AGFC enters new territory with Town Hall meeting
Of its many public meetings over the years, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has never held one like the Town Hall scheduled for Feb. 19.
The Town Hall will be from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Game and Fish Commission office in Little Rock at 2 Natural Resources Dr.
Commission members conceived this idea at their general work meeting on Jan. 16. Commission Chairman Ford Overton of Little Rock envisioned the forum to enable the public to meet and interact with members of the commission and with the agency’s department heads, particularly its chiefs of fisheries and wildlife management divisions.
In short, it will be an open opportunity for the public to get information directly from the people that craft the management policies for the game and fish resources that we enjoy.
Unlike other meetings, the Town Hall will not follow a particular topic. It will not be scripted, and questions will not be pre-selected.
During discussions about the meeting, commission members conceded potential vulnerability in such a format. They are briefed continually on all of the agency’s projects and activities. They are updated on the agency’s budget, hunting and fishing license sales, federal aid receipts, legal proceedings and major projects in each division.
The commissioners are also private individuals that have busy lives outside the agency. They are aware that there is a very good chance they will be stumped by a question, or at the least they’ll get a question to which they will not have a ready answer.
Overton said that the point of the meeting will be to find out what topics interest sportsmen at that moment. Agency staff will provide deeper insight to management questions.
As hunters and anglers have become more informed, the commission’s public meetings run smoother and clearer than in past decades. When access to the Game and Fish Commission was more constricted, meetings were like open mic nights where people would rehash decades-old grievances over issues in which the commission sometimes wasn’t even involved.
Hunters and anglers that care enough to attend public meetings are attuned to their interests, and the commission and its employees have adapted. They are more open and more responsive to a more informed and more articulate constituency.
In the wake of what most hunters consider to be their worst duck season, there will probably be a lot of interest in waterfowl related issues, and also in chronic wasting disease. The Game and Fish Commission has no influence over weather, nor over land and crop management practices in the Midwest, nor over a disease that defies explanation, let alone management.
GREERS FERRY MEETING
Besides the Town Hall, the Commission will hold a public meeting Feb. 28 from 6-8 p.m., at the Heber Springs Community Center to gather public input for the new Greers Ferry Lake Fisheries Management Plan.
Fisheries biologists will give presentations on recent research and fisheries-related management of the lake, including the current status of fish populations, results from a recent angler creel survey, habitat projects and threadfin shad stockings to boost the lake’s forage base.
Attendees will participate in focus groups to identify the topics that they want the commission to consider as part of the lake’s management plan. Fisheries biologists will compile the results of all focus groups and incorporate the most important items in a draft plan that will guide fisheries management activities on Greers Ferry for the next five years.
A second meeting will be held from 6-8 p.m. March 19.
Like all aging reservoirs, Greers Ferry goes through boom and bust cycles that are attributable to multiple factors. Successive years of low water levels during the spring, for example, suppress spawning success for bass and sunfish. It also affects spawning for threadfin shad, the primary forage for all of Greers Ferry’s game fish species. Food availability drives all game fish populations, and paucity of food was a big problem at Greers Ferry for years.
The big lake has rebounded in recent years, and the bass and crappie fishing has improved quite a bit.