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Blue Bird in Cherry Creek, Little Rock, Ark., June 7, 2012LITTLE ROCK – Join birders across the country Feb. 16-19, and record your birdwatching results to help scientists discover trends and changes in migrations and populations of birds in the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Founded in 1998 by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the count was the first project to use non-biologists to collect massive amounts of data on wild birds and display the results in near real-time. Scientists combine the data from this count with other citizen-based counting projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch and the eBird program to get a big picture of what is happening to bird populations across the nation. It’s an excellent way to be involved in conservation without ever leaving the comfort of your own backyard.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission nature centers also are great locations to enjoy this citizen-scientist activity. Each of the AGFC’s four nature centers has a birdwatching station with maintained feeders near an indoor viewing area. Field guides are available to help identify birds at the feeder, and staff are always nearby to answer questions about the birds you see.
Kirsten Bartlow, watchable wildlife coordinator for the AGFC, says another great way to enjoy nature is through watchable wildlife trails, including the AGFC’s Arkansas Water Trails program.
“Water trails are designated routes people can paddle using a canoe or kayak,” Bartlow said. “It’s a great way to get out and enjoy nature, especially birdwatching. You can glide along silently and get really close to many birds. Some wading birds like herons and egrets also are much easier to find from the water.”
Bartlow says another great way to keep tabs on the species you’ve seen is the AGFC’s Wings Over Arkansas program.
“With Wings Over Arkansas, you record the bird species you see or hear on a checklist,” Bartlow said, “Once you reach certain levels, you are awarded a certificate and pin to show your accomplishment.”
Bartlow says Wings Over Arkansas is very popular with school groups and scouts, but has just as many adult participants who enjoy creating a life list of birds they’ve seen.
“Birding is something that anyone can enjoy, no matter what age they are,” Bartlow said. “And because birds can be attracted to practically any location using feeders, you don’t have to make special plans for a weekend getaway to a far off destination to enjoy the hobby.”
Visit http://gbbc.birdcount.org/ for more information about the Great Backyard Bird Count. To learn more about the Wings Over Arkansas Program or visit one of the AGFC’s four nature centers, visit http://www.agfc.com.

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02142018Mississippi CWDVICKSBURG – A tissue sample collected Jan. 25 from a free-ranging white-tailed deer in extreme southern Issaquena County, Mississippi, returned the first known positive test of chronic wasting disease in the state.
The 4½-year-old buck died about 8 miles north of Vicksburg and was reported to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. The buck was found about 45 miles south-southeast of the southeastern corner of Arkansas.
According to a Feb. 9 press release, MDWFP implemented its CWD response plan, although the release did not go into detail about specific steps. Supplemental deer feeding was immediately banned in Claiborne, Hinds, Issaquena, Sharkey, Warren and Yazoo counties.
Issaquena County is across the Mississippi River from East Carroll Parish in Louisiana. Issaquena County, East Carroll Parish and Arkansas’s Chicot County meet in the southeastern corner of Arkansas and the northeastern corner of Louisiana. The northern boundary of Issaquena County is almost directly across the Mississippi River from the Arkansas-Louisiana state line.
Cory Gray, chief of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Research Education and Compliance Division, says biologists from Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana are already planning to meet and discuss future actions so each state can be on the same page.
“The discovery came at a difficult time to gather samples, as hunting season is nearly over in Arkansas with only a few bowhunters still looking for a deer,” Gray said. “We are reaching out to hunting clubs in the southeast corner of the state to keep a sharp eye out for any deer showing signs of CWD and to report it immediately.”
Gray says the AGFC plans to collect more hunter-harvested samples from the southeast corner of the state during the 2018-19 deer season. Other samples will come from target animals from public reports and roadkills.
“We are about to enter another season of collecting roadkill samples, and have already spoken to local biologists to increase that effort as much as possible,” Gray said. “From February 19 through April 1, we ask anyone seeing a road-killed deer to report it to our hotline at 1-800-482-9262. Anyone seeing any deer that shows signs of CWD should be reported to the same number immediately, day or night.”
For details about CWD developments in Mississippi, visit mdwfp.com.
For information about CWD in Arkansas, visit http://www.agfc.com/cwd.

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Frog Bayou WMAThe Arkansas Game and Fish Commission added more than 2,220 acres of access for hunters and anglers in 2017. Land for waterfowl hunting, upland game and bat conservation highlight the improvements for wildlife. A state-of-the-art weigh-in facility in Northwest Arkansas, new access for paddlers on Crooked Creek and additional bank fishing opportunity on one of the AGFC’s oldest lakes round out some of the improvements for 2017 for anglers.

 

Frog Bayou Jumps to Three Times its Size

Frog Bayou Wildlife Management Area in Crawford County has quickly become one of the most popular public lands for waterfowl hunting in the western half of the state. Popularity can lead to crowded conditions in small WMAs, but thanks to a partnership with the Trust for Public Land and Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration grants, the AGFC nearly tripled the size of this popular waterfowl-hunting and wildlife-viewing destination in June 2017. The purchase of 1,390 acres adjacent to Frog Bayou WMA has been pursued by the AGFC for many years, and thanks to a recent sale of the property, this land is now available for the public.

