Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Commission hears update on white-nose syndrome in Arkansas bats

            LITTE ROCK –Blake Sasse, nongame mammal program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission updated Commissioners at today’s regularly scheduled meeting on the status of white-nose syndrome, a disease that is killing bats by the millions in the U.S.
            “You hear about CWD with deer, and we’re all concerned with it, but I’m equally concerned about WNS in our bats,” Sasse said.
            According to Sasse, the disease actually is a fungus that grows on the bats during hibernation and causes them to wake prematurely.
            “Our bats are insect eaters, and they hibernate during winter because of the lack of insects at that time of year,” Sasse said. “Waking up raises their metabolism and causes them to burn fat reserves they have for winter. They essentially starve to death as a result.”
            Sasse explained that the fungus is widespread in Europe and Asia, but bats in those regions have adapted to it. Much like any non-native species, the fungus has done an extreme amount of damage to bat populations in the U.S. since its arrival.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bagging that Big Buck

Kaydon Age12 open season 6 point killed hunting with his Pop in Warren AR

Monday, November 6, 2017

Youth Kill Deer in Recent Youth Hunt and Muzzle-Load Season

Send us your pictures of youth hunt kills.
Eight-year old Max Mobley, son of Mr. and Mrs. Craig Mobley of El Dorado killed this 8-point buck during muzzle-load season.

Eight-year old Nash Crawford, son of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Crawford, killed his first deer during the youth hunt the first weekend in November.  It was a 7-point buck.

Landon Milton, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Milton, killed this buck during the youth hunt.

Friday, November 3, 2017

AGFC hosting quail habitat workshops for landowners

           LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts to host five special quail-focused workshops throughout the state on Nov. 7 and Nov. 9.
            Thanks to new initiatives under the Working Lands for Wildlife partnership, many programs are available to provide landowners with tools to increase wildlife habitat on their properties without taking them out of production for agriculture or other land uses. Combined with other Farm Bill programs, these can help offset costs of putting critical wildlife habitat back on the ground to help support the comeback of the northern bobwhite.
            “The AGFC has nine private lands biologists throughout the state that can show landowners what they can do to help bring back habitat for quail as well as many other game species,” said Marcus Asher, quail program coordinator for the AGFC. “They also can guide landowners through the proper steps to get some of this habitat work paid for.”
            Asher says landowners interested specifically in quail habitat restoration also have another group of biologists that can help.
            “Through recent grants completed by the AGFC, Quail Forever has two new biologist positions that are currently active and assisting landowners, while five more biologists are in the process of being hired. These positions were funded to provide additional technical assistance for private landowners in reestablishing northern bobwhite habitat on their property in the same way our private lands biologists work with the public,” Asher said. 
            In addition to an overview of available funding opportunities for landowners, presenters at the scheduled workshops will cover basic quail biology and habitat management as well as an update on the AGFC’s quail habitat restoration program on public land.
            Dinner will be provided at the workshops for landowners who register in advance. Call 877-297-4331 to register.
            Workshops will be held at the following locations and times:

6-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7

Baxter County Fairgrounds
1507 Fairgrounds Drive
Mountain Home, AR 72653

Southwest Arkansas Agricultural Research Extension Office
362 Highway 174
Hope, AR  71801

6-9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9

Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center
8300 Wells Lake Road
Fort Smith, AR  72916

Pocahontas Junior High School Cafeteria
2405 N. Park Street
Pocahontas, AR  72455

Camp Robinson Field House
331 Clinton Road
Conway, AR  72032

Thursday, October 26, 2017

3 Million Acres of Publicly Accessible Land

Arkansas hunters have more than 3 million acres of publically accessible land to enjoy hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. More than a quarter of a million acres of that is privately held timber company land, available thanks to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Leased Land Program.

The AGFC works to purchase land or permanent hunting easements on land throughout the state whenever it has the opportunity and the land fits in with what can be managed for wildlife habitat. In some cases, however, large landowners, such as timber companies, have no desire to sell the land, but do lease out hunting rights on an annual basis. The AGFC works with these landowners to lease rights for large blocks of hunting property where few options exist for hunting on public land.

“The program started back in the 1980s, and most of the property was in south Arkansas where we had no AGFC-owned property or other property that was available to the public,” said Brad Carner, chief of wildlife for the AGFC. “Since then, a few more WMAs have been added in other parts of the state, like Cherokee and Jim Kress WMAs in Cleburne County.”

Carner says the vast majority of leased land WMAs are the property of timber companies, which means they are working forests with a primary purpose of timber production. That’s a good thing for many species of wildlife that thrive in areas with regular disturbance to create diverse habitats within a section of land. Deer, quail and many other “edge”-oriented species benefit from habitat available two to three years after an area has been cut. Streamside management zones to improve water quality leave hardwoods to produce acorns and other hard mast during winter, while briars and dense thickets give food and shelter on a nearly year-round basis. 

“All timber companies we work with are part of the sustainable forestry initiative, so they adhere to best management practices that benefit water quality, wildlife habitat and other natural resources,” Carner said. “These WMAs also usually have decent access by road because of the logging efforts on the property.”

Leased land WMAs come with extra fees, but they are much cheaper than the standard fees charged for private leases. Hunters, campers and trappers must purchase a special $40 annual permit for each leased land WMA they frequent. With WMAs ranging from 11,327 acres to 54,066 acres, the most anyone pays for leased land access comes out to less than one-third of a cent per acre each year. 

