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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — The state Capitol is shown in this file photo.

About $735,000 -- garnered from hunting and fishing fines -- is up for grabs as grants to school districts and conservation districts, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission Division of Rural Services announced Monday.

The application deadline is Oct. 8.

"Education is foundational for economic development," Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said in a news release announcing the Wildlife Conservation Education Grants Program.

"It leads to stronger communities, greater incomes, and more opportunities. These funds not only support enhanced educational opportunities, but they also help us to preserve our state's wildlife for future generations to enjoy. I encourage all of our school districts to apply."

Programs eligible for funding -- which is for fiscal 2021, running through June 30 -- include the study of general fish and wildlife conservation issues, Project WILD Workshops, the Arkansas National Archery in the Schools Program, the Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program, Fishing in the Natural State, Arkansas Stream Team, School Yard Habitat Site Development and specialized Arkansas Game and Fish Commission conservation education/educator training workshops.

Funds may also be used for field trips to Game and Fish Commission nature centers, conservation education centers and wildlife management areas.

The grants are especially valuable in rural areas where education dollars are at a premium, Game and Fish Chief of Education Tabbie Kinion said.

"Many schools participating in our shooting sports, archery, and conservation education programs are able to keep the programs going thanks to this partnership," Kinion said. "We also hear from many teachers who are able to make conservation-oriented field trips possible thanks to the money we collect from wildlife fines."

Department of Commerce spokeswoman Alisha Curtis said applications for the grants typically come in from the majority of school districts in the state.

"We funded a school archery team and approved their grant for bows and arrows, jerseys, tournament fees, target practice and clay rounds," Curtis said, adding that the funds have paid for an outdoor classroom as well as portable white boards, benches and various shade structures and gardens.

The grants program originated from Arkansas Act 302 of 1991 and was modified in 2015 when it was placed under the Division of Rural Services.

Any school or conservation district in the state is eligible to apply, regardless of size or population. Applicants must gain the approval of their school principal or conservation district official, who will be responsible for any grant.

The funding availability varies by district depending on the total of fines collected in that county. The largest sum available for 2020-21 is $52,986 in Clark County, followed by Monroe County with $47,766, according to Game and Fish Commission data.

After a staff review for completeness and eligibility, the applications are reviewed by the commission's Education Department. The Division of Rural Services and the commission submit their recommendations first to the Arkansas Rural Development Commission, then Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office. Grants are then awarded by mail.

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