and said he had questions about the field. Andress sent some of his trusted subordinates to the field and they reported back to Andress they saw nothing wrong.

“They know a baited field when they see one as well as anyone,” Andress said.

After talking to his subordinates, Andress decided to see the field for himself and he met Rawls there.

Pugh said Rawls questioned several things about the field. First, he said the ground was too hard and it wasn’t a properly prepared seed bed. Andress said he pointed out that it had been disked until the soil was like powder.

“That ground was as well disked, as well as most you’ll see and better than a lot,” Andress said. “It was a well-prepared seed bed, no question about it.”

Rawls then pointed to a tractor tire print in the field and said the soil in the print was compacted too tightly.

Rawls questioned whether the field was planted with certified wheat seed. An Auburn agronomist produced a receipt showing it was certified seed.

Rawls questioned how the seed was distributed. However, Andress said it was distributed with a spin spreader, a legitimate practice.

Pugh said Rawls questioned that the field wasn’t all prepared on the same day. Pugh noted that if a farmer runs out of seed, fuel or daylight, he will park his tractor and return the following day or perhaps a week later to finish planting.

Rawls challenged the intent of the planting. Pugh said the intent was not a legitimate criterion to declare a field baited. He added that even if it were, Auburn plans to harvest the wheat.

Finally, Rawls questioned the distribution of the wheat, Pugh said. The wheat’s distribution was heavier in some places and lighter in others, but well within the tolerances allowed, Pugh said.

Spreading seed is not an exact science, Andress said. Distribution may be heavier in certain places, such as where the tractor turns.

Andress said he could not resolve the distribution issue with Rawls and asked if he could move the shoot to a field less than a mile away. Rawls told him any hunt within a mile of the field would be considered baited.

Pugh said state officials canceled the hunt because Rawls said he would ticket anyone who shot over the field. He didn’t want that for the hunters, and he didn’t want his department accused of holding an illegal hunt, he said.

“If that’s the standard to which they are trying to hold people to, we’re going to have a lot of problems,” Andress said. “I would hope no one was ever arrested by our people over a field that looked like that one. If any of our people ever made an arrest over a field that looked like that one, I would be very disappointed in them.”

Copyright © 2010 TuscaloosaNews.com — All rights reserved.

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