Contact: Chris Horton, Senior Director, Midwestern States / Fisheries Policy
Why it Matters: As hunting season in Arkansas gets going in full swing, waterfowlers on some of the state’s most popular flooded-timber wildlife management areas will see lower water levels as the AGFC tries to reverse significant habitat loss important to ducks. Meanwhile, deer hunters concerned with chronic wasting disease will have the opportunity to have their deer tested for free while also contributing to sampling efforts by the agency to identify any further spread of the disease in the state.
Arkansas is known as the duck hunting capitol of the world; the state’s waterfowl legacy is probably best known for its flooded timber hunting. While many of the bottomland hardwoods (BLH) areas that historically served as the primary waterfowl habitat prior to the turn of the 19th century have been lost, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) began acquiring BLH tracts and constructing levees and water control structures to artificially hold water in the 1960’s and 70’s. While these areas known as Greentree Reservoirs (GTR’s) provided many decades of fantastic public hunting opportunities for Arkansans and non-resident’s alike, holding water on the trees longer than natural hydrologic flooding has resulted in stressed, dying, and dead trees, particularly very important red oak species.
The AGFC has committed to restoring these state treasures. Henry Gray Hurricane Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) located northeast of Little Rock has suffered the most timber loss. Gates will remain open in 2021, allowing for natural flooding rather than holding the water artificially high. Likewise, the most famous Arkansas GTR, George H. Dunklin Jr. Bayou Meto WMA, is showing signs of stress due to high water as well. In 2021, the AGFC will hold the water one foot lower than previous years. In 2022, the water level in Bayou Meto will be held at 1.5 feet lower than historic levels. While this will likely reduce the available areas to hunt in most years, these changes are needed to prevent further stress to valuable red oak species while also promoting their regeneration.
For Arkansas’s deer hunters, the AGFC is asking for their help in sampling the states deer herd for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Chronic wasting disease is a progressive, always fatal, degenerative neurological disease in cervid species that was first detected in Arkansas in 2016. To date, CWD has been found in 14 counties in north central and northwest Arkansas.
To help with the AGFC’s surveillance efforts, the agency has provided drop off locations in every county in the state where hunters can take the head of their harvested deer to be tested for free. Not only does this service assist with the AGFC’s efforts to manage the disease in the state, but it also provides hunters with the opportunity to know if their deer was positive or negative for the disease.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?