Jun 24, 2011 9:09 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to expand and link national wildlife refuges in southeast Arkansas and northeast Louisiana, creating an expanse of more than 172,000 acres.
An Arkansas state wildlife management area that links the Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge and the Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana would become part of the Felsenthal refuge.
The federal government would also buy land in Arkansas on either side of the Beryl Anthony Wildlife Management Area, as well as a swath east of the 42,594-acre Ouachita refuge in Louisiana, and on the western edge, at the northwest corner and along the northeast edge of the 65,000-acre Felsenthal refuge.
"While we have always worked with our fellow refuges, the expansion and direct linkage will really enhance the bottomland forests for the hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, the Louisiana black bears, and songbirds," said Joe Saenz, Project Leader, North Louisiana Refuges Complex, which manages the Ouachita refuge.
It will also "allow increased hunting opportunities on a more intact and seamlessly managed refuge," said Bernie Petersen, project leader for the South Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which runs the Felsenthal.
Officials said the expansion - nearly 27,700 acres in Arkansas and about 18,400 in Louisiana - would also increase places to fish and to photograph or watch wildlife.
In addition to threatened black bears, the area is home to endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, shorebirds, wading birds, marsh birds, woodcock, nesting wood ducks, and forest interior songbirds, and is a winter stopover for hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl including mallards, teal, pintail, shovelers, gadwall and wood ducks.
Brakes of water tupelo and baldcypress within bottomland forests also are used by Rafinesque's big-eared and southeastern bats, both species of concern.
Money for the expansion would come from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The migratory bird fund comes from sale of federal duck stamps, entrance fees at certain wildlife refuges, and import duties on arms and ammunition; the other is from offshore oil lease seales.
The agency said it would buy only from willing sellers.
Members of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission have said they want to shift the agency's focus from acquiring land to improving property the commission already owns.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has scheduled public meetings about the proposal July 6 in Crossett, Ark., and July 7 in Bastrop, La. It expects to have a final plan in January.