Finally, we have some good news about chronic wasting disease, namely that it still has not been found south of the Arkansas River.
Also, a positive CWD diagnosis of a deer killed in Marion County has been reversed.
Last month, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission reported that a deer killed by a hunter in Yell County tested positive for CWD. Additional testing revealed that the deer did not have CWD.
Cory Gray, the deer program coordinator for the AGFC, explained it to the commission Wednesday during a CWD update at Little Rock. The initial test that the AGFC uses to sample deer allows wildlife managers to screen large numbers of deer, but that test has a small margin of error. Samples that fall within a certain range are subjected to a different, more exacting, but also more expensive, test.
The Yell County deer and the Marion County deer fell within the questionable range. The more accurate test revealed that those deer were actually CWD negative.
"The good news is the disease has not been detected south of the Arkansas River," Gray said. "We get to un-ring the bell."
The entire commission cheered when it learned the news.
That reduced the total number of CWD positive reports from 158 to 156, but Gray is worried that the reversals might undermine public confidence in the accuracy of the sampling.
Commission Chairman Fred Brown said Gray's fears are misplaced because margins of error are built into all scientific procedures and data sets.
Of the 10 counties in the CWD management zone, four are recording five-year-high deer kills. Newton County led that list as of Wednesday with 3,401 deer checked, compared to 2,697 last year. Hunters have checked 2,802 deer in Carroll County compared to 2,657 last year, followed by Boone County (2,519 versus 2,164) and Searcy County (2,255 versus 1,980).
Also, the AGFC and Missouri Department of Conservation are monitoring 47 deer that were killed in Arkansas but were taken to processing facilities in Missouri. Unlike Arkansas, Missouri does not prohibit transporting cervid carcasses across state lines. Gray said Missouri might use the results to enact its own carcass importation law.
Chris Colclasure, the AGFC's deputy director, said Wednesday that the commission has hired a dedicated quail biologist.
This, he said, demonstrates the agency's commitment to restoring wild bobwhite quail in Arkansas.
Marcus Asher, a private lands biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, is the new quail coordinator. He will begin work Jan. 3 and will be based at Calico Rock. He is also a former AGFC employee.
"He was very excited. He has knowledge and enthusiasm, all the things we're looking for," Colclasure said.
"We just need to give him the tools to work with," Brown said.
Brown, of Corning, said in July that emphasizing quail restoration is one of his main goals in his final year on the commission.
Evidently, the commission's wildlife management division has set the groundwork for success. It has, for example, identified areas with the greatest potential for restoring quail habitat.
For starters, it has delineated seven focal landscapes. They contain an average of five counties each, which represents nearly half the state. They contain a matrix of public lands near high-potential private properties.
One of these areas is in western Arkansas, near Blue Mountain WMA. The western end of that focal area comes near to abutting the pine/bluestem restoration area in the Ouachita National Forest, the only place in Arkansas where wild bobwhites are abundant.
Also, Colclasure said the AGFC will hold a "Quail 101" training workshop for its staff Jan. 4-5 at the AGFC's training facility at Mayflower. The workshop will feature nine speakers from quail advocacy organizations and from wildlife management agencies from other states.
"We will cover quail biology research and habitat management such as native grass management, row crops, woodland and savannah management outreach, and successes and failures from other states," Colclasure said.
The fact that such a workshop is even necessary shows how far quail have fallen in status in a state where quail hunting was once bigger than duck and deer hunting. It's sad.
Looking forward, it's also encouraging.
Nothing would please us more than for bobwhite whistle to be as ubiquitous across the Natural State's landscape as it was when I was a child.
It wasn't all that long ago.
Sports on 12/15/2016