Grant secures Cache River Refuge purchase

Grant secures Cache River Refuge purchase

BISCOE (AGFC) – The Cache River National Wildlife Refuge will be able to protect and restore an additional 978 acres of critical wetland habitat near Hazen, thanks to a $1 million grant administered through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

The grant, announced by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell last week, will be combined with $995,000 from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to make the purchase and complete a 2,248-acre acquisition for the refuge.

"Much of the property borders the White River opposite (Mike Freeze) Wattensaw Wildlife Management Area just north and south of I-40," said Keith Weaver, project leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Central Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

The property includes agricultural fields as well as bottomland hardwoods that will benefit waterfowl and other wetland species. Weaver says the USFWS plans to work with The Nature Conservancy to convert the agricultural land into additional bottomland hardwoods and moist-soil habitats.

"These properties flood on an annual basis, so they are a tremendous asset for wintering waterfowl and other wetland species," Weaver said. "Some of the area being purchased also has the opportunity to manage for grassland-type habitats that will help many species of migratory birds and other native wildlife."

Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said the grant and land purchase are a welcome sight for anyone involved in waterfowl and wildlife habitat.

"You could go almost anywhere in the Delta and do good things for ducks, but anything you can do to enhance waterfowl habitat along the White and Cache rivers is going to make a big difference," Naylor said.

The acquisition and grant also bode well for waterfowl hunters in The Natural State. With Sheffield Nelson Dagmar WMA being the nearest waterfowl-oriented WMA to the area, Naylor expects duck hunters to pay attention to the new access this acquisition may provide.

"We're hitting record numbers of duck stamp sales, and you don't hear anyone talking about too much land to cover when it comes to waterfowl hunting," Naylor said. "It's always great to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service be able to continue their acquisition program during times when resources can be hard to come by."

The acquisition will bring the total acreage of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge to more than 72,000 acres.

The AGFC provided $500,000 of the matching funds needed to secure the grant. The match was derived from the partial value of the AGFC's acquisition of 1,822 acres at Freddie Black Choctaw Island WMA Deer Research Area.

"This is our second million-dollar NAWCA grant the AGFC has helped us secure," Weaver said. "The AGFC has always been a staunch supporter of the refuge system and land purchases for waterfowl and wetland habitat. We're always very appreciative of that."

Additional partners in the grant included Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Darby's Warrior Support and the Canale family.