Thursday, March 23, 2017

Former president of Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation dies

LTTLE ROCK – Steve Smith, former president of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, died Wednesday. The lifelong outdoorsman helped launch the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame and was inducted in 2003.
Smith was president of the AGFF from 1998 until his retirement in 2015. The foundation is the fundraising auxiliary of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
AGFC Director Jeff Crow said there were no words to adequately describe what Smith meant to the agency. “A kind and gentle soul, his love for the AGFC and its employees was displayed in everything he did on our behalf,” Crow said.
AGFF President Deke Whitbeck said the foundation was shocked and saddened by Smith’s death. “He was the leader of this foundation,” Whitbeck said. “More importantly, he was a loving husband, father, grandfather and friend. He had a true passion for reaching out to young people and introducing them to Arkansas’s great outdoors.”

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

New hunting and fishing license system debuts April 1

LITTLE ROCK – Hunters and anglers looking to renew their licenses this year will notice a big change from the long, tag-laden receipt they normally receive at their local sporting goods store. All licenses and permits sold by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission now will be available as a downloadable file outdoors enthusiasts can carry on their mobile phone or have printed off on a single piece of standard printer paper.

The change in license format is part of an effort to make it as easy as possible for hunters and anglers to purchase and carry their license with them. Thanks to modern technology, anyone purchasing a hunting or fishing license, whether they purchase online or at a license vendor, will be able to carry their license with them on their mobile device.

“The Commission passed a regulation allowing electronic copies of hunting and fishing licenses to be valid in December,” said Tony Davis, chief information officer for the AGFC. “And we’ve worked with our new license vendor to make it as easy as possible for license holders to do it.”

Davis says the electronic copy will come to license holders via email as a portable document format (.pdf) file. This way it may be saved to a phone, kept in the user’s email or printed out from any printer.

“We also are asking license vendors to supply a paper copy of the license to customers,” Davis said. “We know a lot of people still want that paper license, so we are making sure that option still exists.”

The new system also will allow hunters and anglers to look up their current license privileges and print out replacements at home should their original license copy become lost or deleted.

“Before, there was a charge to replace a lost license, but now it’s as easy as hitting print on your home computer,” Davis said.

Game tags for deer and turkey also will be included in the printout, and will still need to be used during the 2017 turkey season. Hunters may use tags from a license purchased before the transition, or they can use one printed with their license on the new system.

“We’ll have pretty much the same tagging system for this spring, but we are looking into the possibility of implementing new tagging requirements moving forward,” Davis said. “Proposed regulations for next hunting season, which are currently in the 30-day public comment period, may allow you to use the tags printed on the new license system or other methods, such as using tags found in the guidebook or even a blank sheet of paper. The goal is to allow hunters to hit the woods without the need to print out paper licenses and tags.”

Online license purchases will be much simpler under the new system as well. Previously, small game and fishing privileges became effectively immediately, but license purchasers using an online option still had to wait for their tags to arrive before being able to hunt big game. With the new system, big game hunting privileges also will become effective the moment the license is purchased through the online system.

“On April 1, the page you go to from www.agfc.com is going to look a little different, but the experience should be a lot easier to navigate,” Davis said. “Especially with a smartphone.” In addition to purchasing a license, hunters will be able to apply for all special hunt permits, check their game and get up-to-the-minute harvest reports for deer and turkey. They will even be able to purchase gift certificates for fellow hunters and anglers and make donations to the AGFC through the online license site.

“We want hunters, anglers and other outdoors enthusiasts in Arkansas to have as much at their fingertips as possible when they visit our site,” Davis said. “And the system should remember all of your data once you enter your Social Security number or driver’s license the next time you renew or apply for a permit. We want people hunting game, not hunting for how to buy their license.”

Many other improvements are in store for Arkansas hunters with the new license system, including email reminders to renew expiring licenses, an auto-renewal feature and increased communication possibilities depending upon a person’s license-purchasing options.

New netting method leading changes in crappie management

LITTLE ROCK – Managing a fishery isn’t just stocking, creating habitat, fertilizing and adjusting harvest regulations. Biologists must have a true picture of what a population of a certain fish species in the lake looks like before they make changes, and they have to keep tabs on that population to determine if the management changes have the desired effect. Monitoring crappie populations can be a challenge. But a new method of netting may help biologists take a snapshot of the population when conditions are less than ideal.

Traditionally, biologists would set up trap nets to catch crappie as they moved toward shallow water for spawning or following shad in fall. Essentially, a large hoop net was placed in the water, and a long, fence-like runner was attached to cover a section of water and guide crappie to the net.

“Crappie bump into the runner and follow it to deeper water and the net, where we collect them,” said Jon Stein, fisheries biologist in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Beaver Lake regional office. “From there we are able to look at the size of different year classes of fish in the population to help make future management decisions.”

