Interior Department announces largest expansion of fishing, hunting on managed U.S. lands, include seven Arkansas refuges

September 13-19, 2021

By The Daily Record Staff 


The Department of the Interior announced Monday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has opened new or expanded hunting and sport fishing opportunities across 2.1 million acres, the largest expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities in recent history. 


The increased recreational access, which covers 88 National Wildlife Refuges and one National Fish Hatchery, is consistent with the Biden-Harris administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, a locally led and voluntary, nationwide effort to conserve, connect, and restore 30% of lands and waters by 2030. The expansion also includes seven of the 10 federal managed wildlife refuges spread out across the state of Arkansas.


“Increasing access to outdoor recreation opportunities is essential to advancing the Administration’s commitment to the conservation stewardship of our public lands,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Responsible hunting and fishing helps to promote healthy wildlife habitats while boosting local recreation economies.”


“Today’s announcement furthers a rich tradition of providing quality outdoor recreation experiences to the American people on our public lands,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “By expanding these opportunities, we are enhancing the lives of millions of Americans while stimulating the national economy to which hunting and fishing contribute significantly.”


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who is housed in the U.S. Interior Department, manages hunting and fishing programs to ensure sustainable wildlife populations while also offering other wildlife-dependent recreation on public lands.


This final rule opens or expands 910 opportunities for hunting or fishing (an ‘opportunity’ is defined as one species on one field station). This final rule represents the most significant opening and expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities by the Service than ever before. Today’s action brings the number of units in the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System where the public may hunt to 434 and the number where fishing will be permitted to 378.


The U.S. Wildlife Service finalized these changes in time for the upcoming 2021-2022 hunting seasons. A complete list of all refuges and hatcheries is available in the rule. 


In addition, this final rule continues efforts to revise refuge hunting and fishing regulations to align with state regulations where the refuge is located. This year’s rule also includes revisions that ensure whenever refuge regulations depart from state regulations, for safety or conservation compatibility reasons, these extra regulations are consistent across all refuges in the given state. The Service worked closely with the states in preparing this rule.


Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities contributed more than $156 billion in economic activity in communities across the United States in 2016, according to the Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years. More than 101 million Americans — 40% of the U.S. population age 16 and older — pursue wildlife-related recreation, including hunting and fishing.


There are 70 national fish hatcheries visited by more than one million people each year. Hatcheries offer opportunities for viewing the operations and learning about fish, as well as activities such as fishing, hunting, hiking, sightseeing, nature study, birdwatching and photography. The rule also formally brings the total number of National Fish Hatchery System units open to hunting or sport fishing to 22.


The National Wildlife Refuge System is an unparalleled network of 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. There is a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. The Refuge System receives more than 61 million annual visits. National wildlife refuges provide vital habitat for thousands of species and access to world-class recreation, from fishing, hunting and paddling to nature watching, photography and environmental education.



Arkansas outdoor, hunting and fishing expansion


The Interior Department announcements comes only two months after Gov. Asa Hutchinson on June 20 announced the opening of the Office of Outdoor Recreation to coordinate awareness, opportunity and stewardship of Arkansas’s outdoors.


“We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and you don’t have to look far in any direction to know that,” said Hutchinson. “We want to keep it that way. The Office of Outdoor Recreation will maximize opportunities for outdoor recreation in Arkansas, while preserving our past and conserving our beauty.”


According to the state Department of Finance and Administration, outdoor recreation in Arkansas brings in nearly $10 billion a year, supports 96,000 jobs worth $2.5 billion, and generates $698 million in local and state tax revenue. The Arkansas wildlife refuges that have been expanded by the Interior Department included the following: 

• The Bald Knob National Wildlife Refuge in White County was established in 1993 to protect and provide feeding and resting areas for migrating waterfowl. Acquired as part of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, this refuge provides a winter home for large concentrations of several species of ducks and geese. It is now opened for hunting of crow, rail, gallinule, dove, skunk, bobcat, fox, river otter, and mink hunting on acres already open to other hunting; there are extended hours for hunting of mourning dove and snipe; and expanded Turkey hunting through a youth only hunt.

• The Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi County is one of the nation’s oldest refuges and is 11,038 acres in size. The refuge was established in August of 1915 by Executive Order of President Woodrow Wilson to serve as an inviolate sanctuary, reserve, and breeding ground for native and migratory birds. It is open to hunting of feral hog, bobcat, fox, mink, skunk, turkey, river otter, muskrat, and quail on acres already open to other hunting, and expanded existing deer hunting through a youth only hunt.

