Vic DiCenzo

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has selected Vic DiCenzo, a veteran fisheries biologist with an additional background in human dimensions to lead its Black Bass Management Program as coordinator

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has selected Vic DiCenzo, a veteran fisheries biologist with an additional background in human dimensions to lead its Black Bass Management Program as coordinator. He and AGFC Black Bass Program Biologist Jeff Buckingham will serve statewide in the AGFC’s effort to focus on largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass and the needs of anglers who enjoy them as a resource.

According to AGFC Fisheries Division Chief, Ben Batten, Arkansas is the only state he knows of that devotes a position solely to black bass management, and the AGFC actually has two such biologists.

“These two positions are in addition to all the fisheries biologists throughout the state who work on black bass as well as other species,” Batten said. “By having a Black Bass Program, it gives focus to the state’s most popular sportfish as well as helping regional biologists continue work on crappie, catfish, bream and other species as well as bass.”

Batten said DiCenzo’s experience and vision make him the perfect candidate to head up the agency’s program devoted to the species most sought in Arkansas.

“Vic has an impressive career as a fisheries biologist with a master’s degree in fish management and experience in Virginia, Alabama and Texas spanning more than 23 years,” Batten said. “He also had the foresight to go back to school to obtain his doctorate and study the human element of conservation, which is critical to proper management.”

The AGFC provides many weigh-in stations for tournaments throughout the state.Recognizing the importance of the human dimension of conservation and natural resources management is not new. Aldo Leopold, thought of as the father of modern conservation, wrote of the connection with man and nature extensively in his work. However, finding the funding and expertise to conduct social science has often taken a backseat to biological sciences at state conservation agencies.

“In fisheries, you have three major components: the habitat, the fish, and the people who use those resources; and managing the resource falls at the nexus of those three elements,” DiCenzo said. “We can have excellent habitat and a healthy fish population, but if it isn’t meeting the needs of the people who use it, then it still is not meeting its potential.”

DiCenzo says delving into the human element also can be tricky, as the loudest voices sometimes do not represent the feelings of the entire population.

“Management programs must be developed with an understanding of the great variation in the people who enjoy our fisheries,” DiCenzo said. “We have avid users who invest heavily into their passion and fish multiple times per week, but we also have occasional anglers who participate less regularly, and all levels of participation and avidity in between. We need to account for everyone in our surveys and try to build relationships with all users. Thankfully the [Arkansas Game and Fish Commission] has already invested in human dimensions work, having hired two excellent human dimensions specialists in the last few years.”

Those specialists, Ashley Gramza, the AGFC’s social scientist in the Research Division, and Jessica Feltz, a human dimensions specialist who also oversees the Family and Community Fishing Program in the Fisheries Division, have been extremely busy since they were hired. Both played roles in the agency’s newest recruitment, retention and reactivation plan to increase hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers in Arkansas. Gramza has been a keystone player in integrating social science across the agency, including understanding hunter and farmer motivations connected to the agency’s Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement program and waterfowl program. Feltz’s work includes coordination of angler surveys, studying the increases in angling from COVID-19 and facilitating a focus group at a Black Bass Summit composed of anglers and stakeholders within the angling industry.

“That summit was an excellent example of how the agency is learning more about the public, and it is something that I would be interested in exploring again in the future,” DiCenzo said.

DiCenzo earned his bachelor of science degree in fisheries science from Virginia Tech University and his master of science degree in fisheries management from Tennessee Tech University. After an extensive career in fisheries management, he returned to Virginia Tech, where he completed his Ph.D. in Human Dimensions.

AGFC Black Bass Biologist Jeff Buckingham helping with fish care at the 2019 Forrest Wood Cup“In my early education and career, I saw that no one really got into fisheries or natural resources with the idea that they would deal with people,” DiCenzo said. “But as I worked, I realized more and more of our time was spent dealing with the public and showing them how they could best help the resource. I wanted to have that underlying foundation of people management to complement the skills I had learned in biology.”

