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Arkansas Outdoors

Today’s topics:
AGFC partners with taxidermists and vets to offer voluntary CWD testing
Northwest Arkansas nature center groundbreaking scheduled for Nov. 2
AGFC officer apprehends robbery, murder suspect
“Outdoor Hotline” highlights new hunting license system, CWD and changes to water control on WMAs
Delta Rivers Nature Center Plans Two Nights of Frightful Outdoors Fun
Roseate spoonbills offer birders odd opportunities during final throes of summer
Hunters, trappers using WMAs reminded to get free use permit
AGFC partners with taxidermists and vets to offer voluntary CWD testing
LITTLE ROCK – Since chronic wasting disease was discovered in Arkansas in February 2016, biologists have collected thousands of samples from deer and elk taken by hunters, from targeted animals showing signs of the disease and from road-killed deer throughout the state. In addition to samples taken to establish the disease’s spread and prevalence, the AGFC is offering a convenient way for hunters to have their deer tested for CWD at participating taxidermists and veterinarians.
                “The AGFC’s main focus is on the area of the state where we know CWD exists and determining the outer edge of its spread, but we have received calls from hunters in all parts of the state who want to know if their deer has CWD,” said Cory Gray, manager of the AGFC’s Research, Evaluation and Compliance Division. “We do have a few more options in place for that to happen this year.”
                Gray and Jenn Ballard, the AGFC’s veterinarian, reached out to taxidermists to collect samples last year from hunters turning in heads for mounts.
“Most deer turned in to taxidermists are going to be older age-class bucks, which typically have the highest prevalence of CWD of any segment of the population,” Gray said. “So this was a good source for us to look for the disease throughout other portions of the state. This year we’ve worked with taxidermists so that hunters can get a CWD sample taken from any deer, young or old, buck or doe.”
                Gray says the added locations of taxidermists and veterinarians throughout the state also offer more places than the Commission can man throughout deer season to make it easier for a hunter to turn in a sample.
“Participating veterinarians may charge a fee to pull a sample, but we’ve worked out a system with the taxidermists on the list to pull samples free of charge to the hunter,” said Gray. “We are still finalizing some contracts with taxidermists, so be sure to check the website for updates to the list.”
                Hunters going to taxidermists or veterinarians should call ahead of time for the shop’s hours. If the location is closed, hunters should preserve the sample by placing the head with 3 to 4 inches of the neck attached in a cooler with ice. The head also may be frozen, but should be allowed to thaw before presenting it to the person taking the sample.
                Gray stresses that heads and samples from deer taken in the 11-county CWD management zone must stay within the zone, so hunters interested in having their deer tested should plan ahead to find which sample site best fits their needs.
                “We also will be manning 17 free CWD testing stations on the opening weekend of modern gun deer season,” Gray said. “If someone wants to wait to have their deer tested until then, they can freeze the head, then let it thaw and bring it to one of these stations.”
                Gray says the AGFC-manned stations will accept any deer for testing, whether it was harvested inside or outside the CWD Management Zone.
                “No matter which method you choose to have your deer sampled, you’ll receive a card with your test sample number and a web address to see your sample results once they’ve been processed,” Gray said. “Results should be available within two or three weeks of the sample being collected.”
                Hunters submitting any samples that turn up positive will be notified immediately by the AGFC. Biologists will work with them to collect and dispose of any meat from the infected animal and reinstate their game tag if possible.
                Visit for more information on CWD and testing locations.
Northwest Arkansas nature center groundbreaking scheduled for Nov. 2
SPRINGDALE – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will host a groundbreaking ceremony for the planned Northwest Arkansas nature center on Nov. 2. The ceremony will be held in Springdale on the 61-acre site along Spring Creek, near the intersection of Interstate 49 and Wagon Wheel Road, beginning at 3 p.m.
Construction on the $18 million facility will focus on natural elements and ecosystems found in the northwest region of the state.
Proposed facility highlights include 36,000 square feet of improvements, including a state-of-the-art educational building, indoor and outdoor classrooms, education pavilions, traditional and 3-D archery ranges, watchable-wildlife walking trails, wildlife habitat areas, a creek boardwalk and overlook, native plant gardens, wildlife-viewing blinds, and many other conservation education and outdoor recreation amenities.
The addition of a new conservation education and nature center will add to the AGFC’s services, habitat work, conservation and enhancements to the natural resources of Northwest Arkansas for decades.
AGFC officer apprehends robbery, murder suspect
FORREST CITY – A keen eye and experience came together for Sgt. Jay Thomas, a wildlife officer with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, in Sunday’s apprehension of a robbery suspect in Brinkley who has been linked to a murder committed Sunday morning in Forrest City.
