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WaterfowlGEORGETOWN – Despite horrible conditions throughout the state for much of the 2017-18 waterfowl season, one wildlife management area has continued to provide hunters with increasingly good hunts since its purchase. Steve N. Wilson Raft Creek Bottoms WMA in White County turned in impressive harvest numbers, especially considering the conditions.

Rainfall was extremely scarce leading up to the 2017/18 season, however Raft Creek WMA is capable of being flooded using on-site pumps and water from neighboring landowners. A contractual agreement was made between AGFC and a neighboring landowner, to use his relift on Red River to get water to the WMA. Due to malfunctions with that pump, the WMA did not receive enough water to conduct normal hunting practices, which include a lottery-style draw for flooded holes, until Dec. 30.

Once water finally came to the WMA, hunting faced another setback, as Arctic cold swept in, freezing many of the hunting areas solid. An additional 12 days of the season were lost to frigid conditions in which no open water was available to attract ducks.

Anyone hunting Steve N. Wilson Raft Creek Bottoms WMA must fill out a daily activity card and deposit it in a dropbox on their way out of the hunting area. This enables wildlife managers to keep tabs on success rates and hunter participation so they can continue to modify the area to fit the needs of hunters and waterfowl alike. According to harvest data collected from these cards throughout the season, 874 waterfowl hunters participated in 37 days of hunting on the WMA.

Almost 300 of those 874 hunters hunted during weekdays, and 23 hunted during the youth hunts. The remaining 550+ participants were weekend hunters.

“Hunters shot 2,231 ducks at Raft Creek this season,” said Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the AGFC. “When you add up the numbers, that’s almost 2.9 ducks per hunter per day hunted. In 2016-17 hunters statewide averaged 2.69 ducks per day. That includes private and public land.”

Naylor says the harvest at Raft Creek is a good example of how high-quality habitat can pay off for hunters. Historically, the area was bottomland hardwoods, but had been converted in the late 1960s and early 1970s for row crop production.  When Ducks Unlimited, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the AGFC acquired the property, the topsoil had been depleted of many nutrients from intensive agricultural operations. Since that time, the AGFC has focused on providing the soil what it needs to stimulate the growth of native moist-soil vegetation that is beneficial to waterfowl.

In 2009 the AGFC began ramping up work on moist-soil units on the area, and in 2014 the region was able to add more efficient equipment to conduct the work. These purchases, along with significant infrastructure changes have led to a vast improvement to the quantity and quality of moist-soil units on the area.

“Since 2009, we have really been able to increase the amount of moist-soil habitat work we conduct on Raft Creek, and harvest numbers reflect that,” said Jacob Bokker, wildlife biologist at the AGFC’s Brinkley office. “We’ve been able to produce more food per acre for ducks with less cost as we’ve been able to secure needed funds for equipment and materials.”

Bokker says close to 2,000 acres of the WMAs 4,962 acres are devoted to moist-soil units. These areas are managed through properly timed soil disturbance methods and flooding to promote species which produce abundant seeds for waterfowl in winter.

“We disc, irrigate, mow and stubble roll to promote good annual smartweeds, Ammannia, sprangletop, native millets and sedges,” Bokker said.

Manipulating the native vegetation in moist soil units past the growing season is legal and promotes many invertebrates ducks need to replenish protein and lipids. Deep tillage brings the good annual seeds to the surface and stimulates them with proper draw down timing to replenish the forage year after year.

Raft Creek is the only AGFC WMA which institutes a draw hunting system during the regular duck season. On weekends, hunters must show up two hours before shooting light to draw for one of 30 possible designated hunting areas. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the area is open on a first-come, first-served basis.

“The draw lets everyone have a chance to spread out and enjoy a high-quality hunt,” Naylor said. “It prevents shot-chasing and grouping up on one or two traditional hotspots, and many people will still have good hunts at different areas through the season as water levels change to provide new foods and promote duck abundance at new units. It’s pretty rare that anyone gets turned away without a place to hunt, but if it does occur, it’s still early enough for hunters to have a Plan B in place at another nearby waterfowl hunting WMA.”

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Public meetings are scheduled throughout the state to discuss CWD and proposed regulations to combat the disease.

Public meetings are scheduled throughout the state to discuss CWD and proposed regulations to combat the disease.

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists plan to deliver information about chronic wasting disease and proposed regulations changes to combat its spread at meetings throughout the state, beginning Thursday. All regulations proposals will be voted on at the June 16 Commission meeting.

In addition to 11 public meetings scheduled throughout the state on May 24 and 26, a special public meeting will be held Thursday, May 19, in Jasper to discuss the proposed regulations.

The AGFC also will host a special show on the Arkansas Education Television Network at 8 p.m., Monday, May 23. The show will include a panel of experts from the AGFC, Arkansas Department of Health and the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Viewers may submit comments and questions via phone at 1-800-662-2386, email at paffairs@aetn.org or on Twitter with #ARAsk.

