Hunters in Arkansas have enjoyed nearly 4,500 acres of new hunting opportunity during the 2020-21 hunting seasons, thanks to partnerships and leases by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in the last year. 

Most of the land added to public opportunities last year was the result of a new multi-year Voluntary Public Access grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Farm Bill. This grant was used to procure lease agreements on rice-producing fields as well as existing Wetland Reserve Easement properties to expand waterfowl hunting, wildlife watching and wetland habitat. These Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement program leases were positioned with the goals of adding wetland habitat in key areas of Arkansas and offering public opportunities to different regions of the state.

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According to Garrick Dugger, AGFC assistant chief of wildlife management, 3,855 acres of rice fields and 520 acres of Wetland Reserve Easement were leased through the WRICE program for public use with high expectations of continuing many of these partnerships next year. 

Waterfowl hunters also saw the addition of a 40-acre inholding at Earl Buss Bayou DeView WMA in Poinsett County. Ducks Unlimited partnered with the AGFC to purchase this tract of hunting property through a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant, helping eliminate a private inholding within the borders of the public hunting area. 

Another inholding, this one being 5 acres within W. E. Brewer Scatter Creek WMA, also was eliminated thanks to the partnership of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Greene County Wildlife Club who purchased the property and donated it to the AGFC.

Dugger says many AGFC staff members are approached by members of the public with leads on possible properties for sale each year, but the AGFC’s primary focus for the foreseeable future is on the major infrastructure repairs and renovations needed throughout the state.

“If there is a partnership available with funding to help make such acquisitions possible then we will definitely investigate the opportunity,” Dugger said. “But we have had to shift our focus on renovating our greentree reservoirs and improving the quality of wildlife habitat on the public land we already manage.”

Dugger says the VPA grant that bolstered the AGFC’s WRICE program is one way the AGFC has looked at continuing to offer new opportunities without diverting funds from the major renovations needed in the agency’s managed lands.

“That grant is specific to increasing access on private land for hunters and wildlife watchers, and it is the first time Arkansas has ever received one,” Dugger said. “With that, we can focus even more dollars on fixing infrastructure that has aged and is in need of replacement and reworking our water-control structures and systems to benefit the flooded hardwood habitat Arkansas is famous for.”

Hunters in Arkansas enjoy more than 3.2 million acres of public hunting opportunity, thanks to partnerships with the AGFC, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission as well as other public and private organizations. Arkansans also enjoy 600,000 acres of lakes and 96,000 miles of rivers and streams which are publicly accessible.