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The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will hold special public meetings during March to introduce proposed changes to management practices on many popular wildlife management areas for waterfowl habitat.

The meetings are part of the AGFC’s ongoing effort to keep the public informed about habitat degradation in many wetland areas, particularly artificially flooded bottomland hardwood forests known as greentree reservoirs that produce the finest duck hunting experience in the United States.

“Hunting on greentree reservoirs draws duck hunters from all over the country to The Natural State,” said Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the AGFC. “But over decades, those forests have slowly changed, and our management must change with them if we are to continue this great tradition of hunting flooded timber and providing waterfowl with the habitat they need.”

Many hunters have become accustomed to constant high water being available near the opening day of waterfowl season, but according to growing scientific research in Arkansas and other states with greentree reservoirs, the practice has damaged many of the trees that produce the acorns ducks need.

“Flooding before a tree is dormant, and doing so consistently, causes damage,” Naylor said. “And most hunters will tell you there often are plenty of green leaves on the trees during the opening weekend of duck season. We need to begin managing our greentree reservoirs to follow more natural flooding patterns, which typically occur later and fluctuate from year to year.”

The AGFC also has produced a mailing, which describes the situation in detail. It will be delivered to each Arkansas resident who has purchased a waterfowl stamp in the last three years and each non-resident who has purchased a non-resident waterfowl WMA permit in the last three years. A digital version of that mailing is available at http://www.agfc.com/hunting/Documents/GTR.pdf.

“There has been a lot of talk lately about many other aspects of duck hunting on Arkansas’s famous public WMAs,” Naylor said. “But this change is much more important. This is to protect and re-establish the habitat that originally drew ducks to these areas. Without that, Arkansas’s famous green timber duck hunting could very well become a thing of the past.”

Public meetings will be held at the following dates and locations:

Stuttgart
6-8 p.m., March 9
Grand Prairie Center, Salon B
2807 Highway 165 South
Stuttgart, AR 72160

Searcy
6-8p.m., March 14
Searcy High School Cafeteria
301 N Ella,
Searcy, AR 72143

Little Rock
6-8 p.m., March 16
AGFC Headquarters Auditorium
2 Natural Resources Drive
Little Rock, AR 72205

Jonesboro
6-8 p.m., March 28
Nettleton High School Fine Arts Center
4201 Chieftan Lane
Jonesboro, AR 72401

Russellville
6-8 p.m., March 30
Doc Bryan Lecture Hall, Arkansas Tech University
1605 N. Coliseum Drive
Russellville, AR 72801

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AGFC employees and inmates from the Cummins Prison harvesting largemouth bass fingerlings.

Hundreds of thousands of largemouth bass fingerlings will be paroled from Cummins Correctional Facility at this year’s Big Bass Bonanza, June 24-26.

The fingerlings are the result of an ongoing partnership between the Arkansas Department of Corrections, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas anglers.
Each year, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission works with tournament anglers to collect mature largemouth bass from the Dumas pool of the river during spring tournament weigh-ins.

“This year we collected our brood fish from a weigh-in of the Dumas Bass Club,” said JJ Gladden, biologist at the AGFC’s Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery. “In some years we may work with a few clubs to get the fish we need because of weather or poor fishing conditions, but we got enough at the first tournament this year to supply what we needed. The bass are transported to the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections and placed in ponds once planned for raising catfish.

Largemouth bass receive an early release from Cummins Correctional Facility.

More than 1 million largemouth bass have been released from Cummins Correctional Facility since 2001.

“Roughly 200 bass are stocked into the ponds,” said JJ Gladden, biologist at the AGFC’s Joe Hogan State Fish Hatchery in Lonoke. “Our goal is to get about 200,000 fingerlings out of that.”
Colton Dennis, Black Bass Program coordinator for the AGFC says the partnership has produced more than 1 million largemouth fingerlings for the Arkansas River since its creation in 2001.

“Five of the 15 years suffered no measurable production because the river rose into the ponds before we could get the fingerlings out,” Dennis said.

Once ready, 100,000 fingerlings are seined from the ponds using inmate labor supervised by AGFC hatchery crews. The fish are loaded onto hatchery trucks and delivered to weigh-in sites for the Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza.

“20,000 fingerlings go to each weigh-in location,” Gladden said. “As anglers come in to weigh their fish hourly, we give them bags of fingerlings to stock on their return trip.”
Dennis says the boat-side releases by anglers not only allows them to be part of the process, but increases the effectiveness of the stocking effort.

AGFC Hatchery Manager Jason Miller readies a bag of fingerlings at the Little Rock pool weigh-in site of the Big Bass Bonanza for anglers to take with them.

AGFC Hatchery Manager Jason Miller readies a bag of fingerlings at the Little Rock pool weigh-in site of the Big Bass Bonanza for anglers to take with them.

“They’re spreading out and placing the fingerlings in the backwaters and areas they fish,” Dennis said. “It’s going to be more favorable habitat than if we backed up a truck at a ramp and released thousands into an area with less complex habitat, less vegetation and more current to fight.”

