Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Eyeing a Comprehensive Slate of Regulatory Changes

Contact: Chris Horton, Senior Director, Midwestern States and Fisheries Policy

On April 23, in a virtual meeting with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) and senior AGFC staff that was streamed live on the agency’s YouTube channel, the Commission completed the first of two meetings to review a long list of regulatory changes to the 2020-2022 hunting seasons.

To open the video conference, Director Pat Fitts updated the Commission on the agency’s activities since their last meeting in February, including their COVID-19 response. Director Fitts also announced that the AGFC was the recipient of a $2.1 million Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) grant. The 2018 Farm Bill renewed the VPA-HIP program at $50 million over the next four years. The AGFC will use the funding for their Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement program (WRICE), which pays farmers to leave rice stubble in the fall and to allow limited public access to enrolled lands through an AGFC hunting permit draw system. Last year was the first year of the WRICE pilot program, and a $150,000 investment from the AGFC resulted in 941 acres of private land enrolled. With the grant, the AGFC hopes to expand enrollment in the program to 3,750 acres for the 2020-2021 waterfowl season.

The remainder of the meeting focused on the first reading and discussion of a vast number of proposed regulatory changes, 85 of which impact the upcoming 2020-2022 hunting and trapping seasons, as well as captive wildlife permitting requirements. While an unusually large number of regulatory changes are being proposed, the majority focus on clarifying or simplifying existing regulations and expanding youth hunting opportunities. However, several will have a direct impact on hunting seasons, bag limits and hunter access. These changes include:

  • Increase archery, muzzleloader and modern gun bear quota in Bear Zone 1 (Ozark Region) from 340 to 500 bears.
  • Reduce the public land elk hunt quota within the core elk management zone by 3 either-sex and 3 antlerless permits, and reduce private land elk quota to 10 either-sex and 25 antlerless permits.
  • Reduce the number of turkey zones and combine the current eighteen zones into two statewide zones.
  • Eliminate the harvest of bearded hen turkeys.
  • Reduce bag limits for wild turkeys on all Wildlife Management Area’s (WMAs) from 2 to 1 legal turkey. Allow hunters to harvest only 1 turkey during the first 7 days of the season and 2 legal turkeys total for the spring season. Establish a 1-bird bag limit during the special youth turkey hunt.
  • Move turkey season to the third Monday in April and extend season length in proposed Zone 2 to 21 days with a 2-bird bag limit.
  • Amend various deer zones - combine Deer Zones 8 and 8A and retain the name Deer Zone 8; combine Deer Zones 1A, 6, and 6A and retain the name Deer Zone 6; combine Deer Zones 4 and 4B and retain the name Deer Zone 4, and align the modern-gun deer season in Zone 4 with Zone 4B for nine consecutive days; combine Deer Zones 5 and 5B and retain the name Deer Zone 5, and align the modern-gun deer season in Zone 5 with Zone 5B for nine consecutive days.
  • Increase bag limits for Deer Zones 3, 6, 6A, 7, 8, 8A, 10, 11, and 13 in their entirety from 4-deer bag limit to 5-deer bag limit: 2 antlered buck and 3 antlerless (with firearms combined) or 5 antlerless with archery. The removal of antler point restrictions and restrictions to baiting/feeding would still be only applicable to the CWD Management Zone (i.e. county level).
  • Reduce aggregate bag limit in Deer Zone 12 and Deer Zone 17 from six to five deer.
  • Move the current Private Lands Antlerless-only Modern-Gun Deer Hunt from the 2nd weekend in October to December and reduce it from a 5-day hunt to a 3-day hunt (December 29-31) statewide. This proposal would also remove the late, 3-day muzzleloader season from Deer Zones 9, 12, 13, 16, 16A, and 17.
  • Require holders of wildlife depredation or predator control permit to purchase a valid hunting license.
  • Reestablish the annual dove season opening date as the first Saturday in September.
  • Clarify the dates when non-resident waterfowl hunting allowed on WMAs for future seasons.
    • First 10 days of regular duck season;
    • December 27, through January 5, Annually;
    • January 22, through January 31, Annually.
  • Change scaup daily limit from 2 to 1 for the full 60-day season.
    • Propose the following white-fronted goose season date options:
      • Option 1: Oct 31- Nov 2, Nov 21-Dec 4 and Dec 6 - Jan 31 Daily Bag limit of 3 (74 days)
      • Option 2: Oct 31 - Nov 16, Nov 21 - Dec 4 and Dec 6 - Jan 31 Daily Bag limit of 2 (88 days)
  • Allow all-day waterfowl hunting on WMAs only on the last day of regular duck season and during the special youth and veteran waterfowl hunts.
  • Restrict boat access all-day on 21 WMAs listed under Common Restriction A for 5 days before waterfowl season and during waterfowl splits. Also add Cypress Bayou WMA and 5 water bodies to the exceptions on certain WMAs.
  • Move the time to end waterfowl hunting daily from 12:00 p.m. to 11:00 a.m. and the time to be off the water from 1:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Wildlife Management Areas. (Note - the Commission amended this proposal to only apply to Dave Donaldson/Black Swamp WMA and George H. Dunklin Jr./Bayou Meto WMA).

A recording of the meeting and presentations on each of the regulatory proposals can be found here. The Commission will vote on the package of regulations at its next meeting on May 21. Public comment related to the proposed regulations should be submitted to the Commission one week prior to the meeting (May 14).

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