AGFC provides $769,000 to schools for conservation education

LITTLE ROCK — Commissioners with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission passed a minute order at its September 16 meeting to transfer $769,564 to the Arkansas Division of Rural Services to offer grants for conservation education efforts throughout Arkansas. The money was collected during the last year from fines for wildlife and fishing regulations violations.

“All of that money that we collect from those citations is not used to run this agency; it is returned to the schools in the county where the fine occurred to support the kids of that county,” AGFC Education Chief Tabbi Kinion said.

The Division of Rural Services and AGFC opened the application process for these grants at the end of August and the deadline for applications is Oct. 26. Schools have used these grants to teach conservation programs, fund field trips to nature centers, fund other outdoor experiences and create outdoor classrooms on school grounds to promote healthy learning environments and instill awareness of the outdoors in students. Many schools also use these grants to provide materials for participation in Archery in the Schools and the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports programs, both available through the AGFC’s Education Division. More details about the fine money grants and a list of fine money available for each county is online at https://www.agfc.com/en/education/classroom/conservation-education-grants.

The Commission also approved a budget increase of $60,000 to the AGFC’s Fisheries Division to fund the purchase of a habitat barge to be used in improving fish habitat in Arkansas reservoirs. The remaining $80,000 for the purchase of the barge will come from a grant from the Fish America Foundation. The barge is capable of moving and placing up to 4 tons of brush or other habitat materials at a time and drop it with a hydraulically operated platform.

The barge purchase is part of a larger fisheries conservation effort this fall which will combine a large-scale reservoir and wildlife habitat enhancement project on Beaver Lake. Hundreds of cedar trees will be removed from Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area to promote food-rich wildlife habitat on the ground. The trees will be placed in the lake in dozens of large fish attractors that will serve as cover for forage fish and ambush points for predator fish like crappie, bass and catfish.

The effort also will include a bank stabilization project on Big Clifty Creek, one of Beaver Lake’s main tributaries. That portion of the work will include funds from the Reservoir Fish Habitat Partnership, the Beaver Watershed Alliance and outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops to preserve water quality entering the lake and promote the continued health of the reservoir’s fish populations.

AGFC Fisheries Chief Ben Batten told the Commission during yesterday’s briefings that the total value of the Beaver Lake project is estimated at $330,500 with a total cost to the AGFC being only $125,000.

“This project is a big deal for Beaver Lake, but the barge will also be used throughout the state,” Batten said. “Twenty years ago, Bass Pro Shops bought us a similar, but smaller barge like this for habitat work on Bull Shoals and it is still being used today. I have no doubt this new barge will be a major asset to our continued efforts to improve fish habitat for our anglers.”

In his monthly address to the Commission, AGFC Director commented on his experience in representing the AGFC at the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies annual conference last week.

“Arkansas is a leader. Other states look to us and our measures with what we’re doing toward [greentree reservoirs] and habitat development,” Booth said. “It’s exactly because of the men and women in this room that were recognized [with today’s awards], and all those who were not recognized but are still putting in tireless hours doing the work that we need them to do. Arkansas is a leader, and that gives me total confidence in what the future holds. And I am committed to ensuring that in conservation we remain a leader.”

In other business, the Commission:

Heard from Representative Danny Watson who presented a special recognition for Sr. Cpl. Jeff Neel, a wildlife officer in Hope who recently passed away due to complications with COVID-19.

Recognized Zack Yancey as the Wildlife Division’s Wildlife Biologist of the Year.

Recognized Noah Wyatt as the Wildlife Division’s Wildlife Technician of the Year.

Recognized the AGFC’s Wildlife Habitat Program staff with a special recognition award in honor of the recent sustainable forestry initiative certification and advancement of habitat management on AGFC-managed lands.

Recognized Wildlife Division staff for their efforts in procuring $2.1 million and developing the Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement Program to offer 4,000 acres of increased waterfowl habitat during winter as well as increased public hunting opportunities on private lands in Arkansas.

Recognized Wildlife Division Region 3 with the “No Pig Left Behind” Award for feral hog eradication efforts with 1,140 hogs removed from the landscape in Southeast Arkansas.

Recognized Nicholas Shurgot, owner of Saddle Peak LLC for his partnership with the AGFC. Shurgot has organized a special promotion day during the last three years to offer a free sausage biscuit at Hardee’s restaurants in Arkansas with the presentation of an Arkansas hunting license.

Heard the first reading of a proposal to allow only catch-and-release fishing at Mercer Bayou in Miller County to go into effect Jan. 1, 2022. Mercer Bayou has recently undergone a renovation, and the new regulation will allow gamefish to become established and reproduce once they are stocked into the lake as it refills.

Authorized Director Booth to enter into an agreement to acquire 2.5 acres of property next to the Charlie Craig State Fish Hatchery in Centerton to secure and conserve the spring that serves as a primary water source for the hatchery.

Approved the award of recently deceased Sr. Cpl. Jeff Neel’s service sidearm to his surviving family.

Approved the removal of outdated and obsolete inventory with a total original cost of $258,157 and a present net book value of $7,647.

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