Thursday, August 1, 2019

Commission expands furbearer trapping and hunting opportunities on private lands

LITTLE ROCK – Dove season is right around the corner marking the first statewide fall hunting season, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is providing several opportunities for sportsmen to include permit hunts on private lands.

“I look forward to opening weekend every year and love the fast action dove hunting can provide. Dove are fun to hunt with friends and family and make great table fare, Garrick Dugger, assistant chief of the AGFC’s Wildlife Management Division, said. “After four months, I know that hunters are eager to return to the outdoors.”

Hunters may apply for permits to the AGFCs four private-land permit dove hunts beginning Thursday, Aug. 1. The application process will run until midnight Aug. 15, with a computerized draw held Friday, Aug. 16. Arkansas’s dove season begins Sunday, Sept. 1.

The AGFC has expanded the private land hunts to four counties, including two in Northwest Arkansas. Hunts will return to the leased, privately farmed 20-acre field near Blakemore (Lonoke County) where the hunts originated in 2017. The popularity of that hunt, with more than 1,100 online applicants last year, led the AGFC to find additional private-land opportunities for permit dove hunts.

Additional fields for the permit draw are in Prairie, Washington and Benton counties. The fields will be listed by county on the application form on www.agfc.com. A licensed hunter is allowed one application; the cost to apply is a nonrefundable $5. Hunters who are selected may bring one additional hunter of any age with them to the hunt, but both must hunt from the same station.

According to Sandee Schultz, AGFC habitat assistant and permit administrator, hunters can make two choices on the application: They may apply either for two separate fields and their choice of weekend dates available, or they can try for the same field on two different weekends. Hunters will be notified by email if they have been selected. The confirmation email will also contain a hyperlink to a map and directions to their field.

The four fields are of various sizes and food sources, and will offer a variety of dove hunting experiences, according to Dugger. The Lonoke and Benton county fields (the latter being near Siloam Springs) are planted in sunflowers; the expected longer availability of sunflower seeds in those fields will allow them to be hunted the first three weekends of the season. The Prairie County field, near Slovak, is the largest of the private-land options, and is a harvested corn field with top-sown wheat. It will be available for the first two weekends of the season. The Prairie County field will allow space for twice as many hunting stations, 40, as the next closest field, Lonoke with its 20 stations.

The Washington County field, near Lincoln, will be composed of millet and will be hunted the first two weekends.

Drawn hunters may choose their station at each field on a first-come, first-served basis, but hunters must hunt at their chosen station, rather than wandering a field, for safety purposes, Dugger said.

“We want a safe, quality dove hunting experience for everyone,” he said, encouraging hunters to wear eye protection while in the field, such as sunglasses or shooting glasses.

Hunters not chosen for the permitted hunts will still have an array of AGFC Wildlife Management Areas hosting tracts of land prepared for dove hunting, as well as two fields being prepared in a partnership between the AGFC and the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in east-central Arkansas. The WMA lands available for dove hunting will be announced in the coming days and will be listed at www.agfc.com by mid-August.

Monday, July 29, 2019

AGFC removes all daily sportfish limits from Lake Monticello

MONTICELLO - The Director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission removed all daily sportfish limits and length limits on Lake Monticello for all species of fish in an emergency proclamation as a result of the recent decision by the City of Monticello to drain the lake for repairs to its dam.

The City of Monticello has decided to drain the lake to repair issues with portions of the dam sagging, which could indicate issues with structural integrity. Lake Levee Road was closed to all traffic, including vehicles, ATVs and even foot traffic, on July 15, and the levee was inspected by geologists and engineers to determine the extent of the damage to the dam.

The lake was partially drawn down in fall 2017 to repair issues with the dam, but those repairs have not corrected the issue, prompting the city to open the spillway and allow water to drain from the lake and remove the pressure on the dam until it can be repaired.

As a result of the lake being drained, the AGFC is removing all limits to all species of fish so anglers can make use of the resource before it is gone.

“With the water level dropping and high water temperature, we will see a fish kill at Lake Monticello,” said Jason Olive, AGFC assistant chief of fisheries. “We want people to be able to use those fish instead of them going to waste.”

Olive says anglers still will be required to have a fishing license and obey all fishing regulations other than daily limits and length limits.

Olive says the city’s decision to drain the lake should be looked at by anglers with excitement about the future.

“Lake Monticello was once the place to go if you were looking for big bass or excellent crappie fishing, but it’s well past its peak in that regard,” Olive said. “While it is drained, we are going to remove all undesirable species from standing water and the creek channel and start with a clean slate. We’ve done habitat work at Monticello in the past, but this will enable us to do much more once the lake is drained and we are able to see what steps we can take to improve the fishery for the future.”

Contact the Monticello Regional Office at 877-367-3559 for more information.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Commission expands furbearer trapping and hunting opportunities on private lands

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission voted to relax hunting regulations on certain predator species during a special meeting via teleconference today. The regulations had been proposed during its June 20 meeting but were not able to be voted upon until today to allow sufficient time for public comment.

