Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Controlled burn at Camp Robinson SUARandy Brents
AGFC Prescribed Fire Manager

LITTLE ROCK – Prescribed fire and bobwhite quail — one restores a natural process, the other is a natural species. Prescribed fire will take place without quail but quail will not thrive without prescribed fire. How do we get more fire on the ground? We must first understand its benefits and specifically how they relate to bobwhite quail.

Bobwhite quail as a species spend most of their natural life cycle in amongst the grasses and forbs, on the ground and out of site to those who aren’t looking or listening. A closer observation by a trained eye presents a whole other world. People have the ability to improve their food and housing options, but a bobwhite’s life is constantly being impeded by diminished food sources and poorer housing, less space along with other issues.

Prescribed fire provides a flush of new vegetation, offering seeds and invertebrates for quail. Putting fire on the ground at different intervals and different seasons favors a variety of food sources. There’s the new restaurant for bobwhite.

Housing? Prescribed fire is the restoration of a natural process, a process that before human intervention burned across a landscape and was constantly shaping habitats. With every passing flame structural diversity occurs. A fire will burn hotter or cooler depending on terrain and weather factors and as a result different impacts are made to structure.

Some animals, such as white-tailed deer and squirrels, can thrive nearly anywhere, but northern bobwhites are not generalists. They prefer a thick patch of cover such as greenbrier or other types of shrubs in winter. They prefer native clump glasses to nest, and open ground for the chicks to move freely and feed once hatched. All the while, they need some sort of overhead cover to deter predators, offer shade from heat and protect from snow. It is a large dynamic habitat. One that has to have many components to be efficient for their survival, all of which are improved by prescribed fire.

Land managers must use every tool in our proverbial toolbox, and prescribed fire should be that big hammer amongst the screwdrivers and small wrenches. Set aside the acres, use prescribed fire coupled with other actions for bobwhite quail management and they will come. Putting a little fire on the ground at the right place, at the right time and with the right intention can be the best prescription a landowner can make to create those restaurants and homes quail need.

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Quail HuntingHARRISON – Join the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Quail Forever and the Boone County Natural Resources Conservation Service in a night devoted to bringing back the bobwhite at the Harrison Federal Building, from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. May 3.

As part of the AGFC’s continued commitment to the conservation of northern bobwhite in Arkansas, private lands biologists have partnered with Quail Forever and the NRCS to offer this special workshop for landowners interested in restoring quail populations. Quail face many challenges today that were not present during upland game’s heyday in The Natural State. More efficient farming and ranching practices, as well as land conversion for other human interests has reduced northern bobwhite habitat to a fraction of what it once was.

Jessica Cox, Farm Bill Program biologist for Quail Forever, says the workshop will cover basic quail biology as well as their habitat needs, but a major component will be focused on programs available to get boots on the ground and begin the work needed to create that habitat.

“Since I began working in this area for Quail Forever in December, I have had a lot of calls and interest in bobwhites from local landowners,” Cox said. “The largest concern many had was the expense of converting their land to good habitat. In some cases, good quail habitat can be established with very little expense, and many programs are available to offset the cost of converting the land to good cover or feeding grounds for quail.”

Cox is one of seven biologists hired by Quail Forever in the last year to help establish quail habitat on private land throughout Arkansas.

The AGFC’s Private Lands Program also will have biologists on hand to talk about quail biology and the AGFC’s Acres for Wildlife Program, which provides seed and technical assistance to establish wildlife habitat on private land. A district biologist from the US Department of Agriculture also will be available to talk about Federal programs through the Natural Resource Conservation Service to help with habitat restoration.

Cox says more workshops will be scheduled for surrounding areas in the future, but that’s not the only way to get started providing needed habitat for quail.

“We can always come out and work with landowners face-to-face on ways to help establish good wildlife habitat on their property,” Cox said. “These workshops just really help everyone learn together and cover questions each person may not have come up with on their own.”

Food will be provided to all attendees who register by April 27, but anyone can come to learn about quail whether they registered or not. Please contact Jessica Cox at 870-741-8600 Ext. 110 or by email at jcox@quailforever.org.

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LITTLE ROCK – This summer, researchers from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the University of Arkansas at Monticello will attempt to determine whether bear zone 4, in the Gulf Coastal Plain of southern Arkansas, will join the state’s four bear zones open for hunting.

“What we hope to see from this information is whether there’s a sustainable population,” said Myron Means, AGFC Large Carnivore Program coordinator. “If it is, we’ll proceed with a hunt.”

For a six-week period beginning July 1, researchers will set up “hair traps” to figure out population densities of bears. The traps are rings of barbed wire around trees, which are baited. As bears investigate the bait, they rub against the barbed wire, which snags hairs. The hairs then can be analyzed and DNA tested to determine how many bears visited each bait site. From there, biologists can estimate total populations in the area.

