Duck hunters visiting Arkansas’ famous waterfowl-focused public greentree reservoirs 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 WMA, Henry Gray Hurricane Lake WMA and Earl Buss Bayou DeView WMA all will see changes in water management beginning with the 2021-22 waterfowl wintering period. All of these changes are part of the 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 the AGFC. “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 WMA near Bald Knob. Trees in the area’s former South GTR saw a massive die-off in 2018, which led to the AGFC 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 GTR 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 GTR 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.”
Bayou Meto, the crown jewel of Arkansas public land duck hunting, also will see some changes this year in managed water levels. Much of the red oak component in Bayou Meto is showing severe stress, and managers will hold all intentional flooding during the 2021-22 wintering period at 179 MSL, an elevation that will relieve stress on many of those trees. Again, rain and increased flow into the WMA will allow water to rise above that level periodically, but artificial flooding will be stopped at the 179 MSL mark.
“This will potentially leave 1,857 acres of Bayou Meto’s greentree reservoirs with unmanaged water,” Carner said. Fifteen percent of the Government Cypress GTR, 27 percent of Upper Vallier and 8 percent of Lower Vallier greentree reservoirs will be affected.”
Managers will further reduce controlled water levels on the WMA during the 2022-23 wintering season, keeping managed water at or below 178.5 MSL.
“This stands to impact much more hunter access on the WMA,” Carner said. “46 percent of Government Cypress, 53 percent of Upper Valier and 31 percent of Lower Vallier are above 178.5 MSL. The extra year before we implement this change will hopefully allow us to get in and improve access where we can on these greentree reservoirs.”
The third change to water management will come at Bayou DeView WMA. The Thompson Tract on the WMA also 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.”
Carner explains that although trees are very long-lived, they do have a lifespan and do have an age when their productivity drops.
“As trees lose their productivity from age or severe stress, we must make room and care for the young trees that will take their place,” Carner said. “It will be decades before the seedlings we see today are producing acorns for wildlife, and we need to manage for that transition now to prevent larger-scale habitat loss in the future.”