Duck Hunters Take Legal Shot at Game & Fish Commission

by George Waldon  on Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 12:00 am  

Northeast Arkansas duck hunters won an injunction last week against the G&FC's plan to dismantle privately maintained blinds on public lands. (Photo by AGFC)

Duck hunters got a reprieve last week from an order that would have ended special accommodations that only exist in three northeast Arkansas wildlife management areas.

Circuit Judge Randy Philhours of Paragould issued a temporary stay to prevent the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission from enforcing its deadline to remove personal property and privately maintained hunting blinds from the Big Lake WMA and St. Francis Sunken Lands WMA.

Though privately maintained, the blinds on these public lands are supposed to be available on a first-come, first-served basis. But that equal access theory is sometimes put to the test through disputes the Game & Fish doesn't want to police.

Locked doors, ownership signs and warnings against trespassing on some blinds underscore the controversy.

On Wednesday in Marion, Philhours presided over an injunction hearing to suspend the Oct. 15 deadline and possibly overturn the changes approved by the G&F Commission. The Oct. 10 hearing will be continued as soon as time can be found in his court schedule during the next two weeks.

The legal dispute with northeast tangents galore has drawn statewide interest.

"We have a judge based out of Greene County overseeing a case that was filed in Poinsett County for a hearing held in Crittenden County regarding a lawsuit against a state agency out of Pulaski County brought by a lawyer out of Monroe County," said David Carruth, a Clarendon lawyer. "What more could we ask?"

Carruth filed the lawsuit on behalf of the St. Francis Lake Association of Trumann (Poinsett County). Carruth estimates that the group represents 300 to 400 members with hunting and fishing interests in northeast Arkansas.

Also at issue in the dispute is the G&F Commission's decision to quit allowing hunters to maintain duck holes and leave their decoys in place overnight during duck season on another public property: Dave Donaldson Black River WMA.

The commission doesn't allow hunters to cut trees or remove brush on any other WMAs in Arkansas. Duck hunters at all other WMAs are required to remove decoys daily. As with the permanent duck blinds, the practice of leaving decoys in place overnight implies ownership of hunting space on public land.

These local traditions at the three WMAs, tolerated for years by the G&F Commission, sometimes led to disputes between hunters where first-come, first-served is supposed to be the norm on all public land.

Supporters of the status quo argue the misdeeds of the few, regarding equal access to public lands, shouldn't be used as an excuse to overturn a traditional arrangement that has worked for decades.



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