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01102017Christmastree      LITTLE ROCK – Little Rock’s Christmas tree, which spent the holiday season wowing visitors on Capitol Avenue and Main Street, borrowed a page from New York City’s tree this year, with a small twist. Rockefeller Plaza trees historically have been used as lumber for Habitat for Humanity homes. Little Rock’s tree also was used for habitat, but it will stay true to The Natural State’s motto. The habitat it creates will benefit one of Little Rock’s family fishing destinations.

The tree, a 40-foot white fir, was cut into sections and placed in Western Hills Lake in Southwest Little Rock Saturday, Jan. 6. Thanks to the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission staff were able to collect the large sections of brush and transport them to where they will offer enjoyment to many anglers over the next few years.

Western Hills Lake is part of the AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program, which stocks eating-sized trout and catfish in cities to make it easier for every Arkansan to wet a line and bring home a healthy supper.

“The lake is beautiful and deep, and I really see us doing some amazing things in our partnership with the owners of the area,” said Clint Coleman, assistant coordinator of the program. “This Christmas tree habitat is a great way to get the ball rolling on habitat, and it’s a great way to give this tree one more chance to add to the habitat of a natural system.”

The state capitol tree isn’t the only opportunity to increase habitat from Christmas leftovers. Each year the AGFC designates special drop off locations throughout the state, where people can leave their trees so they may be used as fish attractors.

“We will sink these trees in nearby lakes as time allows toward the end of January, but until then, we really want anglers to be able to use them to make their own fishing hot spots,” said Coleman, “I’ve seen a lot of good trees at some of the drop off locations that would make a great crappie mat or brush pile for bass.”

Coleman says all it takes to create a hot spot out of these trees is some rope and something to weigh them down.

“Parachute cord and cinder blocks are good choices that will get the job done cheaply,” Coleman said. “If you can, it’s best to sink at least 5 or 6 trees at a spot, so the pile continues to attract fish for a few years.”

Anglers should contact the owner of the lake or reservoir where they wish to create their own fish attractors to ensure they are legal. Some water-supply reservoirs do not allow the placement of natural cover, and the U.S. Corps of Engineers asks that people call ahead to ensure the cover will not interfere with the operation of their reservoirs.

“We encourage anyone who wants to sink a tree in an AGFC lake to call the district office over that lake as well,” Coleman said. “The regional biologist may have some good suggestions on places to sink the brush or ways to help out.”

Some AGFC lakes that would benefit greatly from the increased habitat are lakes Elmdale, Bob Kidd, Charles, Frierson, Sugar Loaf, Upper White Oak, Wilhelmina and Barnett.

Visit  https://www.agfc.com/en/fishing/where-fish/public-fishing-areas to learn more about these lakes. For more information about the Family and Community Fishing Program visit www.agfc.com/familyfishing.

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Deer Hunting      LITTLE ROCK – There’s still a month and a half left in deer season for archery hunters, but Arkansas’s deer harvest already topped the 200,000-mark at the conclusion of the second modern gun youth hunt held Jan. 6-7. This is the sixth straight year Arkansas hunters have reached this milestone.

Arkansas record harvest came in 2012, when hunters harvested 213,487 deer. Although this year’s harvest likely will fall short of that number, the season is fairly consistent with last year’s total harvest of 202,070.

Ralph Meeker, deer program coordinator, says the consistent harvest numbers from recent years are a good indication that Arkansas deer populations are beginning to stabilize.

“Balancing and stabilizing the state’s deer population are two of the goals of the AGFC Strategic Deer Management Plan,” Meeker said. “We want to balance the deer herd with the available habitat and the people who live in Arkansas. We’ve seen good growth for the last few decades, and now it’s time to maintain our deer where they are abundant for hunters, but not so much that they outgrow their habitat or people’s tolerance of them throughout the year.”

Meeker says one noticeable bright spot in this year’s season is the amount of deer being checked from Zone 12. Last year saw a noticeable decrease in harvest, particularly does, in that zone.

“So far, we’re back to similar harvests from the four or five years prior to last,” Meeker said.

