RUSSELLVILLE - Extensive damage was suffered by forests of north Arkansas in the February ice storm. But that cloud has a potential silver lining.
Workers with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Ozark National Forest and other agencies are busy cleaning up broken limbs, downed trees and clearing blocked roads all over the northern third of the state.
Martin Blaney, statewide habitat coordinator for the Game and Fish Commission, said, "The debris in the forests is going to make access difficult for turkey hunters for the spring season coming up. They may find that they can't get to their area, and they may have to come up with another place to hunt."
Blaney continued, "Forests are resilient, however. They will re-sprout and re-grow from this damage, and there will be some benefits from the broken trees opening up things so sunlight can reach the ground."
The heaviest damage from the ice was in a swath running east-west and a little to the north across north Arkansas.
Electrical lines were down and deprived tens of thousands of homes of their power, in some places for several weeks. Restoration of electrical service was a priority along with opening major and secondary roads. Then crews began opening roads on wildlife management areas and on other public facilities like state parks.
Blaney said in the Ozark Mountains, the ice damage was "elevation specific," with the word damage at elevations of 800 or more feet about sea level. But to the east, in the northern Delta region of Arkansas, elevation didn't matter. The ice broke down trees at lower levels.
The Sylamore District of the Ozark National Forest, which is a cooperative wildlife management area with AGFC, was especially hard hit, Blaney said.
For hunters, especially those going after turkeys in the coming days, and for other users of the forests, the ice damage may prove to be a bad news-good news event.
Bad news - the access problem in many areas of north Arkansas and even a few farther to the south in the state. Hunters in some places won't be able to get evening the vicinity of where they have hunted in the past.
A determined hunter could move a limb here, a branch there, even a small tree in some spots. But some trees across remote roads are too big even for vehicle-mounted winches to handle.
Veteran turkey hunters may have experience working areas of timber harvests. The ground is littered, so walking is difficult. The ice storm has left similar situations but with the added element of lingering danger in the form of hanging limbs and dangling broken treetops.
Good news - turkeys should benefit right away in nesting because of the abundant cover on the ground, Blaney said. Another factor in the coming months will be plentiful bugs, the food for baby turkeys to eat.
Where tree canopies cover the ground, the damage from the ice has left openings in many places. With sun able to reach the ground, this can result in growth of grass, shrubs and bushes, much of which is used by one or more species of wildlife.
Blaney advised turkey hunters to get out and scout the places they plan to hunt and perhaps look for some alternative areas.
Spring turkey hunting dates are April 11-May 1 in Zones 1, 2, 3, 4B, 5, 5B, 6, 7, 7A, 8, 9 and 10; April 11-24 in Zones 4, 4A, 5A and 9A; April 4-26 in Zone 17. Zone 1A is closed.
The special youth turkey hunt is March 28-29 in Zone 17 and April 4-5 in Zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A, 4B, 5, 5A, 5B, 6, 7, 7A, 8, 9, 9, 9A and 10.