                Thomas and several other wildlife officers responded to the call from Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Arkansas State Police to help search for a subject involved in the robbery of the Family Dollar store in Brinkley. The suspect had fled in a vehicle, which was later found wrecked and unoccupied near Highway 70. The white hooded sweatshirt the subject had been wearing also had been left at the scene of the crash, making it more difficult for officers to quickly identify him.
                Sgt. Thomas drove on, establishing a perimeter near a residence across an agricultural field from the crash. As he made his way to the field, he saw a man fitting the subject’s description, covered in mud, walking across the field toward a wooded area. Thomas drove to his location, identified himself to the suspect and ordered him to lay down. Upon the subject’s compliance, Thomas was able to place him into custody without incident. The suspect, Larry Watts, was then turned over to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office for questioning.
                Upon further investigation, police learned that the car the subject was driving belonged to 78-year-old Arnold Gwathney, who had been killed inside his home in Forrest City earlier that day.
                Watts is being held for parole violation, and charges regarding the robbery, vehicle theft and homicide are pending.
“Outdoor Hotline” highlights new hunting license system, CWD and changes to water control on WMAs
                CONWAY – Arkansas Educational Television Network and the Arkansas Game and Fish will host a special “Outdoor Hotline,” to help inform viewers throughout The Natural State about some of the most recent changes to Arkansas’s outdoors.
The one-hour call-in show begins at 7 p.m., Oct. 23. Topics will include the transition to new hunting license and tagging requirements for big game hunters, an update on chronic wasting disease from the AGFC’s first state wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Jennifer Ballard, and changes to water management on public hunting areas that have made Arkansas the duck hunting capital of the world.
In addition to a video package focused on each topic, the hotline will include a brief question-and-answer portion on some of each subject’s most frequently asked questions.
                “We look forward to another opportunity to let our fellow Arkansans know what’s happening in the great outdoors this fall,” said Trey Reid, AGFC assistant chief of communications. “With the new license system we implemented this year, there have been a lot of questions and a little confusion, and this program will allow Game and Fish staff to answer some of those questions as we inch closer to the thick of hunting season. We’re also entering our second deer season since the detection of chronic wasting disease in the state, so we’re eager to provide an update and give hunters the latest information on what CWD means to them and the state’s deer herd. Finally, it’s no secret that Arkansans are passionate about duck hunting, so we’ll also spend a portion of the show talking about how the commission is working to preserve the state’s flooded green timber legacy.”
Questions not answered on the air will still be handled by a phone bank of biologists, wildlife officers and other knowledgeable AGFC staff. Viewers can submit questions by calling 800-662-2386 or via e-mail at
Delta Rivers Nature Center Plans Two Nights of Frightful Outdoors Fun
PINE BLUFF – The outdoors shouldn’t scare anyone, unless it’s all for fun. That’s what the Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center has planned for its 15th annual Boo on the Bayou scheduled for Oct. 28-29.
Dawn Cook, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission natural resources program technician at the nature center, said, “It’s been an awesome event and it’s just gotten bigger every year.” As many as 6,000 visitors from throughout southeast Arkansas have attended over the two nights leading up to Halloween, she said
Eric Maynard, the AGFC’s assistant chief for Nature Centers and Regional Education Coordinators and in charge of the Delta Rivers Nature Center, said, “This year, our entertainment will be more prominent.” He said rather than placing the disc jockey/emcee in the back of the facility parking lot as they’ve done in past years, the DJ will be centralized in the middle of the center’s parking lot with more activities going on around him.
Look for dance contests and prize giveaways throughout the evening, including some that will be spur-of-the-moment at the DJ’s whim, and “just more fun stuff this year,” Cook said.
Of course, a major annual attraction at Boo on the Bayou is the haunted nature trail.
“The Haunted Trail is always real popular,” Maynard said. “In the last few years we’ve also been doing a Spooky Maze for our younger kids. Our games are kind of unusual, too, because they are nature center-related, like having a ring toss on deer antlers, Skee-Ball rolled into duck decoys, a frog toss – not with a real frog, of course. We have shooting games like a rubber duck shoot and a Daisy BB gun range to shoot BBs.”
For the first time, Boo on the Bayou has a presenting sponsor. Maynard said Jefferson Regional Medical Center has stepped into the role and will have employees volunteering each night helping run games, overseeing the inflatables and giving out candy. Maynard said the event typically requires 70-80 volunteers to help make it run smoothly.
Boo on the Bayou’s hours are 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. both Friday and Saturday, Oct. 28-29. The event is free. Free parking will be available across from the Regional Park softball complex, and city buses will ferry eventgoers to and from the nature center. The nature center itself will be closed, as all the Boo on the Bayou activities occur outside. Attendees are encouraged to come in costume.
Other local businesses are welcome to help join the JRMC employees and AGFC personnel and volunteer at the event, place a booth and put up their banners.