Meeker says he’s also seen pictures of some impressive deer and heard about many more trophy-size bucks being taken this year than usual throughout the state.

“Last fall we had a great mast crop in much of the state, followed by a wet spring and early summer that allowed for good growth of natural vegetation. That combination provides a lot of good nutrition for developing antlers and weight gain,” Meeker said. “It will be interesting to see what comes in at this year’s Big Buck Classic.”

Turkey hunting      LITTLE ROCK – Turkey season may open at the beginning of April, but now is the time to begin your planning for a successful season. One of the best ways to be successful on public land is to apply for one of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s wildlife management area turkey hunt permits beginning Jan. 15. Applications are available through the AGFC’s online licensing system at https://ar-web.s3licensing.com.

Many good public turkey hunting opportunities exist, particularly on the large cooperative WMAs owned by the U.S. Forest Service. However, turkeys and turkey hunters need room to spread out, which can lead to conflicts between hunters on some smaller WMAs. To increase the quality of the hunt on some of the most popular public areas, the AGFC restricts the number of hunters allowed during turkey season through random drawings.

Only permit holders may hunt on the WMA during the permit hunt. However, a permit holder can have a friend alongside them to call for them to help them harvest a bird. Friends and family may camp with permit holders at designated campsites on the WMA.

“Spring is a great time to be out in the woods with family and friends, and we want to help keep that tradition going, even if only one person is hunting,” said Jason Honey, Turkey Program coordinator for the AGFC.

Applications are taken electronically through http://www.agfc.com, from Jan. 15 through Feb. 15, and winning applicants will be notified via email.

Applications require a $5 nonrefundable processing fee, but winning applicants are not required to pay any additional fees other than the purchase of their hunting license.

“The new system was put in place last year, and really streamlined the application and draw process,” said Brad Carner, chief of wildlife management for the AGFC. “Each year, many permits were left unclaimed because people applied who did not go through with purchasing the permit. With the up-front fee, only people who are serious about claiming and using a permit are likely to apply.”

Carner says the new system saw a decrease in the number of applicants to the AGFC’s permit draws for all species which was expected, but harvest numbers and participation in the hunts remained high.

“We received some reports from our staff of noticeable increases in participation for some hunts,” Carner said. “And with the streamlining of the process, unclaimed permits were minimal when it came time to sell them, which resulted in much less confusion.”

Deer at Buck Hollow Ranch in Warm Springs, Ark. near Pocahontas

Three new Arkansas counties have been confirmed as CWD-positive from this year’s deer hunting season.

LITTLE ROCK – Chronic wasting disease, detected in Arkansas almost two years ago, has been found in three more counties. Four white-tailed deer in Benton, Washington and Sebastian counties recently tested positive for the deadly disease, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

The deer in Benton County were a 2½-year-old doe near Decatur and a 5½-year-old doe near Springtown. The Sebastian County deer was an adult buck near Lavaca, and the one from Washington County was a 1½-year-old buck near Prairie Grove. All four were harvested by hunters during the 2017-18 deer season, and confirmed as CWD-positive by the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison.

Test results have not been received for all samples that have been collected; it’s possible more deer and elk could test positive for the disease. Since these positive samples were detected outside the current CWD Management Zone, the AGFC will continue their review to ensure all information is accurate.

“Although CWD is a serious threat to Arkansas’s elk and white-tailed deer, we are not the first to deal with the disease,” AGFC Director Pat Fitts said. “Our staff is prepared and, with help from the public, will respond with effective measures. We have learned from the experiences of 23 other states.”

CWD was first detected in Arkansas Feb. 23, 2016, when a hunter-harvested elk in Newton County tested positive. The first Arkansas deer with CWD was verified March 3, 2016, also in Newton County.

Public meetings in the area will be scheduled as forums to discuss plans and to answer questions.

The Commission has taken several steps to prevent the disease, which strikes cervids (deer, elk and moose), from entering the state. A moratorium on live cervid importation began in 2002, and the importation of cervid carcasses was banned in 2005. Moratoriums on permits for commercial hunting resorts and breeder/dealer permits for cervid facilities were put in place in 2006. Capturing white-tailed deer by hand was banned in 2012.