CWD is a fatal disease that affects only deer, elk and other cervids. AGFC photo.

CWD is a fatal disease that affects only deer, elk and other cervids. AGFC photo.

The discovery of chronic wasting disease has been the hot topic in the Arkansas deer-hunting community since it was first found in the northwest portion of the state. Many questions about how deer and elk hunting in Arkansas will be affected have been asked, and many answers are left to be determined.

“The first step in our response was to gauge how prevalent the disease was in Arkansas,” said Cory Gray, deer program coordinator for the AGFC. “Then we took on statewide sampling to find out how far the disease has spread. Now we’re ready to begin taking measures to combat the spread of the disease.”

Gray and the rest of the AGFC’s deer team have worked tirelessly since CWD was first reported in the state to gather as much information as possible from other states who have dealt with the disease.

“This doesn’t mean the end of deer hunting in Arkansas, and it’s not a panic-button situation, but it is serious and will change how we can manage our deer herd,” Gray said.

According to Gray, the ongoing statewide roadkill survey has identified CWD-positive deer in five counties: Newton, Boone, Madison, Pope and Carroll.

“The most recent addition was a deer found dead slightly over the border in Carroll County,” Gray said.

Through all phases of testing, 89 total animals have been found with CWD in Arkansas, 85 deer and four elk.

PUBLIC MEETING LOCATIONS

May 24, 6-8 p.m.

Nettleton Public School
Nettleton Performing Arts Center
4201 Chieftan Lane
Jonesboro

University of Arkansas at Monticello
Fine Arts Center
University Drive
Monticello

National Park College
Fredrick Dierks Center for Nursing and Health Sciences
Eisele Auditorium
101 College Drive
Hot Springs

Arkansas Tech University
Doc Bryan Student Services Center
1605 Coliseum Drive
Lecture Hall
Russellville

University of Arkansas
Pauline Whitaker Animal Science Center
1335 West Knapp
Fayetteville

AGFC Headquarters
2 Natural Resources Drive
Little Rock
May 26, 6-8 p.m.
Camden Fairview High School
Little Theater Auditorium
1750 Cash Road
Camden

Brinkley Convention Center
1501 Weatherby Drive
Brinkley

Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center
8300 Wells Lake Road
Fort Smith

Hope Fair Park Community Center
800 South Mockingbird Lane
Hope

Mountain Home High School
Dunbar Auditorium
500 Bomber Boulevard
Mountain Home

20160511_CWD Public Meetings_HR

 

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ALERT – Chronic wasting disease confirmed in one Arkansas elk

An elk harvested near Pruitt on the Buffalo National River during the October 2015 hunting season tested positive for chronic wasting disease, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

This is the first time an animal in Arkansas has tested positive for the disease, which is fatal to elk and white-tailed deer. To discuss the development, the Commission called a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. at the AGFC’s main office, 2 Natural Resources Drive, in Little Rock.

The AGFC created a CWD response plan in 2006, as the disease was appearing in other states.

“Several years ago, Arkansas proactively took measures to put a testing procedure in place and created an emergency CWD plan,” said Brad Carner, chief of the AGFC Wildlife Management Division. “Those precautions are now proving to be beneficial. We are in a strong position to follow the pre-established steps to ensure the state’s valuable elk and white-tailed deer herds remain healthy and strong.”

To determine how prevalent the disease may be, samples from up to 300 elk and white-tailed deer combined within a 5-mile radius of where the diseased elk was harvested will be tested. There is no reliable U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved test for CWD while the animals are alive. The AGFC will work with the National Park Service and local landowners to gather samples for testing.

A multi-county CWD management zone will be established, and public meetings in the area will be scheduled as forums to discuss plans and to answer questions.

The number of positive samples collected, if any, will help AGFC biologists determine the prevalence of CWD, and will guide their strategy to contain it.

“Although CWD is a serious threat to Arkansas’s elk and white-tailed deer, we are not the first to deal with the disease,” said AGFC Director Mike Knoedl. “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.”

Biologists don’t know how the disease reached northern Arkansas at this point. The local herd began with 112 elk from Colorado and Nebraska, relocated between 1981-85.

“(CWD) would have raised its ugly head a lot sooner than now,” said Don White, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Arkansas Agriculture Experiment Station in Monticello. “I think that it’s extremely unlikely that it came from those 112 elk.”

Biologists have tested 204 Arkansas elk for CWD since 1997; the 2½-year-old female was the only one with a positive result. The AGFC also has routinely sampled thousands of white-tailed deer across the state since 1998.

Samples from the diseased female elk were tested at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison, and verified by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.

There are no confirmed cases of CWD transmission from cervids to humans or to livestock,

“As far as we know, it’s not transmissible to humans at all,” said Sue Weinstein, state public health veterinarian for the Arkansas Department of Health. “In other states where they have CWD and they are studying this, they have found no human disease at all. To be on the safe side, it is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and by the Department of Health that you not eat meat from an animal that you know is infected with chronic wasting disease.”

