The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission marks a milestone this month. March 11 is its 100th birthday.

Photographs courtesy of Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

 

To celebrate the centennial, the commission will be honored at the state Capitol on March 11 and will play host to open houses March 14 at its four nature centers in Fort Smith, Jonesboro, Little Rock and Pine Bluff; at its Ponca Elk Education Center; and at fish hatcheries in Centerton, Corning, Hot Springs, Lonoke and Mammoth Spring. Among an array of other related events are promotional nights in May at an Arkansas Travelers game in North Little Rock and a Northwest Arkansas Naturals game in Springdale.

The commission also has published two books, a 180-page pictorial history and a 132-page cookbook, which came out just in time for Christmas. Though that holiday has passed, if you’re looking for gifts ideas, whether you’re shopping for hunters or hikers, gourmets or gourmands, these books are worth serious consideration. More about the cookbook later, but first a bit about the pictorial history and the commission’s past and present from the fellow who wrote the book. Literally.

Photo at top of page: The first commissioners (seated) and the first game wardens (standing), circa 1916. Seated (left to right): Dr. Horatio Wells, George Webber, C.C. Calvert, Lee Miles and D.G. Beauchamp. Standing (left to right): Foster Rogers, Med Donaldson, Joe Galvin, Herschel Neely, Clyde Marsh, Wash Clibourn, James Fernandez, George Rison Jr. and Ed Huddleston.

That would be the agency’s special projects editor, Joe Mosby of Conway, who’s been with the commission full time since January 1992. Before that, he worked for the agency part time for two months after the October 1991 closure of the Arkansas Gazette. At the Gazette he’d covered the AGFC activities for years as the newspaper’s outdoors editor.

And it was Mosby who last year, with the help of colleagues Jeff Williams and Randy Zellers, turned a 60,000-word history he had written about the commission into the 20,000-word book, “A Century of Conservation.” The book, designed by Scottie Wyatt and including photographs by Mike Wintroath, who are both with the agency, was a great team effort, Mosby said.

“I’m proud of that book — I don’t mind telling anybody,” he added.

What he and his colleagues have produced combines a smorgasbord of facts about the commission’s important people, dates and places with scores of impressive photos.

An early deer release.

An early deer release.

Given his research on the commission’s history and the fact that he has lived a good part of it — he’s a member of the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame — Mosby knows the G&FC’s past and present backward and forward, like a well-seasoned guide might know every crook, rapid and shallow spot in a favorite canoe stream.

Obliging a journalist who wanted to do a little old-fashioned legwork, Mosby drove his pickup one cool, gray December morning out to the commission’s Bell Slough Wildlife Management Area south of Mayflower.

Walking a little ways down a path, we stopped near a sign that indicated a flooded field was a waterfowl resting area. Mosby explained that each fall a conduit is opened on the 6,700-acre Lake Conway, just north of the 2,040-acre Bell Slough, part of which is then flooded until the end of the migratory duck period in the spring.

We could hear, off in the distance to the east, the boom, boom, boom-boom of duck hunters. “That’s coming from Grassy Lake,” Mosby said, “about a half-mile away.”

At Bell Slough, however, all was serene. Apparently all the waterfowl were at Grassy Lake for the morning, dodging shot, but here all types of smaller birds flitted about in the trees: tufted titmice, chickadees, a solitary yellow-bellied sapsucker, a white-breasted nuthatch.

“The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is a very complex agency,” Mosby said. “It’s involved in all sorts of things.” These include promoting “non-consumptive activities, such as birding, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, those sorts of things,” he said.

Since 1996, when Arkansas voters approved a 1/8-cent conservation sales tax in the form of Amendment 75, the commission has built the four nature centers as well as four education centers around the state. (The sales tax’s annual proceeds are split among four entities: 45 percent goes to the commission, 45 percent to the Department of Parks and Tourism, 9 percent to the Arkansas Heritage Commission and 1 percent to the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission.)

Besides those nature and education centers, the commission owns 24,000 acres of lakes, 400,000 acres of wildlife management areas, five fish hatcheries and 10 regional offices. Plus, it has agreements to cooperatively manage vast amounts of acreage with other entities. The commission’s headquarters is in Little Rock on the appropriately named Natural Resources Drive.