“Expanding Frog Bayou has been a high priority,” said Luke Naylor, AGFC waterfowl program coordinator. “But many complications with multiple ownerships surrounding the property had made it difficult to pursue until recently.”

The Trust for Public Land facilitated adding the property to the WMA by securing a purchase agreement with the landowner, acquiring the property and conveying to AGFC as grant funding became available. This enabled the AGFC to go through the proper channels to secure Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration funds. The total purchase price of the property was $4.54 million, 75 percent of which was brought in through Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration funds.

 

Public Quail Habitat a Stone’s Throw from Central Arkansas

The Commission reinforced its commitment to northern bobwhite management at its March 2017 meeting when it purchased 989 acres of fields and upland habitat bordering a portion of the Camp Robinson Special Use Area in Faulkner County. The new area is named Stone Prairie WMA, and will be managed separately from the Special Use Area.

“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. “It’s proximity to Camp Robinson (special use area) makes it a good fit to expand hunting opportunities in that area.”

 

Bat Restoration Leads to Gulf Mountain WMA expansion

Although the Diamond Pipeline was surrounded by controversy in 2017, hunters will see some new land on Scott Henderson Gulf Mountain WMA thanks to mitigation requirements derived from its path. A 240-acre tract of land bordering the WMA in Van Buren County was added in an effort to offset the impacts the project may have on habitat available for the threatened northern long-eared bat. Diamond Pipeline LLC, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Arkansas Field Office, contributed $5.1 million to work with state and federal agencies, non-profits and private landowners to acquire, restore and protect an estimated 3,000 acres of forested northern long-eared bat habitat in perpetuity. The species has been documented on the 240-acres added to Gulf Mountain WMA, but recreational activities will not conflict with the habitat requirements of the species.

 

Anglers and AGFC Partner at Prairie Creek

Teamwork with local anglers was the key to a major improvement for Beaver Lake bass anglers this year with the addition of an impressive weigh-in facility at Prairie Creek.

“Prairie Creek is the most utilized access on Beaver Lake,” said Jon Stein, AGFC fisheries biologist for northwest Arkansas. “It has a six-lane boat ramp and a parking lot that can handle tournaments as large as 190 boats.”

Stein says the project began after local anglers spoke to him and Colton Dennis, the AGFC’s Black Bass Program coordinator, explaining their need and willingness to help in the project. He was able to secure a grant through the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Fund.

“Anglers came forward to pledge their commitment to the project,” Stein said.

In all, anglers contributed $32,500 worth of in-kind donations to the project and the AGFC contributed $41,250 of funding. This was enough matching money to secure $221,250 from federal grants to bring the total project cost to $295,000.

The facility has a 24-foot-by-36-foot pavilion and 42-foot laminated wood amphitheater. Two holding tanks are for anglers to keep their fish in while they wait to weigh-in. Water from the lake will be pumped into the tanks and an air blower will aerate them to ensure fish stay as healthy as possible during weigh-ins.

 

George’s Creek Access Makes Crooked Creek a Faster Float

The section of Crooked Creek between Snow and Kelly’s Slab not only harbors huge smallmouth, but also is one of the most picturesque stretches of stream in the state. A new access on Old U.S. Highway 62 west of Yellville will make it possible to enjoy without investing an entire day.

“If you want to fish that stretch, you are looking at a good 8 to 10 hours from put-in to take-out,” Mike Cantrell, AGFC regional maintenance contract coordinator, said. “Our new access on George’s Creek splits that float almost in half, making it much easier to get out for an afternoon or morning float when you don’t have a full day to fish.”

According to Cantrell, people parked along the Old U.S. Highway 62 just upstream and dragged their canoes and kayaks a few hundred yards downstream to meet up with Crooked Creek.

“At the new access, people can pull right down to the water on the concrete ramp and unload their canoes instead of dragging,” Cantrell said. “We even built a canoe loading ramp and handicapped access.”

Users can unload canoes at the ramp, put in all their gear and walk the canoe down the sidewalk before driving their car back up to the parking area. The added feature makes getting into the water much easier and helps keep things moving when a few groups are trying to get in the water at the same time.

In addition to the ramp, there’s roughly 6,000 square feet of parking and a 1,000-foot section of road connecting the access to Old Highway 62.

The project, funded by marine fuel tax dollars and Sport Fish Restoration Funds, was dedicated in May to Mark Oliver, the recently retired chief of the AGFC Fisheries Division, who pursued this access for many years to make it a reality.

