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)

The agency decided to bring the duck hunting practices at Big Lake, St. Francis Sunken Lands and Dave Donaldson Black River in line with its other public lands this year. The G&F Commission unanimously approved the move in August, and hunters were given notice they had through Oct. 14 to remove personal property and blinds.

"We were geared up ready to go on [Oct. 15]," said Keith Stephens, public information coordinator with the Game & Fish Commission. "We were going to start dismantling blinds."

As of Oct. 10, the Jonesboro regional office of the Game & Fish Commission had issued 158 permits to hunters to get personal property from blinds or remove the blinds. The free permits were issued for 97 blinds in Big Lake WMA and 61 blinds in St. Francis Sunken Lands WMA.

Many of the existing blind locations were already in place in the 1950s when the commission purchased the initial tracts of land associated with these wildlife management areas.

To help fade the political heat, the G&F Commission turned to Uncle Sam. State officials realized, just this year, that their long-running special allowances on public lands might violate funding terms with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The purchase of the wildlife management areas was accomplished through a 75/25 match of federal and state funds.

"In reality, the tradition of using permanent blinds is more of a matter of convenience than it is of necessity," G&F Director Loren Hitchcock wrote in a July 3 letter to Dr. Neal Vickers, president of the Trumann Chamber of Commerce.

The controversy prompted Dustin McDaniel to wade in on the issue, not in his official capacity as Arkansas attorney general but as a concerned duck hunter who grew up in northeast Arkansas.

"I share the concerns of many that the removal of first-come, first-serve duck blinds would have on the quality of the hunting experiences," McDaniel wrote in support of leaving duck hunting practices at the three WMAs unchanged.

Hunting Disputes Cited in Effort to End Special Rules

Excerpt from an April 4, 2012, letter from Ricky Chastain, deputy director of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, to Mike Piccirilli, regional chief of the Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration Program for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

"Since 2007, commission regulations have permitted the use and maintenance of permanent duck hunting blinds on Big Lake and St. Francis Sunken Lands WMAs in an attempt to control a continual expansion in the number of and locations impacted by permanent hunting blinds.



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