Arkansas tops for mallard harvest

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas had the second-highest waterfowl harvest and highest mallard harvest in the United States during the 2015-16 waterfowl season, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presented at today’s meeting of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Luke Naylor, AGFC waterfowl program coordinator, said the estimated harvest in Arkansas for all ducks was just under 930,000, and mallard harvest was 501,555. The next highest mallard harvest in the U.S. was Missouri with 234,387.

Arkansas continues to be the bottom of the funnel for mallard migration,” Naylor said.

Naylor also presented Commissioners with the breeding ground population estimates for 2016, which showed a mixed picture.

The mallard population estimate of 11.8 million birds was the highest ever recorded and 51 percent above the long-term average. Overall duck populations declined slightly to 48.4 million birds, also well above the long-term average.

Naylor voiced some concern about the shrinking numbers of temporary wetlands found during the habitat surveys.

“Most prairie regions were dry during surveys, and duck species more closely tied to those habitats showed declines,” Naylor said. “Duck species that more frequently nest in the boreal forest with its more permanent wetlands showed more stable populations.”

When asked if there was any evidence of a shift in migration patterns away from Arkansas’s traditional hunting areas, Naylor explained that on a large scale, there is no evidence of such movements, but did say some shifts can occur from year to year based on temperature and water availability over the entire landscape.

“Last year, for instance, had both the wettest and warmest December on record,” Naylor said. “During those conditions, the ducks tend to spread out. When it is wet and cold, you see a lot more ducks come to Arkansas, and the same holds true on years that are drier on a national scale. …Recent relief from droughts in some areas such as the Texas Playas can offer some temporary habitat for ducks that is only available every 10 years or so, so you may see something like that happen occasionally, but Arkansas is still the bottom of the funnel and where most mallards come to winter.”

In other business, the Commission:

Heard a presentation welcoming 12 cadets from the AGFC’s H.C. “Red” Morris Natural Resources Conservation and Enforcement Training Center, who will be formally honored at a graduation ceremony at Antioch Baptist Church in Conway, Friday, Sept. 23.

Recognized Pat Knighten, Project WILD coordinator for the AGFC, for her recent award as the Arkansas Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator of the Year.

Recognized Naylor as this year’s recipient of the George H. Dunklin Jr. Arkansas Waterfowl and Wetland Management Award.

Heard a report on the 2015-16 furbearer harvest and fur sales from Blake Sasse, nongame mammal program coordinator for the AGFC.

Approved the use of Federal Aid Transportation Alternative Program Funds to create a high-water boat ramp to the Mississippi River, picnic tables, scenic overlook and ADA-accessible parking and sidewalks at the McCallie Access in Desha County.

Approved the disposal of a small portion of its conservation easement at Moro Big Pine Wildlife Management Area in Calhoun County to allow future widening of U.S. Highway 167.

Approved a grant and amendment to an MOA with the City of Warren to expand its current shotgun range to include a 15-station rifle and pistol range and archery range.

Approved the grant of a retired boat, motor and trailer that are still in good working order to the Hardy Volunteer Fire Department for search and rescue operations.

Approved the grant of a retired boat, motor and trailer that are still in good working order to the Conway County Sheriff’s Office for search and rescue operations.

Approved the removal of obsolete, damaged and unusable inventory with an original value of $257,879 and a current net book value of $151.