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The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission today unanimously approved a package of regulations changes that included the adoption of a new waterfowl season structure, beginning with the 2023-24 seasons.
The upcoming waterfowl season will follow the same format as last season, with the following dates:
2022-23 Arkansas Waterfowl Seasons
Duck, Coot and Merganser — Nov. 19-27; Dec. 10-23; and Dec. 26, 2022-Jan. 31, 2023
White-Fronted Goose — Oct. 29-Nov. 11; Nov. 19-27; Dec. 10-23; and Dec. 26, 2022-Jan. 31, 2023
Canada Goose — Sept. 1-Oct. 15; Nov. 19-27; Dec. 10-23; and Dec. 26, 2022-Jan. 31, 2023
Snow, Blue and Ross’s Goose — Oct. 29-Nov. 11; Nov. 19-27; Dec. 10-23; and Dec. 26, 2022-Jan. 31, 2023
Snow, Blue and Ross’s Goose Conservation Order — Feb. 1-3, 2023; Feb. 5-April 25, 2023
Youth, Military and Veteran Waterfowl Hunt — Dec. 3, 2022, and Feb. 4, 2023
Beginning with the 2023-24 waterfowl season, the opening day of the first segment of duck season will begin on the Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving. This change was preferred by public comment respondents from surveys conducted in 2008, 2010 and 2012. During this year’s public comments period, 2,964 people provided input on the duck season proposal, with 68 percent giving a favorable response to the opening day being moved to the later date. To accommodate the plans of hunters and businesses impacted by the different dates, the AGFC will delay implementation until the 2023-24 waterfowl season. Those season dates will be as follows:
2023-24 Arkansas Waterfowl Seasons
Duck, Coot and Merganser — Nov. 25-Dec. 3; Dec. 9-23; and Dec. 27, 2023-Jan. 31, 2024
White-Fronted Goose — Oct. 28-Nov. 10; Nov. 25-Dec. 3; Dec. 9-23; and Dec. 27, 2023-Jan. 31, 2024
Canada Goose — Sept. 1-Oct. 15; Nov. 25-Dec. 3; Dec. 9-23; and Dec. 27, 2023-Jan. 31, 2024
Snow, Blue and Ross’s Goose — Oct. 28-Nov. 10; Nov. 25-Dec. 3; Dec. 9-23; and Dec. 27, 2023-Jan. 31, 2024
Snow, Blue and Ross’s Goose Conservation Order — Feb. 1-2, 2024; Feb. 5-April 25, 2024
Youth Only Waterfowl Hunt — Feb. 3, 2024
Youth, Military and Veteran Waterfowl Hunt — Feb. 4, 2024
In addition to the date changes, the new regulations package increases the daily bag limit on white-fronted geese from two to three birds per hunter per day.
Today’s regulations package also saw some changes on some AGFC-owned WMAs. Beginning with the 2023-24 duck season, waterfowl hunting will now be limited to Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday on Bell Slough, Ed Gordon Point Remove, Frog Bayou and Galla Creek WMAs and on the Dyer Lake Unit of Ozark Lake WMA. Additionally, boat access on all WMAs with current boating time restrictions will be expanded to preclude any boats on the WMAs for seven days preceding the first day of the first segment of regular duck season.
Another regulation that passed in today’s waterfowl package includes the requirement for nontoxic shot for all migratory bird hunting on AGFC WMAs that have waterfowl access restrictions. This primarily concerns dove hunting and early migratory bird hunting, as lead shot will still be allowed for other small game hunting, such as rabbit and squirrel, on these areas.
An additional regulation will require all boats on these WMAs to operate only with a stock, factory exhaust system. Implementation of this regulation also will be delayed until the 2023-24 waterfowl season.
Bear season also saw a major change during this year’s regulations setting process, with the addition of an open hunting season in Bear Zones 3 and 4 for the first time since modern-day bear hunting was instituted. Bear Zones 3 and 4 will have season dates of Dec. 10-16, 2022 and a conservative quota of five bears in Zone 3 and 25 bears in Zone 4. The limited season will help prevent overharvest and enable the growing bear population to continue to thrive in this portion of Arkansas. The opening of archery bear season in Zones 1 and 2 also saw an expansion, with both of those seasons now opening the weekend before the archery deer season opening date (Sept. 17 for the 2022 season).
