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Changes aim to improve waterfowl habitat

by Flip Putthoff | September 14, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Duck hunters may see some changes on three of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's wildlife management areas this year.

George H. Dunklin Jr. Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area, Henry Gray Hurricane Lake Wildlife Management Area and Earl Buss Bayou DeView Wildlife Management Area all will see changes in water management beginning with the 2021-22 waterfowl wintering period.

All of these changes are part of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's efforts to prevent further stress to valuable red oak species on traditionally flooded bottomland hardwood forests.

"We really started talking about these issues and the need for change in water management in 2017, and a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to study and build the groundwork for major renovations to infrastructure," said Brad Carner, chief of wildlife management for Game and Fish. "Hunters will begin to see some changes in how flooding occurs on these areas as we now move forward with some of the actions developed through that background work."

The first change will come at Henry Gray Hurricane Lake Wildlife Management Area near Bald Knob. Trees in the area's former south greentree reservoir saw a massive die-off in 2018, which led to Game and Fish leaving the water-control gates open and drafting plans to help water flow through the area. Those plans are being implemented now. Trees in the area's north greentree reservoir also had substantial stress when the die-off occurred and continued flooding during the growing season have added to that damage.

"Beginning this year, we will leave the Glaise Creek water control structure open to allow water to flow through the north greentree reservoir instead of artificially holding it back," Carner said. "The area can still flood with substantial rainfall or rises in the White River, but we can't continue to artificially hold water on the area and add additional stress to the trees there."

Much of the red oak component in Bayou Meto is showing severe stress. Managers will hold all intentional flooding during the 2021-22 wintering period at a level that will relieve stress on many of those trees.

The Thompson Tract at Bayou DeView Wildlife Management Area will be allowed to rise and fall naturally without the gates being operated beginning with the 2021-22 season. Instead of saving stressed trees, the action at this greentree reservoir is an effort to help the next generation of forest.

"Wildlife stand improvements in 2019 opened up the canopy of that forest and allowed sunlight to reach the forest floor," Carner said. "We've seen an excellent crop of willow oaks sprout from that effort. Logging being conducted in Bayou DeView will open more forest up for this regeneration to create the next forest and benefit ducks and other wildlife. We need to allow water to flow freely through the area to protect those young trees that will one day be the forest our children and grandchildren will hunt."

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