DiCenzo is excited at the opportunities The Natural State and its anglers provide.

“In looking at the AGFC’s Black Bass Management Plan, a person can see that this agency is very well versed in working with the public,” DiCenzo said. “I feel like I’m playing catch up right now to get up to speed with the last 20 years of the AGFC’s strong commitment to black bass management in the state. Additionally, the Black Bass Program touches so many parts of the agency: hatcheries, fisheries management, human dimensions, research, enforcement, communications, education, and outreach. Building relationships with district biologists and agency staff throughout the state is the main focus right now. I also look forward to exploring how we can build even better relationships with those people who currently enjoy the resource as well as introduce new anglers to black bass fishing. The black bass program doesn’t operate in a vacuum, it never has.”

The AGFC’s Black Bass Program was initiated in 2001. Since that time it has assisted with bass tournament weigh-in assistance, the creation of weigh-in facilities throughout the state and coordinates an annual report based on the Arkansas Tournament Information Program. The program also advises district biologists and administrators about the latest science-based management to further angling opportunities and enjoyment for the species. Visit www.agfc.com/en/fishing/sport fish/black-bass/bbp for more information.

Private landowners, golf course honored for habitat work

LITTLE ROCK — Four landowners and one corporate partner who have dedicated private acreage to increase habitat for wildlife through work with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission private lands biologists, were honored with Private Landowner Awards at the Jan. 21 commission meeting. The awards, started by then-Chairman Ford Overton and AGFC Director Pat Fitts in 2019 with the honorees in attendance at the meeting, were planned again for spring 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic set those plans back.

With COVID-19 protocols and social distancing still in place, Ted Zawislak, the statewide Private Lands Supervisor, and his staff of private lands biologists presented the awards to the honorees, with a winner in each congressional district.

“Arkansas is 90 percent privately owned,” Zawislak said. “So, it takes landowners like this to make that meaningful impact on an overall wildlife population and conservation in the state of Arkansas. The hard work, commitment and achievements of these landowners are also a testament to the private lands biologists who walk with them every step of the way.”

Zawislak noted the varied landscapes involved in the latest awards, suiting a large scope of nature and wildlife.

“The diversity of the habitats and the landowner accomplishments are as diverse as the state itself,” he said. “These particular awards really show the diversity of the habitat.”

The winners were Peyton Daniel III, Woodruff County (Congressional District 1), whose efforts include enrolling up to 127 acres of rice land the past three waterfowl seasons in the AGFC’s Arkansas Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement program, along with 99 acres this past fall in the AGFC’s private land permitted dove hunts; Henry and Kay Jones, Conway County (Congressional District 2), whose work included restoring 100 acres of woodland habitat through commercial timber harvest and prescribed fire; Dwan and Gerald Garrison, Marion County (Congressional District 3), who converted fescue and Bermuda grass pastures and planed 21 acres on their own, commercially logged 40 acres of cedar trees and restored 60 acres of glade and woodland habitat using prescribed fire; and Will Maxwell, Drew County (Congressional District 4), who through the Seven Devils Legacy and his family champions wildlife conservation on private lands, and most recently conducted timber thinnings over a significant area to achieve woodland conditions and established a pollinator mix on 8 acres of new pond levees on part of his 895 acres.

The Ben Geren Golf Course was honored for restoring prairie in their rough.The Ben Geren Golf Course in Fort Smith and superintendent Jay Randolph were the first Corporate/NGO honoree in the program.

“As biologists we don’t generally work on golf courses, per se,” Zawislak said, but Randolph’s efforts at Ben Geren were impossible to miss. The course property has remnant prairie areas that Randolph has started reestablishing on many of the 350 total acres.

“Photographers have flocked to this area,” Zawislak said of its draw. “There are a lot of wildflowers and butterflies and the like that have reappeared on the golf course.”

