Commissioners with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission today authorized Director Austin Booth to amend a long-term lease agreement with Central Arkansas Water to expand Maumelle River Wildlife Management Area in Pulaski County by 2,395 acres.
According to Ben Batten, AGFC deputy director, Maumelle River WMA was created in July 2010 when CAW agreed to allow hunting and other outdoor recreational activities on its property around Lake Maumelle with AGFC's oversight. In July 2013 the two organizations signed a 99-year lease agreement for $1 million to ensure public hunting access on 18,861 acres around Lake Maumelle.
"Previously to that point there was no hunting allowed on that property at all and it allowed for some small game hunting and limited archery hunting for deer," Batten said.
Last year, CAW approached the AGFC with an offer to reset the 99-year lease and add 2,395 acres the water utility had acquired to protect the watershed since the initial agreement. AGFC will pay CAW an additional $226,825 under the amended lease agreement.
"It equates to a cost of 54 cents per acre per year, which is an incredibly good value," Batten said.
The amended lease agreement also will expand the portion of the WMA where small game hunting is allowed. Previously, small game hunters could only access 1,279 acres of the property. Now hunters may pursue small game on an additional 6,864 acres, most of which had been reserved for archery deer hunting only.
This lease agreement and its importance to the agency's 5-year strategic plan was included in the many achievements AGFC Director Austin Booth spoke about in his address to the Commission.
"This (agreement) means that we will have reached roughly half of our 5-year goal (5,000 additional acres of public access) within six months," Booth said.
Securing federal funding for hatchery renovations, recruiting the largest cadet class in the agency's Enforcement Division, providing body cameras to game wardens, and working hand-in-hand with duck hunters to begin the arduous task of renovating Arkansas's famous greentree reservoirs also were highlighted in Booth's update from the first six months since the agency's 5-year strategic plan, "Natural State Tomorrow," was unveiled.
"But we are not resting on our six-month laurels," Booth said. "To be clear, the greatest accomplishment this agency has had in the past six months is momentum."
Commissioners also unanimously approved another land acquisition during today's meeting, this time at Frog Bayou WMA in northwest Arkansas. According to the signed minute order, the Commission gave Booth the authority to complete a purchase agreement for up to 165 acres of property adjacent to the existing WMA boundary for a price not to exceed $527,0000. This will expand the amount of public access to wetland habitat in the Arkansas River Valley for both hunting and watchable wildlife pursuits and increase the agency's ability to provide valuable winter habitat for migrating birds.
In other business, the Commission:
Heard from Toby Howell, program director for KARN radio, who offered a quick overview of the partnership between the AGFC and local media sources.
Heard from Kyle Ludwig, president of the Central Arkansas Chapter of the Arkansas Outdoor Society, AnnetteFields-Williams, faculty member at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and Hollie Sanders, AGFC Education Division assistant chief, with a presentation about the successful Academics Afield mentored hunt program.
Heard from Emiley Purvis, a graduate student at the University of Central Arkansas, about her experience with the scholarship and internship program offered through the AGFC's Conservation License Plate program.
Recognized 11 employees with a combined 210 years of service to the natural resources of Arkansas.
Recognized Sarah Baxter as the recipient of the AGFC Fisheries Division Administrator/Technician of the Year Award.
Recognized Former Black Bass Program coordinator Colton Dennis as the recipient of the AGFC Fisheries Division Legacy Award.
Recognized Jon Stein, AGFC fisheries supervisor in northwest Arkansas, as the recipient of the Mike Freeze Fisheries Biologist of the Year Award.
Heard from Mark Barbee, assistant regional supervisor in the AGFC's Monticello Office, with a summary of the 2022 alligator season.
Heard from Blake Sasse, Nongame Mammal Program coordinator, with a summary of the 2022 Fur Harvest Report.
Approved a $600,000 increase to the Information Technology budget to update the disaster recovery capability of the agency's data center.
Approved six minor clerical changes to the Arkansas Code of regulations to fix grammatical errors and align regulation language with the intent of the regulations passed during the biennial regulations-setting process.
Approved the use of Marine Fuel Tax money for two construction projects in the agency's Fiscal Year 2023 budget:
Resurfacing a 2.5-mile section of Findley Road near DeGray Lake in partnership with Clark County for $250,000, and
Overlay about 3 miles of Jones Lake Access Road in partnership with Union County.
Approved a right-of-way easement on W.E. Brewer Scatter Creek WMA in Craighead County with Craighead Electric for the completion of new electric power and fiber-optic lines across the WMA.