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— Special to the Camden News

LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission unanimously approved an update to the agency’s official Chronic Wasting Disease Management and Response Plan at today’s meeting. The meeting was condensed to a single day and conducted via teleconferencing software because of impassable roads throughout much of the state. A feed of the meeting is available on the AGFC’s YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrbxMWl7Wdk&feature=youtu.be.

During the Commission’s January meetings, AGFC State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Jenn Ballard explained the need for an updated plan. The agency’s first CWD plan, finalized in 2006, solely focused on response actions should CWD be discovered in the state. Once CWD was detected in Arkansas in 2016, the AGFC’s Deer Team then revised the plan to help with future management and surveillance for the disease.

“Since that time, we have learned so much more about this disease and its reach in Arkansas, so it was definitely time to develop a new plan to carry us into the future,” Ballard said.

The process for the new plan began in April 2020 when the Research Division and Wildlife Management Division reviewed feedback from public meetings and surveys and reviewed the plans of other states as well as best management practices from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. In June, the agency then hosted a CWD roundtable event with professionals in the wildlife management and veterinary fields to discuss the management strategies and the most current science involving CWD. That information also was incorporated in this next evolution of CWD management for the agency. Ballard then presented the first draft of the plan to the Commission and staff for an internal review in August. An amended plan was then circulated for external review by other agencies, organizations and researchers in December.

“This review was focused on soliciting unbiased feedback from a variety of professionals and institutions in disease research as well as wildlife management,” Ballard said. “We received 19 responses to this review, with the majority being very favorable of the plan. Ways to improve surveillance, monitoring and human dimensions regarding the disease were received, as well as a comment on congregating wildlife. Those comments were again incorporated into the final draft that was approved by the Commission today.”

The final draft of the plan is available at www.agfc.com/cwd, and an executive summary for general audiences will be created and distributed in the next few weeks to help introduce the plan to the public. While much of the plan touches on management and surveillance techniques currently being implemented by the AGFC, many refinements have been instituted as well as the need to conduct and review future CWD research and adjust the plan as needed.

“We also hope to be one of many states participating in a project with Cornell University on surveillance optimization to learn how all states can become more efficient in their surveillance efforts,” Ballard said. “So this plan will be evolving as the science does to ensure we stay on the forefront of research in wildlife disease here in Arkansas.”

In other business, the Commission:

Recognized Deke Whitbeck, president of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, with the announcement of Mike Nast as the winner of the Scott Landers Memorial Award, which grants a Lifetime Sportsman’s Lifetime Hunting and Fishing Permit to a family member of an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission employee.

Granted a 12-foot utility trailer to the nonprofit organization Quail Forever. The trailer and equipment will be used by the Central Arkansas Prescribed Burn Association to conduct prescribed burns on private lands in the central Arkansas area.

Granted the family of late Commissioner Joe Morgan his service sidearm in appreciation of his years of service to the state’s wildlife resources.

Authorized AGFC Director Pat Fitts to amend a current grant and enter a new subgrant agreement with the city of Warren for the construction of a new rifle/pistol range to total $870,000, pending federal reimbursement approval.

Approved an increase to the capital budget of $15,000 to begin the bid process for the renovation of the Jim Hinkle Spring River State Fish Hatchery.

Approved three corrections to the AGFC Code of Regulations that were omitted during the last regulations cycle:

Open turkey season on Foushee Cave, Little River and Nimrod Lloyd Millwood WMAs on the third Monday in April to match statewide season dates;

Clarify the language of the Camp Robinson WMA turkey season to eliminate confusion, and

Extend the antlerless season on Ozark National Forest WMA throughout the entire modern gun deer season.

Deferred a third-party petition to make changes to the Arkansas captive wildlife importation code with the intention of AGFC staff to address the petitioner’s concerns through the Commission’s regular regulations review cycle, and

Approved the disposal of obsolete inventory with an original value of $40,275 and a current net book value of $5,870.

Heard an update from Dan Sherman on the status of the search to fill the position being vacated by AGFC Director Fitts at the end of the fiscal year.

A video of the meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/user/ArkansasGameandFish.

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