LITTLE ROCK - Bear hunting may return to the lowlands of southeast Arkansas next year.
In presenting a statewide bear management plan to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Rick Eastridge, AGFC’s bear program coordinator, told the commissioners Thursday he and other staff members will likely propose a limited bear hunt for next December in parts of Phillips, Arkansas, Desha and Chicot counties.
This is where today’s descendants of Arkansas’s original bears live. Bears in the state were reduced to just a few dozen earlier in this century, and these were concentrated along the lower White River, mostly living to the White River National Wildlife Refuge. Bears were restored in the mountain areas of Arkansas with imports from northern areas, and hunting resumed in 1980.
The AGFC will begin its hunting regulation process in January with public input meetings around the state, and next year’s seasons will be set by the commissioners in April. Eastridge said the staff proposal would likely be for a three-day bear hunt in southeast Arkansas coinciding with the last three days of modern gun deer season.
At Thursday’s commission meeting, several Desha County leaders proposed the purchase of Choctaw Island along the Mississippi River for an AGFC wildlife management area. The tract, owned by a lumber company, covers about 7,000 acres inside the main levees of the river. There are virtually no public hunting areas in Arkansas inside the levees.
In other action Thursday, the commissioners:
1. Heard Lake Village leaders ask for action to counter declining crappie fishing on Lake Chicot.
2. Discussed an extensive remodeling of the Little Rock headquarters to create more office space and to provide a large meeting room for the commission. The present auditorium would be reworked.
3. Earmarked $31,000 from donations to the annual elk hunt toward habitat improvement work along the Buffalo River.
4. Approved spending up to $30,000 for cleanup work on Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area and other areas hit hard by the recent ice storm.
5. Set annual fees of $500 for captive wildlife hunting operations and $25 for importing or transporting wildlife in or through the state
6. Approved buying an additional five acres needed for building a public fishing lake near Bono in Craighead County. The AGFC agreed in November to buy more than 200 acres for the project.