Dennis says the last four years the ponds could be harvested have resulted in nearly 373,000 bass fingerlings stocked by volunteer anglers through the tournament. The additional fingerlings left in the ponds after seining are released directly into the Dumas pool of the river through the pond’s drainage pipe.

“There are usually 100,000 or more fingerlings left in the pond that go right back into the pool of river the brood stock came from,” said Gladden.

Stocking bass is not always the answer to improving a fishery, but in the case of the Arkansas River, Dennis says the stockings do make an impact.

“The river has seen a dramatic decline in backwater spawning and nursery habitat the last few decades because of siltation,” Dennis said. “That, coupled with years when the river experiences high flows and flooding during spring when bass are trying to spawn, make programs such as this very important. A study conducted for us by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff showed that stocked fingerlings contributed between 10 and 15 percent to the wild population in the river.”

Stocking through anglers directly into good habitat shows much better survival than dumping huge quantities of fingerlings at one site.

Stocking through anglers directly into good habitat shows much better survival than dumping huge quantities of fingerlings at one site.

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A second deer has tested positive for CWD. AGFC photo

A second deer has tested positive for CWD. AGFC photo

A second white-tailed deer has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The disease is fatal to deer and elk.

The second positive CWD test came from a deer north of Mt. Sherman at Camp Orr. The AGFC took tissue samples from the 4½-year-old female deer, which was found dead on March 2. The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison, confirmed the test late Monday. Earlier this month, another deer was found dead in Ponca. That deer also tested positive for CWD.

The two deer are in addition to an elk killed during a hunt near Pruitt, which was confirmed to have the disease Feb. 23. All three locations are in northern Newton County near the Buffalo River.

The 2½-year-old female elk was killed by a hunter Oct. 6 on the Buffalo National River near Pruitt during elk hunting season. It was the first animal in Arkansas confirmed to have CWD. The disease was confirmed on Feb. 23. The elk was tested by the same lab that confirmed CWD in the deer from Ponca.

To determine the prevalence and distribution of the disease among deer, the AGFC has begun taking samples within a capsule-shaped area ranging from 5 miles west of Ponca to 5 miles east of Pruitt, and 5 miles across.

The dead deer found near Mt. Sherman is in the AGFC’s focal testing area, according to AGFC Chief of Wildlife Management Brad Carner. “This positive sample falls squarely in the middle of our sampling area so we will not have to make any adjustments at this time. We will try to intensify our sampling in the immediate vicinity of this detection,” he added.

“We need to sample 300 deer to determine the prevalence and the spatial distribution of CWD in the population with 95 percent confidence,” said Dick Baxter, an assistant chief in the Wildlife Management Division.

Enough free-ranging deer have to be tested before there’s a strong statistical chance of detecting CWD in 1 percent of the herd. This is a common method to estimate CWD prevalence in deer populations. As results are analyzed, wildlife biologists will adjust the strategy.

“The test area will expand as positive (CWD) tests warrant,” said Cory Gray, AGFC deer program coordinator.

As of March 23, AGFC personnel have sampled 251 deer and 17 elk since the initial positive case of CWD in February. Samples are being sent to the lab weekly. Results of the tests usually take 7 to 10 days.

Sampled deer and elk are processed at a base camp staffed by AGFC and National Park Service personnel. Meat from deer that don’t test positive for CWD will be given to landowners where the deer were harvested or Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry. Everything that is not packaged for consumption will be incinerated.

“Landowners have been very helpful in allowing us access to their property,” Gray said. “Much of the land within the zone where we are working is privately owned. We need their help and help from anyone who sees a deer or elk that appears to be ill.”

The public can report sick deer and elk by calling 800-482-9262 or by email at cwdinfo@agfc.ar.gov, 24 hours a day.
Although there are no confirmed cases of CWD transmission from cervids to humans or to livestock, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the Arkansas Department of Health recommend that people not consume meat from animals known to be infected with CWD.

The AGFC is holding weekly public meetings in Jasper at Carroll Electric, 511 E Court St. The next meetings will be held March 24, 31 and April 7 beginning at 11 a.m.
Visit http://www.agfc.com/cwd for more information.

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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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The tailwater below Greers Ferry Dam was home to the world-record brown trout for nearly two decades. Just because that record was broken doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of big fish and big action to be had on the Little Red River. Check out this “Talkin’ Outdoors” segment of anglers chasing the big bite on the Little Red.

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Eric Maynard, facility director at the AGFC's Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center, eases his boat through flooded parking lots to reach his office.

Eric Maynard, facility director at the AGFC’s Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center, eases his boat through flooded parking lots to reach his office.

When the Arkansas River crested at 46.24 feet at the Pine Bluff gauge on Saturday, Jan. 2, it reached the second highest level since Emmett Sanders Lock and Dam was completed in 1968. The river crested at 47.70 feet May 9, 1990. The rising water flooded most of Jefferson County Regional Park, including the area surrounding Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center.