Coyote, raccoon, opossum and striped skunk may now be hunted year-round on private land in Arkansas. There are no daily or possession limits to any of these species on private land, and wanton waste regulations will no longer apply to these four species.

A new free Predator-Control Permit also will be available to private landowners, which will let permit holders shoot or trap bobcat, coyote, gray fox, red fox, opossum, raccoon and striped skunk day or night. This permit will be available by late August to enable more opportunity to control these species on private land. 

Commission Chair Ken Reeves of Harrison and Commissioner Stan Jones of Walnut Ridge explained that the goal of the regulations was not to eliminate any of these species on a statewide basis.

“I think everyone knows that the reason we’re doing this is we simply don’t have people trapping and hunting raccoons and opossums like we did many years ago because the pelts aren’t worth much,” Reeves said. “We’re trying to fill that gap by letting private landowners reduce these predators on their property to try to boost their quail and turkey numbers.”

A recording of the meeting is available at the AGFC’s YouTube page.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Ten AGFC wildlife officers graduate 18-week training

CONWAY — Ten cadets became Arkansas wildlife officers during graduation July 19 at Antioch Baptist Church in Conway. They completed 18 weeks of instruction at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s H.C. “Red” Morris Enforcement Training Center at Mayflower.

AGFC Director Patt Fitts began proceedings by introducing Cody Hiland, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, as keynote speaker.

“You’ve been challenged with the protection and care of one of the things that makes Arkansas what it is: Arkansans love hunting and fishing,” Hiland said. “I can’t think of another thing that more fully captures the minds and the hearts of Arkansans than the idea of heading to deer camp for a week, that first morning in a duck blind when the sun’s coming up, fishing for largemouth bass somewhere or wading a creek fishing for trout.

“Today, you’re going to be charged with securing that heritage for our children and our grandchildren – and what a privilege that is, a privilege that comes with a cost.”

He read Paul Harvey’s well-known “Policeman” essay about dichotomies law enforcement officers face before adding, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they’ve made a difference in the world. Men and women of law enforcement don’t have to worry about that.”

The 2019 class is Keenan Hicks (assigned to Columbia County), Bennett Huggins (Cleveland County), Ethan Moore (Phillips County), Michael Neece (Bradley County), Onezean Ravenell (Jefferson County), Dustin Smith (Jackson County), Kelsey Spry (Crawford County), Austin Thomas (Drew County), Michael Tibben (Calhoun County) and Darren Walls (Lee County).

Col. Greg Rae, AGFC Enforcement Division chief, introduced Smith, 31, who was chosen as class leader.

“We all woke up this morning as game wardens and that’s something to be very proud of,” Smith said.

The 2019 class arrived at the training center March 17 with 16 cadets; 10 graduated.

“As you can see, not all 16 individuals are here with us,” Smith said. “Those six aren’t here for various reasons but, at the end of the day, we lost them because this academy is not easy.”

This year’s 18-week course was a bit longer than most, which run 16 or 17 weeks. It has been as long as 22 weeks, based on class size. The course began in 1984.

Smith received the Top Gun Award for having the highest shooting average during 80 hours of firearms training. He joined the Army National Guard when he was 18 and was a state trooper for six years.

Neece, 25, grew up in northeastern Arkansas and decided to become a wildlife officer when he was in junior high school. He received the Edward H. Armstrong Memorial Excellence Award for the highest grade-point average, the Physical Fitness Award and the Survival Swimming Award.

Moore, 24, of Jonesboro received the Joel Campora Memorial Outstanding Achievement Award, named for the wildlife officer who drowned during a water rescue in Scott County in 2013.

The ceremony included several poignant moments in remembrance of Sgt. Michael Stephen, a Stone County deputy who had been killed in the line of duty a day earlier. Moments before graduation began, a column of law enforcement vehicles within sight of the church near Interstate 40 accompanied Stephen’s body during its trip from the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory to Stone County.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Turtles taking to the streets; don’t box them in

LITTLE ROCK — Turtles are on the move all over Arkansas, and many can be found alongside roads in rural and suburban areas thanks to a wet, relatively cool spring that created excellent foraging areas in ditches and grassy areas beside the hustle of daily traffic. Many turtles are finishing up their annual breeding and egg-laying cycles, which also puts them on the move.

The three-toed box turtle is one of the most common turtles motorists will encounter in The Natural State. Two species of box turtle occur in the state, the three-toed and the ornate, the latter of which is protected and is illegal to possess or collect. Box turtles get their name from the hinged plastron (lower shell). Many turtles can retract into their shells, but box turtles can lift their lower shell to completely seal out any would-be attackers, forming a snug “box” of protection. Most first encounters people may have with a box turtle they’ve disturbed will be a waiting game until the reptile decides it is safe to open up and take a look around.

