Arkansas Game and Fish Commission applauds accomplishments at final Bennie Westphal meeting

LITTLE ROCK – Today’s meeting of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission concluded one of the busiest years in recent history, with many accomplishments highlighted in the AGFC Director’s report , Austin Booth.

Booth reflected on his first year of leadership and working alongside staff, volunteers and the many other Arkansans who make the efforts of the AGFC possible.

“2022 has been quite a year for the agency,” Booth said, highlighting some of the agency’s accomplishments, including the launch of the Jim Hinkle Spring River Hatchery renovation, the completion of the Mercer Bayou renovation , the completion of a major project on the South Greentree Reservoir. in the Lake Henry Gray Hurricane Wildlife Management Area, modernizing the marine fuel tax agreement with the ArDOT, and opening up major firing ranges at Jonesboro and Warren.

“2022 has been great for us,” Booth said. “Next month we will be presenting an annual report that will summarize all of this for the people we serve, and we will also announce a strategic plan for the next five years.”

The meeting also concluded the term of outgoing Commissioner Bennie Westphal of Fort Smith. Westphal was appointed in December 2020 to complete the term of Commissioner Joe Morgan, who died after serving five years on the Commission.

Although his time on the Commission has been cut short, Westphal has been instrumental in many decisions over the past 18 months, including the selection of the Director of AGFC Booth and many major accomplishments highlighted in the speech. of Booth. He also continued to maintain a relationship with PRADCO Outdoor Brands and the Commission, particularly with the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center in Fort Smith and the fishing tournaments that take place on Wells Lake.

“If there’s a soothing voice among all seven of us, it’s Bennie,” said commissioner Bobby Martin of Rogers. “We are grateful, Bennie, to have been able to be part of your chapter by writing a legacy and now we have a friend for life.”

In today’s trade actions, the Commission approved the removal of the regulation that prohibits shooting a radio-collared bear during open hunting seasons in Arkansas. With the recently approved bear season in Bear Zones 3 and 4 and the ensuing crowd-funded black bear population research project in southern Arkansas, the regulation was lifted to give more precise results on bear population dynamics at the start of hunting seasons.

Director Booth applauded the effort of biologists and AGFC staff who are now undertaking to monitor the bear population and promote hunting as a viable tool for managing bear populations.

“This morning, Myron Means, AGFC Large Carnivore Program Coordinator, is with AGFC State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. (Jenn) Ballard in southern Arkansas trapping bears and equipping them with new GPS collars to unlock a whole new level of black bear research,” Booth said. “We are thrilled to acquire these necklaces because we did so with our partners Robbie Kroger from Blood Origins and a crowdfunding effort with matches from Cabela’s Foundation and Legends Ranch.”

The Commission also elected Commissioner Martin as Commission Chair and Commissioner Stan Jones of Walnut Ridge as Commission Vice-Chair for the 2023 fiscal year.

In other cases, the Commission:

Heard by Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation President Deke Whitbeck who briefed the Commission on the recent Tin Cup Golf Tournament, the unveiling of the Arkansas State Duck Stamp and the Fishing Tournament at the Commissioners Cup Youth Bass as well as the upcoming outdoor Arkansas Hall of Fame Banquet.

Heard from Bruce Stanton with PRADCO Outdoor Brands, a Fort Smith-based outdoor brand that has partnered with the AGFC on many local events.

Approval of a bylaw allowing unlimited harvesting of fish from Big Lake in Mississippi County. The lake is drawn by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for renovation and construction needs, and the AGFC wants to allow anglers to enjoy the resource by keeping as many fish from the lake as they want before it goes down. be drained.

Approved two clarifications to codes governing minimum draw weights on archery equipment and camping permit requirements in wildlife management areas.

Approved a cooperative research agreement with the University of Arkansas Research Unit to coordinate research projects with the AGFC and many other government agencies to conduct field research to maintain the wildlife and fisheries management up to date with the latest scientific advances.

Approved the Black River WMA Restoration Fund budget for the agency’s fiscal year 2023 of $1,257,383;

Approved the agency’s fiscal year 2023 Gas Lease Funds budget of $100,000;

Approved a budget carry forward of $4,600,644.64 from the Stability and Strengthening Fund to the budget for fiscal year 2023;

Approved the agency’s fiscal year 2023 operating funds budget of $117,386,070;

Awarded to retired Wildlife Officer Captain Shad Pearce his service sidearm for 25 years of service with the AGFC; and

Approved the removal of expired and obsolete inventory with a total original cost of $11,880 and a current net book value of $0.

A video of the meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/user/ArkansasGameandFish.

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