“We’re always looking for help up to the last minute,” Maynard said. “People can face-paint, or work any of the game booths. If they like to dress up they can work on the haunted trail.” Anybody wanting to volunteer should contact Dawn Cook at 870-534-0011.
The Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center is at 1400 Black Dog Road in the Pine Bluff Regional Park, just off the Martha Mitchell Expressway (U.S. Highway 65 B) and east of the courthouse and Lake Saracen. Regular operating hours are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. The center is closed Monday.
Roseate spoonbills offer birders odd opportunities during final throes of summer
            ARKANSAS POST – With cooler weather finally on the horizon, many birders are itching to get out and view some of the Neotropical migrants that make their way through The Natural State each fall. But the roseate spoonbill makes an odd appearance during late summer and early fall, briefly travelling north to Arkansas for a visit before returning to its home in the tropics.
In the 1930s, market hunting for feathers to supply the hat industry had reduced spoonbill populations in the U.S. to an estimated 30 breeding pairs left. Today, more than 4,000 breeding pairs frequent the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas.
Kirsten Bartlow, watchable wildlife coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, says viewing these interesting birds is worth a special trip to the wetlands in the southern half of the state.
Aside from the strange timing of this tropical wading bird’s arrival, the roseate spoonbill stands out from Arkansas’s usual lineup of shorebirds with its bright pink feathers. Many people may even think they’ve wandered upon a flamingo, until they get a closer look at its bill.
            The broad, flat, obvious bill of the bird is designed with the same purpose as the bill of a northern shoveler duck – to strain small crustaceans, insects, snails and other small food items from the mud and water. The pink coloration comes from the algae pigments present in their food and intensifies as the bird ages and accumulates more of these pigments.
 Roseate spoonbills live in the coastal marshes and mudflats of Florida, Texas and other Gulf Coast states. Much like herons and storks, spoonbills nest in colonies, sometimes as large as 100 birds. At beginning of breeding season, the entire flock may suddenly fly up, for no apparent reason, and circle the area. In courtship, male and female birds first interact aggressively, later perch close together, present sticks to each other, cross and clasp bills. After breeding season, some birds (mostly immature spoonbills) may stray north, offering Arkansans a rare glimpse at this interesting bird.
Birders interested in marking this bird off their life list should visit or download the eBird app on the iTunes and Google Play stores to check out likely places where they’ve been spotted.  Be prepared to wade or canoe, as these birds are most comfortable with their feet wet. Although they have been sighted as far north as Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge, they are much more commonly found in the southern half of the state.
            “The best places to find spoonbills are going to be in the southeastern and southwestern corners of the state,” Bartlow said. “Both areas have so much history and charisma that a trip to view these birds can be paired with an entire weekend of exploration.”
            Bartlow says weekend adventures are just one of the benefits of bird watching that is making it an increasingly popular pastime.
            “You really don’t need any special equipment to enjoy watching wildlife, and you can watch birds from anywhere,” Bartlow said. “Whether you’re sitting on your back porch watching cardinals and chickadees or trekking in the wilderness after a less common sighting, bird watching can be as relaxing or challenging as you want to make it.”
            Bartlow recommends people interested in learning more about bird watching contact the AGFC to get signed up in the Wings Over Arkansas program.
            “The program rewards birdwatchers with special pins and certificates for the amount of birds they’ve cataloged on their life list,” Bartlow said. “It’s a great, informal way to begin learning more about some of the animals we are blessed with in The Natural State.”
            For more information about Wings Over Arkansas, visit
Hunters, trappers using WMAs reminded to get free use permit
                LITTLE ROCK – With many hunters making their way to the woods this weekend for the deer muzzleloader season opener, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wants to remind all hunters who are visiting wildlife management areas to get a free General WMA Use Permit through the Commission’s license system before hunting or trapping.
                The permit replaces the previous Sweet 16 WMA Permit and the Bayou Meto Boating Access Permit. It does not grant any special privileges but is required on all WMAs throughout the state.
“The General WMA Use Permit is simply a way to measure how many people are using the wildlife management areas throughout the various hunting seasons and offer them opportunities to complete surveys on their hunting experiences,” said Steven Fowler, assistant chief of wildlife management for the AGFC. “This data will help us focus future management strategies as well as purchases and enhancements to wildlife habitat where hunters will be able to use it.”
Fowler says another benefit of the permit is for the AGFC to begin building a database of contacts, so that when regulations or management decisions impacting a particular WMA or user group are announced, biologists have a way to get the message to the public.
“Flood prone zones and road closures are just two of the emergency situations where we could notify hunters and prevent them from driving all the way to the WMA before they find out access has been cut off,” Fowler said.  
                 The permit may be obtained online at, at any license vendor or by calling 800-364-4263. It can be added as a code to your existing license or obtained on its own.
For the latest in Arkansas Game and Fish Commission information go to or call the Wildlife Information Hotline, 800-440-1477.