Even with the low price, relatively few leased land WMA permits are purchased each year, leaving plenty of room for new hunters to explore. At 41,111 acres Big Timber WMA in Clark County is one of the largest blocks of hunting area available to the public, yet only 1,031 hunters got the permit to hunt there last year. And a scant 208 permits were sold to hunters seeking their deer, squirrels and other game on Provo WMA in Sevier County.

“The AGFC pays about $1.3 million per year to lease all these lands,” Carner said. “The money derived from permits doesn’t come close to paying that, but it does help offset some cost when we’re able to match it with federal funds.”

Carner says the cost to the AGFC has seen a steady increase as lease prices tend to increase slightly every year, but to purchase this much land and provide management for it would be hundreds of millions of dollars, if the landowners were even willing to sell.

“The leased lands WMAs also keep the land in private ownership, which means that the counties where they are located can continue to see tax revenue from that land instead of it being state-owned property,” Carner said.

Leased Land WMA permits are valid for a full year from the date of purchase, and many of these WMAs offer a worthwhile opportunity at a mixed bag, including deer, squirrel, rabbit, turkey and even some pockets of quail. But hunters should spend some time on foot in these areas and not rely solely on history or old aerial imagery like Google Earth.

“Get out and scout your areas in advance of opening day, even if you have hunted there many years,” Carner said. “These WMAs are always undergoing some sort of cutting, thinning or other management, so an area that may have been mature trees last year may be a cutover now. It’s a good thing for wildlife, but it means you’re going to have to put in a few more hours to learn where the good places are as the forest composition changes.”

For more information, click on the link to the specific leased land WMA you are interested in learning more about:

Big Timber WMA – Clark County
Casey Jones WMA – Ashley and Drew counties
Cherokee WMA – Cleburne, Conway, Independence, Logan, Pope, Scott, Stone and Van Buren counties
Gum Flats WMA – Little River County
Howard County WMA – Howard County
Jack Mountain WMA – Hot Spring County
Jim Kress WMA – Cleburne County
Lafayette County WMA – Lafayette County
Lake Greeson WMA – Howard and Pike counties
Provo WMA – Sevier County

Arkansas bat species declining from White-nose Syndrome

LITTLE ROCK – Surveys conducted by researchers across Arkansas last winter found that populations of several species of Arkansas bats are beginning to fall due to the impact of White-nose Syndrome. White-nose Syndrome is a disease that affects hibernating bats and is named for the white fungus that appears on the muzzle and other parts of hibernating bats. The disease is associated with extensive mortality of bats in eastern North America
White-nose Syndrome was first found in the state in 2012 and is now present in at least 15 Arkansas counties. According to Blake Sasse, the Commission’s nongame mammal program leader, “We’re still in the early stages of the spread of this disease as only about half of the caves we monitor for rare bats now have WNS or the fungus that causes the disease.”
The tri-colored bat, once common in most Arkansas caves and mines, declined by about 66 percent from 2015-16 to 2016-17 and the statewide estimate for little brown bats in Arkansas went from around 1,800 bats in 2009 to only 80 last winter.
Another species, the northern long-eared bat, was listed as Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service solely because of WNS.
“From what I’ve heard from those working in the Ozarks this summer, they’re catching a lot fewer northern long-eared bats than in the past and the declines seen elsewhere in the range of this species are now being felt in Arkansas,” said Sasse. “The only good news is two of our endangered species, the Ozark big-eared bat and the gray bat, don’t yet seem to have been impacted by WNS.”
First documented in New York in late 2006, WNS has spread rapidly across the eastern United States and Canada, and the fungus that causes WNS has been detected as far south as Mississippi and as far west as Washington. It has been seen in 31 states and five Canadian provinces.
Bats with WNS act strangely during winter, including flying outside in the day and clustering near the entrances of caves and mines where they hibernate. Bats have been found sick and dying in unprecedented numbers in and around caves and mines. The disease has killed more than 5.7 million bats in eastern North America. In some hibernacula, 90 to 100 percent of bats have died.
Bats are an important part of our nation’s ecosystems, and provide significant pest control for American farmers, likely saving the agricultural industry at least $3 billion each year, or approximately $74 per acre for the average farmer.
If you own a cave or mine that has had clusters of more than 20 bats or more than 100 total bats in it during past winters, please contact Sasse at blake.sasse@agfc.ar.gov to see if there may be an opportunity to conduct a bat survey this winter. Landowners also can help protect bats by ensuring anyone visiting caves decontaminate any gear before and after they enter. Decontamination protocols and other information about WNS are available at www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

More Crappie in Fall Feeding Patterns

From the Missouri border to south Arkansas, this week's Fishing Report features good news on the crappie front. The fall bite is fully in play now. For example, Austin Davidson at Cane Creek State Park said crappie fishing is booming. A solid mix are biting on brown minnows and jigs alike. Fish are biting near the bank, on structure. He says that as November moves in, crappie season will peak. At DeGray Lake, John Duncan says crappie have moved into shallower water. Some are being caught in water 12-14 feet deep. Look for structure in the upper lake areas. Watch for fish suspended over brush piles and other areas like points and bluffs. In Lake Catherine, crappie are good in depths for 20-30 feet of water depending on the temperature of the body of water you are on, according to our reporters from Greeson Marine in Hot Springs. They say to look for piles and structure off the main channels adjacent to deeper water. in Lake Dardanelle, crappie have been excellent shallow and the creeks to 4 feet deep; in the river they are 13-14 feet deep, according to guide Charles Morrison. Overcup's crappie are picking up, we're told, while Lake Conway has been excellent of late.