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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: No lifetime resident privileges for WMA duck hunts

by Bryan Hendricks | November 8, 2020 at 3:44 a.m.

If you buy a Lifetime Sportsman's License and move out of state, then you must still buy a nonresident WMA permit to hunt waterfowl on wildlife management areas.

This comes as a great surprise to people who bought the lifetime license believing that they could hunt as residents for the rest of their lives no matter where they live. It does, said Jim Goodhart, the Game and Fish Commission's chief legal counsel, except for hunting waterfowl on wildlife management areas.

For the purpose of hunting waterfowl on WMAs, Goodhart said, the Game and Fish Commission regards Lifetime Sportsmen's License holders living out of state as nonresidents. That designation requires them to possess a nonresident WMA Waterfowl Hunting Permit, pursuant to Chapter 24.09 of the Arkansas Wildlife Code.

That also means that nonresidents that hold lifetime licenses may only hunt waterfowl on WMAs for the first 10 days of the regular duck season, from Dec. 27-Jan. 5 of the following year, and from Jan. 22-31. The permits are good for five consecutive days.

A Lifetime Sportsman's License covers not only the cost of your hunting and fishing licenses, but also your state duck stamp. Goodhart said that lifetime license holders living out of state receive a nonresident duck stamp, denoting them as nonresidents. Their nonresident status subjects them to nonresident regulations and license requirements for hunting on WMAs, including having to buy the additional permit and the time limitations.

"Your residency is at a given time," Goodhart said. "If you're living out of state, you are a nonresident. You are paid up at the rate that you gained when you bought it [the lifetime license]. You've paid all license and permit fees, but if you relocate, you don't take permanent resident status with you."

Goodhart said that the Game and Fish Commission does not have the authority to sell permanent residency status.

"You would be selling that for a price, and I don't think that's equal protection for all your citizens, including all of your nonresidents," Goodhart said. "All people are not able to afford $1,000, but they would like to be considered a permanent Arkansas resident.

"Theoretically you can have two people living in Dallas, Texas. One bought a lifetime license for $1,000, and one didn't. The one that did can argue, 'Hey I'm a permanent Arkansas resident forever.' The other one would say, "Why can't I be treated that way? I just couldn't afford it.'"

This exception applies only to hunting waterfowl on WMAs. If you have a Lifetime Sportsman's License and live out of state, you retain resident hunting privileges for deer, wild turkey, bear, squirrels, rabbits, quail and everything else, even on wildlife management areas.

At first glance, Goodhart's opinion makes no sense because it carves a single exemption from the state's broad suite of hunting opportunities. You can hunt deer and turkey without buying a nonresident hunting license, but not ducks?

The distinction seems to hinge on the state waterfowl stamp. Waterfowl is the only game that requires an additional state permit besides a regular hunting license. Therefore, hunting waterfowl is the only type of hunting that identifies a hunter's residency. WMAs are the only places that have special regulations for nonresident hunters.

"You don't need to carry a state duck stamp on your person any longer. You just need an electronic confirmation that you have a stamp," Goodhart said. "Individuals that are out of state, their stamp is a nonresident stamp because our records indicate they are permanently living out of state. They are, in fact, nonresidents."

Goodhart said aggrieved Lifetime Sportsman's License holders that live out of state may request a refund for the pro-rated balance on their Lifetime Sportsman's Licenses.

"If somebody said, "I bought this and thought I got to be a permanent Arkansas resident no matter where I move on the planet,' they could ask for a refund of their unused part of their lifetime license," Goodhart said, "but permanent residency is not what was sold as part of a lifetime license sale."

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