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Arkansas Game and Fish Commission receives grant to help protect endangered species

Male yellowcheek darter on South Fork of upper Little Red River.
Pedro Ardapple-Kindberg
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A male yellowcheek darter on South Fork of upper Little Red River.

Arkansas is the recipient of new funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has received nearly $2.2 million in a grant to purchase land where three endangered species live.

The grant, announced Monday in a press release, will be used to purchase just under 1,100 acres around the Upper Little Red River Watershed.

The area is inhabited by the yellowcheek darter, the speckled pocketbook mussel, and the northern long-eared bat, all of which are endangered species.

The yellowcheek darter and the speckled pocketbook are species endemic to this area, said Trey Reid, assistant chief of communications at Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, making habitat preservation especially important.

“These are species that are not really found in any other areas outside of the watershed,” said Reid, adding while long-eared bats can be found in other parts of the state, they are still endangered and need all the protection available.

Owning the watershed area will allow the Game and Fish Commission to manage the habitat and help the endangered species thrive, according to Reid. One plan for the area is to strengthen the native plant cover to prevent sediment runoff from entering the Little Red River.

Sediment, according to Reid, is one of the biggest pollutants to Arkansas waters, threatening species like the yellowcheek darter and the speckled pocketbook mussel.

“When that vegetative cover, whether that’s trees or shrubs, or grasses, native grasses is removed there’s nothing to hold [sediments] in place and they end up in these streams, and obviously with you know, some of these smaller keystone species like the yellowcheek darter and mussels, good clean water is incredibly important to their survival and thriving.”

Managing the land will be good for the whole ecosystem, Reid said.

“These are species that are critically important to ecological function, especially the mussels for instance that filter water and make our water cleaner,” he noted, adding that “countless other species” will benefit from the added protections.

Once the land is purchased by Game and Fish, Arkansans may be able to see these species up-close. The commission’s current plan is to open up the area for public access.

When that happens, visitors will be able to use the land for outdoor recreation activities, such as hunting, fishing, kayaking, wildlife viewing, and more.

“The list goes on and on,” Reid said. “It will be more land that is available to the citizens of Arkansas and visitors to connect with the natural state.”

And getting more people to connect with nature is another big goal of Game and Fish–something Reid says is also important for conservation.

“Anytime that you can make a personal connection to nature, it benefits nature as a whole. We care about the things we love, right?” Reid said, emphasizing that engaging with the natural world typically forges a “deep connection” that prompts people to care and stand up for the wild spaces in Arkansas.

In addition to the federal grants, Reid said the commission and other state partners will support the area with additional funds, potentially making an impact of over $3 million.

Maggie Ryan is a reporter and local host of All Things Considered for Little Rock Public Radio.