AGFC Director Austin Booth said the new season is a testament to the AGFC’s continued efforts to increase opportunity for hunters and anglers and the continued use of hunting as a scientifically sound tool for population management of wildlife species in Arkansas.
“The black bears’ decades-long resurgence in Arkansas is proof, not only that Arkansas possesses first-class bear habitat, but that our state treasures this important resource,” Booth said. “Make no mistake, this conservation milestone was unthinkable 70 years ago, when wild black bears scarcely existed at all in Arkansas. But thanks to Arkansans, we are watching the successes spread across the state. This is a tremendous marker for south Arkansas, the Arkansas Game and Fish and sportsmen.”
Three notable regulation change proposals were tabled and were not included in today’s regulations package: the implementation of a one-bird statewide annual turkey bag limit, the issuance of a permanent “sticky” tag for turkeys and the implementation of a third buck tag for hunters who submitted a full, six-deer annual bag limit for chronic wasting disease testing.
Chris Fletcher, liaison to the AGFC from the Governor’s Office, read a special proclamation from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, announcing noon June 10 through 11:59 p.m. June 12 as Free Fishing Weekend. During this weekend, anyone can fish without the requirement of a fishing license or trout permit.
An annual tradition sponsored by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and approved by Gov. Hutchinson, Free Fishing Weekend gives many people the opportunity to enjoy the amazing angling The Natural State has to offer. Residents and nonresidents may fish without a fishing license or trout permit. All other regulations, such as daily limits and size restrictions on certain bodies of water, still apply during this weekend.
In his address to the Commission, Booth announced the selection of Ben Batten and Brad Carner to fill two vacant deputy director positions at the agency. Batten, previously chief of fisheries, and Carner, previously chief of wildlife management, will join Deputy Director Spencer Griffith in leading the conservation efforts of the AGFC under the direction of Booth and AGFC Chief of Staff Chris Racey.
“This is a point in time for our agency, that we have such a large and aggressive vision that we can’t afford to slow down on either the terrestrial or aquatic side of our conservation work, so we will continue to have both of these men continue to lead this agency in positions commensurate with their leadership and skills in management of not only the resource, but of the staff that work daily to make a difference in Arkansas,” Booth said.
At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Bobby Martin moved to have Commissioner Bennie Westphal sit as acting Commission chairman for his remaining time at the AGFC. Westphal was selected by Hutchinson to fill the remainder of the late Joe Morgan’s term in December 2020. His appointment will conclude at the Commission’s next meeting, which is scheduled for June.
“This is not a trite move, this is more a signal of the respect and relationship that we garner deeply with Bennie,” Martin said. “In this brief time his contributions are immense, and we know they’re not going to stop. When we say once a commissioner, always a commissioner, it probably means a lot of things to a lot of people, but we know this guy will never ever stop.”
The motion passed by unanimous vote.
In other business, the Commission:
- Heard from Director Booth as he recognized Teresa Howarth, regional administrative assistant in Jonesboro, and Winston Watts, regional contract coordinator in Monticello, as the agency’s Operations Division outstanding employees of the year.
- Authorized Booth to grant a property easement to the Arkansas Department of Transportation to widen Arkansas Highway 31 at Cypress Bayou WMA.
- Signed a resolution authorizing AGFC staff to compete for a grant from ArDOT for trail maintenance and expansion at Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center in Fort Smith.
- Authorized the Fisheries Division to make a capital inventory purchase for an outboard motor for one of the agency’s electrofishing boats.
- Heard the first reading of a regulation to allow unlimited harvest of fish from Big Lake in Mississippi County. The lake is being drawn down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for renovation and construction needs, and the AGFC wishes to allow anglers to take advantage of the resource by keeping as many fish from the lake as they wish before it is drained.
- Approved merit-based compensation for all AGFC employees who received favorable reviews during the agency’s annual review cycle. Compensation will range from a 2 percent increase to 5 percent increase, depending upon the employee’s performance evaluation.
- Approved an increase in compensation for AGFC wildlife officers of 15 percent, which is similar to the increase passed by the Arkansas General Assembly for other law enforcement officers in Arkansas.
- Approved an amendment to the commission meeting procedures to allow virtual meetings to take place without the requirement of two commissioners being physically present at one location;
- Approved the removal of outdated and obsolete inventory with a total original cost of $83,167 and a present net book value of $540.
A video of the meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/user/ArkansasGameandFish.