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Landowners and managers should get help managing turkey and quail Thursday when the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission votes on new furbearer regulations.

Introduced June 20, the new regulations will liberalize the taking of coyotes, raccoons, striped skunks, opossums, bobcats and foxes. The regulations are designed to provide additional hunting and trapping opportunities and to encourage the additional harvest of certain furbearers.

The new regulations will allow for hunting coyotes year round. Dogs may not be used to hunt coyotes during spring turkey season, and they may not be hunted at night.

Raccoon hunting will be allowed from July to the end of March.

Foxes may be hunted from Sept. 1 to the last day of February, and only during the day.

There will be no bag limit for striped skunks and raccoons. Currently, the daily limit for each is two. The commission's wildlife management division says there is no need for a limit at this time.

Raccoons and opossums will be exempt from wanton waste regulations because the commission says the regulations are a barrier to hunters.

The commission will create a free predator control permit for landowners, lease holders and for hunters who have permission to hunt private property owned by somebody else. There will be no license requirements to obtain the permit. This will allow the commission to survey permit recipients to evaluate the extent of participation and effectiveness.

Long ago, before pop culture socially criminalized the wearing of fur, most of the aforementioned animals were managed by commercial trappers. Fur prices dictated demand. When fur prices were high, trappers kept furbearer numbers in check.

Fur prices have been low for decades. Trappers don't spend the time and energy running traplines, skinning, scraping, stretching and softening pelts, taking them to market and dealing with all the paperwork necessary for them to accumulate, store and sell furs.

With the fur market functionally extinct, most trappers have abandoned their pursuit except on a hobby level.

As a result, furbearers are essentially unmanaged because they have few natural predators to keep their numbers in balance. They are especially destructive to wild turkeys, bobwhite quail and other ground nesting birds.

The public has told the commission loudly that it values turkeys, quail and other birds. The commission responded with regulations that will enable taking furbearers in a sporting context.

While trapping interest has waned, sport hunting of predators has soared. In fact, it is an independent hunting sector that has spawned a new genre of magazines, blogs, and television and internet video programming.

The firearms industry supplies an entire genre of predator hunting rifles. They are small-bore models designed for pinpoint accuracy at long ranges.

The apparel industry supplies predator-based garments and camouflage patterns.

Predator calling is now a big business that is serviced by a multitude of big and small companies making special calls to entice coyotes, bobcats and foxes.

For the Game and Fish Commission, it is a logical evolution to shift the management emphasis away from fur harvest to sport. Landowners invest a lot of time, effort and money to create turkey and quail habitat, but they have long complained about the overabundance of predators. They believe that their efforts only create more turkeys and quail for predators to eat. They don't see substantially more turkeys and quail, but they see substantially more predators.

Doomsayers will complain that the commission has devalued an entire class of wildlife, and that hunters will drive those animals to extinction.

That prophecy has not come close to reality anywhere that predator hunting is popular. Wherever pressure lifts, furbearers quickly repopulate. The regulations are merely a tool to help landowners and lessees manage a problematic wildlife component on properties with specific management goals.

Additionally, predator hunting is a relatively untapped opportunity in Arkansas. The new regulations will augment small game hunting, thus opening a portal to welcome new hunters. In this light, the regulations are merely a start. The commission should also promote predator hunting and hold workshops on how to do it.

Sports on 07/21/2019

Print Headline: AGFC ready to liberalize furbearer hunting rules

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