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From a conservation standpoint, public land duck hunters have matured over the last 10 years.

Since 2005, I've attended many public meetings that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has held to discuss hard decisions regarding water management on its green tree reservoirs. The latest was a meeting Thursday at Searcy High School to discuss changes in flooding protocols at Henry Gray Hurricane Lake WMA. There, as in other places, large amounts of red oak species that are beneficial for waterfowl have died because of sustained periods of flooding.

About 40 avid users of the WMA attended the meeting. They listened as Game and Fish Commission resource specialists explained problems and solutions. Afterward, attendees asked insightful questions for nearly two hours. Voices were calm, and there were only brief moments of low-grade contentiousness.

What a change that was from November 2005, when many duck hunters were furious with the AGFC drained the water from Bayou Meto WMA in accordance with its water management plan.

About that time, Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge implemented a new management plan that prescribed staggered flood levels for its various compartments. In some years, some components would not be flooded at all. That was a tough time to be Felsenthal NWR's area manager.

I distinctly remember some people saying at that time that they didn't care about what happened 30, 40, or 50 years from now because they wouldn't be around to deal with it. Their children and grandchildren could fight those battles. All they wanted was flooded timber to hunt that year and the year after, and they exerted intense political pressure to satisfy their short-term interests.

A small minority expressed the same sentiment at a public meeting in Russellville in 2007 about attempts to rehabilitate the green tree reservoir at Galla Creek WMA.

Coincidentally, Galla Creek is an example of what you'll get with short-sighted thinking. Galla Creek's green tree reservoir is a ruin. If the Game and Fish Commission does not modify the way it manages water at Bayou Meto, Hurricane Lake, Dagmar and other green tree reservoirs, they will eventually be in the same condition as Galla Creek.

I noticed a dramatic change in attitude at a similar meeting about Bayou Meto WMA in 2016 in Little Rock. I expected a rowdy affair, but the crowd was somber. The Game and Fish Commission's warnings were coming to fruition, and hunters could no longer dismiss the obvious damage to their beloved Scatters.

They did not welcome the sacrifices they were asked to make, but they were willing because they love the place more than they love the season. To preserve the season, hunters finally understood they had to preserve the place.

The crowd in Searcy on Thursday projected the same attitude.

In both cases, hunters rightly criticized the management that helped bring about the WMAs deteriorated condition. There were some harsh words for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose own water management schemes are complicit in timber damage at Hurricane Lake WMA and, most notably, at Black River WMA .

Jennifer Sheehan, the AGFC's federal liaison, explained the challenges of trying to work with two Corps districts whose goals and missions might not be compatible with each other, let alone compatible with a comparatively tiny and insignificant state wildlife management agency.

Sheehan didn't say or even imply it, but I will. No organization is more apathetic and lethargic than a military bureaucracy. Any cooperation the Game and Fish Commission gets from the Corps is monumental.

One thing resource managers do have is more accurate, more comprehensive science than they had from the 1940s through the 1980s. They have greater empirical knowledge about the relationship between bottomland timber, water and flood cycles.

They are also fully aware that management strategies of the past helped cause today's problems.

Remedying those problems requires looking ahead, not backwards. Hunters are grudgingly accepting that conclusion, too, and they seem willing to sacrifice some of today for the good of tomorrow.

It is an encouraging change, and I'm proud of them.

Sports on 11/04/2018

Print Headline: Duck hunters realize changes necessary at green tree reservoirs


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