Commission hears bear, alligator harvest reports

Volunteers put in trees, shrubs on Crooked Creek
LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission heard reports last week at its monthly meeting that the 2012 bear and alligator hunting seasons went smoothly and populations are stable.

The meeting was the first for Commissioner Ty Patterson of Texarkana, who was appointed to finish the term of Rick Watkins of Little Rock, who resigned Jan. 30. Patterson's term expires June 30, 2014.

"I look forward to serving the term and helping all I can," Patterson said.

Myron Means, AGFC bear program coordinator, said the statewide population of about 4,000 black bears is stable. During the 2012 bear hunting season, 264 males and 167 females were harvested. Archery hunters harvested 359 of that total, and 297 bears were taken on private land. Madison, Franklin, Polk and Scott counties continued to lead the state in number of bears harvested.

Means also pointed out that nuisance bear calls answered by the AGFC totaled 130 in 2012, which is in the average range; the number of calls spiked at 314 in 2007.

Mark Barbee, an AGFC biologist, updated the Commission on the 2012 alligator hunt. Barbee said 30 alligators were harvested and 47 tags were issued. The largest alligator in six years of hunting seasons was taken by Mike Cottingham during the 2012 season. It stretched 13 feet, 3 inches. Barbee said about 3,000 people applied for hunting tags.

A revised plan for turkey management was approved at the meeting. The AGFC Wildlife Management Division began work to update the 1999 Strategic Turkey Management Plan in 2012. The result is the 2013 Strategic Turkey Management Plan, which will provide "long-term guidance for proper management of Arkansas's turkey population," according to a Commission minute order.

The Commission also approved purchase of 58 vehicles at a cost of $1.5 million. The cars and trucks are replacements for aging vehicles.

The Commission watched a 2-minute video of Wildlife Officer Michael K. Neal receiving the Medal of Valor from Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder. The ceremony was Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C. Neal was recognized for his role in saving lives during a West Memphis shooting spree May 20, 2010, by ramming his truck into a vehicle driven by two armed suspects.

In other business, the Commission:

*Approved naming a boat ramp on the east levee of St. Francis Sunken Lands Wildlife Management Area near Marked Tree (Poinsett County) the Don Lovell St. Francis Sunken Lands WMA Access. Larry Donald Lovell Jr. was a hunter and angler who died in a hunting accident in 1986 at the age of 14.

*Approved a $100,000 budget increase to retain Stone Ward, a Little Rock advertising and public relations firm, for consultation and public policy.

*Approved an order to authorize the AGFC Legal Division to represent Michael W. Neal and Ryan Hollowell, wildlife officers named in a civil lawsuit filed by the estate of Darryl Vance Parker.

*Approved donation of 25 used single-shot rifles to the College of the Ouachitas, and donation of a used boat and trailer to Southern Arkansas University.

*Approved revisions for the Conservation License Plate Program fund.

*Approved a budget increase of $59,200 for new audio and video equipment to upgrade the auditorium at AGFC headquarters at 2 Natural Resources Drive in Little Rock. The auditorium is used for a variety of meetings and classes, including Hunter Education and Boating Education.

Two presentations were postponed because bad weather made travel dangerous. The National Wild Turkey Federation Arkansas Chapter was to present its Arkansas Wildlife Officer of the Year Award, and Wes Wright, elk program coordinator, was to update the Commission on the 2012 elk harvest.