AGFC en­ters new ter­ri­tory with Town Hall meet­ing

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS OUTDOORS - BRYAN HEN­DRICKS

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.

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