Hunters up in arms over possible sale of public hunting grounds

Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 9:17 PM CDT
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COLT, Ark. (KAIT) - The Pine Tree Experiment Station is one of the only public hunting areas in Northeast Arkansas, but a possible sale of the property might change that.

Charles Gaines is just one of many hunters upset about the possible sale of the land.

“We are out here on a weekly basis whether we’re fishing or hunting,” said Gaines.

Gaines has hunted the property for over 40 years and now brings his kids to the area.

“Pine Tree is just one of those places we come and have fun,” said his daughter, Sarah Beth. “If it gets sold then that like takes away some of our recreational use.”

The land is owned by the University of Arkansas and maintained by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

It’s used for agricultural research and is one of the only public hunting areas in Northeast Arkansas.

Recently, U of A has been trying to sell a portion of the property to a private entity.

If approved, a sale to a private entity would mean hunters no longer have access to the land.

Michael Burns has hunted Pine Tree for 30 years. He says the area they’re trying to sell is the most desirable property with the best hunting opportunities.

“The duck hunting has always been established south of 306 and that is where the majority of the property being sold is at,” said Burns.

When local hunters found out about the attempt to sell the land, they started reaching out to state representatives.

Steve Hollowell represents District 49, where most of the Pine Tree property is located.

“A tremendous number of people have reached out to me with concerns about the sale of this property,” said Hollowell. ”We didn’t know what was going on. There wasn’t any oversight. There wasn’t any public hearings. Nothing like that.”

The sale would have to be approved by congress as it used to be federal land that was deeded to the university.

Congressman Rick Crawford told Region 8 News Friday his office has received several calls about the potential sale, saying there has been a lack of transparency from U of A regarding the sale.

“We’re hearing from stakeholders and concerned citizens in a significant number on this,” said Crawford.

Crawford said there’s also been talk that Arkansas Game and Fish and the Nature Conservancy have expressed interest in the land that would offer more money for the land, but U of A is still attempting to sell to a private entity.

“What we have is two entities that are not private in nature that whereby we would retain public hunting on that ground that are offering more money and yet the it seems like we’re still focused on the $17 million transaction when we could have at least $20 million and retain public hunting so that has brought up some questions,” said Crawford.

Region 8 News asked AGFC for comment, they responded saying they are interested in keeping the property open for public use, and would be willing to talk with the university and other partners to find a solution.

Region 8 News reached out to U of A for information on the possible sale.

Chief Communications Officer for U of A System Division of Agriculture Mary Hightower responded through email, saying they’re selling acreage not being used for research.

Hightower also said the acreage that remains with the station will remain open to the public, pending an agreement and in partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Chief Communications Officer for U of A System Division of Agriculture Mary Hightower responds...
Chief Communications Officer for U of A System Division of Agriculture Mary Hightower responds to questions about the sale of Pine Tree Experimental Station property.((Source: KAIT))

Local hunters are worried what would be left for public use wouldn’t be enough to benefit local communities.

“There’s a lot of people that use the property. Handicapped hunters that would have nowhere else to go if the property did sell,” said Burns.

“This area has a lot of community involvement and it’s not just a loss for the Delta, this is a loss for the whole state,” said Gaines.

Congressman Crawford said those who are concerned about the potential sale need to reach out not only to his office, but to state representatives and state senators to make sure they are aware of the concerns.

“It looks like the next step would be just have to talk to our U.S. congressman, the congressmen in Arkansas, mainly,” said Hollowell.

Crawford said they are looking into this, and hope to find out more about who is involved in the potential sale, and the nature of the transaction.

We will continue following this story and bring you any updates.

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