Trap-netting does have its shortcomings, however. To be effective, the net must be placed in fairly shallow water. But crappie spend the majority of their time in water deeper than trap nets can reach.

“Trap nets really hinder our ability to sample crappie in areas with steep shorelines like Beaver Lake,” Stein said. “The crappie stage and hold and spawn in deeper water than lowland lakes and reservoirs, and trap nets are ineffective tools for sampling at those depths.”

Always in search of a better mouse (or crappie) trap, biologists throughout the U.S. have dabbled with different ways to sample crappie populations and replace the trap net in challenging areas. Thanks to communication with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, AGFC fisheries biologists may have found the solution to trap-netting troubles.

Andy Yung, regional fisheries biologist at the AGFC’s Camden regional office, says Louisiana and Arkansas have a partnership meeting every other year to share information and learn from each other. During a recent meeting, Louisiana biologists gave a presentation on a new type of netting technique called a lead net, that can overcome the barriers of trap nets.

“In a lot of our lakes, we know that crappie are holding along creek channel swings and deep flats, but we can’t get to them through conventional means,” Yung said. “But these lead nets let us go to the crappie instead of waiting for a relatively brief window when they come up shallow.”

Yung says AGFC biologists have been experimenting with the new net style for a few years and comparing them alongside results of trap nets. In some cases, the trap nets would indicate very few fish in areas where biologists knew healthy crappie populations existed. Lead nets placed in deeper water in the same lakes yielded much better results.

“In some cases, lead nets were more than 40 times more successful,” Yung said. “That lets us spend less time running nets for crappie sampling and frees up more time to devote to habitat improvement and other fisheries efforts.”

Biologists in seven districts worked with the nets last fall and winter, collecting results on a monthly basis to determine the best times for sampling. Armed with this new information, Yung hopes to streamline the sampling process even further and use the new technique to make better decisions for crappie regulations and recommendations.

“Once we have fine-tuned the netting procedure, we’ll be able to have a standard sampling method across all our districts and really be able to compare the crappie fisheries around the state and develop trend data all of us can use,” Yung said.

Natural State darters seeing federal attention

LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas’s darter population has received good news for one species, while another distant relative is getting some federal help for its survival.

The Arkansas darter is no longer on the endangered species list. It is extremely rare in its namesake state (actually, its name comes from the Arkansas River after discovery in a tributary in Kansas in the 1800s). It was first found in The Natural State in 1979 in Wilson Spring near Fayetteville, and the darter has been found in a few spring runs in the Illinois River basin of Benton and Washington counties.

A genetic study being conducted by Michigan State for the state of Kansas will determine if the examples of the Arkansas darter in Arkansas are, in fact, genetically the same as the Arkansas darters in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri or if it is a subspecies or a separate species.

Meanwhile, another rare darter, the yellowcheek darter, is on the endangered species list. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a draft plan for saving this particular darter, which is only found in Arkansas and in forks of the Little Red River.

Brian Wagner, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Nongame Aquatics Biologist, was involved in generating the yellowcheek darter’s recovery plan for the USFWS. The plan is in the public comment stage. The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and The Nature Conservancy, Arkansas also assisted on the recovery plan, he said.

The only thing in common between these two darters, besides how rare they are, is sharing the same genus. “At the simplest level, other than being darters, they are not much more closely related,” Wagner said.

The yellowcheek darter prefers fast-running water and rocky terrain. The Arkansas darter likes slow-flowing, silty water with vegetation. Some of the northwest Arkansas sites where the Arkansas darter has been found are in cattle pastures. “It prefers water where the trees are cut back, plants growing in the stream, lots of silt and soil getting in there.”

Wagner hopes the genetic testing can reveal more about the Arkansas darter. He had requested for several years a range-wide study of the Arkansas darter with agencies in the other states where it is found. Researchers with the study being funded by the state of Kansas contacted Wagner and provided a great opportunity: cost-free research. “They said, ‘Since we’re doing this, if you can get us some samples from the Arkansas populations, we’ll include those as well and that can maybe answer some of these broader questions,’” Wagner said. “So we’ll just hang out and wait until they share their results with us. I was really tickled when that came out as a possibility … and we didn’t have to put any money into it.”

The USFWS plan for the yellowcheek darter was drafted in December and opened for public comment March 6. The comment period closes May 5. No one outside of the USFWS is obligated to undertake any tasks with the plan, Wagner said.

The yellowcheek darter was classified as endangered in 2011. The Middle, South, Archey and Devils forks of the Little Red are classified as its critical habit area. Wagner said the yellowcheek darter likely lived where Greers Ferry Lake is now. There are populations in different sections of the Little Red that are now cut off by the lake, where it doesn’t survive.

The recovery plan can be viewed at https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?sId=7871. It calls for protecting the yellowcheek darter’s habitat and promoting voluntary actions to reduce or prevent pollution to the habitat. USFWS has a “safe harbor” program in which it enrolls landowners to help with species’ survival. A priority in the darter’s survival will be stabilizing riverbanks from erosion.