According to the CWD Alliance, the disease was discovered among captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967, and has been detected in 24 other states and two Canadian provinces. Biologists believe a protein particle called a prion is transmitted through feces, urine and saliva, and can survive for years in soil and plants. CWD can have an incubation period of at least 16 months, which means infected animals may not show symptoms immediately.

CWD affects an animal’s nervous system. Prions transform normal cellular proteins into abnormal shapes that accumulate until neural cells cease to function. Infected animals begin to lose weight, lose their appetite and develop an insatiable thirst. They tend to separate from their herds, walk in repetitive patterns, carry their head low, salivate, urinate frequently and grind their teeth.

Visit ArkansasCWD.com for more information.

Sinking Christmas trees as fish habitats in a channel off the Arkansas RiverOnce the wrapping paper has been thrown away and the last drop of egg nog has been consumed, few people have a use for that evergreen tree that graced their home during the holiday season. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has a new job for those leftover trees – as fish habitat.

The AGFC has drop-off locations across the state to let your old Christmas tree have a second life as underwater cover.

Clint Coleman, assistant coordinator for the AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program, says the Christmas tree program functions just like a “take-a-penny, leave-a-penny” tray, except it’s for fish.

“Anyone who wants to drop off a natural tree can place it at a location on the list, and anyone who wants to sink a few trees to create their own little honey hole can do that as well,” Coleman said. “You just need to bring your own parachute cord, wire, rope and cinder blocks to sink the trees.”

Coleman says artificial trees are not allowed at the drop off locations, and all trees should be cleaned of ornaments and tinsel before being dropped off.

Christmas trees typically only last a year or two before all that’s left is the main trunk, so Coleman suggests anglers sink groups of trees together. This way, the site is still attractive to baitfish and sport fish long after the smaller branches and needles have rotted away.

Trees can be dropped off at any of the following locations until the end of January:

Central Arkansas

  • Arkansas River – Alltel Access beneath the I-30 Bridge
  • Greers Ferry Lake – Sandy Beach (Heber Springs), Devils Fork Recreation Area and Choctaw Recreation Area (Choctaw-Clinton)
  • Lake Conway – Lawrence Landing Access
  • Harris Brake Lake – Chittman Hill Access
  • Lake Overcup – Lake Overcup Landing
  • Lake Barnett – Reed Access
  • Lake Hamilton – Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery Access Area

Northeast Arkansas

  • Jonesboro – Craighead Forest Park Lake boat ramp
  • Lake Bono – Boat Ramp Access
  • Lake Dunn – Boat Ramp Access
  • Lake Poinsett – Dam Access Boat Ramp
  • Lake Walcott – Crowley’s Ridge State Park Boat Ramp Access

Northwest Arkansas

  • Beaver Lake – Highway 12 Access and AGFC Don Roufa Hwy 412 Access
  • Lake Elmdale – Boat Ramp Access
  • Bob Kidd Lake – Boat Ramp Access
  • Crystal Lake – Boat Ramp Access

Southeast Arkansas

  • Lake Chicot – Connerly Bayou Access Area
  • Lake Monticello – Hunger Run Access
  • Cox Creek Lake – Cox Creek Lake Access Area

Southwest Arkansas

  • Bois d’Arc Lake – Kidd’s Landing or Hatfield Access
  • Millwood Lake – Cottonshed, White Cliffs Recreation Areas and the Millwood State Park ramp on the point
  • Dierks Lake – Jefferson Ridge South Recreation Area
  • DeQueen Lake – Any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp
  • Gillham Lake – Any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat ramp
  • Lake Greeson – New Cowhide Cove and Self Creek Recreation areas
  • Camden – AGFC Regional Office on Ben Lane
  • Upper White Oak Lake – Upper Jack’s Landing
  • Magnolia – Columbia County Road Department Yard on Highway 371
  • El Dorado – City recycling center drop-offs: one behind Arby’s and one on South Jackson
  • Smackover – Recycling Drop-Off Center (these will be transported to El Dorado)
  • South Fork Lake – South Fork Lake Access
  • Terre Noire Lake – Terre Noire Lake Access
  • Hope – AGFC Regional Office on Hwy. 67 East

01102017PatFittsDirectorThe Arkansas Game and Fish Commission announced today that Pat Fitts will become the agency’s 18th director in its 102-year history. Fitts will replace Jeff Crow, who announced his resignation Oct. 10. The appointment was announced during a special called meeting earlier today and becomes effective Jan. 1, 2018.

