July 22, 2020
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
PERRYVILLE — People familiar with Winona Wildlife Management Area will see a change in this 160,000-acre hunting area this year as they prepare for hunting season. The large public hunting area has been split into two separate sections — Winona WMA and Cedar Mountain Leased Land WMA. Each will carry its own regulations and season limits, and one will require a $40 fee to access for hunting, fishing or camping.
The change came during the Commission’s May meeting as one of many regulations adjustments voted on by the Commission. A public survey ran for a month before the proposal was made in April and was allowed to be commented on for another month before the Commission’s final approval.
The newly named Cedar Mountain Leased Land WMA consists of 12,000 acres along Trail 86 north of Flatside Pinnacle Wilderness Area and another 2,000 acres off Weyerhauser 24000 Road southwest of Paron, all of which is privately owned by Green Bay Packaging. Brad Carner, chief of wildlife management for the AGFC explained that the property has always been privately owned, first by Weyerhauser, then Green Bay, but the AGFC has been paying an annual lease to ensure hunters have the opportunity to hunt there.
“There are a lot of hunters that have used this WMA for years who don’t know that it’s actually private land that we’ve been leasing on a yearly basis,” Carner said. “We’ve been able to work with the landowner to secure the lease and let hunters, hikers and campers use it just like public property for decades. Unfortunately, the rising costs of hunting leases also affects us and we’ve had to spend more each year.”
Carner says the AGFC leases about 290,000 acres annually throughout the state to increase hunting opportunities in areas where purchasing land isn’t an option. Of that 290,000, about 265,000 has been placed in similar leased land WMA programs. The move to create Cedar Mountain Leased Land WMA followed in this path.
“We’re not looking to make money from these leased lands or any of our hunting access programs,” Carner said. “Far from it. But we need to have a little help from the hunters that use the areas to continue making the leased lands possible. The permits also enable us to get a gauge on how many people are using the area.”
In 2019, Carner says the AGFC spent more than $1.6 million in all of the properties leased for public hunting in the state. In return, hunters purchased just over 8,400 leased land permits at $40 a piece, which brought in a little over $336,000, reducing the total expense, but coming more than $1.2 million short of breaking even.
“But it isn’t about money, it’s about public access for hunters,” Carner said. “And having hunting access to 14,000 acres of property for an annual cost of $40 is still a really good deal.”
With nearly 90 percent of Arkansas’s land in private ownership, keeping land open to public opportunities is a priority for the AGFC. However, if budgets can’t be bolstered or expectations of public use are not met, leased private land would have to be reconsidered.
“That’s a last resort, but it could become a reality if lease prices become too high,” Carner said.
According to Carner, the new lease agreements that brought about the change also have opened dialogue toward being able to increase management actions and infrastructure improvements on the WMA in the future.
“Both sides want to make the area more attractive for hunting and other recreational uses,” Carner said. “And a new WMA designation will enable us to make some changes from the rest of Winona WMA regulations if we need to make them.”
Another side benefit for hunters who elect to buy the leased land permit and continue hunting this portion of Winona WMA is the ability to fill your WMA limit of deer or turkeys in both locations. This may very well be a positive note next spring, as all WMAs in the state now have a one-bird bag limit.
“With this being a separate WMA, technically you could take one bird here and then continue to enjoy hunting on Winona WMA to chase a second bird, so long as you don’t go over your seasonal statewide limit of two,” Carner said.
Carner says the leased land permit also may reduce some hunting pressure on the acreage in the new WMA, as some hunters won’t want to pay the extra fee.
“Reducing pressure on the area isn’t the goal, but it is a likely side effect we may see from the fee,” Carner said. “But hunting in this area is very good, and we want to ensure many hunters who have grown up hunting here can continue to do so.”
Visit www.agfc.com and click the Buy Licenses/Check Game button at the top of the page to purchase your Cedar mountain Leased Land WMA permit.