• Cache River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1986 to protect significant wetland habitats and provide feeding and resting areas for migrating waterfowl. As one of the few remaining areas in the Lower Mississippi River Valley not drastically altered by channelization and drainage, the Cache River basin contains a variety of wetland communities including some of the most intact and least disturbed bottomland hardwood forests in the Mississippi Valley region. At present the refuge currently encompasses over 72,979 acres located in numerous non-contiguous tracts in Jackson, Woodruff, Monroe and Prairie counties in east central Arkansas. It is now open to hunting of rail, dove, gallinule, crow, fox, mink, striped skunk, bobcat, and river otter, and expanded existing snipe and deer hunting.

• The Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 for the protection of migratory birds. It is one of the most important areas for wintering waterfowl in North America. The refuge is also home to the only population of native black bear in the State of Arkansas and is designated as a Wetland of International Importance. Formerly the White River National Wildlife Refuge until 2014, the refuge annually attracts about 455,000 visits from hunters, anglers, bird watchers and others. It lies mostly in the floodplain of the White River, near where it meets the Mississippi River. It is now open to hunting of dove, dark goose, light goose, and woodcock hunting on acres already opened to other hunting.

• Established in 1975, Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located in southeast Arkansas, approximately eight miles west of Crossett. Named for the small community located at its southwest corner, this 65,000-acre refuge contains an abundance of water resources dominated by the Ouachita and Saline Rivers and the Felsenthal Pool. This low-lying area is dissected by an intricate system of rivers, creeks, sloughs, buttonbush swamps and lakes throughout a vast bottomland hardwood forest that gradually rises to an upland forest community. Historically, periodic flooding of the “bottoms” during winter and spring provided excellent wintering waterfowl habitat. It is now open to woodcock hunting on acres opened to other hunting, and expanded existing white-tailed deer, feral hog, turkey, coyote, raccoon, rabbit, opossum, quail, squirrel, beaver, nutria, coot, duck, light goose, dark goose, and teal hunting.

• Holla Bend NWR is located in Pope and Yell Counties, along the Arkansas River, five miles downstream from the city of Dardanelle, Arkansas. The refuge is bounded by an old oxbow that was created in the early 1950s, when the Army Corps of Engineers cut a channel through the bend in the river to promote navigation and flood control. In 1957 the Corps transferred 4,068 acres to the Fish and Wildlife Service, but retained a permanent flood easement for these acres. In 1985, a court action based on the Thalweg Law accreted an additional 1,526 acres for the refuge. Other acquisitions totaling 589 acres, plus 441 acres included in a migratory bird closure area, account for a total of 7,055 acres currently under refuge management. The refuge is now open to hunting of black bear, fox, nutria, muskrat, skunk, river otter, quail, and mink hunting on acres already opened to other hunting, and expanded existing white-tailed deer, rabbit/hare, and squirrel hunting with youth hunts. The hunting season for raccoon and opossum was also extended.

• Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge was established in January 1961 as a sanctuary for migratory waterfowl. The refuge is literally an island of forest in a sea of agriculture. Lying only four miles west of the Mississippi River and 15 miles northwest of Memphis, the refuge is an important stopover for waterfowl traveling the Mississippi Flyway and for neotropical songbirds as they migrate to and from Central and South America.

• The refuge was formed when Wapanocca Outing Club agreed to sell the original piece of land to the USFWS after successfully lobbying Congress. Wapanocca Outing Club was founded in 1886 when a group of Memphis waterfowl hunters purchased Wapanocca Lake. Club member Nash Buckingham, a famous outdoor writer, developed a passion for conservation while hunting at Wapanocca. The Northeast Arkansas refuge is now open to hunting of bobcat, fox, turkey, skunk, river otter, mink, muskrat, and quail on acres already opened to other hunting, and expanded existing deer hunting with a youth hunt.


The three other federal managed wildlife areas in Arkansas include the Overflow National Wildlife Refuge in Ashley County, the Pond Creek Refuge near Lockesburg in Sevier County, and the Logan Cage National Wildlife Refuge in Benton County.


To view the national list of new or expanded hunting and sport fishing opportunities managed by the U.S. Interior Department, go here:   


PHOTO CAPTION:  (Photo provided by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)


The U.S. Interior Department on Aug. 30 announced the  largest expansion of hunting and sport fishing on federal lands in recent history, including seven Arkansas-based federal wildlife refuges and fishing hatcheries.