LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission today authorized AGFC Director Austin Booth to enter into an agreement with The Nature Conservancy to purchase 550 acres of property joining two sections of McIlroy Madison County Wildlife Management Area in Northwest Arkansas at its monthly meeting at the AGFC headquarters.
The property, which includes a large portion of Rockhouse Creek, a tributary of the Kings River, was purchased by The Nature Conservancy with the intent to restore the connection between the two bodies of water and improve habitat for public benefit. During the last three years, TNC has restored more than 2,500 feet of creekbed. TNC wants to sell the property to the AGFC to ensure the public can enjoy it for generations to come.
“It also joins the Kings River at the Rockhouse Access,” Mike Cantrell, AGFC operations chief, said. “It will provide areas for Arkansans to enjoy the outdoors, additional hunting opportunities, and to see some of the great work that can be done.”
Booth spoke about the purchase and the opportunity to add more access for public use without additional burden on infrastructure needs. As infrastructure maintenance and replacement have come to the forefront of the agency’s needs, there’s still a huge demand for increasing opportunities for hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts.
“One of my highest priorities is public lands, so how do we balance all of that?” Booth posed. “Well, going forward our land acquisitions will have to meet three priorities: one, be good, high-quality lands that will provide meaningful conservation opportunity; two, that it be an inholding that is going to join an existing wildlife management area; and three, that it will have little to no infrastructure need going forward. This meets those priorities absolutely perfectly, and I’m excited to see folks in Northwest Arkansas and all throughout the state enjoy that wildlife management area more fully.”
The acquisition costs $1.65 million, which is well below the appraised value of the property, thanks to a discounted sale price offered by TNC in this partnership.
Some of the infrastructure demands Booth referenced were addressed at today’s meeting as well when the Commission approved a budget increase of $500,000 to go toward replacing the water-control structure at Glaise Creek on Henry Gray Hurricane Lake WMA in White County. The project, which is set to begin this summer, will widen one of the main water constriction points on AGFC property and promote more flow across the WMA to the White River. The current structure is 40 feet wide, but its replacement will be three times that width to support much more flow when conditions allow the water to drain. This is the second phase of major infrastructure improvements on the WMA, which has seen extensive flooding in the last decade, to revitalize wetland habitat for waterfowl. While the construction will not prevent the area from flooding, it will enable the water to drain much more quickly when river levels provide the opportunity. Additional funds for the Glaise Creek project will be budgeted during the next fiscal year to complete this portion of the renovation.
The Commission also approved the use of $400,000 in Marine Fuel Tax funds to partner with the Arkansas Department of Transportation to replace the existing Benzal Lane Bridge over Menard Bayou, improving access to Trusten Holder WMA in Arkansas County.
In his address to the Commission, Booth also announced that AGFC Deputy Director Roger Mangham would be leaving the AGFC to return to work with The Nature Conservancy in the near future to continue his passion for wildlife conservation in the field for this vital partner in Arkansas. Mangham came to the Commission in 2019 from The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, where he had served as state director. During his time at the AGFC, he has been entrenched in many of the habitat programs the Commission conducts with a special focus on using prescribed fire to restore native habitats on private land throughout the state.
“We are tremendously excited for Roger as he pursues this opportunity, and it provides us an opportunity as an agency to deepen our partnership with The Nature Conservancy,” Booth said.
In other business, the Commission:
Heard the first reading of three additional regulations to be considered for approval at the May Commission meeting:
Allow muzzleloaders to use No. 4 or larger buckshot during muzzleloader deer season.
Remove the one-year record-keeping requirement for deer camps for deer temporarily stored on that property.
Clarify that wildlife violations points would be set at zero following a suspension of hunting and fishing license privileges.
Heard the first reading of a procedural change to allow virtual meetings to take place without the requirement of two commissioners being physically present at one location;
Approved a budget increase of $1.29 million for capital equipment purchases to improve heavy equipment used in wildlife and fisheries management and small construction projects;
Awarded retiring AGFC Wildlife Officer Senior Cpl. David Evans his service sidearm after 32 years of dedicated service to the AGFC and the natural resources of Arkansas;
Approved the removal of outdated and obsolete inventory with a total original cost of $213,826 and a present net book value of $14,772;
Authorized Director Booth to enter into an agreement with the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation to continue to offer a bear den trip, trout surveying trip and alligator management trip as items the AGFF could auction to promote the public awareness of these activities and provide additional funds for management of these species.
A video of the meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/user/ArkansasGameandFish.