MAGNOLIA — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission heard several presentations on wildlife and fisheries research projects during its monthly meeting, hosted by Southern Arkansas University last week. In addition to projects presented by AGFC staff on the 2022 Arkansas bear season, commissioners heard presentations by two SAU students working through the university’s Outdoor Campus.

Tyler Thomsen, AGFC fisheries supervisor in the Camden regional office, kicked off the meeting with a presentation on the recent renovation of Lake June in Stamps, ongoing catfish research in the Little Missouri and Ouachita rivers, and work being done on Lake Columbia.

Dr. Chris Middaugh, research biologist for the AGFC, presented an overview of the agency’s recent research project, where black bears in the south portion of the state were outfitted with GPS-monitoring collars to observe their movements and behavior during the state’s first modern-era hunt in that region. This is the first year of a multiyear study to determine biological information and habitat use in this landscape.

AGFC Director Austin Booth spoke about the many partners that came together for the project.

“Anyone who’s been out on one of our bear den trips knows that it’s a team effort, that it’s all hands on deck,” Booth said. “Also, when we talk about the team that’s behind this effort, we cannot possibly do it without thanking Blood Origins and the Cabela Family Foundation. They came to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and said, ‘We want to be helpful’ ... As we look toward the future of this program and the black bear in Arkansas we cannot do it without partners, and we’re immensely grateful for their support.”

Middaugh’s presentation was followed by a recap of the 2022 Arkansas bear harvest by Myron Means, AGFC bear program coordinator.

According to Means, 471 bears were harvested during the season, the fifth-highest harvest on record. An extremely early acorn drop in western Arkansas likely prevented a record harvest last year. Many of the bears harvested on private land in Arkansas are taken with the aid of bait, but when acorns are available in the woods, bears tend to forage there instead of coming to feeders and bait sites.

Dr. Trey Berry, SAU president, prefaced the student’s presentations with a comment on the work already taking place at the university’s Outdoor Campus, which was developed in partnership with the AGFC.

“Just imagine that this is just the tip of the iceberg at the Outdoor Campus in partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission,” Berry said.

Jared Stroman, a senior SAU wildlife biology student, shared research conducted on Eastern bluebird boxes distributed on SAU’s main campus as well as the Outdoor Campus. According to the study, occupancy of the boxes was higher on the main campus, but nest success was superior in nest boxes on the Outdoor Campus. Future research at the university may be targeted at the factors leading to that success.

“The only competition we noted during the study was in the form of wasps, which took over quite a few of our boxes,” Stroman said. “Which was quite unfortunate for our birds as well as me, who found them.”

Savannah Wise, senior biology student at SAU, followed Stroman with a presentation on Daphnia ambigua, a type of zooplankton found at a pond on SAU’s Outdoor Campus, which persists in high densities in low-oxygen areas of the pond. Zooplankton are a major component near the base of the food web of an aquatic ecosystem.

The Commission also authorized Director Booth to accept a donation from the Arkansas Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to acquire a small parcel of property that will open permanent access to Cedar Creek Wildlife Management Area in Scott County. The donation is the result of a new partnership between AGFC and BHA. During meetings to determine ways to improve access on state-owned land listed through onX mapping software that currently had no fee title access, the opportunity to purchase this parcel and donate it to the AGFC to ensure increased hunter access was brought to the attention of David Green, vice-chairman of the Arkansas Chapter of BHA. Green brought it to his board and they moved forward to secure the fee title.

In his address to the Commission, Director Booth expressed his gratitude for the work of BHA and this being the first of any such donations the organization has fostered.

“This represents not only the first BHA land acquisition and transfer in Arkansas, it is the first for the organization nationally,” Booth said. “This may not seem like a large piece of land, but it is a very big deal as it opens much more access to our hunters, and we hope it’s the first step in a long relationship of increasing opportunity for Arkansans.”

In other business, the Commission heard from Deke Whitbeck, Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation president, who named Jason Olive the winner of the Scott Landers Memorial Lifetime License Award. The award is offered to members of the AGFC staff who also are members of the AGFF and provides a lifetime hunting and fishing license to a member of the recipient’s family under the age of 16. They also recognized eight employees with a combined 175 years of service to the natural resources of Arkansas.

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