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Hundreds of trees found new homes in Greers Ferry Lake as fish habitat thanks to a huge cooperative effort by the AGFC and Corps of Engineers.

Hundreds of trees found new homes in Greers Ferry Lake as fish habitat thanks to a huge cooperative effort by the AGFC and Corps of Engineers.

A fleet of habitat barges and support boats led a cooperative effort between the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers to place a literal “ton” of new habitat in Greers Ferry Lake earlier this month.

Five of the AGFC’s habitat barges, one habitat barge from the Corps, backhoes, skidders, excavators and support boats all converged on Choctaw Recreation Area to create and place extra-large brush piles in the west end of the lake. The brush piles were constructed of large cedars removed from the campground at Choctaw as part of a wildlife enhancement project. In all, 300 cedars were removed, bundled and placed in key points of the lake to serve as fish attractors and aquatic habitat.

“We were able to enhance 18 sites,” said Tom Bly, AGFC fisheries supervisor in Mayflower. “Six were existing fish attractors that were freshened up, but 12 were entirely new places where we sank these large piles of cedars. All were within 3 miles of Choctaw Recreation Area.”

Most brush piles were placed in 20 to 25 feet of water, where they can be the most benefit to fish and anglers on a year-round basis. While the attractors make it easier for anglers to locate fish, they’re also important additions to the lake for fish.

Invasive cedars were removed from the campgrounds at Choctaw Recreation Area in early October.

Invasive cedars were removed from the campgrounds at Choctaw Recreation Area in early October.

“Any fish that relates to natural shoreline cover can use these attractors,” Bly said. The structures will be coated with algae, which attracts small insects and minnows, which are food for larger fish. The complex cover also offers shelter from larger predators, so you will see forage fish hiding within the maze of branches. Larger predator fish, like bass, crappie and walleye will stay close by to ambush those smaller fish.”

The locations of all habitat sites were recorded with GPS units and will be available through the AGFC’s interactive map at http://gis.agfc.com/ soon.

According to Bly, the habitat enhancement was a pilot project for a new approach fisheries managers will use in enhancing the state’s waters for fish and anglers. One or two large-scale habitat projects will be selected each year, and the AGFC’s entire Fisheries Management Team will work together and work with partners to benefit the resource like never before.

“We had 25 AGFC employees and a half a dozen Corps employees working together over two days to get the job done,” Bly said. “The area had been prepped and some cedars removed two weeks prior, but nearly all the aquatic habitat work was done in two days without injury or equipment malfunction.”

Downed cedars were used to create and enhance 18 fish attractor locations within 3 miles of Choctaw Recreation area on Greers Ferry.

Downed cedars were used to create and enhance 18 fish attractor locations within 3 miles of Choctaw Recreation area on Greers Ferry.

Bly says sinking brush for habitat is a regular job for fisheries biologists, and anglers will continue seeing smaller-scale habitat projects continue throughout the state, but these large-scale, all-hands-on-deck habitat improvements should enable fisheries managers to make an even larger impact for the benefit of fish and anglers in some of Arkansas’s larger reservoirs.

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AGFC begins potential land purchase process

LITTLE ROCK – During the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s February meeting, Commissioners approved the first step in the potential development of an education and recreation area near Jasper. Commissioners approved a budget increase of $10,000 for the real estate appraisal and other real estate costs involving the 42-acre site.
The AGFC will apply for a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism to help pay for the potential purchase of the land. The land was appraised for $277,000 in September 2007. The land is located on Arkansas Highway 7 north of Jasper.

The potential new facility would feature a diverse ecosystem of the area’s unique geography. Plans would include a paved trail, pavilion, fishing piers, wildlife observation blinds, canoe launch areas and other amenities.

During the Commission’s committee meeting reports, the Commission discussed the results of the 2013 AGFC employee morale survey performed by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Va. The survey included specific questions from the 2012 survey so that a direct assessment of trends in employee attitudes could be made. More than 400 employees provided feedback for the project.

Among the significant findings in the survey were:

  • 85% of employees either strongly agree or moderately agree that the overall direction of the agency is benefitting fish and wildlife resources in the state. This rating was 56% in 2012.
  • The percentage of overall satisfaction (very satisfied and somewhat satisfied responses combined) for “morale within the agency” climbed from 15% to 68%.
  • Since 2012, employees are less likely to think that personal and political interests influence the direction of the agency, and are more likely to think that scientific data and field information influence the direction of the agency.
  • The percentage of respondents who rated the agency’s job performance as “excellent” went from 17% in 2012 to 33% in 2013.

AGFC Director Mike Knoedl said that the results were very good, but the agency still has unfinished business. “I have no doubt that 2014 will be a particularly busy year, and we still have an enormous amount of work to do. The Commission hired me to improve the morale of this agency and that is what I am duty bound to do. I want you to know that I never forget what a great honor it is to work for you and to be given this responsibility and I sincerely appreciate the diligent work each of you do every day,” Knoedl said.

Click here for Responsive Management’s news article on the survey: http://www.responsivemanagement.com/.

In other Commission business:

  • Myron Means, AGFC bear program coordinator, gave the Commission an overview of the 2013 bear harvest. During the 2013 bear hunting season, 184 males and 104 females were harvested. Archery hunters harvested 134 of that total, and 192 bears were taken on private land. Madison, Pope and Johnson counties lead the state in number of bears harvested. Means also pointed out that nuisance bear calls answered by the AGFC totaled 64 in 2013. The number of calls spiked at 314 in 2007.
  • Discussed a presentation from AGFC Elk Program Coordinator Wes Wright on the 2013 elk harvest. Wright told the commission that 18 elk were harvested on public land and 22 elk were harvested on private land. The harvest was down from a year ago when a record 44 elk were harvested during the 2012 hunting seasons.
  • The Commission also approved purchase of 98 vehicles at a cost of $2.4 million to replace aging vehicles in the fleet.
  • Approved the second $300,000 payment, of a total $800,000 grant, to The Nature Conservancy for the Cache River Restoration Project. The project is aimed at restoring a portion of the lower Cache in Monroe County to its natural channel.
  • Approved a budget increase of $300,000 to renovate the Central Office in Little Rock.
  • Approved a funding agreement for a new shooting sports facility with the City of Warren. The AGFC agrees to provide just over $312,000 for the construction of the facility.
  • Approved a budget increase of $433,500 from wildlife restoration federal grant funds and a budget transfer of $144,500 from state funds to purchase equipment for Frog Bayou and Steve N. Wilson Raft Creek Bottoms WMAs, complete green-tree reservoir assessments on various wildlife management areas and construct a work center on Gene Rush WMA.
  • Honored three wildlife officers for their completion of continuing education at the Criminal Justice Institute. The three officers were James Montgomery, Frank Sigman and William Start.
  • Honored Kirsten Bartlow, of the AGFC Communications Division, for being named the 2013 Arkansas Trails Council Professional of the Year. Bartlow works with various local governments and agencies on construction of wildlife viewing and water trails.

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