New hunting, wildlife-watching opportunity added in northeast Arkansas

WALNUT RIDGE — Thanks to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s recently expanded Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement program, hunters in Lawrence County have more than 500 additional acres of property to enjoy during the last month of waterfowl season and beyond.

The property, which is close to the Black River at Saffell, has been enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Easement program by the landowner, and was recently added to the WRICE program’s public hunting opportunities, thanks to a multi-year grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Farm Bill.

“When we applied for the grant that helped expand the WRICE program and offer increased public hunting on private land, a component of the project was dedicated to opening land that was already enrolled in wetland reserve easements,” Luke Naylor, AGFC waterfowl program coordinator, said. “Instead of special draw hunts, we’re treating this land a little differently because it had different opportunities available than cultivated cropland. It also offers an opportunity for wildlife watchers as well as hunters to enjoy the program.”

Naylor says the original plan for the property was to have a one-time annual access fee for hunting and wildlife-watching, but once hunting seasons began, that plan was changed.

“There are signs up that say ‘Access by Permit Only,’ and signify it as a WRICE program field, but we are letting the public have access to it without a permit,” Naylor said. “We’re really most interested in the permit to enable monitoring of public use and ask participants about their experiences using these lands and hope to have something in place by next year.”

Bo Reid, the AGFC’s Private Lands Program biologist for Northeast Arkansas, said the property should offer some good opportunities for late season.

“To my knowledge, no one has hunted the property so far this season, but we have had a few calls recently about it,” Reid said. “The landowner did close some water-control structures to hold some rainwater, so there is potential for duck hunting. Most of the property is not flooded, and should hold a healthy population of rabbits as well as some late-season deer hunting potential.”

Reid says the property boundary is clearly marked, but hunters should pay close attention to their location, as it is surrounded by private land.

“There are three parking areas and hunters can park along the county road on the south side of the property as long as they pull off the road enough to not impede traffic,” Reid said. “With the access options there should be enough room for people to spread out and hunt without crowding each other.”

Reid says the landowner was part of the WRICE program last year, and was interested in signing up his WRE land as well when he heard it was an option.

“Overall, we’ve had positive experiences for the landowners in the WRICE program,” Reid said. “They work with us and we manage all the issues that may come with a private lease. Instead of having a half-dozen leaseholders wanting the land managed differently, they only have our parameters to meet and we coordinate the hunting access to their private property.”

Naylor says because the Lawrence County property will be open to the public without a permit it is important for everyone to remember that there could be some competition for space and encourages hunters to continue practicing good sportsmanship.

“Treat this like any other publicly accessible land,” Naylor said. “If someone is already on a spot you wanted to hunt, move on and revisit it later. There are additional funds in the grant that we could devote to more properties like this if we continue to see the positive comments from the landowners and hunters. Opening private ground to public waterfowl hunting access is a bit of new territory for wildlife management agencies, especially in the Southeast, but what we’ve seen so far is very promising. Hopefully we’ll get a few more WRE landowners interested next year.”

Visit www.agfc.com/WRICE to learn more about this property and the Waterfowl Rice Incentive Conservation Enhancement program.

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