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September 2, 2013 / V A Nichols

Hunting permit lottery: Is Alabama betting on gators?

 

Sen. Paul Sanford claims illegal gambling used in alligator hunting

 

Aug. 31, 2013 10:30 PM   |
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A permit lottery for alligator hunting in Alabama is being called an illegal lottery by Republican Sen. Paul Sanford. / Getty Images

 

Written by Sebastian Kitchen

One Republican state senator is accusing the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources of operating an illegal state lottery.

Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, said the conservation department has operated an illegal paid lottery since August 2012, when he said the department began using a lottery system for alligator hunting permits in which entrants paid $6 each time they entered the drawing. People can enter as many times as they want, he said, if they pay $6 each time.

Sanford said the department submitted a rule change to the legislative council, which he serves on, requesting a random drawing for tags for alligator season. He said the department did not inform lawmakers on the council that the department intended to charge $6 for each entry and that the entries were unlimited.

“The state of Alabama should not charge citizens for the chance to hunt game,” Sanford said in a statement. “Hunting is a major contributor to the fabric of our state and a deep-rooted tradition for many Alabamians. It is deeply troubling that the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is willing to nickel and dime hunters for the opportunity to hunt alligators.”

Conservation Commissioner Gunter Guy disputes Sanford’s assessment and pointed out that Sanford has been “dropping hand grenades everywhere” and has been critical of other programs at the conservation department.

“We do not believe it fits the definition of a lottery,” the commissioner said.

Guy, who was appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley and started as commissioner in January 2011, said people are not paying for a chance to win, but to offset administrative costs. And, he said, if someone receives one of the spots, there is not an additional cost for the tag.

Guy said there is not a separate license for hunting the alligators, but someone needs a hunting license to participate. He said small game licenses begin at $17 but said he believes almost all of those interesting in hunting alligators already would have a license.

“I never got a complaint that it was a lottery until Senator Sanford,” Guy said.

This year, the state allowed 275 tags for alligators spread throughout three regions. A total of 2,386 people applied for those permits this year with a total of 3,988 entries, according to Guy.

The commissioner said they could limit the number of times someone can enter the drawing, but then people would complain they could only enter once.

Sanford vowed to use all means available “to ensure that our state government follows the Constitution,” which prohibits “tickets in any scheme in the nature of a lottery.”

“I believe the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources should refund the illegally garnered monies to the thousands of hunters that the state took advantage of through the random tag ‘pay to play’ lottery,” Sanford argued. “Paying for a hunting license is one thing, but paying for a chance at one is a ‘lottery.’”

The office of Attorney General Luther Strange declined to comment for this report.

Guy said the previous administration initiated the program in 2009. He said that $1 of the fee is for processing and that $5 is for administering the program, which he said includes a mandatory class for hunters and for staff to be at the sites “at all hours of the night until the season is completed.”

“We think it is very minimal considering what we have to do,” Guy said.

He said the prices would be higher in other states.

“We felt like we were giving our customers the best opportunity at the cheapest price,” Guy said.

In Florida, applicants who apply for and receive an alligator permit can harvest up to two of the animals, but to receive the permit must submit payment for two tags and an alligator trapping license, which total $272, according to that state conservation commission’s website.

Guy said a similar drawing program is not uncommon in other states when there is hunting for a limited resource.

For instance, those who want to hunt pronghorn antelope in Kansas apply for about 170 permits each year, and the state receives more than 1,000 applications, according to the website for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. The application fee is $49.71.

The pronghorn system in Kansas does include a point system in which those who are unsuccessful receive preference points that increase their chances to win a future permit.

Guy said they are looking at the possibility of a point system here for alligator season. He said some people have complained about not receiving a tag while others have received them in consecutive years.

Game Check

This is not the first time Sanford has been critical of the department. He has criticized the department for its so-called Game Check system, which beginning this season would require people to go online, use an app on a smartphone or call a number to report their turkey and deer harvests within 24 hours. Sanford has argued some hunters are out for several days without access to technology and there are parts of the state without cellphone service.

Guy said officers would use discretion and he would not expect them to give a ticket to a hunter who has not reported a harvest because he is not in an area with cellphone service.

The commissioner said the Game Check program is intended to manage the deer and turkey population.

“We are desperately in need of better information on our deer and turkey populations,” Guy said.

He said when he came into office they were tracking the populations using a survey that was sent out to licensed hunters each year and that less than 1 percent of hunters participated. Guy said they extrapolated those numbers, which does not provide accurate information on those populations, especially in specific areas.

He said they now can use technology to better track the populations, especially with some people talking about how the populations of deer and turkey are not as large as they used to be in some areas or if there are areas people say are overrun by deer.

“We will then use that information to make good biological and science decisions and make it available for the public to see as well,” Guy said. “It will be available on a real-time basis.”

Sanford also has argued that the fine for violating the system would be up to $500 and is a means for the department to create revenue.

Guy said he hopes people follow the regulations so there are not any violations. He said the fine, which would be determined by a judge, could be up to $500, but the recommended fine is $50.

Guy said most states use a similar system, so, for people who have hunted elsewhere, “this is nothing new.”

Sanford said he broached issues with the Game Check program with a bill during the last legislative session and is now commenting since it is the public comment period. He said he has offered a compromise, which would be a two-year pilot program with a 72-hour reporting period for deer and turkey harvests. His proposal would remove the fine during the pilot program. Sanford said the advisory board then could decide whether to keep the rule permanent or amend it, and hunters could become acclimated to it.

Sanford said he is an avid deer hunter and has no problem reporting harvesting data “but in off-the-grid situations there needs to be practical safeguards in the rule to govern reporting shortfalls.”

Public disagreement

Guy said he did not receive any calls or comments from Sanford prior to the senator sending out a news release criticizing the so-called lottery.

Sanford said he has no problem with Guy and has enjoyed talking to him in the past. He said he has not talked to Guy about these issues but said he is sending him an official request to change the Game Check rule and expects him to receive it soon.

Sanford said several people brought up the alligator issue to him so he has followed up, which he said is his job as a senator.

“I was not throwing bombs, but the truth,” Sanford said.

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/article/20130901/NEWS02/309010020/Hunting-permit-lottery-Alabama-betting-gators-

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