By Ronnie Weston| June 27, 2012 at 9:39 PM CDT - Updated June 27 at 9:29 AM
HEBER SPRINGS (AGFC) – The Barnett Access on the Little Red River is being overrun with feral cats. Due to the interaction between the public and feral cats, and the risk to human health, the AGFC is going to begin a trapping effort in July to remove the cats.
Tom Bly, fisheries biologist with the AGFC said that feral cats are considered an invasive species by conservation agencies and organizations nationwide. "Cats are the most significant invasive species affecting native bird populations and are also estimated to kill twice as many mammals as birds. There are also numerous human health concerns associated with feral cat colonies. Through feces, fleas, bites, or scratches cats can pass a variety of parasitic, bacterial and viral illnesses including rabies, toxoplasmosis, hook worms, and typhus," Bly said.
This is disconcerting considering the number of visitors that use this area annually, Bly said. "The AGFC as well as the Humane Society of Heber Springs are starting to hear complaints and concerns from the general public," he added.
The AGFC will be working closely with the Heber Springs Humane Society to remove the cats as humanely as possible. Signs will be posted to prohibit feeding the cats to aide in the project. Non-lethal "live traps" baited with sardines will be used to capture the cats. The traps will be set in the evening and picked up each morning. All feral cats captured will be transported to the Humane Society. Once the cats are removed, undergrowth will be cleared to deter recolonization and the AGFC will continue to monitor the area to prevent any further colonization.
Barnett Access is the most heavily used AGFC access on the river with hundreds of trout anglers using the access annually. The popular fishery was created when the Greers Ferry Dam was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and hydroelectric power generation. Commercial power generation began in July 1964. The resulting trout waters of the Greers Ferry tailwater flow about 30 miles through central Arkansas. Coldwater discharge from Greers Ferry Dam created coldwater habitat that was less suitable for native sportfish species.
The AGFC began stocking trout into Greers Ferry Tailwater in 1966 to mitigate the loss. Rainbow trout were first stocked into the system in 1966. Brown trout were introduced in 1977 and have established a self-sustaining wild population. The Little Red River is home to the current 4-pound test line class world record brown trout of 40 pounds, 4 ounces caught in 1992.