Habitat & Angler Improvements in White River Reservoirs Underway

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), and the Beaver Watershed Alliance (Alliance) were recently granted funding to start work in the White River watershed. The National Fish Habitat Partnership recently awarded AGFC and BWA the funds to improve aquatic habitat within reservoirs to support enhanced angling conditions and opportunities through on-the-ground conservation activities and educate the public on the benefits. The groups will work in partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers throughout the project timeline. The funding was made available through the Bass Pro Shops U.S. Open grant program, and projects were selected from a national pool of proposals. The AGFC and Alliance’s proposal, “Arkansas’ White River Reservoirs Fish Habitat Enhancement Initiative,” was one of nine proposals selected throughout the US, and this partnership group received the highest amount of grant funding at $275,000.

The AGFC will focus on Beaver Lake, Bull Shoals, and Norfork Lake to improve habitat and increase angling opportunities. In 2019, the US Army Corps of Engineers estimated 3.1 million visits occurred on Beaver Lake, whereas 2.1 million and 1.3 million visits occurred on Bull Shoals and Norfork Lakes, respectively. Of those visiting Beaver Lake, 166,190 were by anglers, while 201,417 and 134,467 visits occurred by anglers on Bull Shoals and Norfork Lake, respectively.

The project will directly benefit anglers by concentrating fish around fish habitat structures and improving angler success rates. Creel surveys on Beaver and Norfork Lakes indicated that most (80%) anglers utilize existing fish habitat sites. Anglers also indicated that they catch more fish around these structures. The project will also increase and improve bank angler access by adding parking areas and walking trails around Beaver Lake. Likewise, these access areas will be enhanced by adding fish habitat within casting distance to the bank fishing access. This will improve angler success and catch rates and increase accessibility to anglers without boats.

For Beaver Lake, the goal will be to place 100 new fish habitat sites.  AGFC staff will utilize invasive red cedar trees from Corps property and Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) to place brush in the upper and middle sections of Beaver Lake.  At least six large trees will be deployed per site.  Standard 8” blocks will be attached to sink the structures.  Staff will clear cedar trees from a glade on Shadox Island, and cedar removal will improve native plant species by opening up the forest floor to sunlight.

The Alliance and AGFC will work in partnership with the Corps to provide educational connections on the benefits of habitat improvements to water quality, increased recreational fisheries, wildlife, glade restoration, and the native plant community. Outreach and education will also focus on project partnerships, best management practices used and highlight milestones and successes of the project. At least two local-led public workshops will be conducted, and a family-friendly tour of habitat work sites within the project timeframe.

This project will build on current and previous efforts to do similar work. Game and Fish and the Alliance have partnered previously to clear invasive cedars and sink them for habitat, as well as installed a stream restoration feeding Beaver Lake. The previous project was funded by the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership. To date, staff from Hobbs State Park have cut over 250 cedar trees from state park property in Van Hollow, and AGFC sank them for fish habitat, which resulted in 10 new habitat sites. In addition, forty-two AGFC District 1 staff worked out of the Rocky Branch and Prairie Creek public access area to create an added 145 sites using nearly 900 cedar trees.

To learn more about this project, contact Jon Stein, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at jonathan.stein@agfc.ar.gov or Daniel Hagood, Beaver Watershed Alliance at daniel@beaverwatershedalliance.org

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