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AGFC tours elk country during monthly meeting

HARRISON – In the heart of elk country, Commissioners with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission toured several projects designed to benefit not only Arkansas’s elk herd, but numerous species of wildlife. The Commission was in Harrison this week for its monthly meeting.

The Commission observed elk in Newton County’s Boxley Valley and habitat projects in the recently-purchased parcel in Richland Valley. Numerous bull elk put on a show for commissioners by bugling and herding cows in the picturesque Buffalo River country of north Arkansas.

Biologists with the agency told the commissioners about various habitat enhancement projects such as prescribed fire and restoration of native grasses. Biologists emphasized that the habitat improvements attract elk to public property, but also benefit species such as turkey, black bears, dove, songbirds and white-tailed deer.

In other business, the Commission:

*Heard a presentation on repairs to Lower White Oak Lake. The 50-year-old lake is a popular destination for many anglers and is managed as a trophy Florida largemouth bass fishery. Earlier this year, the lower gate on the water control structure began leaking significantly. Currently the lake is 4.5 feet below normal levels due to the leak and evaporation. Replacement of the gate is estimated at $205,500.

*Approved a budget increase of $3 million to be used in restoration of damages to AGFC facilities statewide from the spring 2011 tornadoes and floods. The Federal Emergency Management Administration will reimburse 75 percent of the amount to the AGFC. The remaining 25 percent will come from the State of Arkansas emergency funds and insurance proceeds.

*Approved a $26,000 grant to Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry. The goal of the AHFH is to help feed hungry Arkansans by hunters donating harvested deer to the organization. The deer is then processed and delivered to the many feeding agencies and organizations across the state. Last year the organization provided 70,000 pounds of venison to people in need.

*Approved up to $1 million to help fund development of a revised state water plan. Money for the plan will come from gas lease revenue. The plan will be developed by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission with input from the AGFC.

*Approved an amendment to the Memorandum of Agreement between the AGFC and Arkansas Department of Rural Services for the Wildlife Recreation Facilities Pilot Program. The amendment includes an additional $500,000 for the program during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

*Approved an amendment to the Memorandum of Agreement with Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department and Arkansas Department of Rural Services for the Wildlife Trails and Recreational Facilities Grants. Up to an additional $1 million will be available for the project.

*In partnership with the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, the AGFC was recently awarded a$1,509,012 Recovery Land Acquisition Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The grant will benefit three federally-endangered species by providing funds to purchase a 1,688-acre tract of habitat along the bank of the lower Saline River in Ashley County.

*Approved a budget increase of $45,000 to help fund sampling requirements and laboratory fees related to chronic wasting disease in the state’s deer and elk populations. Money will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

*Approved a budget increase of $200,489 to add new projects within the Big Woods of Arkansas Habitat Conservation Planning Grant. The projects will benefit six federally-listed endangered species including the ivory-billed woodpecker, red-cockaded woodpecker, interior least tern and the fat pocketbook, pink mucket and scaleshell mussels.

*Approved a budget increase of $26,618 to benefit federally-listed threatened and endangered species. The money will be used to perform pathogen testing in the Ozark hellbender and for projects related to bats that are threatened by white-nose syndrome.