CWD was first documented among captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967, and has been detected in 24 states and two Canadian provinces. It’s been found in the wild in 20 states and among captive cervids in 15 states.

The AGFC has taken several steps to prevent the disease from entering the state. The Commission established a moratorium on the importation of live cervids in 2002, and restricted the importation of cervid carcasses in 2005. It also set moratoriums on permits for commercial hunting resorts and breeder/dealer permits for cervid facilities in 2006, and on obtaining hand-captured white-tailed deer in 2012.

According to the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, CWD affects only cervids (hoofed animals in the cervidae family such as deer, elk and moose). Biologists believe it is transmitted through feces, urine and saliva. Prions (abnormal cellular proteins) that carry CWD have an incubation period of at least 16 months, and can survive for years in organic matter such as soil and plants.

CWD affects the body’s nervous system. Once in a host’s body, prions transform normal cellular protein into an abnormal shape that accumulates until the cell ceases to function. Infected animals begin to lose weight, lose their appetite and develop an insatiable thirst. They tend to stay away from herds, walk in patterns, carry their head low, salivate and grind their teeth.

Visit http://www.agfc.com/cwd for more information.

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Apply now for a turkey permit hunt.

Apply now for a turkey permit hunt.

Hunters may now apply for limited permits on several Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife management areas for the 2016 turkey season.

Many WMAs offer special permit youth hunts as well as standard permit hunts. Click here for a list of available permits.

Many WMAs offer special permit youth hunts as well as standard permit hunts. Click here for a list of available permits.

April may seem like an eternity for dyed-in-the-wool turkey hunters, but now is the time to start the process of bagging your bird on public land.

Jason Honey, turkey program coordinator for the AGFC, says access to many popular wildlife management areas must be restricted using a permit draw to prevent overcrowding.

Applications will only be processed from Dec. 15, 2015 until Jan. 15, 2016. Applicants will be notified of their application status in late February. Permit winners must pay a processing fee of $10.

Click here to apply

Many WMA's have different season dates than their surrounding zones. Click here to look at the available hunts and dates.

Many WMA’s have different season dates than their surrounding zones. Click here to look at the available hunts and dates.

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Proposed season dates are available for review and comments. Click here to view.

Proposed season dates are available for review and comments. Click here to view.

Although staff recommendations for this year’s waterfowl season dates were formally proposed during the July Commission meeting, public comments prompted the Commission to look into an alternative set of dates for public review.

View proposed season dates and make comments

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Spinning-wing decoys have been a hot topic on Arkansas Wildlife Management Areas in recent discussions.

Spinning-wing decoys have been a hot topic on Arkansas Wildlife Management Areas in recent discussions.

The duck hunters’ debate over spinning-wing decoys goes on.

A recent survey by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission attempted to provide a clear picture of the controversial issue. The result was a nearly even division between yes, maybe and no. There was nothing close to a consensus on the use of spinning-wing decoys.

The survey was intentionally aimed at hunters who had obtained Sweet 16 Wildlife Management Area permits for the 2014-15 season. These permits are required on 16 WMAs in an effort to determine hunter use of the areas.

In the survey, 1,774 hunted waterfowl on an Arkansas WMA during the 2014-15 season. Of that number 1,283 (72.3%) were Arkansas residents.

Among Arkansas residents who responded, 631 said spinning wing decoys should not be banned on WMAs, 144 had no opinion, 489 said they should be banned.

Question: In your experience, do spinning-wing decoys affect your hunt satisfaction while hunting on WMAs? Answer: Positive effect, 545. Negative effect, 536. Also, 363 hunters said the spinning-wing decoys had no effect, and 312 had no opinion.

But only half of the surveyed hunters replied to the waterfowl hunting questions. Presumably, the others did not hunt ducks or geese last season.

A decade ago, the AGFC outlawed the use of spinning-wing decoys after multiple requests by hunters, the first Mississippi Flyway state to do so. But other states did not follow Arkansas’s lead, and the ban was dropped.

But most hunters acknowledged they had used spinning-wing decoys. Question: Did you use a spinning-wing decoy while hunting on these WMAs during the 2014-15 season?
Answer: Always, 290 hunters, sometimes, 1,090 hunters and never, 373 hunters.

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Check your WMA deer hunt permit status and pay for your permit by July 20.

Check your WMA deer hunt permit status and pay for your permit by August 6.

 

ALERT: First WMA Deer Hunt Draw Complete

The first drawing for the AGFC’s WMA deer hunts has been completed. Email notifications were sent out to all successful applicants on July 7. Successful applicants have until 11:59 p.m. August 6 to pay for their permits. All unclaimed permits will be forfeited and will be used for a second drawing for all applicants who were unsuccessful during the first draw. The second drawing will take place August 13. To check your permit status and pay for permits, visit the link below:

Check Status and Pay for WMA Deer Hunt Permit

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