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Arkansas hunting, fishing, conservation regulations proposals presented to Commission, public comment period opened

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission heard the first reading of more than 120 changes to the Arkansas Code of Regulations at meetings held last week at the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center in Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Commission Chairman Bobby Martin explained that while the number of regulations changes being considered may seem like a large amount, it actually is a combination of all changes in hunting, fishing and many other conservation-related regulations under the AGFC’s new two-year regulations cycle. Many of the regulation’s changes, in fact, are simplifications or clarifications to standardize or adjust regulations to be more consistent for hunters and anglers throughout the state. 

“Working through regulations is arduous work on the part of the staff…,” Martin said. “Regulations are not about taking things away. They’re really about diligence of this agency and its leadership to its mission to protect, preserve, conserve and ensure the equal enjoyment of everything we have in the Arkansas outdoors.”

In addition to proposals submitted by field staff from public comments and biological data, commissioners and the directorate of the agency also added input to be considered for public review, based upon public feedback they received directly from hunters, anglers and other conservation-minded organizations and individuals. 

Some notable regulations proposals being considered include:

• Continued refinements to previously-adopted captive wildlife codes;

• Establish season frameworks for bear hunting in Bear Zones 3 and 4 and modify season structure in Bear Zones 5 and 5A;

• Shorten the white-fronted goose season to 74 days to increase the daily limit to three geese per hunter;

• Consider opening regular duck season the weekend after Thanksgiving instead of the weekend before;

• Extend boat access restrictions on waterfowl-focused wildlife management areas to include the seven days preceding the first day of the first segment of regular duck season;

• Require all boats on waterfowl-focused WMAs to operate only with motors that have “unmodified” factory exhaust systems in place;

• Restrict waterfowl hunting on Bell Slough, Ed Gordon Point Remove, Galla Creek and Frog Bayou WMAs and the Dyer Lake Unit of Ozark Lake WMA to Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday hunting only;

• Implement chronic wasting disease management regulations in Ashley, Bradley, Randolph and Union counties;

• Implement a 13-inch minimum length limit for largemouth and smallmouth bass and remove the length limit for spotted bass on Norfork Lake;

• Implement a 10-inch minimum length limit on crappie at Lake Erling; and

• Reinstate statewide crappie regulations on Bois d’Arc Lake.

All proposed changes will be available for public comment through an online public opinion survey at www.agfc.com/regulations for 30 days, beginning March 18. AGFC staff will then compile responses from the survey for commissioner review, and the seven appointed members of the Commission will vote on the final proposed changes at the regularly scheduled May Commission meeting in Little Rock.

During his address to the Commission, AGFC Director Austin Booth shared some recent highlights of the AGFC’s wildlife management, fisheries and education efforts.

“AGFC private lands biologists conducted 69 site visits during the last month,” Booth said. “These 69 landowners represented over 44,000 acres of potential habitat.” Booth also referenced the burn team’s efforts in completing more than 5,000 acres of prescribed fires on AGFC-owned wildlife management areas and assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Forest Service in burning an additional 10,000 acres of public land in Arkansas to increase wildlife habitat.

Terry Thompson, representing the Arkansas state chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, presented two awards to AGFC staff at today’s meeting.

Thompson recognized AGFC private lands biologist Clint Johnson as the Arkansas NWTF Wildlife Manager of the Year for his work in managing habitat for eastern wild turkey on private lands throughout the state. In addition to his work on the ground, Johnson has been heavily involved in landowner outreach, teaching landowners how to benefit from the effects of prescribed fire and getting them started in performing safe and beneficial prescribed fires on their own properties.

Thompson also recognized Wildlife Officer Aaron Dillard as the 2021 NWTF Wildlife Officer of the Year for Arkansas. Dillard works alongside AGFC K9 Molly in Ashley County and has worked for the AGFC for the last three years. During last year’s opening weekend, Dillard monitored up to 16 different illegal baiting sites to catch poachers in the act. In addition to his work in wildlife law enforcement, Officer Dillard was instrumental in the AGFC’s recruitment efforts, leading two separate mentored hunts for youths, including a hunt introducing many youngsters to their first-ever squirrel harvest. 

At the conclusion of the meeting, commissioners opened the floor to questions from UAM students in attendance. Some discussions from this opportunity centered on programs to increase waterfowl habitat on agricultural land, ways to educate the general public on complex conservation issues and ways to manage for consumptive and non-consumptive use of the same wildlife resources.

“I don’t think it’s a balance because that implies that they are contradictory, and they’re not…,” Booth said. “…We need to do a much better job building a much larger tent of who the Arkansas Game and Fish customer is … We manage 3.6 million acres in our state, and we have some of the best opportunities for paddling, hiking, for recreational shooting, and we’re going to do a much better job in the future of enhancing those opportunities and how we communicate them to those nonconsumptive audiences.” 

In other business, the Commission:

• Heard from UAM professor, Don White, Ph.D., about black bear population research in southeast Arkansas (LINK TO PRESENTATION);

• Heard from UAM professor, Matthew Pelkki, Ph.D., about forest economics and sustainable forestry’s role in wildlife habitat (LINK TO PRESENTATION);

• Heard from UAM professor, Doug Osbourne, Ph.D., and graduate student Ethan Dittmer about recent waterfowl banding and telemetry research and the Five Oaks Ag Research and Education Center (LINK TO PRESENTATION);

• Approved the removal of outdated and obsolete inventory and fleet vehicles with a total original cost of $1,778,333 and a present net book value of $256,659. Many of these items will be sold through third-party online auction to offset replacement costs;

• Authorized Director Booth to enter into a 10-year cooperative agreement (with option to extend another 5 years) with the University of Arkansas to continue habitat and wildlife management efforts on the University of Arkansas Pine Tree Wildlife Demonstration Area in St. Francis County.

• Authorized Director Booth to enter into a 10-year agreement with Axon Enterprises to provide and support body-worn cameras, computer-aided dispatch, record management, data storage and evidence custody software for wildlife officers throughout the state.

• Authorized Director Booth to issue a permanent right-of-way easement to Entergy Arkansas for placement of an overhead electric transmission line on Commission property adjacent to White Oak Lake in Nevada County;

• Approved the use of $30,000 in Marine Fuel Tax funds to be used in partnership with the City of Pottsville for repairs to Pottsville City Lake Road in Pope County;

• Decommissioned seven projects previously approved for Marine Fuel Tax funds that have experienced setbacks or cancellations so the money may be reallocated to other MFT projects. Decommissioned projects include:

Laurel Creek Access improvements approved in Sept. 2017;

Cossatot State Park Access improvements approved in Jan. 2018;

Bodcau Creek Highway 82 Access parking lot improvements approved in 2020;

Clear Creek-Arkansas River boat ramp road improvements approved in 2018;

Dardanelle WMA-Davis Lake Access road improvement approved in Feb. 2020;

Cane Creek Lake Access road improvement approved in June 2018, and

Highway 277 Access on Bayou Bartholomew approved in January 2021.

A video of the meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/user/ArkansasGameandFish.

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