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The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission voted unanimously during their regularly scheduled meeting last week to create a new Disabled Veteran Lifetime Combination License that will be available at a reduced rate for resident military veterans meeting certain criteria.

The new license will cost $52.50 and will give full hunting and fishing privileges to any disabled veteran who has a service-connected disability rating of 70 percent or higher or a service-connected disability rating of 50 percent or higher and is a recipient of the Purple Heart medal.

This license is in accordance with Act 729, passed during the 92nd Arkansas General Assembly. This license does not replace previous disabled veterans’ licenses offered by the AGFC that require a veteran to be 100 percent disabled to qualify. Those licenses are still available at their previous cost. The new license will simple enable more veterans to qualify for reduced rates.

According to AGFC Director Pat Fitts, the new license will extend these reduced rates for hunting and fishing privileges to more than 14,000 disabled veterans in Arkansas.

The Commission also created a single five-day Nonresident Waterfowl Hunting Permit that will be valid on all AGFC wildlife management areas (WMAs) in response to comments received last waterfowl season.

Previously, a nonresident waterfowl hunter on many of the AGFC’s WMAs was required to purchase a separate permit for each WMA they hunted. The new universal permit enables hunters to move to different WMAs within the five-day window the permit is valid.

Public comment also fueled the Commission’s proposal to extend more opportunity to hunt furbearers throughout the year. Commissioners heard the first reading of new regulation changes for private land that, if passed, will relax the limitations on landowners to eliminate coyotes, raccoons and other species known to be predators of turkeys, quail and other ground-nesting birds and their nests.

According to the proposals, coyote, raccoon, opossum and striped skunk hunting will be open year-round on private land. There will be no daily or possession limits to any of these species, and wanton waste regulations will no longer apply to raccoon or opossum for landowners wishing to eliminate those nest predators from their property.

The proposals also include the creation of a free Predator Control Permit, which would enable landowners or leaseholders to shoot any furbearer species day or night without a hunting license.

Commissioner Ken Reeves of Harrison said he hopes that if these proposals are passed, they will enable landowners to better control the predators of turkeys, quail and other ground-nesting birds on their property if they wish to do so.

The Commission is expected to vote on these proposed regulation changes on a special conference call July 25. The proposed regulatory changes will be available for comment for the next 30 days at apps.agfc.com/regulations.

The Commission also approved updates to captive wildlife regulations, including the addition of 104 species to the unrestricted wildlife species list that would be exempt from Wildlife Breeder/Dealer and Wildlife Importation permit requirements and could be imported, bred and sold without these permits and 486 species to the permitted captive wildlife species list that require permits for importation, breeding and scale.

The extension of current Wildlife Breeder/Dealer and Wildlife Importation permits for up to 90 days from the permit expiration date of June 30, 2019 for permittees authorized to import, breed or sell certain wildlife species was also approved. The additional time will allow for the completion of species evaluations.

Ken Reeves was elected chair of the Commission and Andrew Parker vice chair. The two will serve until July 2020.

The Commission also completed an evaluation on Director Fitts to increase his compensation. Fitts could have been awarded up to $12,000 more per year, but declined the raise in light of recent cuts to merit increase pay adjustments for all staff.

The total agency operating budget for fiscal year 2020 was approved at $91,927164. Gas lease funds for FY 2020 were approved at $228,000; the Dave Donaldson Black River WMA Restoration Fund FY 2020 budget at $1,106,000; and the feral hog eradication program budget for FY 2020 at $250,000.

The Commission approved a revision to the AGFC Employee Policy for Classification and Compensation to increase career service award payments in accordance with increases passed during the 92nd Arkansas General Assembly.

Joe Larscheid of the American Fisheries Society, who presented the 2018 Sportfish Restoration Outstanding Project Award to the AGFC for its Family and Community Fishing Program, and Jessica Graham, program director of the Southeast Aquatic Resource Partnership who delivered a presentation about the AGFC’s involvement in this nationally recognized fish habitat partnership, were both recognized.

Fitts was approved to exchange 2.4 acres of land on the Devil’s Eyebrow Natural Area for 11 nearby acres to improve public access.

Outdated and obsolete inventory was approved to be removed. The original value of the inventory was $464,629.81 and it is now valued at $45,239.64.

A video of the meeting is available at youtube.com/user/ArkansasGameandFish.

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