The January 23 presenter for the meeting of the Rotary Club of Heber Springs was Jon Coats, Wildlife Officer for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is 103 years old in 2018, and has a storied history of promoting conservation and habitat management for wildlife across our state. Arkansas’ bear repopulation programs, for example, have been modeled across the world as the single most effective programs of their kind. “The last few years, however, have been among the most difficult for the Commission since its founding,” said Officer Coats.

In the last ten years, the numbers of Arkansans buying hunting and fishing licenses have decreased by about 3 percent each year. At the same time, costs associated with the conservation efforts of the commission have risen by about 5 percent a year. Officer Coats stated that in Arkansas, conservation and habitat depend heavily on sportsmen – sale of licenses and other funds creating through the hunting and fishing sports are what keep the Natural State true to its name.

To try and address the decline of legal hunting and fishing in Arkansas, and to address the increase in poaching, the Game and Fish Commission is implementing a new “R3” program as of January 2018. R3 is a movement in the outdoors industry focusing on recruiting, retaining, and reactivating hunters and anglers. Ensuring healthy wildlife populations involves people. Their participation in hunting and fishing directly funds conservation work in Arkansas. A decline in participation represents both a fading of the state’s heritage and impacts the Commission’s ability to fund conservation work. Recruiting Arkansans to hunt or fish is nothing new. The approach is what is different. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is looking to elevate the time, resources, partnerships, and talents dedicated to this effort to ensure a bright future for conservation in Arkansas.

Officer Coats took comments and suggestions from the Rotarians present about specifically engaging youth in hunting and fishing. He also provided information on grants available to fund these very types of programs. For information on grants to support youth initiatives in promoting and educating young hunters and fishermen, Officer Coats encouraged the public to call the AGFC Education Division at 501-223-6300.

Rotarians are “People of Action” who are making a difference locally, nationally and internationally.  The Object of Rotary is "to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise." The Rotary Club of Heber Springs meets each Tuesday at noon on the ASU-Heber Springs Campus. For more information about the Rotary Club of Heber Springs, please visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/TheRotaryClubofHeberSpringsAR.