A group of area sportsmen from the Big Lake and St. Francis hunting area met at the Manila Airport Center on Thursday evening to reorganize and activate a hunting club.
According to Dale Poag, one of the organizers of the meeting, Big Lake Hunting Club was formed years ago, but has been inactive for the last several years.
"It is time for hunters to reorganize and we brought in the St. Francis Club to combine the two to make sure the area hunters are represented," Poag said.
The fish dinner and meeting was attended by residents of Manila, Leachville, Lake City, Lepanto, Osceola, Monette, Trumann, Lafe, Blytheville and other surrounding areas.
Petitions were collected with approximately 1,200 names petitioning Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to allow, in the three wildlife management areas in Northeast Arkansas (Big Lake, St. Francis and Black River), the right to maintain clearings for hunting opportunities for all wildlife.
The petitions will be hand delivered to Little Rock on October 10. Jimmy White, who was elected president of the group, will be among the four or five individuals meeting with the Governor on Wednesday with the signed petitions.
"This is more than just for duck hunters. It will benefit all wildlife," White said. "Cleaning up a hole for duck is also beneficial to deer. We have a lot of deer hunters here."
The petition reads:
"We, the undersigned electors of the State of Arkansas, do hereby petition that the sportsmen of Arkansas will be allowed access to the Big Lake Wildlife Management Area, Dave Donaldson/Blackriver WMA, and St. Francis Sunken Lands WMA annually, during the 90-day period prior to the opening of duck season. Access is necessary for cleaning and maintenance of the duck blinds and grounds, commonly referred to as resting holds. Whereas it has been a common practice for over 60 years that sportsmen have been allowed at their own expense and effort to maintain said resting holes. Further, it is commonly acknowledged that restrictions now directed by the Game and Fish Commission will in fact render the resting holes to become non-existent. The natural vegetation, at its current rate of growth, will effectively reduce and eventually eliminate the hunting opportunities of Arkansas sportsmen. This reduction and elimination appears in direct conflict with stated objectives of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission."
White told the group he is working closely with State. Sen. Steve Bryles and State. Rep. Marvin Childress and they are doing their job.
Bryles was scheduled to be at the Thursday meeting but was in Little Rock late and could not make it.
Poag told the group that he would like to see the Game and Fish Commission answer to someone.
"They are not responsive to the hunters of the state," Poag said.
"I'm not saying we need to make any threats but I think we should seriously consider examining having a Department of Game and Fisheries verses a Game and Fish Commission," White said. "A lot of money is spent the way seven individuals want it spent."
White said the 1/8 cent sales tax that sends 45 percent of collections to the Game and Fish Commission had been discussed but he is not sure that the group should try to get the 45 percent of the tax eliminated from the commission. He said that 45 percent goes to the Parks and Recreation Department, nine percent to the libraries and one percent to Keep Arkansas Beautiful
"The other 55 percent goes to other organizations. I have been assured that we can initiate a drive to eliminate the part going to the Game and Fish Commission but when you do that, what will happen is the other groups of people that have the 55 percent are going to get scared that you're after it all," White said. "There are a lot of non-hunters out there that pay the 1/8 sales tax and a lot of hunters that help pay for the other 55 percent."
A member of the group said he didn't want to see their money taken away either but he wanted to get their attention commenting that "all we have is Big Lake."
White said he is confident that Wednesday's meeting in Little Rock will be successful.
He jokingly said, "If not, I'll probably be in jail in Little Rock."
The group voted to meet twice a year and organize their wants and wishes to be taken to the proper authorities.
A resolution was passed stating that the Big Lake/St Francis group wants the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to answer to someone.
Other officers elected were Phil Hawkins of Blytheville, vice president, and Voy Gillentine of Osceola, secretary/treasurer.
Poag also asked anyone interested in assisting with a youth hunting program for area teenagers to let the secretary know.
"We need volunteers that are willing to take teenagers hunting. It is important to teach our young people," Poag said.