MONTICELLO, Ark. – Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Director Austin Booth, at last week’s commission meeting, held at the University of Arkansas Monticello, shared some recent highlights of AGFC’s wildlife management, fisheries and education efforts.
“AGFC private lands biologists conducted 69 site visits during the last month,” Booth said. “These 69 landowners represented over 44,000 acres of potential habitat.” Booth also referenced the burn team’s efforts in completing more than 5,000 acres of prescribed fires on AGFC-owned wildlife management areas and assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Forest Service in burning an additional 10,000 acres of public land in Arkansas to increase wildlife habitat.
Terry Thompson, representing the Arkansas state chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, presented two awards to AGFC staff at Thursday’s meeting.
Thompson recognized AGFC private lands biologist Clint Johnson as the Arkansas NWTF Wildlife Manager of the Year for his work in managing habitat for eastern wild turkey on private lands throughout the state. In addition to his work on the ground, Johnson has been heavily involved in landowner outreach, teaching landowners how to benefit from the effects of prescribed fire and getting them started in performing safe and beneficial prescribed fires on their own properties.
Thompson also recognized Wildlife Officer Aaron Dillard as the 2021 NWTF Wildlife Officer of the Year for Arkansas. Dillard works alongside AGFC K9 Molly in Ashley County and has worked for the AGFC for the last three years. During last year’s opening weekend, Dillard monitored up to 16 different illegal baiting sites to catch poachers in the act. In addition to his work in wildlife law enforcement, Officer Dillard was instrumental in the AGFC’s recruitment efforts, leading two separate mentored hunts for youths, including a hunt introducing many youngsters to their first-ever squirrel harvest.
At the conclusion of the meeting, commissioners opened the floor to questions from UAM students in attendance. Some discussions from this opportunity centered on programs to increase waterfowl habitat on agricultural land, ways to educate the general public on complex conservation issues and ways to manage for consumptive and nonconsumptive use of the same wildlife resources.
“I don’t think it’s a balance because that implies that they are contradictory, and they’re not …,” Booth said. “… We need to do a much better job building a much larger tent of who the Arkansas Game and Fish customer is … We manage 3.6 million acres in our state and we have some of the best opportunities for paddling, hiking, for recreational shooting, and we’re going to do a much better job in the future of enhancing those opportunities and how we communicate them to those nonconsumptive audiences.”
In other business, the Commission:
- Heard from UAM professor Don White, Ph.D., about black bear population research in southeast Arkansas
- Heard from UAM professor Matthew Pelkki, Ph.D., about forest economics and sustainable forestry’s role in wildlife habitat
- Heard from UAM professor Doug Osbourne, Ph.D., and graduate student Ethan Dittmer about recent waterfowl banding and telemetry research and the Five Oaks Ag Research and Education Center
- Approved the removal of outdated and obsolete inventory and fleet vehicles with a total original cost of $1,778,333 and a present net book value of $256,659. Many of these items will be sold through third-party online auction to offset replacement costs;
- Authorized Director Booth to enter into a 10-year cooperative agreement (with an option to extend another five years) with the University of Arkansas to continue habitat and wildlife management efforts on the University of Arkansas Pine Tree Wildlife Demonstration Area in St. Francis County.
- Authorized Director Booth to enter into a 10-year agreement with Axon Enterprises to provide and support body-worn cameras, computer-aided dispatch, record management, data storage and evidence custody software for wildlife officers throughout the state.
- Authorized Director Booth to issue a permanent right-of-way easement to Entergy Arkansas for placement of an overhead electric transmission line on Commission property adjacent to White Oak Lake in Nevada County;
- Approved the use of $30,000 in Marine Fuel Tax funds to be used in partnership with the city of Atkins for repairs to Pottsville City Lake Road in Pope County;
- Decommissioned seven projects previously approved for Marine Fuel Tax funds that have experienced setbacks or cancellations so the money may be reallocated to other MFT projects. Decommissioned projects include:
- Laurel Creek Access improvements approved in September 2017;
- Cossatot State Park Access improvements approved in January 2018;
- Bodcau Creek Highway 82 Access parking lot improvements approved in 2020;
- Clear Creek-Arkansas River boat ramp road improvements approved in 2018;
- Dardanelle WMA-Davis Lake Access road improvement approved in February 2020;
- Cane Creek Lake Access road improvement approved in June 2018, and
- Highway 277 Access on Bayou Bartholomew approved in January 2021.
A video of the meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/user/ArkansasGameandFish.