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AGFC adds 975 acres to Cypress Bayou WMA

BEEBE – Thanks to a partnership with The Trust for Public Land and the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has added 975 acres of access for hunters to Cypress Bayou Wildlife Management Area in White County, boosting that WMA to approximately 2,638 acres of publicly accessible wildlife habitat.

The property, much of which had already been enrolled in the Wetland Reserve Program, was initially purchased by TPL with the intention of ultimately being sold to the AGFC once funding could be allocated. The purchase was then conveyed to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in two transactions, the second of which was completed last Friday.

Stacey Shankle with TPL says the land’s proximity to Little Rock made it an excellent fit for their mission.

“Our nonprofit organization’s mission is to reconnect people with the land and nature,” Shankle said. “Because this was so close to a major population center, it will be able to further that mission immensely.”

The Arkansas Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation also stepped up to help fund the effort, contributing $100,000 of the $2.9 million purchase price for the area. These funds were derived from the sales of NWTF state license plates found on vehicles throughout Arkansas.

The rest of the funds to purchase the land came by way of federal Wildlife Restoration Fund derived through the Pittman-Robertson Act, which places an excise tax on firearms and ammunition manufacturers for the purpose of wildlife conservation. The transfer from TPL was at a bargain sale price, and the difference between the land’s actual cost and appraised value was used to help match the state’s requirement in the federal reimbursement.

The addition is on the north and west portions of Cypress Bayou WMA and includes a good amount of frontage to Cypress Bayou itself.

According to AGFC Assistant Chief of Wildlife Management Garrick Dugger, the new addition to the WMA is rich with a diverse amount of species.

“It’s got some really good deer and duck, and even quail and turkey on the property,” Dugger said. “There is a lot of potential for small game like rabbit as well.”

Dugger says parking lots will be placed on the two small portions of the area not enrolled in WRP, offering a totally separate access to the WMA than before.

“We only had an access on the east side of Cypress Bayou before, but now hunters will be able to get to the other side easier,” Dugger said. “We hope to have parking lots and gates in place by September and have the new area open to hunters this year.”

A key feature of the area will be its potential for waterfowl hunting. Nearly 400 acres of the property is divided into moist-soil units, which produce abundant seed sources for waterfowl. This existing infrastructure on the property will benefit habitat enhancement greatly according to the AGFC’s wetlands program biologist, Jason Jackson.

“The previous owners had a ringed levee that was farmed years ago, then was placed in WRP to bring back waterfowl habitat,” Jackson said. “By doing that, they inadvertently put in a tailwater recovery and irrigation system we can use to manipulate water levels and put more duck food on the ground.”

Jackson says some units will need to be reclaimed from intrusion of woody species.

“It has sat for a year or two and needs some renovation, but overall it’s a really exciting place that we hope to push the envelope on and create a great hunting experience,” Jackson said.

Jackson says that the new section of Cypress Bayou will be open to hunting this year, but much of the work to be done may not be completed in time for hunting season. Some millet may be planted as a cover crop, but larger manipulations will take time.

“We just closed on the property Friday, but we’ve already taken soil samples and have begun getting things together to move forward,” Jackson said. “We want to put this place into really high quality duck food that will rival Raft Creek WMA near Georgetown.”

Dugger and Jackson both stress that access to the property will be walk-in only. When water is high in the ditches and bayou, kayaks and canoes will be a good option for hunters, but currently no boat launch exists.

“There are some walk-in duck hunting areas in other parts of the state, like Frog Bayou WMA,” Jackson said. “It’s a little different for most hunters in the Delta, so it is something to be aware of. If the bayou were to flood all the way to the road, you could launch a boat, but other than that, it’s walking and paddling access only.”