Lowndes WMA grows

Published 10:46 pm Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thanks to Forever Wild, the Lowndes Wildlife Management Area (WMA) has grown by an additional 1,343 acres, providing additional public hunting opportunities in the Alabama Black Belt.

The additional land, known as the Big Swamp Creek Tract, gives hunters a total of 12,500 acres to traverse in pursuit of white-tailed deer, Eastern wild turkeys, feral hogs, a variety of small game and waterfowl.

Gary Moody, Chief of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Wildlife Section, said the Lowndes WMA was established about 15 years ago as a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the mitigation for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Early on in that process, to add to that land for public use, Forever Wild purchased an additional 624 acres known as the Riggins Tract.

“Fortunately, during the last year, the opportunity came up to add acreage to the Lowndes WMA,” Moody said. “Thanks to Forever Wild, the public will have an additional 1,343 acres that joins the existing WMA on the south side. It’s a good addition to the WMA. We feel that this will be a very positive place to hunt.

“This is more bottomland hardwood habitat compared to the rest of the WMA. There will be times when access is going to be difficult when the creek gets out of its banks.”

Chris Jaworowski, area biologist and Lowndes WMA manager, reiterated that access to the new parcel is going to be particularly challenging because the sale of the property did not close until recently.

“We just got it a month ago and the boundary lines have been marked so the public can use the property,” Jaworowski said. “It’s going to take a while before it looks like the rest of the property with food plots and maintained roads and all that. The road system is unimproved. There will be a specified parking lot for the vehicles. The majority of property will be walk-in only. If funding permits, hopefully we’ll be able to get parking lots further into the interior of the property at some point.

“I don’t know how many food plots we’ll be able to plant this year. Eventually, I think we’ll end up with about 40 acres of openings if funding and time permits.”

As the name implies, the Big Swamp Creek Tract has basically no elevation change.

“It’s all flat land,” Jaworowski said. “There are some pine plantations, but they’re small, which is good for diversity. The majority of the property is in different stages of hardwood regeneration. There are existing mature hardwood stands that were thinned that will supply a lot of mast crops for wildlife. It will provide some good bowhunting opportunities and good rifle hunting opportunities.”

Jaworowski does think the new addition will provide havens for animals in certain areas, which is especially good for the whitetails.

“The hardwood regeneration areas that are thick are going to provide for some older age-class deer,” he said. “There is a lot of bedding cover that should help deer get some age on them. It’s going to provide a lot of deer hunting opportunities, a lot of hog hunting opportunities and waterfowl hunting opportunities along the creek. And there’s a five-acre pond in the middle of the swamp that should offer some waterfowl hunting, too.

“The biggest problem is it’s going to flood every winter. That’s going to be part of the road problem. We’ve got roads under water right now. With its proximity to Big Swamp Creek and periodic flooding, access is going to be challenging.”

The use of ATVs on the WMA is limited to one use only – retrieval of a downed animal.

“They can go get the animal,” Jaworowski said. “It’s not to scout or hang stands. It’s strictly to retrieve the animals. That way, if you do walk in, you won’t have to drag the animal that far.”

Jaworowski also cautions hunters who take feral hogs to use rubber or plastic gloves to field dress and handle the meat of swine to avoid potential contact with the bacteria that causes swine brucellosis. He also advises that the feral swine meat be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Access to the Big Swamp Creek Tract is available on the north and south sides of U.S. Highway 80 and there are three parking lots off Brown Road. The WMA check station is located about 4 miles north of Highway 40 on Henderson Road.

A valid hunting license, WMA license is required to hunt any WMA in Alabama. To hunt deer, turkey or waterfowl, a permit for the specific WMA to be hunted is required. Lowndes WMA permits are available at local sporting good stores or the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries District IV Wildlife Office at 1820-C Glynwood Drive, Prattville, AL 36066 (Phone: 334-358-0035).

“It’s going to be great habitat for deer and hogs and will provide some additional small-game hunting,” Jaworowski said. “It’s a welcome addition to the WMA.”

Moody said this addition to the more than 144,000 acres acquired through Forever Wild can not only be used by the current generation but for untold generations to come.

“Forever Wild has been a real, real blessing for the state,” Moody said. “It not only secures the future of those lands and ensures public access, but it also means these lands will be managed in a way that best benefits the wildlife and what we’re trying to do. Not only is the land secure, the habitat is secure and we can create the type of habitat that is best for wildlife. Future generations are going to reap tremendous benefits from what Forever Wild has done in the past 18 years. It’s leaving a really positive legacy in Alabama.”