Eric Maynard, facility director for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s first nature center, says water has completely cut the center off from dry land for the last few days.

The eagle pens at the nature center did experience some flooding, but all exhibit animals have since been moved to safe locations during the high water.

The eagle pens at the nature center did experience some flooding, but all exhibit animals have since been moved to safe locations during the high water.

“The only way to access the center for the last few days has been by boat,” Maynard said. “We’ve been putting in off the main road and boating about three-quarters of a mile to the center to take care of the animals and exhibits.”

The main building of the center was built on stilts and remained dry during the deluge, but many of the outer buildings were inundated.

“The front deck of the center was like standing on a boat dock,” Maynard said. “The greenhouse has about 4 feet of water in it, and the eagle pens are partially flooded. We’ve moved all our educational exhibit birds from their outdoor pens to another building.”

Maynard says the biggest issue for the center now is a lack of power during the cold winter temperatures.

This is the second time this year that the Arkansas River has flooded Jefferson County Regional Park.

This is the second time this year that the Arkansas River has flooded Jefferson County Regional Park.

“Entergy came and turned the power off throughout the park before the major flooding to avoid major problems with the lines,” Maynard said. “That’s been over a week now. Education and enforcement staff have been making trips every day or two to fill generators and feed the animals, but the snakes, alligator and other cold-blooded animals are beginning to cool down because of the dropping temperatures.”

The center staff was prepared for this flood, only because of familiarity. The third-highest mark the river has reached since the dam was completed occurred only seven months ago, when the river crested at 45.96, shutting down access to the center for about two weeks.

“It looks like the water may be down low enough for us to drive in on the road by Thursday of this week,” Maynard said. “But even if we can get to the center, we won’t know how long it will be before the power is back on.”

Crooked Creek rose more than 20 feet above the historical low-water bridge during the Christmas holiday, shutting off access to the education center.

Crooked Creek rose more than 20 feet above the historical low-water bridge during the Christmas holiday, shutting off access to the education center.

The nature center in Pine Bluff was not the only one impacted by heavy rain. Fred Berry Conservation Education Center on Crooked Creek in Yellville saw more than its fair share of precipitation as well. The water gauge at Kelly’s Slab on Crooked Creek peaked at 33.63 on Dec. 28, 2015, more than 20 feet higher than the slab. Although short-lived, the high water completely blocked access to the education center for a day and forced staff to close the facility for two more days while they worked to clean up debris and assess damage.

Marilyn Doran, facility manager at the education center said this is only the third time since the center has opened that she has seen the water so high. The buildings are fine but massive amounts of sand washed onto the property and the handicapped-accessible portion of Woodlands Edge Trail was damaged.

“The education center is open, but the trail will remain closed until we can repair that surfaced portion,” Doran said. “On the positive side, it’s a great time to build a sand castle with all the sand that washed up on the property from the flood.”

The extremely high water deposited tons of sand and sediment from the creek on the surrounding floodplain at Fred Berry Conservation Education Center on Crooked Creek.

The extremely high water deposited tons of sand and sediment from the creek on the surrounding floodplain at Fred Berry Conservation Education Center on Crooked Creek.

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The ringed crayfish is moving into areas along the south branch of the White River, and is pushing out the rare coldwater crayfish.

The ringed crayfish is moving into areas along the south branch of the White River, and is pushing out the rare coldwater crayfish.

Rare crayfish being displaced by ringed crayfish

The coldwater crayfish is a rare species found only in parts of the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks. It inhabits big, spring-fed streams – namely the Eleven Point, Strawberry, Spring and South Fork Spring rivers. Several years ago, ringed crayfish from the North Fork White River basin, turned up in the South Fork.

University of Arkansas professor Dan Magoulick and his students have been studying this invasion where the coldwater crayfish has been displaced from much of the South Fork. The current theory is that ringed crayfish are more tolerant of low, summer water conditions, allowing them to out-compete the coldwater crayfish.

The coldwater crayish has a few color variations, depending on the stream system it inhabits.

The coldwater crayish has a few color variations, depending on the stream system it inhabits.

This ringed crayfish invasion is an example of a short-range introduction. A study published by the Missouri Department of Conservation found that short-range introductions of crayfish are more common than previously thought. Since several of Arkansas’s nearly 60 crayfish species are found in only a small portion of the state, this highlights the need to avoid moving crayfish around from one place to another.

Nongame aquatics biologist and former University of Arkansas student Matthew Nolen dislodge rocks in a stream along the Norht Fork River to find the rare coldwater crayfish.

Nongame aquatics biologist and former University of Arkansas student Matthew Nolen dislodge rocks in a stream along the North Fork River to find the rare coldwater crayfish.

The story of the coldwater crayfish is not all bad. Recent surveys by the University of Arkansas, Missouri Department of Conservation and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission have sought to better understand where coldwater crayfish are found. While they are mostly gone from the South Fork, coldwater crayfish populations are in fairly good shape in the Eleven Point and Spring rivers. A few also were found in sections of the Strawberry River.

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