The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission heard the first reading of 100 changes to the AGFC Code of Regulations during their regularly scheduled meeting.
Although concerns for the current coronavirus emergency prevented the normal formal meeting at one location, a teleconference was held and was made publicly available through the agency’s YouTube page and a special emergency proclamation was issued to carry forward with the meeting.
Many of the regulations changes proposed today were the result of staff looking to simplify, clarify or eliminate codes that were outdated or confusing to the public. A special task force has worked for the last year to identify such codes, and presented 16 changes. The AGFC’s Wildlife Management Division proposed an additional 84 code changes.
Many proposals were focused on wildlife management area regulations and changes to captive wildlife codes; others proposed would affect most hunters. A few of the more notable changes proposed include:
• Adding Independence and Jackson counties to the AGFC’s Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone following a positive detection in Independence County.
• Moving the private land Antlerless-only Modern Gun Deer Hunt to Dec. 29-31, immediately following the Christmas Modern Gun Deer Hunt.
• Increasing the bear quota in Bear Zone 1 (Ozarks) from 340 to 500 bears.
• Instituting a quota system for private land alligator hunting similar to that used for private land elk hunting. Public land alligator hunting would still be conducted via draw.
• Reducing the number of turkey zones from 18 to two, and base turkey zone lines on county lines.
• Allowing hunters to harvest only one turkey during the first seven days of turkey season and allow youth hunters only one turkey during the youth turkey hunt.
• Reducing bag limits for wild turkey on each WMA to one bird.
• Prohibiting the take of bearded hen turkeys.
• Combining deer zones 8 and 8A; deer zones 1A, 6 and 6A; deer zones 4 and 4B, and deer zones 5 and 5B to reduce zones.
• Increasing deer bag limits in deer zones 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 13 to five deer.
• Reducing deer bag limits in deer zones 12 and 17 to five deer.
• Create Cedar Mountain Leased Land WMA within the existing Winona WMA. This 14,000-acre WMA would require a $40 leased land permit to hunt, trap or camp and would be composed of all land the AGFC currently leases from private landowners to provide these areas for public hunting.
• Allowing all-day waterfowl hunting on WMAs only during the last day of regular duck season and during special youth and veteran waterfowl hunts.
• Restricting boat access all day on waterfowl-focused WMAs for five days before waterfowl season and during splits in season segments to reduce disturbance to ducks using the areas outside of hunting times.
• Implementing a draw hunt at the Red Cut Slough Tract of Cypress Bayou WMA on weekends during waterfowl season.
A summary of all changes is available on the recording of the meeting at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sidnUGjqlyU beginning at the 42-minute mark.
All proposals were posted on the AGFC’s digital code public comment form April 6. Additionally, a public comment survey was posted March 26 and circulated widely through the AGFC’s newsletters, website, social media and licensing system to gather input on these proposals. The survey received responses from 8,515 individuals during the open survey period.
Two of the 100 original proposals saw changes during today’s meeting.
A proposal to end duck hunting at 11 a.m. with hunters to leave inundated areas by noon on all waterfowl-focused wildlife management areas was modified by Commissioner Joe Morgan of Stuttgart. The new proposal only affects Dave Donaldson Black River WMA and George H. Dunklin Bayou Meto WMA. It now proposes waterfowl hunting and access to inundated areas both end at noon.
An additional proposal to reduce the number of dogs per trainer allowed at the AGFC’s Pepper’s Pond retriever-training area on Camp Robinson Special Use Area was tabled. Commissioner Anne Marie Doramus of Little Rock said she and other commissioners received many comments from waterfowl retriever trainers concerning the proposed regulation and the lack of general knowledge regarding regulations currently in place.
“I think it is in our best interest and the public’s best interest to put this off for the time being and take a closer look at the current rules that are there,” Doramus said. “Before we move forward we need to make sure that everyone is on the same page. The current rules are especially hard to find, and I think it is unfair of us to put this new one when the first ones are not clear.”
Chairman Ken Reeves of Harrison said a similar issue among horseback riders and quail-hunting trials came about years ago and also was resolved through less drastic measures than regulations changes, and Reeves suggested a roundtable discussion be headed up to resolve any confusion about usage of the area.
Commissioner Bobby Martin of Rogers proposed a motion to pause the implementation of CWD zone regulations for Independence and Jackson counties, but it failed for lack of a second.
Additional comments to each proposal can be made at https://apps.agfc.com/regulations/out-for-comment. The Commission is expected to vote on these regulations at its May 21 meeting.
In other business, the Commission:
• Approved a budget increase of $300,000 to repair a large washout below the dam of Lake Elmdale in Springdale to prevent future degradation of the dam and possible catastrophic dam failure.
• Awarded retiring AGFC Wildlife Officer Capt. Ron Aaron his service sidearm after 34 years of service.
• Clarified the permitting process for 3-year permits for boathouses and fishing piers constructed by landowners bordering Commission-owned lakes.
A video of the meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/user/ArkansasGameandFish.