AGFC proposes measured management for CWD
By Johnny Carrol Sain
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s CWD management plan is based heavily on public relations. The month of May has 12 planned town-hall style public meetings (May 19, 24, 26) as well as a one-hour broadcast that aired on AETN on May 23. In addition, AGFC plans to email CWD literature and regulation proposals to every one of the state’s approximately 300,000 licensed deer hunters.
I attended the Russellville AGFC meeting last night not as a press member but as a concerned hunter. I was expecting fireworks. Rumblings of a proposal to ban or severely limit deer baiting were emanating from everywhere in the state. Tribes on both sides of this debate have been forming for several years now, but the discovery of CWD in Arkansas has drawn the ranks tighter.
To my surprise, the AGFC proposed regulation changes were far from radical. The rumors were correct — AGFC was seriously considering a ban on baiting — but then the stark reality was realized. Baiting will still be allowed because as AGFC made clear: 1. It’s engrained in the hunting culture today. 2. A majority of Arkansas deer hunters can’t and won’t kill deer without baiting. 3. Killing more deer to reduce the herd is the goal. 4. Prohibiting deer baiting would create a backlash that AGFC does not want to deal with. This is a sad, SAD indictment of where whitetail hunting is today. Still, my guess is that baiting will be on the chopping block within two years. And I say good riddance.
“Disease management plan” was the catchphrase of the evening with its ultimate goal being herd reduction. You can read all the reg proposals here. The plan is a shift away from the overall focus of herd balance and management for older age-class bucks that was ushered in with the three-point rule and increased doe tags especially on private lands.
Somewhat ironically, older age-class deer, and bucks in particular, are goals to be avoided when managing for CWD containment. This likely won’t set well with some Arkansas hunters inspired by hunting celebrities and measuring a hunt with inches of bone. At the meeting, one private land deer “manager” lamented about the proposals to eliminate the three-point rule and year-round deer feeding (apparently, you just can’t have healthy deer and big bucks without supplemental feeding nowadays) and worried about his neighbors killing spikes and fork horns even in the name of CWD containment because “we’ve worked hard to grow big deer on our place.”
Just let the absurdity and selfishness wash over you for a few moments.
Now go take a shower.
With but a meager sampling on the first go-round of testing completed earlier this spring , Newton and Boone Counties have shown a 23 percent CWD infection rate. This percentage ranks as a high infection rate and is a potential existential threat to the quality of deer hunting we Arkies have enjoyed over the last few decades. The numbers are higher now (I did not record them last night on the assumption that they would be available online, but you know what assuming does), and testing also reveals that a similar percentage of fawns are infected. This suggests that the disease has been here for a while. And, yet, there are still hunters out there that can’t see the big picture, that can’t take the focus off of themselves.
There were a few pre-meeting whispered discussions of the cornpone wildlife management strategies I’ve often heard around the tailgate, a few shaking heads as AGFC representatives spoke, and one baritone-voiced fellow who came to the meeting with no questions but instead a written rebuttal of AGFC CWD actions so far. As Tom Kelly said (I’m paraphrasing here), any hunter with two squirrels to his credit is convinced he knows more about proper wildlife management than the degreed and proven biologists on staff at the agency.
But to the credit of River Valley and Ozark Mountain hunters, there weren’t many inward-focused folks at the meeting I attended. Most of us were there to learn and offer support to the AGFC staff that, in my opinion, have offered a thoughtful, proactive and malleable plan that can be adjusted as needed in the face of a problem they are still learning about.
I’ve not always seen eye to eye with the AGFC, but I remember a childhood of hushed excitement and incredulous wonder when any of the handful of whitetails I saw before age 12 came into view. Fast forward to last season when I killed four deer with archery equipment, a feat I’ve accomplished for the majority of the last 20 seasons. There are fresh deer tracks in my front yard right now and I can watch a herd munching on clover in the neighbor’s pasture on almost any evening I care to look. While I know who to thank for this, I also understand that this kind of deer density may exacerbate the threat that CWD poses to deer hunting in Arkansas. It’s my belief that AGFC fully understands this as well. That history of wildlife management, along with AGFC’s response to CWD so far, is why I trust in AGFC’s abilities to manage our deer with the focus on preserving our herds and hunting tradition going forward.