Unlike the Ouachitas and Ozarks, much of the land in southern Arkansas is privately owned, which makes research more difficult. While many hunters in the Gulf Coastal Plain have turned in images of destroyed feeders or bears during the last few years, biologists are looking for more sites to document reproducing populations of bears to monitor and expand the hunting season. Any landowners in bear zone 4 who capture videos or photos of bears with cubs this spring are asked to contact the AGFC’s Camden Regional Office, 877-836-4612. Biologists hope to increase the number of collared bears for research in the area to further justify the need for a hunting season.

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FORT SMITH – More than 250 concerned hunters filled the seats at two meetings held in northwest Arkansas last week focused on the most recent information and possible regulations changes concerning chronic wasting disease in The Natural State. The meetings, held in Fort Smith and Springdale, offered people a chance to hear and speak firsthand with biologists tracking the disease in Arkansas and attempting to slow its spread.

“The forum gave us an opportunity to speak directly to concerns hunters had and get feedback,” Jennifer Ballard, state wildlife veterinarian for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said. “People may be very nervous about CWD and what it means for our deer herd and for our hunters, so we’re trying to let people know everything we can about this disease and how our research is progressing.”

Prominent questions involved what to do with deer while waiting for CWD results to be returned and what to do to decontaminate any tools or processing equipment that may have handled CWD-infected animals.

“We are working to speed up the testing process as much as possible for hunters,” Ballard said. “And we are working with the Arkansas Department of Health to distribute as much information as possible to hunters and processors before the next deer season on best practices for handling wildlife and the latest information on the disease.”

In addition to the public in attendance, thousands of people have viewed the meeting via Facebook Live. Comments submitted through that channel also were answered by a panel of experts as the meeting took place. A link to the meetings is available at https://www.facebook.com/ARGameandFish/videos/10156327056788234/.

Key messages at the meeting centered on the recent suggestion from biologists to the Commission to add more counties to the CWD Management Zone, and to divide the zone based on the amount of positive cases found within that county. Boone, Carroll, Madison and Newton counties would encompass Tier One, from which no cervid (deer or elk) carcass other than deboned meat, hide, antlers, teeth, cleaned skulls and finished taxidermy products could be removed. Benton, Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Logan, Pope, Searcy, Marion, Sebastian, Yell, Washington and Van Buren counties would become the second tier of the CWD Management Zone, from which the same products could not leave unless going to a Tier One county.

“Some counties have had only one or two positives, or have not had a positive, but are within 10 miles of one,” said Cory Gray, chief of the AGFC’s Research, Evaluation and Compliance Division. “We want to prevent deer carcasses from the hotter counties spreading the disease more quickly to those outer reaches of the zone.”

Anyone interested in reading these suggested changes and making a comment are encouraged to take the AGFC’s public comment survey at https://survey.agfc.com/index.php?r=survey/index&sid=479677&lang=en.

Visit www.arkansascwd.com for the latest information on chronic wasting disease in Arkansas.

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LITTLE ROCK – The Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center is hosting a special workshop at 6:30 p.m. April 17 that’s all about the birds and the bees, literally.  Attendees will learn how to plant native plants to attract butterflies, birds and bees to their yards, and even receive high-quality butterfly-attracting plants to get started transforming their yards into a pollinator paradise.

With billions of dollars in agriculture depending on them to pollinate crops, birds and beneficial insects have a heavy load on their tiny shoulders. Sometimes people’s actions can inadvertently make their job even more difficult than it has to be. Feral cats, insecticides and conversion of good habitat into urban areas or single-species cropland have all taken their toll on pollinator populations throughout the world. Some of these impacts can be reversed without major changes to people’s habits; it just takes a little forethought and effort. Planting native wildflowers is an easy and attractive way to get started that anyone can do, no matter where they live.

“The Frog Man” Tom Krohn will lead the presentation on creating a wildlife-friendly zone around your home. Krohn, regional coordinator for Frogwatch USA and member of the North Central Arkansas Chapter of The Audubon Society, is a certified Arkansas Master Naturalist with a passion for introducing people to the real world around them.

“Tom has given two presentations on frogs and amphibians here at the nature center before and they were excellent,” said Lauren Marshall, education program specialist for the center. “He really has a passion for the outdoors and really inspires you with some of his knowledge.”

Marshall says the most attractive feature of the workshop to her is the availability of free seeds and plants for participants.

“Tom is bringing native butterfly weed seeds and plants to give away, and you can hardly ever find these sorts of plants to add to your garden and flowerbed,” Marshall said. “And it’s absolutely free. We’ll even have the exhibit hall open for people attending the workshop so they can see the exhibits and take a look at our native garden outside as well.”

Call 501-907-0636 to register for the event. You can also visit the nature center’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/centralarkansasnaturecenter for a list of upcoming events.