 

Lake Conway Access Adds Reach for Bank Anglers

Anyone who has driven over the Arkansas Highway 89 Bridge at Lake Conway has likely seen a boat or bank fisherman nearby searching for crappie. During fall and winter, this area can become extremely crowded with cars, as many people have learned that the deep water of the channel congregates slab-sized crappie during cold weather. Unfortunately, this means many cars parked along the highway, creating a dangerous situation. But the Commission’s purchase of 1.3 acres near the bridge in March 2017 may improve things dramatically for shorebound anglers looking to enjoy a day on the bank.

Tom Bly, AGFC district fisheries biologist in Mayflower, says anglers have always parked along the bridge’s right-of-way established by the Arkansas Department of Transportation and walked to the water to fish, but a small piece of land adjacent to that area became available a few years back, and was finally able to be purchased last year.

“Right now it’s just a cleared and bushhogged piece of land,” Bly said. “But we plan to put a parking lot in there that can hold 10 to 15 cars. The bank will be accessible from the location as well, and we hope to include a handicapped-accessible fishing pier in the future with an intensive habitat project around it.”

Although boat launching will not be possible from the new access, Bly says there may be enough space to launch a canoe or kayak at the area, but his main goal in the access is to increase bank-fishing opportunities and safety for anglers looking for a quick trip to the water.

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Enforcement K-9An Arkansas Game and Fish Commission K-9 helped a northeast Arkansas fire department find the people suspected of starting a brush fire in early January.

The Pocahontas Fire Department responded to the midmorning fire in a wooded city block after a 911 call, in which the caller expressed concern that the fire appeared headed toward a vacant house with a side shop, with quite a few leaves in between. The department was on the scene at Dalton Street and Hamil Street in 6 minutes and began extinguishing the fire before it could reach the buildings.

The fire department then asked local AGFC Wildlife Officer Jeff Dalton if AGFC K-9 “Happy” could help them find who started the fire. Happy, Dalton said, circled the perimeter and detected a track and followed it through woods, over a small rock-filled creek, over a chain-link fence, and to a subdivision about 400 yards from the fire.

“I knew when he tracked through a sand box that we were on them, because I could see the fresh tracks,” Dalton said.

Then it was quickly around the side of a house, up to the porch and a stop right at the front door. Dalton and the fire department captain interviewed the homeowners and determined that two juveniles had been playing in the area and had started the fire. Charges are pending.

The K-9 Happy previously resided in Garland County and was featured in the September-October issue of Arkansas Wildlife magazine about his talents in locating a troubled and possibly suicidal youth deep in a wooded area, among other exploits. His handler there was the AGFC’s Jeremy Whiley, but when Whiley was promoted to sergeant, Happy relocated to northeast Arkansas to work with Dalton.

“I got him in September,” Dalton said. “This makes my third K-9. I had two as a sheriff’s deputy here in Randolph County, but my first AGFC K-9.”

Dalton and Happy have bonded nicely. They’ve already had plenty of work, including Happy’s tracking down one of two people who allegedly stole a motorcycle in the area. Happy has also been on a couple of deer cases with Dalton, the officer said. The recent fire work, which could have taken out property that is for sale had the blaze traveled just 30-40 more yards, made many more people take notice.

“Out of the three canines I’ve had, he’s the best tracking dog and article-search dog I’ve ever had,” Dalton said. “He’s very work-aggressive. Anytime he gets out of the truck this dog’s nose is on the ground and ready to go. He makes it look easy for the handler. He’s very good at it.

“The local police department has two K-9s and the sheriff’s office has two, but this dog, I don’t know … The fire department asked me if we could track possible suspects and I told them, ‘If anybody’s been around that fire, we can find a track.’ Everybody was so amazed watching him work. He gained a lot of respect.”

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01242018internLITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is accepting applications for summer internships until Feb. 28, 2018. These internships, funded by sales of the AGFC’s Conservation License Plates, let students gain hands-on training and experience needed to compete for a future career in conservation.

Betty Bryant, internship coordinator for the AGFC, says many students are interested in a wildlife management, fisheries or conservation education career, but often lack the hands-on experience to stand out from the crowd of applicants.

“Each year thousands of students graduate colleges, but very few have real-world experience,” Bryant said. “Internships not only give them that training, but they also help them decide if the career they’re studying for really does fit them.”

Internships are available across the state in conservation education, wildlife management, fisheries management, wildlife law enforcement, and many other careers needed in conservation.

  • To qualify for an internship, an applicant:
    Must have a declared degree in an approved field of study.
  • Must have 60 hours of college credit by the time the internship begins.
  • Must be a full-time student at the time of application.
  • Must have a 2.5 cumulative grade point average.
  • Must demonstrate coursework or knowledge related to work area.
  • Must either be a resident of Arkansas enrolled in any college or university or a nonresident enrolled in an Arkansas college or university. Selected interns will be responsible to coordinate with their college or university to obtain course credit for their work.

Applications should include a current resume, a one-page cover letter, an official copy of college transcripts and a completed application form.

Visit https://www.agfc.com/internships for more information on the internship program and a list of openings for 2018.

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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.

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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.

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