By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

With barbecue and wild-game delicacies on the menu, the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus treated Alabama legislators and guests to lunch to celebrate the 10th year of the Caucus in Alabama.

Alabama is one of 48 states that are members of the national organization, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Representative Randy Davis, Alabama’s Caucus leaders, explained to attendees how important hunting and fishing are to Alabama for a variety of reasons.

“It’s hard to believe we did this back in 2008,” Sen. Marsh said of the formation of the Alabama Caucus. “I really didn’t know if this would get any legs under it or not. But it seems every year we’re getting more and more participation, not only from legislators, but those who love wildlife and hunting. I don’t think people realize the economic impact hunting and fishing have on Alabama. It is huge.

“As we move forward, there is some hunting-related legislation we’re dealing with now that we’re going to give a lot of consideration. But, we’re going to continue to do things in the Legislature that promote hunting and fishing in this state. In Alabama, we’re blessed – with incredible waterways; the Forever Wild program is creating places for people to hunt; and just the hunting industry in general is important to Alabama.”

Rep. Davis pointed to the economic impact sportsmen and women have on Alabama.

“Hunting and fishing is a $3.5 billion industry in the state, and it is growing each day because these groups are working together, creating such things as the Alabama Bass Trail and recruiting Polaris, which is now made here in Alabama,” Davis said. “The Caucus is about protecting and advancing traditional hunting rights in Alabama, recognizing our natural resources, working on conservation to enhance hunting, fishing and wildlife habitat that is a part of the state and reasonable public access to hunting lands. We have a no-net-loss statute that keeps land available for folks to go and hunt. We also are protecting the investment of sportsmen and women in the wildlife industry. We network with 48 other states. It’s very important what we’re doing here.”

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), said that the economic impact of hunting and fishing is no doubt important, but those activities have intrinsic values that are hard to measure.

“Hunting and fishing are very important to Alabama, both economically and culturally,” Blankenship said. “We talk a lot about the economic value, but it’s really just a way of life here in Alabama. It means so much to our quality of life. We can’t work all the time. We’re a state that works. People enjoy that, but they also enjoy their recreational opportunities. Hunting and fishing mean a lot toward true happiness.”

Blankenship said there are about 215,000 licensed hunters in Alabama with almost a $2 billion economic impact.

“Deer hunting alone has about a billion-dollar economic impact,” he said.

Blankenship said about 500,000 fishing licenses are sold in the state annually with a $1.5 billion economic impact.

“Like Representative Davis said, hunting and fishing puts about $3.5 million into our economy annually,” he said. “And our State Parks and Forever Wild land provide additional outdoor opportunities. Then you have the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) and the Alabama Power lakes that seem to draw people in droves in the summertime.”

Blankenship noted that Alabama’s abundant natural resources and skilled labor force translate into an expanding outdoors industry in the state.

“There are great companies in Alabama that employ thousands of people in our state that are part of the hunting and fishing industry,” he said. “I always leave somebody out, but we have Polaris, Remington, Pradco, Bass Pro and Cabela’s. Our newest company, Kimber Arms, is opening a new facility in Troy. But dwarfed by those are the thousands of jobs in small businesses that make fishing lures, hunting clothes and other hunting and fishing equipment and gear.

“I think the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the Sportsmen’s Caucus is very important. If you have people who hunt and fish in your district, I think it would be good to be a member of the Sportsmen’s Caucus.”

Bee Frederick, the Southeastern States Director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, organized the luncheon along with Patrick Cagle, a member of the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board.

“The main thing we want to do is recognize there is an active Sportsmen’s Caucus here in Montgomery so we can provide that nexus for sportsmen and women to have a voice in the halls of government and the DCNR,” Frederick said. “We want to make sure our legislators are informed on the latest issues that are important to sportsmen and women across the state.

“Ideally, we are able to inform the lawmakers, but also the other sportsmen’s groups in the state, about issues that are going on and the importance of hunting and angling in Alabama. Over 2,000 legislators across the country are associated with the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses. We have a nationwide network of pro-sportsmen elected officials, and we want to provide a venue for information sharing across the states.”

Cagle, who is in his third year on the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board, pointed out that DCNR gets no money from the Alabama General Fund and that hunters and anglers provide the support for the Department.

“It is important that Alabama legislators understand how the Conservation Department works, how hunters and fishermen pay for the activities that ensure we have abundant wildlife and fisheries,” Cagle said. “I think the luncheon was a great success. We were able to sign up several legislators at the luncheon, and it was a chance for the Department of Conservation to present its message in front of legislators.”

Nationally, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation is promoting legislation that will affect Alabama.

The Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow's Needs Act of 2016 amends the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act. Pittman-Robertson levies an excise tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment and distributes that money to states based on license sales.

The modernization bill would extend financial and technical assistance to the states for the promotion of hunting and recreational shooting.  A portion of the bill would allocate funds that may be used for any activity or project to recruit or retain hunters and recreational shooters.

The Foundation is also promoting the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act, or Modern Fish Act, which would recognize the contribution of the nation’s more than 11 million saltwater anglers.

The saltwater recreational fishing industry contributes more than $70 billion to the economy each year and supports 455,000 American jobs.

The Foundation and Congressional sponsors said current legislation under the Magnuson-Stevens Act does not properly recognize the importance of recreational fishing, and that has led to restrictions on the angling community in terms of short seasons and reduced bag limits.

Commissioner Blankenship testified before a Congressional House Committee in Washington, D.C., on the bills in September.

This new bill would allow alternative management for recreational fishing, which would include a new look at fisheries allocations, rebuilding fishery stocks and improving recreational data collection.

In fishing-related news, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted to issue Alabama and the four other Gulf states exempted fishing permits for the recreational red snapper seasons in 2018 and 2019. This action must go through a public comment period and then to NOAA Fisheries for final approval.

PHOTOS: (David Rainer) Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh greets state legislators and guests at the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus luncheon on the State Capitol lawn last week. State Representative Randy Davis welcomes special guests to the event, while Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship highlights what outdoors recreation and the outdoors industry mean to Alabama.

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