Up for the challenge

Poolos now No. 2 man over state parks, hunting, fishing

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 12/26/17

Edward F. Poolos of Jasper hasn’t done much hunting in his life, but he has done a lot of fishing.

“I’ve fished off-shore and on the lake. Fishing is a passion,” Poolos said recently during an interview in Jasper. “Hunting never has been, but I’ve loved it. My family did. My Dad did. My father-in-law still does. We were out bow hunting this weekend.”

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Up for the challenge

Poolos now No. 2 man over state parks, hunting, fishing

Posted

Edward F. Poolos of Jasper hasn’t done much hunting in his life, but he has done a lot of fishing.

“I’ve fished off-shore and on the lake. Fishing is a passion,” Poolos said recently during an interview in Jasper. “Hunting never has been, but I’ve loved it. My family did. My Dad did. My father-in-law still does. We were out bow hunting this weekend.”

He may get a chance to catch up on his hunting and snag more time on the lake in connection with his new job as deputy commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR, at alabamaoutdoor.com).

Poolos is still in transition this year, as he recently left a long career with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to be the No. 2 man in the state department that oversees state parks, hunting and fishing.

His parents are Ed Poolos, who ran Burnett Truck Lines, and Anna Poolos, who worked at Haleyville Draperies for years; they still live in Haleyville. The Haleyville native, a 1987 Haleyville High School graduate and a 1992 graduate of the University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in biology, at first planned to become a pharmacist, although some time spent at Harco made him realize that was not for him. He would go straight out of college into ADEM.

“Going into the environmental arena, you are outside and you can enjoy the environment,” he said.

He spent 25 years at ADEM, nine in Montgomery and the last 15 years in North Alabama. He managed ADEM’s North Alabama Field Office in Decatur (from Cullman headed north, essentially) the last 12 years before coming to DCNR on Oct. 1.

Poolos, 48, marked his 20th anniversary with Haleyville native Brooke Manasco Poolos on Sept. 1. They live in Jasper and have three daughters, Amelia, 14, (who attends Jasper High School), Sophia, 13, (who attends Jasper Junior High School) and Julia, 6, (who attends T.R. Simmons Elementary School).

He said he has always lived in the Jasper area and commuted to work.

“We grew up on Smith Lake, so we always loved the lake,” he said. “When the kids got old enough, we always heard great things about the Jasper City School System. We were fortunate enough to get our kids into Jasper City Schools at that time. We ended up buying a place here (on Valley Road) for that, just to get the kids in school here. We went to church here (at Jasper’s First Baptist Church) and knew a lot of the teachers here. We grew up in a small town where we knew all the teachers and that was important to us.”

As for his time at ADEM, he said those years helped him learn about state government. “But the highlight for me was that I was the state coordinating official for the BP oil spill,” he said. “Even though I was from North Alabama, they brought me down so I was at the coast for about six months, and I managed the oil spill from the environmental side from the end of April through the end of November.” He talked of “getting a first-hand look at the disaster and trying to prepare for something that was the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.”

Nothing could prepare him for the scope of the disaster, he said, leading to long hours on the job.

“That is how I met the commissioner (Chris Blankenship) at DCNR. I was the lead for ADEM and he was the lead for DCNR. He was managing the marine resources,” Poolos said. “That is how we got to know each other and gain trust from each other.” 

He said in the state, beaches are extremely clean now in the wake of the spill.

“Oil Spill 101 is if you can funnel the oil to the beaches, we know how to clean those,” Poolos said. “That is a great and wonderful thing. The beaches and near shore were really good. Once you get to the off-shore environments, because they were doing the disbursements — exactly how it affects the eco-system, I don’t think we really know yet. I think we are still probably 10 to 15 or 20 years out before we know what type of impact it has had on that deep shore environment.” Many studies are still continuing, he said.

Ironically, one exciting part about his move is that all of BP oil spill money for restoration comes through DCNR. “Next fiscal year will be the first time we will see the money coming in for restoration projects,” he said. “We’re real excited about that. That’s going to be between a 20- and 30-year set of projects going on that are many different pots of money.” 

The relationship formed with Blankenship in the BP situation led to the move to Conservation after Blankenship moved quickly up the ranks this year, first as assistant commissioner in March, then interim commissioner by late May and then as permanent commissioner by August by Gov. Kay Ivey. Blankenship then called Poolos about taking the assistant commissioner position and presented his name to Ivey.

His friendship with Blankenship, who is from Mobile, is so good that the two actually share a two-bedroom apartment part of the week in downtown Montgomery, with Poolos coming home to Jasper and Blankenship driving back home to see his daughter, who is a senior in high school.

“It seems like we talk shop 24 hours a day, but that is a good thing,” he said, noting Blankenship is also the first APOST-certified commissioner, coming up through the enforcement ranks. “They are liking one of their own in place,” he said of other employees.

Poolos noted it was tough to leave behind the relationships at ADEM, where he had appointed many under him. However, he said it seems to have been invigorating to make a change after so many years to learn new things, adding he didn’t know how ready he was to change until after it occurred.

“The good thing is that state government is state government. You understand the processes of hiring, paying and things like that,” he said.

Another change is that the regulatory nature of ADEM means one is somewhat wearing “a black hat” most of the time, issuing permits, making inspections and doing enforcement. “It has kind of been exciting” to be in a department known for work that may be seen as more enjoyable, such as improving hunting, fishing and state parks.

He said Conservation has 1,100 employees spread over four major divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Poolos said 22 state parks, involving 48,000 acres of land and water, are managed in its own division. That also includes management of more than 2,200 modern campsites; 220 cabins, cottages and chalets; 343 resort hotel rooms; four golf courses and more than 200 miles of recreational trails.

“Something we are focusing on is making sure they are the finest state parks in the country. We understand that is our focus the next few years,” he said.

Under Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, the fish and wildlife resources are managed. This includes 23 public fishing lakes (including the 163-acre Walker County Lake); 750,000 acres of public hunting in Wildlife Management Areas; more than 100 boat ramps and the Conservation officers who enforce game and fish laws to include license checks, trespassing complaints and hunting out of season, among other things.

“We are sort of known as the old Game and Fish agency,” he said. “Wildlife and Fresh Water Fisheries is your hunting, your fishing, your state fishing lakes, and the game wardens are under us,” he said.

The Forever Wild Program (alabamaforeverwild.com) was approved in 1992 in a referendum, as oil and gas offshore lease funds go into a trust fund. A total of $15 million a year in interest from that trust fund was approved for the next 20 years to purchase state lands for protection, with another 20-year period approved in 2012. One Jasper man, Russ A. Runyan, serves on the Forever Wild Board of Trustees, which makes purchase decisions.

“These sites are open for public hunting and they are open for trails. It is not like they are cordoned off and you can’t use them,” he said. Land is nominated for purchase all year long, and one can nominate their own land or other people’s land. Once it goes through a nomination process, it goes to the board. The board goes to the landowners to make sure they are interested, and, if they are, then the board would ask Conservation for an appraisal process. After that, then the board approves the land.

The $15 million is usually all spent each year, while the interest is keeping up and only makes up a small portion of the total interest, Poolos said.

He said the agency wants to be known for more than the “game warden agency,” by being positive and transparent, as well as building relationships. “There have been a lot of relationships lost in the past few years within our agency, whether it was public officials or citizens, and we want to make sure to build that.”