AGFC, TNC add 1,165 acres of outdoor opportunity

LITTLE ROCK — Thanks to a $1.35 million Recovery Land Acquisition Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commision authorized Director Austin Booth to complete the acquisition of 1,165 acres adjacent to Beryl Anthony Lower Ouachita Wildlife Management Area at yesterday’s meeting at the Arkansas State University Alumni Center. The Union County property, which is being purchased from The Nature Conservancy, will be added to the AGFC’s WMA system, to secure critical habitat for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker as well as adding even more public access for hunters and other outdoor recreationists in south Arkansas.

The grant announcement and acquisition reflect the culmination of a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the AGFC to acquire the 1,165 acres. The Nature Conservancy purchased the property, while AGFC went to work acquiring the grant to complete the transaction. Additionally, TNC discounted the purchase price by $556,790 to provide the transaction cost needed to match the federal funds and make the acquisition possible.

The acquisition of this pine flatwoods tract will aid in the protection and recovery of the woodpecker as well as other species of greatest conservation need, including Northern Bobwhite, LeConte’s Sparrow, Bachman’s Sparrow and Henslow’s Sparrow.

State Sen. Ben Gilmore (R-Crossett) applauded the project’s completion, saying, “This is good news for all who hunt and fish as it will allow for greater access and lead to better hunting opportunities for all Arkansans. I applaud the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s innovative approach and for leveraging grant monies to provide savings to the taxpayers.”

State Rep. Sonia Barker (R-Smackover) echoed the sentiment. “I am very pleased with the investment in South Arkansas by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in acquiring this land for the balanced purposes of hunting game and conserving certain species. We have lots of South Arkansans interested in both.”

Commissioners also heard from Cayce Guy, who is in his first year of graduate work at Arkansas State University, concerning the effects of alternative rice residue techniques on waterbird habitat in Arkansas.

Commission Chairman Bobby Martin of Springdale commented on the parallels with Guy’s research and the Commission’s efforts to deter fall-tilling of rice fields and provide additional flooded rice-field habitat and hunter access through the recently developed Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement program.

“When most of us first heard about WRICE we probably underestimated what it is really about, and about how defining it may be for us over time,” Martin said. “This research is very relevant, very important, and could be a very big impact for us.”

Tom Bowen, Arkansas State University’s athletic director, also addressed the Commission about the parallels between the passions in college athletics and the outdoors and his experience being introduced by Commissioner Stan Jones of Walnut Ridge to the outdoors as an adult-onset hunter.

Commissioner Anne Marie Doramus from Little Rock commented on how Bowen’s experience is an ideal representation of the Commission’s continued quest for recruiting not only today’s youth, but all people who have not had the opportunity to experience the Arkansas outdoors.

Director Booth also announced the beginning of organizational changes within the Commission’s staff to more efficiently manage the wildlife resources of Arkansas. Chris Racey will step up from his role as Deputy Director to assume the position of Chief of Staff. Deputy Director Roger Mangham will shift his role from overseeing the fiscal, licensing and technology divisions to leading the agency’s wildlife management, fisheries and resource management divisions. Marketing Director Spencer Griffith also was named to lead the agency’s education, communications and customer-service efforts, taking the mantle of Deputy Director of Outreach. A third deputy director position, which will oversee the agency’s fiscal and human resources efforts, will remain open and the position announcement will be posted at the agency’s website within the next week. The agency’s Enforcement and Legal divisions will report directly to the Director under the new structure.

“This is the first step in our reorganization,” Booth said. “I hope to complete the process in the months ahead, but I am confident these leadership choices will already begin to benefit the agency and the people of Arkansas in the interim.”

Booth closed the meeting with an opportunity for ASU students in attendance to ask questions of Commissioners and staff in attendance. Questions included update requests on the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, the Commission’s thoughts on the proposed facility in Jonesboro for breeding and research on endangered red wolves, increasing opportunities for funding conservation outside of hunting and angling licenses and the effects of decreasing hunter and angler numbers on conservation.

In other business, the Commission:

Heard the first reading of code clarifications for youth turkey bag limits and turkey season dates on wildlife management areas. The clarification states that youths will be allowed only one legal turkey during the youth hunt on each WMA, matching overall harvest limits for those areas.

Approved the use of $640,000 in Marine Fuel Tax funds to partner with the Arkansas Department of Transportation to renovate Kate Adams Road and the McCallie Access to the Arkansas River in Desha County. Funding for this project comes from outside the agency’s budget, but requires AGFC authorization to be used.

Authorized a budget transfer of $230,000 from the AGFC’s stability and enhancement fund for the construction of a fenced compound to store heavy equipment used in construction for angler access and habitat restoration at a new facility in Mountain Home.

Authorized Director Booth to resolve an encroachment issue on Lake Overcup where a neighboring landowner inadvertently placed a nonmovable structure on Commission-owned property.

Authorized Director Booth to resolve an encroachment issue on Harris Brake Lake where a neighboring landowner inadvertently placed a nonmovable structure on Commission-owned property.

Authorized Director Booth to approve a right-of-way agreement with North Arkansas Electric Cooperative to allow electric transmission lines to pass through 0.3 acres of property on Harold E. Alexander Wildlife Management Area in Sharp County.

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