Leader Blues

Friday, July 10, 2009

SPORT S >> DU seeks support for wetlands improvement

Leader staff writer

Arkansas ducks may be getting a boost thanks to a new initiative of Ducks Unlimited and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Ducks Unlimited plans to raise $300,000, which will be matched by a $900,000 federal grant to improve three sites that are important winter habitats for a variety of waterfowl: Holland Bottoms Wildlife Management Area in Lonoke County, Dagmar WMA in Monroe County and Black Swamp WMA in Woodruff County.

“We are rehabilitating these areas to improve wetlands for waterfowl,” said Craig Hilburn, manager of conservation programs for Arkansas.

Holland Bottoms WMA is 6,190 acres between Hwy. 167 and Graham Road. Lake Pickthorn may be the area’s most notable attraction.

Under DU’s plan, AGFC will be better able to manage 80 acres of a duck rest area at Holland Bottoms with controlled flooding and by planting foods that will help ducks survive the winter.

“It’s important for hunters to have well-maintained rest areas. Having poorly managed rest areas is the same as not having ones at all,” Hilburn said.

The improved 80 acres, which will be off limits to hunters, will likely make ducks healthier. It will also mean duck hunting will be more productive in the surrounding acreage where hunting is permitted. Ducks and hunters will be pleased by the improvement plan.

“It’s a win, win for all. The quality of habitat on the wintering grounds has been shown to affect reproduction rates the following year,” Hilburn said.

But the new plan’s boldest component is to purchase 347 acres adjacent to Dagmar WMA, which is located on both sides of I-40 just east of Lonoke County.

Dagmar WMA, best known as the home of the Ivory-billed woodpecker, attracts many ducks during the winter. The acreage will be seasonally flooded by AGFC, which would benefit not only ducks that migrate there annually but numerous other animals.

“If we didn’t have these rest areas, we could drive the birds to extinction,” Hilburn said.

The plan for Lee LeBlanc Rest Area at Black Swamp WMA is to install a pump that will more efficiently flood the area every fall and winter.

But for these projects to be completed, DU needs donations from individuals and corporations that understand the importance of wetlands conservation.

“It is critical that we have support from corporate and private individuals. To get the grant, we need matched funding,” Hilburn said.

To make a donation that will go directly to improving local wetlands, send checks to Craig Hilburn at 1660 Amelia Drive, Conway, Ark. 72034, or call him at 501-837-1524. Please indicate on your checks that your donation is for Holland Bottoms, Dagmar and Black Swamp conservation.

Contact Matt Robinson, chairman of Ducks Unlimited’s local chapter, at 501-412-8055 for more information about these projects or to make a donation.