Arkansas biologist honored with National award for hard work, habitat gains

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The National Wild Turkey Federation at its 46th annual national convention Feb. 18, presented Jason Mitchell, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife biologist, with the Joe Kurz Wildlife Manager of the Year Award, for his outstanding management of wild turkeys and wildlife habitat management.

By Randy Zellers
By Randy Zellers

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Assistant Chief of Communications

Mitchell has worked for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for more than 20 years. He currently works as a wildlife biologist in west Arkansas and is responsible for assisting the USDA Forest Service in managing wildlife on Caney Creek and Muddy Creek WMAs in the Ouachita National Forest. Since 2016, Mitchell has assisted the AGFC Turkey Program on a research project to assess the harvest rates and survival of adult and juvenile male wild turkeys following the implementation of the no-jake harvest regulation in 2011.

Moreover, Mitchell took it upon himself to collaborate with NWTF and USFS district biologists in Arkansas to identify additional avenues for improving wild turkey habitat on Muddy Creek WMA. These efforts were rewarded with a cooperative stewardship agreement signed by the Forest Service in 2018 to improve approximately 4,000 acres within the WMA boundary through forest management techniques.

“Jason is an accomplished wildlife manager and a dedicated conservationist,” NWTF CEO Becky Humphries said. “This is evident in his work with the AGFC and his collaboration with the NWTF. We are proud to present him the NWTF Wildlife Manager of the Year Award.”

Mitchell, an avid hunter and angler, commented about the role the outdoors has played in his life as well as the efforts of many others to make habitat improvements for wild turkey in Arkansas.

“I am humbled and honored to be selected to receive this award,” Mitchell said. “I honestly have to say that, to me, it reflects the teamwork and commitment of my coworkers, as well as the outstanding partnership, support and cooperation from the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Ouachita National Forest. Since I was 13 years old, I have had an obsession for wild turkeys, and I have been blessed with the opportunity to assist with research and habitat management projects to sustain our populations for current and future generations of sportsmen.”

The NWTF named the Joe Kurz Wildlife Manager of the Year Award after the former Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife chief for his leadership and the vital role he played in improving wildlife management efforts. Kurz also was a principal figure in wild turkey trap-and-transfer programs across North America.

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Director Austin Booth said the award comes at a “pivotal time” for turkey management in Arkansas and the Southeast.

“We are very fortunate to have nationally recognized turkey program team members like Jason as we continue to advance critical habitat for turkey across public and private land in Arkansas. Passionate and dedicated men and women like Jason are the only way for us to ensure the turkey resource rebounds,” Booth said.

AGFC wildlife officer Aaron Dillard also received recognition for his work enforcing turkey regulations and promoting the next generation of turkey hunters at the convention. Dillard was named Arkansas Wildlife Officer of the Year by the NWTF and was one of only a handful of nominees for wildlife officer of the year on the national level.

Col. Brad Young, AGFC’s chief of enforcement, said turkey hunting and turkey hunting enforcement hold a special place in many Arkansas’s officers’ hearts.

“It can be one of the hardest things an officer has to enforce, but also the most rewarding,” Young said. “With low harvest levels and remote locations for work, we feel like ensuring compliance in turkey hunting is critically important to the status of the species. Every turkey saved from a poacher is one that may be harvested by a youth or other honest hunter or ultimately part of the species’ recovery for hunters down the road.”

Sgt. Chris Majors, the 2020 Arkansas Wildlife Officer of the Year, also attended the convention on Arkansas’s behalf, as he did not have the opportunity to participate in last year’s proceedings due to COVID-19 protocols.

“I’m extremely proud of both of these officers for the way they represented the state of Arkansas and the hunters who call The Natural State home,” Young said.

Many other Arkansans received accolades during the NWTF’s convention last week, including Elizabeth Vaught of Clarksville, who received the NWTF Educator of the Year Award. Immediate past president and long-time board member of the Arkansas NWTF state chapter, Terry Thompson, also was honored with the Roger M. Latham Sportsman Wild Turkey Service Award for conservation and outreach excellence.


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