LITTLE ROCK - Commissioners from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission today approved a non-binding commitment to contribute up to $8 million in support of the Bayou Meto Basin Improvement Project Plan. The money would be paid out over a number of years.
If implemented, the project will produce management features that will significantly restore and enhance fish and wildlife habitat throughout the Bayou Meto basin, including the Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area. Partners in the project include the Bayou Meto Regional Irrigation Water Distribution District, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The sponsors of the project plan sought the commission's non-binding commitment to join with the other state and local sponsors.
One of the major features of the overall project plan would help flood the Bayou Meto WMA during periods similar to this year's drought. The project would also allow the area to be managed and drained more quickly after the state's waterfowl season. Removing the water as quickly as possible is required to preserve the health of the flooded timber.
The commission also formed a committee to study the prospects of oil and gas leases on the state's wildlife management areas. Commissioners Sheffield Nelson, Sonny Varnell and George Dunklin will serve on that committee. Recently, there has been a great deal of interest in Arkansas's Fayetteville shale where gas has been discovered. This area of gas exploration covers several WMAs in north central and east Arkansas areas.
Nelson, the former chairman of Arkla, Inc., will be the chairman of the AGFC committee. "We will only deal with quality people. We want any drilling to be done in the proper manner because of our concern for conservation. We understand that we are representing the people of Arkansas," Nelson said. "If there are some windfall profits from this, we will reinvest that money to enhance hunting and fishing for all Arkansans," he added.
In other business, the commission:
*Approved renovations to the Upper and Lower White Oak Lake dams. The commission appropriated $250,000 for repairs to the draw down tower and new lining for the outfall water lines on both the upper and lower lake dams. The commission also approved a capital project budget increase of $15,000 for the construction of a nine-mile long walking trail at White Oak Lake State Park in Ouachita County. The money will reimbursed from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department's recreational trails program.
*Approved the construction of a new $1.2 million multiple use facility at the enforcement training center in Mayflower. The facility will be utilized by AGFC personnel for training, meetings and conferences.
*Approved a capital project budget increase of $85,000 for a fishing pier and three small fishing platforms on Wells Lake at the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center in Fort Smith.
* Approved a capital project budget increase of $63,810 for the construction of a walking trail around Cane Creek Lake near Star City in Lincoln County. The money will reimbursed from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department's recreational trails program.
* Approved a capital project budget increase of $36,300 for the development of a walking trail at the Pyatt Access Area on Crooked Creek in Marion County. There will be a reimbursement of $29,040 from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department's recreational trails program.
*Named the recently completed Arkansas River access at Lock and Dam 5, the Larry D. Pharris Access in honor of the former AGFC wildlife research biologist. The access is located in Jefferson County near Wright.
*Approved the donation of two bull elk permits for the 2006 September elk season to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The permits are auctioned off with the money returned to the AGFC to be used in elk habitat improvements, public education and research. Over $330,000 has been raised since 1998 from the auction of the two permits with 85 percent of that amount returned to the AGFC. One permit is auctioned during the annual Arkansas RMEF banquet while the second is auctioned at the group's national banquet.