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CROSSETT – Hunters in south Arkansas soon will have more than 3,600 new acres of public land to pursue their passion, thanks to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s approval to purchase a large block of land bordering Beryl Anthony Lower Ouachita Wildlife Management Area at its March 22 meeting.

The land currently belongs to The Nature Conservancy, and will be purchased at a price of $4 million. It was appraised at $5.3 million, but TNC has agreed to the discounted price to be used as a match toward federal funds in the purchase. The entire cost of the purchase will be reimbursed by federal funds, so no state dollars will be required to secure this property for public hunting use.

Brad Carner, chief of wildlife management for the AGFC, says the property was previously leased to hunting clubs, and the purchase has not been completed, but the area should be open to the public within the next two years after the purchase is complete and staff have had a chance to set seasons for the property. The purchase will be completed in two phases, with roughly 1,000 acres being acquired by June, and the remainder being purchased in the next fiscal year.

“We plan to add it to Beryl Anthony, but we need to see how the expansion will impact drawn permit numbers for turkey and season dates for other species,” Carner said. “This is an exciting purchase because hunters have relatively little public land in this part of the state.”

Carner says 2,600 acres of the property are currently being managed for the endangered red cockaded woodpecker, but hunters shouldn’t worry that this would impact their hunting now or in the future.

“Other WMAs in our system have active colonies of (red cockaded woodpeckers), and it hasn’t been any conflict to hunting,” Carner said. “Moro Big Pine WMA near Hampton and Warren Prairie Natural Area WMA near Warren both have colonies of these woodpeckers and provide excellent hunting opportunities.”

Most of the property being purchased consists of older-aged pines with an open canopy and tall grasses underneath. Bottomland hardwoods also are available, but this expansion should offer good habitat for animals when the lower portions of Beryl Anthony WMA and Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge flood.

Currently, Beryl Anthony Lower Ouachita WMA offers 7,020 acres of prime bottomland hardwoods. It is a key link in the south Arkansas-north Louisiana wetlands chain along the Ouachita River. Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge joins it to the north. Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge joins it on the south, with the Louisiana state line separating the two tracts. Combined, the three provide major wintering grounds for ducks and other migrating birds. It also plays host to a variety of other species, including deer and turkey.

“The Nature Conservancy has done an excellent job of managing the area very aggressively with prescribed fire, and the area offers great habitat for a host of species like deer, turkey and northern bobwhite,” Carner said. “We look forward to this expansion to Beryl Anthony adding an excellent hunting opportunity in South Arkansas for generations to come.”

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02212018taggedcrappieHUGHES – Horseshoe Lake, an oxbow once part of the Mississippi River in eastern Arkansas, has long been noted for good crappie production, but recent studies have shown a mostly smaller, younger fish population. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is in the second year of a project to determine the cause of crappie mortality, and anglers can help.

The AGFC has placed reward tags on many crappie, with each tag being worth anywhere from $5 to $100, according to Justin Homan, an AGFC district supervisor in Brinkley. Anglers who catch a tagged crappie can report the tag to the AGFC claim the reward value. After removing the tag, they may keep the fish or release it, whichever they would normally do.

Results from the tag returns will help fisheries biologists determine if the low numbers of large, older crappie in the lake are the result of angler harvest or natural causes, Homan said.

“The sampling we’ve done the last two years, what we’ve seen is, we’re having good catch rates, catching a lot of fish from Horseshoe Lake, but we’re not seeing the bigger fish in our samples,” Homan said. “There appears to be very few fish age 3 and over, of the ones we’ve sampled. There are a lot of smaller fish. Most of the fish are 1 or 2 years old. We think they are just not surviving long enough to grow into a larger fish.

“Through the crappie management plan and our sampling, it’s led us to look at angler harvest,” Homan said.

Determining catch rates by anglers will help determine what the AGFC does next at Horseshoe Lake in terms of crappie management. Currently, the daily creel limit on Horseshoe Lake is 50 crappie, a figure that has been in effect for several years at Horseshoe Lake and between the levees of the Mississippi River. When that limit was established at Horseshoe Lake, crappie were considered overcrowded.

Numbers from sampling have indicated that  60 percent of the lake’s crappie will die before age 2, and 60 percent of those surviving fish will not reach age 3.

“We want the anglers to report the tags and send them in,” Homan said. “We’ll want to know, did you harvest it or throw it back? Answers to these questions will help us plan a course of action to improve the crappie size in the fishery.”

Similar angler sampling programs have been used on such lakes as Harris Brake and at Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir, he said.

The AGFC provides a public ramp access to Horseshoe Lake on its western end. Horseshoe Lake is accessible off U.S. Highway 79 at Hughes by taking Arkansas Highway 38 east to Arkansas 147, which runs alongside the west and northwest portion of the lake. Highway 147 also runs due north to Interstate 40, just west of West Memphis.02212018taggedcrappie

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