This ingenious defense makes adult box turtles impervious to attacks by many small predators, leaving disease and automobiles as the top causes of an individual turtle’s demise. It also endears it to curious children and adults, who often pick them up and bring them home as a wildlife pet.

While no current data is available to support any declines in three-toed box turtle populations in Arkansas, biologists at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission say movement of these animals may have impacts on population dynamics on a small scale.

Kelly Irwin, herpetological program coordinator for the AGFC, says three-toed box turtles often will stay within the same 10- to 25-acre range for their entire life and have a strong homing instinct. If they are moved outside of this area, they may spend the rest of their lives wandering, trying to reorient themselves, especially if turtles are already present in the area where they are placed.

“One recent study moved a number of box turtles to a new location and tracked their movements,” Irwin said. “Only 47 percent of those moved established a home range in the new area. The rest wandered away or died.”

Irwin says the issue is compounded by the turtle’s relatively long time to reach sexual maturity.

“Box turtles can take between 5 and 10 years to become sexually mature, depending on their sex and the conditions where they live,” Irwin said. “They can have multiple clutches of 2 to 6 eggs per year, but the nest and young are susceptible to raccoons, skunks, foxes, snakes and many other small predators.”

Research by Kurt Buhlmann and Gina Coffman at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory in 2001 also indicates that fire ants can have detrimental effects to turtle hatchlings as they emerge from their eggs. According to the research, ants could not penetrate turtle’s eggs unless there were imperfections on the egg’s surface, but did swarm on hatchlings as they began to break free of the egg.

Dr. Jenn Ballard, state wildlife veterinarian for the AGFC, says moving or concentrating turtles also can introduce or distribute diseases or parasites to new areas, which can have far-reaching impacts on populations of turtles.

One such type of disease, Ranavirus, is particularly deadly to many species of amphibians and reptiles, including box turtles. This disease has no treatment or vaccine, and quarantine of infected animals is the only current form of slowing its spread in the U.S.

“Moving them around the state can increase the spread of a disease, but having them captive with other wildlife pets can exacerbate the issue,” Ballard said. “If one animal has the disease, you’ve just increased the chances for all of them to contract it, and if they’re later released, you may be infecting a new area.”

If someone wants to release a turtle they’ve held in captivity, they must find a permitted rehabilitator to ensure the turtle is able to survive and does not pose a risk of spreading disease or parasites it may have picked up during it’s time as a pet. Ballard says there are some rehabilitators who specialize in turtles among the ones listed on the AGFC’s website at www.agfc.com/rehab.

“I’d advise anyone to please contact these folks before trying to release a turtle on their own,” Ballard said. “Or better yet, think about this before they decide to take in a turtle from the wild to begin with. It’s just as enjoyable to watch them in their natural setting than to bring them home.”

Another common practice by budding nature lovers is to mark or cover a turtle’s shell in paint so it will be recognized upon future visits. Ballard says such practices may seem like harmless fun, but they can impact the turtle greatly.

Painting a turtle a bright color not only makes it easier for you to see, it makes it easier for predators to locate. Although most small mammals cannot get into a box turtle’s shell a persistent coyote can eventually work its way through to the turtle underneath.

“You’re really painting a target on the turtle’s back,” Ballard said.

Paints also can be toxic to turtles, depending on the type used. They can block UV light needed by the turtle throughout its life cycle.

“The shell is a living part of the turtle,” Ballard said. “Hindering UV light absorption impacts Vitamin D production, which is vital to the turtle for bone and shell development.”

Irwin says enjoying reptiles and amphibians in the wild is one of the experiences that led him on the path to being a part of their conservation, and he encourages people to continue enjoying them in their natural setting.

“With the exception of venomous snakes, reptiles and amphibians are one of the few groups of animals someone could get close to and observe without fear or danger to them or the animals,” Irwin said. “I think it’s great that people enjoy these animals, and picking up an occasional box turtle, bullfrog or speckled kingsnake isn’t going to hurt things, but they do need to think about any consequences of moving them from the habitat where they were found. And doing things like painting them or marking them can only cause stress or make them more vulnerable to predation or disease.”



Friday, June 28, 2019

Bradley County 4H Wins in Forestry at State O'Rama

The Bradley County 4-H recently competed in its annual District 4-H O'Rama competition in Hot Springs.  The following members participated and won in the forestry division:  Braden Harrod; 1st place senior division, Madison McGhee; 2nd place senior division, John Ellis; 1st place junior division, and Landon Fitcher; 2nd place junior division.  Harrod and McGhee will advance to the state competition to be held in July in Fayetteville.  

Weaver Wins Award

Aidan Weaver recently won his division in the 4-H District Record Book Competition.  Each 4-H'er is encouraged to compile their 4-H work into an organized book each year for submission.  Weavers 4-H project is Sportsfishing.