Michelle Furr, the area private lands biologist who nominated Randolph and the course, wrote in her nomination letter that “Jay Randolph is a true conservationist, going above and beyond reestablishing Massard Prairie throughout Ben Geren Golf Course and Park. Jay has spent countless hours collecting and planting local native seed and, in return, now frequently sees quail, many species of grassland birds and insects.”

Twenty acres of native warm-season grass habitat were established through the Acres for Wildlife Program, in addition to another 100 acres of tall prairie habitat through natural propagation. While public golf is the course’s main business, Ben Geren now hosts butterfly walks and local FFA and high school group visits, Zawislak noted. Randolph gave the OK for the Arkansas Audubon N.A.T.I.V.E. seed program to collect ecotype seed to reestablish in other parts of the state. Also, three universities now are conducting tall-prairie research at Ben Geren.

“There’s a lot you wouldn’t expect to find on a golf course. Bobwhite quail have been observed on the area,” said Zawislak, who added that other courses are inquiring with Randolph about doing similar projects.

The first Private Landowner honorees, in 2019, were Walker Morris, Crittenden County; Twig Satterfield, Faulkner County, David Love, Sebastian County, and James Gibbons, Franklin County.

“These awards were to recognize those who have set a wonderful example of conservation of private lands across the state,” Brad Carner, chief of the Wildlife Management Division, said.

During the commission meeting, Zawislak noted that despite COVID-19, private lands biologists were able to make 338 site visits with landowners so far in fiscal 2021, and 188 of those were first-time visits with landowners having their first experience meeting a PLB; the other 150 were follow-up visits with planters and landowners the biologists have been working with for several years as the program continues to grow.

He added that nearly 90,000 acres of privately owned land are under contract to a particular grant program for enhancing habitat for wildlife. Deer acres make up more than a quarter of that total. The acreage also included a first investment of Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Grant funds, which were used for the Arkansas WRICE program, providing up to 42 hunting locations during the current waterfowl season.

Five catch bonus prizes

LITTLE ROCK — Thanks to a donation from the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, five lucky anglers who have turned in tags from trout caught this winter will receive $100 Bass Pro Shops gift cards.

The tags were randomly placed on trout stocked by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Family and Community Fishing Program in locations across the state. Hundreds of fish were tagged, each being worth a small prize in addition to fantastic table fare and an enjoyable day on the water.

“We want to remind folks that we still have tags out that have not been mailed in yet,” said FCFP coordinator Maurice Jackson. “Mailing the tags will result in a prize and all winners will be entered into a grand prize drawing for one of three guided fishing trips for two to the Little Red River. The Foundation and Sore Lip ‘Em All Guide Service on the Little Red also are responsible for the grand prizes.”

AGFF President Deke Whitbeck said the Foundation is excited to help with the donations for the gift cards and help with the grand prizes to recruit, retain and reactivate anglers in Arkansas.

“The Foundation is happy to support those programs that help families get unplugged and engaged in Arkansas’s Outdoors,” Whitbeck said. “The Family and Community Fishing Program exemplifies this notion and we can’t thank Maurice Jackson and Clint Coleman for all they do making this program one of the best in the agency.”

Jackson said the AGFC is in the process of another round of trout stockings for winter and encourages everyone to enjoy this year’s Trout Day, an annual celebration held by the FCFP on the last Saturday of each January. Although social-distancing restrictions will prevent any derbies or large-scale gatherings similar to those held in years past, this year’s Trout Day still is an excellent opportunity to enjoy a day by the water with close family and friends.

“Take someone you’re close to out for a day on the water and enjoy one of the healthiest activities available,” Jackson said. “Trout are delicious, easy to catch and offer a much-needed opportunity to beat cabin fever. Who knows? You may get lucky and catch one of the remaining tagged trout while you’re there.”

Winners of the $100 Bass Pro Shops gift cards:

Emma Chen, Bryant

Belva Cole, Little Rock

Jody Efird, Hot Springs

Lewis Foreman, Romance

Vincenta Mendoza, Little Rock

Visit www.agfc.com/family fishing for more information on the AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program.

To learn more about the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, visit www.agff.org.

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