Darters are small fish, reaching only about 2½ inches long, whose condition can often serve as an indicator of the quality of the water source serving as its home.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

COMMISSION APPROVES PURCHASE OF 989 ACRES

            LITTLE ROCK – Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the purchase of 989 acres known as Stone Prairie from The Nature Conservancy at today’s scheduled meeting. The property, which borders a portion of the Camp Robinson Special Use Area, will be added to the Commission’s system of wildlife management areas for public use with a special emphasis on quail restoration.
            “Stone Prairie has an ideal mix of open lands that lend well to our northern bobwhite initiative,” said Steven Fowler, assistant chief of the AGFC’s wildlife management division, during a briefing on Wednesday. “It’s proximity to Camp Robinson (special use area) makes it a good fit to expand hunting opportunities in that area.”
            The purchase of the property will be derived from unobligated Federal Wildlife Restoration Program Grant funds and the property will remain a separate WMA from the Camp Robinson complex, incorporating its established name in its new title – Stone Prairie WMA.
In other business, the Commission:
·         Recognized nine employees with a total of 185 years of service for their commitment to the people and natural resources of Arkansas.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Biologists help score young guns’ trophies during wild game supper

MCGEHEE – Each year, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission staff volunteer to take part of the annual McGehee Wild Game Supper held at the First Baptist Church in McGehee. In addition to providing information to people interested in improving their property for hunting and improving their hunts on public land in southeast Arkansas, the biologists help with a special deer-scoring contest.

AGFC staff collect antlers brought in from area youth before the supper and score each deer using Boone and Crockett scoring methods. Once scoring is completed, the young hunters are presented with door prizes donated by local merchants.

“The supper and scoring contest just add one more element to the hunt we can celebrate,” said Mark Hooks, wildlife management biologist for the AGFC’s Monticello Regional Office. “We’re happy to lend a hand wherever we can to help pass on the rich tradition of hunting in Arkansas.”

Hooks says the staff from the AGFC look forward to each year’s event, and love spending time with the people who organize it and the hunters who attend.

“The chairman of the event, David McNeely, and many others from the McGehee area volunteer their time for the supper,” Hooks said. “They secure many door prizes to make sure that each youth attending leaves with a nice gift. Other volunteers spend several hours cooking wild game dishes that are second to none. I’d like to thank AGFC biologists and technicians Allen Clawson, Michael Shepherd, Andy Van horn, Drew Green, David Luker, Jason McCallie, Bubba Groves and Mark Barbee for their help working to keep hunting traditions alive in our corner of Arkansas.”

Curry chicken salad spices up chilly March mornings

LITTLE ROCK – Some of this past season’s leftover ducks or venison backstraps chilling in the deep freeze can be given lavish and tasty presentations via the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s “A Celebration of Conservation: 100 AGFC Recipes.”

The book was published in conjunction with the AGFC’s 100th anniversary in 2015 and contains recipes from AGFC employees covering several types of wild game as well as store-bought food for those without access to last year’s in-the-wild harvest. A few copies of the book remain for purchase at $5 when bought at the AGFC’s main headquarters or at the AGFC’s nature centers around Arkansas; it’s also available at http://www.agfc.com/store/Pages/Merchandise.aspx with a minor price increase for shipping.

Many of the book’s recipes have been prepared on live television on KATV, Channel 7’s “Good Morning Arkansas.” AGFC staffers appear with a seasonal recipe for a cooking segment on the last Tuesday of each month on the 9-10 a.m. show. March’s segment will feature Curry Sriracha Chicken Salad, a perfect dish for early spring with its blend of Asian and Indian flavors to spice up what can often be the mundane package of chicken breasts from the neighborhood grocer.

To get a head start and prepare it yourself, here’s how, straight out of “A Celebration of Conservation: 100 AGFC Recipes”: You’ll need three chicken breasts, 1½ cups mayonnaise, 1/3 cup dry white wine, 1/4 cup Major Grey’s chutney, 3 tablespoons curry powder, 1 cup diced celery, 1/4 cup chopped scallions, 1/4 cup raisins, 1 cup roasted salted cashews, 2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce, and garlic salt and course ground pepper to taste. Boil or poach the chicken breasts, allow them to cool, and then shred by hand or in a food processor. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl, then add the chicken. Cover and allow it to rest overnight for best flavor.

Serve the chicken salad on green salad, in sandwiches or in a pita. The recipe will produce 4-6 servings.

The cookbook features numerous presentations of venison via appetizers or entrees. Elk, duck, rabbit, squirrel, goose and turkey are also among the wild game in recipes – some simple and quick, others more involved – along with ways to serve the many fish in our lakes and streams. Then there are presentations for vegetables and fruits, shrimp, chicken, pork and beef, whether at home or out with nature. Breads and desserts aren’t forgotten, either.