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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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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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Lands leased from timber companies by the AGFC for hunter access will remain intact for the 2011-12 season.

No changes in its leased land program will be made by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for the 2011-2012 hunting season.
Some restructuring can be expected the following year, commissioners indicated at their August meeting in Little Rock. AGFC Chairman George Dunklin of Stuttgart said, “Land will be leased this year as it was last year,”
Leased land permits were increased from $20 to $40, although the increase will not be effective until the 2012-2013 season.
For many years, the AGFC has leased land in a number of areas from timber companies and other landowners to provide low-cost hunting opportunities. Most of the use on these lands is from deer hunting, but other activities take place as well.
The problem is an economic one. Leased land permit sales have never met the cost of the leases. Areas that are the most used by hunters will be determined this fall.
“The Property Management Committee will take these issues up for next year,” Commissioner Emon Mahony of El Dorado said. The committee will investigate the use of leased lands and recommend alternatives through conservation easements for future hunting seasons.
The issue is a complex one. Landowners, especially the major timber companies, may shift land uses as forests mature and are harvested. For example, a tract may be leased for 20 years or more then its pine trees are ready for cutting. This takes the land out of hunting desirability, at least until tree growth regenerates.
In some places, private hunting groups may offer more for leasing than the AGFC can pay.
Leased tracts are scattered, too. The leased land areas of the AGFC are Casey Jones Wildlife Management Area in south Arkansas, Cherokee WMA and Jim Kress WMA in north-central and west-central Arkansas and Big Timber WMA, Gum Flat WMA, Provo WMA and Lafayette County WMA in southwest Arkansas
The commissioners will also review agreements with the U.S. Forest Service for several areas.
The $20 leased land permits for 2011-2012 are on sale at AGFC offices, license dealers and online at www.agfc.com. They are required for hunting, trapping and camping. A separate permit is required for each leased land area. Youths under 16 are not required to have permits, and maps of the leased areas are available with the purchase of permits. Permits are valid for one year.

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