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Commission keeps conservation work on track

Courtesy of Randy Zeller, Arkansas Wildlife Weekly Newsletter

Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioners at today’s meeting approved a $1 million budget transfer within the agency’s existing budget to complete the construction and installation of the Glaise Creek water-control structure on Henry Gray Hurricane Lake Wildlife Management Area to improve drainage and the capacity for sustainable bottomland hardwood forest management on the WMA. 

Henry Gray Hurricane Lake WMA has undergone substantial changes in infrastructure following the 2018 die-off of more than 1,000 acres of valuable wildlife habitat within the popular waterfowl-hunting destination’s greentree reservoirs. This portion of the renovation is being partially funded by a $2.5 million federal grant awarded through Ducks Unlimited and direct matching funds of up to $160,000 by DU. While cost estimates for the total project were initially estimated at $4.2 million, the lowest construction bid was nearly $5.9 million and did not include installation of the water-control structure.

Commission Chairman Bobby Martin commented about how well the agency and its partners have been able to capitalize on grant funding to make projects like the Henry Gray Hurricane Lake WMA renovation possible. Funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act has provided millions of dollars in work throughout Arkansas’s WMAs thanks to the diligent work of partnerships, such as that with Ducks Unlimited, to secure competitive grants.  

“I really wish the public could see this and understand how this partnership gets us so much for so little,” Martin said. 

The meeting also included presentations focused on current and future wetland management research and construction: one by Tim Willis, manager of conservation programs in Ducks Unlimited’s Southern Regional Office; and the other by Dr. Mickey Heitmeyer and Tom Foti. 

Willis gave an overview of the many NAWCA projects DU and AGFC are partnering on, including the Henry Gray Hurricane Lake project. He also touched on the conservation work taking place in the Prairie Pothole region of the U.S. and Canada where the AGFC contributes funds to increase and conserve valuable breeding habitat for ducks (LINK TO PRESENTATION).

Heitmeyer and Foti gave an in-depth presentation on some of their recent research concerning factors affecting forest health in the Bayou Meto Basin. In addition to long-term trend analysis of rising temperatures and flood rates throughout the basin, they presented an update on water movement through the basin, and through George H. Dunklin Bayou Meto WMA, using recently updated LIDAR mapping showing elevation changes and forest health conditions within minute variations in elevation throughout the WMA (LINK TO PRESENTATION).

Commissioners also joined AGFC Director Austin Booth in recognizing Justin Homan, Katrina Johnson and Brad Carner with the AGFC’s annual Campbell Awards.

Justin Homan has been with the AGFC for nine years in the agency’s Fisheries Division. He currently serves as Fisheries Supervisor for the eastern portion of the state as well as some bodies of water in central Arkansas, including Lake Maumelle. He is chairman of the catfish management team and received the agency’s Mike Freeze Fisheries Biologist of the Year Award earlier this year.  

Katrina Johnson is assistant chief of the AGFC’s Fiscal Division, where she works with staff to procure and administer grant funding such as the NAWCA grants going toward the wetland conservation work throughout the state. She has worked with the AGFC for 15 years in multiple divisions, always volunteering to help mentor staff in their profession as well as participating in recruiting efforts to introduce new people to hunting and fishing. 

Brad Carner was recently promoted to deputy director of the AGFC, and has worked diligently to lead wildlife management efforts in Arkansas throughout his 24-year career. Carner received more nominations for the Campbell Award than any other person in the agency, and is highly regarded not only by his staff, but by his supervisors and peers throughout the conservation arena. A dedicated hunter and angler, Carner spends much of his free time hunting public land with his son, chasing everything from squirrel, waterfowl and deer to his true hunting passion, wild turkeys. 

This meeting was the first for the Commission’s new Ex-Officio Commissioner, Dr. Michelle Evans-White, who was recently selected as chairwoman of biological sciences at the University of Arkansas. As a portion of that duty, she serves a scientific advisory role on the Commission as part of the requirements of Amendment 35.   

Evans-White earned a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame. She has been with the University of Arkansas since 2008 with much of her research focused on the interface of plant and animal communities and nutrient dynamics within ecosystems. In addition to her new role, she also has held the position of chairwoman of graduate studies at the university. 

In other business, the Commission:

  • Heard from Deke Whitbeck, Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation president, who spoke about the success of the most recent Arkansas Outdoors Hall of Fame Banquet and the South Arkansas Outdoor Social coming to the campus of South Arkansas University in Magnolia this weekend (LINK TO PRESENTATION).
  • Heard from Ralph Meeker, AGFC Deer Program coordinator, who gave a presentation about the harvest and hunter observation data from the 2021-2022 deer hunting season (LINK TO PRESENTATION).
  • Heard from Allison Fowler, AGFC Wildlife Diversity Program coordinator, who spoke about areas where the agency will focus funding on conservation of nongame species as well as game species within the Arkansas Wildlife Action Plan and the agency’s new strategic plan: Natural State Tomorrow (LINK TO PRESENTATION).
  • Approved a grant of two remotely operated, corral-style feral hog traps to Sebastian County Conservation District to aid in feral hog control efforts. 
  • Granted retiring Ex-Officio Steven Beaupre the sidearm he was issued during his service to the AGFC.
  • Authorized a transfer of $808,146 to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s Division of Rural Services to distribute Wildlife Education Grants for conservation education throughout Arkansas. Funds for these grants are derived through fines for wildlife violations.
  • Authorized an increase of $56,000 to the Fiscal Year 2023 AGFC budget with funds provided by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Division to purchase equipment to enhance fish passage and related construction work.
  • Approved the removal of obsolete equipment and inventory with a total original cost of $66,920 and a current net book value of $4,796. 
  • Authorized Director Booth to enter into an agreement with Sovereign Sportsman Solutions, LLC, to upgrade, implement and operate the Commission’s new automated point-of-sale licensing system.
  • Approved AGFC fiscal policy updates to streamline the satisfaction of internal purchasing needs and address priority purchases of equipment and services within approved budgets.
  • A video of the meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/user/ArkansasGameandFish.

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