Aug. 3, 2022
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
Two biologists with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission received high praise from national waterfowl conservation organization Delta Waterfowl during a special Champions of Delta Luncheon Saturday at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. Luke Naylor, AGFC chief of wildlife management, and Jason “Buck” Jackson, AGFC Wetlands Program coordinator, were honored with Delta Waterfowl’s Conservation Leader Award for spearheading the AGFC’s Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement Program, a new effort to increase flooded rice on the landscape and offer increased hunting opportunities on managed lands.
U.S. Congressman Bruce Westerman of Arkansas’s fourth district presented Jackson and Naylor’s award.
“They led an innovative effort to deal with two of Arkansas’s most pressing issues — to enhance wintering waterfowl habitat and provide new access for waterfowl hunters,” Westerman said. “Their vision and ability to think outside the box created a solution that is meaningful to both ducks and duck hunters.”
The WRICE program began as an effort to reduce the tilling of rice fields after harvest to make more waste grain available for wintering migratory birds, including waterfowl. It pays incentives to rice producers to forgo fall tillage and flood their fields to make the food more accessible to waterfowl and shorebirds that depend upon the grain that the combine missed. After the first year of the program, Jackson and Naylor developed a plan to offer higher incentives for farmers willing to allow the AGFC to conduct managed permit hunts during duck and goose season. In its third year, WRICE was awarded a Voluntary Public Access-Habitat Incentive Program Grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service which enabled Wildlife Management Division staff to work with private landowners and triple the amount of fields available for duck hunters.
Hunters may apply to hunt one week before each weekend of duck and goose season for a $5 fee per application. If drawn, they are able to bring up to three hunting companions and have sole hunting rights to the field for the entire weekend. Many of these fields would be otherwise gobbled up in private duck leases or tilled and left dry if Jackson, Naylor and various AGFC Private Lands Program biologists did not put in the extra effort to claim them for waterfowl habitat and public opportunity.
According to Naylor, that opportunity may see an even larger increase for the 2022-23 duck and goose seasons. Thanks to increased partnerships with the NRCS in the program to share some of the cost of the habitat portion of the program, even more fields will be available for public hunting opportunities this fall and winter. Contracts are still being ironed out with landowners, but if all goes as planned, hunters will have more than 70 locations spread throughout the Arkansas Delta and Arkansas River Valley to choose from. Not only will the expansion offer hunters more than 20 new hunting opportunities, it will offer more than 1,300 additional acres of potentially flooded rice field habitat to help keep ducks and geese coming to The Natural State.
Visit www.agfc.com/wrice for more information about the AGFC’s WRICE program for ducks and duck hunters.
More information about Delta Waterfowl is available at https://deltawaterfowl.org.