LITTLE ROCK – Most public duck hunting areas throughout Arkansas are still exhibiting drier than normal conditions from the effects of a summerlong drought, making duck hunters scramble to find the water and the ducks. Hunters can help keep Arkansas’s lakes and rivers healthy by taking a few moments at the end of each hunting day to inspect their boats, trailers and hunting equipment for vegetation and other stowaways that could spread to new areas and destroy wildlife habitat.
The nomadic habits of ducks and duck hunters can make the perfect distribution system for unwanted aquatic invasive species, such as giant salvinia, water hyacinth and alligatorweed, which can reproduce quickly, choke out access to waterways and smother native vegetation that provides food for ducks and other wildlife.
Matt Horton, Aquatic Nuisance Species Program coordinator for the AGFC, says plants like giant salvinia, water hyacinth and Cuban bulrush can be easily transported as plant fragments or seeds clinging to decoys, decoy bags, boats, trailers and the mud clinging to waders. Zebra mussels, which are found in the Arkansas River and the upper 40 miles of the Bull Shoals Tailwater and Bull Shoals Lake, can hitch a ride on plants, boat hulls and motors. The larvae of the zebra mussel can even survive short periods in livewells, bilge areas of boats and bait buckets where they can remain in small puddles of water.
A list of the most common aquatic nuisance species in Arkansas is available at www.agfc.com/ans as well as a hotline to report new infestations of these plants and animals as hunters and other outdoors enthusiasts find them.
“Giant salvinia has been introduced into five Arkansas lakes since 2017, and is currently established in lakes Erling and Columbia,” Horton said. “If someone is boating on these lakes, for any purpose, there’s a high likelihood they’ve come into contact with this invasive plant.”
According to an AGFC-funded study by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, waters as far north as central Arkansas are at moderate risk for giant salvinia becoming established.
“Lakes within 50 miles of the Arkansas-Louisiana border are at the highest risk, including Millwood, Felsenthal, Mercer Bayou and Longpool,” Horton said. “Based on future climate change predictions, over half the state could be in the high-risk category of infestation by giant salvinia by 2040.”
Horton explained that the help of duck hunters is essential in preventing further spread of invasive species, as they tend to seek out shallower, hidden areas where invasive species can become established and go unnoticed until they spread to other parts of a lake or river.