Legislature to decide on Wildlife Violator Compact

Published 8:09 pm Monday, March 30, 2009

With the Alabama Legislature scheduled to convene this week after spring break, several pieces of legislation could affect those who enjoy Alabama’s great outdoors.

Although there are several “housekeeping” bills that are outdoors-related, the one with the potential to have the most impact would be House Bill 631. The legislation – sponsored by Reps. Earl Hilliard Jr., Thomas Jackson, Artis “A.J.” McCampbell and Chris England – would authorize the Commissioner (Barnett Lawley) of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to enter into a Wildlife Violator Compact with other states.

“This would be a legal agreement which allows member states to treat non-residents from other member states the way they treat their own residents,” said Corky Pugh, Director of DCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division. “It would be similar to the way states handle a driver’s license suspension. If you were arrested for DUI in Alabama and lose your license, you couldn’t drive in other states either.

“It works to the benefit of the lawful, ethical hunter and basically keeps Alabama from being a refuge for hunters who have lost their privileges in others states. And it doesn’t cost us anything.”

Allan Andress, WFF’s Chief of Enforcement, said the compact would make it easier to deal with violators in the field.

“If a nonresident comes to Alabama and commits a minor violation, in Alabama that person may have to be carried before a magistrate,” Andress said. “It’s a significant inconvenience to them and an expense to us to carry them to jail or take them before the magistrate.

“Under the Wildlife Violator Compact, if a hunter is from a member state, they can take a written citation and go on their way. The same applies to someone from Alabama who receives a citation in an member state. If a person is arrested in a member state and they do not respond to the citation, then that state can suspend their hunting and fishing license. And all member states can also suspend hunting and fishing privileges until the citation is settled.”

The compact would provide Alabama with access to a nationwide database of violators across the nation. Andress said 31 states, including all of Alabama’s neighboring states and Louisiana are already a part of the compact.

House Bill 501, sponsored by Rep. Jackson, repeals several outdated provisions in the law dealing with commercial fowl hunting preserves, like minimum acreage, fencing, signage and number of birds released and harvested.

“This bill also creates an alternate license that many of the bird hunting preserves have been asking for,” Pugh said. “The license would be sort of like a charter boat license that covers everybody on board. The preserves would be able to buy a proprietor’s license for $500 and that would cover everybody who hunts there. That’s for released birds only and does not cover other game like deer and turkey.”

House Bill 500 updates the law on the scientific collector’s permit, which hasn’t been updated since 1935.

“A collector’s permit is required for anybody to possess live, protected species,” Pugh said. “The fee in the existing law is $1. It costs us more than the $1 to administer it. The law provides for the collection of protected wild animals, birds or bird eggs for scientific purposes. Collectors must file an application and each situation may be a little different. A lot of it is professors with graduate students who are doing research projects.”

The bill would establish three different types of permits with different fees. A general permit for individuals would be $50; educational permits $10; and master collecting permit (more than one individual) $100.

On the saltwater side, two bills by Rep. Spencer Collier are up for consideration. House Bill 572 spells out exactly who must be in possession of a commercial hook and line license.

“This better defines commercial hook and line and what gear can be used under that hook and line license to include gigs, cast nets, rods and reels, trot lines, spear guns and bows and arrows,” said Chris Blankenship, Chief of Enforcement with the Marine Resources Division. “This gear was already covered for the recreational angler in last year’s legislation that increased prices for fishing licenses.”

House Bill 555 deals with bait shrimping and is legislation Marine Resources didn’t propose but doesn’t oppose. It allows live bait vessels that are shrimping in areas open to commercial shrimping to use trawls larger than 16 feet. In any area that is temporarily closed to shrimping, and in designated live bait areas, the 16-foot trawl requirement would still be implemented.

Under current law, bait shrimpers are limited to one basket of shrimp on board boat or truck. This bill would allow them to have two baskets on the boat or truck and up to 4 baskets in the bait shop or place of business.

In the Senate, one piece of legislation would adjust the requirement of a Social Security number (SSN) to buy an Alabama hunting or fishing license.

Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. Rusty Glover, would amend the current legislation to require only the last four digits of a person’s SSN.

“We opposed the Social Security number legislation when it came up several years ago,” said Commissioner Lawley. “The genesis of this legislation was that it was tied to the dead-beat dads at the federal level. We were told that if Alabama didn’t pass the law the state would become ineligible for money that helps fund welfare. It passed over our objection. We were not in favor of having to collect Social Security numbers. It was just one more obstacle to buying a license. This bill would allow us to collect just the last 4 digits, which is much more palatable.

“I know when I went to New Mexico to hunt Merriam’s turkeys, all I had to provide were the last four digits, so I don’t see why we couldn’t do that. Of course, we will check with DHR (Department of Human Resources) to make sure we don’t jeopardize any of their funding.”

One piece of legislation that is no longer on the agenda is House Bill 499, which would have established a seven-day youth deer hunting season the week prior to the opening of regular deer gun season.

Rep. Ken Guin agreed to pull the bill and substitute a House Resolution that requests the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board establish a four-day youth deer hunting season.

“We’re not sure how the school administrators would have reacted to a seven-day youth season,” Lawley laughed. “The board was certainly receptive to the idea of a four-day youth season, but they won’t vote on it until the May meeting.”