“It’s more than the hunting and fishing that I grew up with,” Mosby said. “Most people don’t realize that.”

In recounting the commission’s history, Mosby noted that the agency was authorized by Act 124 of the Arkansas Legislature. The act was signed into law by Gov. George Washington Hays on March 11, 1915, creating the state’s first conservation agency.

As the book makes clear, some wildlife species — including elk, bison and swans — had been “wiped from the landscape” and other species were greatly suffering by the early 1900s because of unregulated hunting, yet the notion of an agency such as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission was hardly popular. “Something had to be done,” the book states, “but the idea of the state controlling hunting and fishing did not sit well with many Arkansans.” The book notes that the sponsors of the bill to create the agency managed to get it through the Legislature only with “great difficulty.”

Other landmarks, Mosby noted, came in 1937 and in 1941. Political opponents of some of the agency’s early supporters came to power after the 1936 election, and in 1937 the Legislature approved Act 8, which abolished the five-member commission and created a new seven-member body. The political tide turned again in 1941 when the Legislature removed the commissioners and the head of the agency, and approved yet another act that created a nine-member commission.

A major step in the agency’s development was made in 1944 when, after two failed earlier attempts, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation led a successful effort to somewhat insulate the commission from political caprice. On Nov. 7, Arkansas voters approved Amendment 35, making the commission an independent state agency. Basically, Mosby explained, under the amendment the Legislature no longer could set the commission’s rules and regulations, though it retained budget control.

The agency is overseen by a commission of seven appointed by the governor to seven-year staggered terms, and an eighth, non-voting member who is chair of the biology department at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Asked about important figures in the agency’s history, Mosby reeled off a lengthy list of names. Two people primarily responsible for the agency’s creation were Junius Marion Futrell, a state senator from Paragould, and Lee Miles, a state representative from Little Rock. Those two shepherded the legislation that led to the agency. Futrell went on to serve as governor for four years in the 1930s.

Another important figure was Guy Amsler, a Mississippi native who became the agency’s secretary, a position now known as director, in 1922. It was Amsler and Miles, the latter appointed one of the agency’s first commissioners, who led deer restoration efforts in the state. No one, Mosby said, knows exactly how low the state’s deer population had dropped to — a few hundred, maybe a few thousand — but today a ballpark estimate is there are about a million deer in Arkansas.

Another important figure was Joe Hogan, who worked for the commission from 1928 to 1956. He managed the commission’s first fish hatchery, located on more than 260 acres just south of Lonoke. The nation’s largest state-owned, warm-water pond hatchery, the facility was named in Hogan’s honor in 1956.

Yet another important figure was Andrew Hulsey. A World War II veteran, he graduated from the University of Arkansas with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology and was the first professional biologist the commission hired. Among his accomplishments was developing a system of fish nursery ponds. He also played a key role in bringing striped bass to Arkansas waters in the 1950s. He became the commission’s director in 1969 and served in that position for 10 years. A 42-pond fish hatchery at Lake Hamilton bears his name.

Leaving Bell Slough, Mosby drove us to several Game and Fish Commission facilities around Lake Conway, including a firing range and an officer training center. He mentioned many other developments and figures … enough to, well, fill a book. Which he has done.

The book provides a fascinating look at the agency and its many efforts to, as its mission states, “conserve and enhance Arkansas’ fish and wildlife and their habitats while promoting sustainable use, public understanding and support.”

As for that cookbook, it’s titled “A Celebration of Conservation: 100 AGFC Recipes” and in it readers can find recipes for everything from venison manicotti to crème brulee. All were taste-tested and passed before being included in the book, Mosby assured. Submitted by commission employees, commissioners and others, the recipes’ names range from the down-home to the exotic. For instance, there’s Mamaw Sparks’ Spaghetti Sauce and Venison Meatballs. Then there’s Duck Banh Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich, the recipe for which includes 3 to 5 tablespoons of Sriracha sauce, eight mallard halves and 18 French rolls.

The pictorial history book and the cookbook — $25 and $13, respectively, $30 for the pair — are available online at agfc.com and at the commission’s headquarters.

 

 


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