Fitts’ previous position was as the agency’s assistant deputy director – a position he’s held since April. Before that he was colonel of the agency’s Enforcement Division.

He has been with the agency for 29 years, and began his career as a fisheries technician at the Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery in Lonoke. Fitts has a bachelor’s degree in fish and wildlife management from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.

Commission Chairman Steve Cook said Fitts has demonstrated the character, initiative and work ethic necessary to lead the agency.

“Pat’s unique skills, experience and drive make him the right person to spearhead the mission of the AGFC,” Cook said. “His ability to interact with the public and continue to manage this agency made him a natural for this position.”

Fitts said he was determined to strengthen the AGFC’s legacy as he takes over the leadership of the agency.

“I’m blessed to have spent my entire adult life serving alongside amazing people protecting our valuable natural resources,” Fitts said. “It’s a humbling experience and I know there are challenges ahead. It’s just another opportunity to serve the wonderful people of Arkansas.”

Fitts was selected following a search and selection process conducted by commissioners of the AGFC.

Fitts and his wife, Alice, have been married for 29 years. Their son, Austin, his wife, Aubrey, and granddaughter, Amelia, live in southeastern Arkansas. They also have a daughter, Audrey Kay, who is a senior at Arkansas Tech University.

Trapping near Jonesboro, ArkRumblings of a new conservation movement have been heard in the U.S. House of Representatives for months. Thanks to bipartisan support from Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has been introduced. The bill proposes to devote additional money to wildlife conservation throughout the U.S., using money from energy development on federally owned land. 

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Bill is the result of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources co-chaired by David Freuenthal, former governor of Wyoming, and John Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops. 

If passed, the bill would dedicate up to $1.3 billion annually in existing revenue from the development of energy and mineral resources on federal lands and waters to the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program. These funds would be used to implement State Wildlife Action plans, which have already identified about 12,000 species in greatest conservation need. 

Species of greatest conservation need are characterized as animals that are rare, have declining populations or do not have enough life history or conservation status research available to determine if they should be classified as threatened or endangered. Through the Arkansas Wildlife Action Plan, these species were identified so that steps could be taken to prevent them from becoming listed as federally threatened or endangered.

“In Arkansas, we have 377 species identified in this category,” said Caroline Cone, chief of staff for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “The plan calls for ways to help conserve these animals and habitats they rely on, but this act will give us the funding to make the plan a reality.” 

In Arkansas, the bill could mean as much as $13 million annually devoted to wildlife habitat restoration. 

“Currently, we are able to devote about $600,000 to species of greatest conservation need, so this would be a game changer,” Cone said. “It would be as powerful for wildlife conservation as the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program has been.”

The money to fund the conservation work would come from royalties, fees and bonuses paid to the federal government for development of energy and mineral resources on federal land. These fees already are collected by the federal government, and no new taxes or fees would be incurred to private companies or taxpayers. 

AGFC Deputy Director Chris Colclasure agrees that the act will enable a shift toward wildlife and habitat management for all species. 

“All of the states have been working to find a proactive solution to prevent any new species from being listed as threatened or endangered,” Colclasure said. “This new legislation will enable us to put those plans into action and work with many more partners to promote game species as well as nongame species.”

Colclasure stresses that the bill not only will benefit those “at-risk” species, but it also will pay huge benefits for hunters and anglers.

“Many of the species that would benefit share habitat with game species, such as quail, turkey and deer,” Colclasure said. “Any actions we take to benefit one, should benefit many others.”

To learn more about the act, visit www.ournatureUSA.com.

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