By Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission voted unanimously to allow Class I electrically assisted bicycles on AGFC-owned wildlife management areas at their regularly scheduled meeting held Thursday, June 18.
Recent changes to Arkansas state law determined that certain classes of electrically assisted bicycles were not classified as motorized vehicles, which has resulted in some confusion on their use on Arkansas WMAs that do not allow motorized vehicles but do allow mountain bikes.
Brad Carner, chief of the AGFC’s Wildlife Management Division, said the change left the previous code language unclear about the use of electric bicycles on AGFC-owned lands managed for wildlife recreation. A proposal was developed to allow only Class I electrically assisted bicycles to be used anywhere a traditional bicycle may be used on AGFC-owned WMAs. Class I bicycles are defined as an electric bicycle with a motor that provides assistance only when the operator is pedaling and ceases to assist the operator when the bicycle reaches 20 miles per hour. Other electric bicycles are subject to the same restrictions as motorized vehicles on WMAs.
The proposal was reviewed through public comment surveys, with 65 percent of respondents who provided input on the regulation in favor of allowing the bicycles. However, some opposition was aired to possible conflicts with the many user groups on WMAs and concerns about interference with the quality of hunting on these public areas. Four speakers from the public spoke in opposition to the regulation, while one spoke in favor of it and its ability to help aging hunters access more remote areas on WMAs.
Commissioners had a lengthy discussion on many caveats of the proposal. While commissioners Stan Jones of Walnut Ridge and Ken Reeves of Harrison stressed using caution toward possible conflicts with other users of WMAs and keeping a close eye on the impact the vehicles would cause on wildlife, Andrew Parker and Anne Marie Doramus brought up the increased opportunities for outdoor recreation these bicycles may provide.
Carner stressed that the regulation would only be in effect on the 61 WMAs the AGFC owns and would not be in effect in the 78 WMAs that are owned by other agencies and organizations and cooperatively managed with the AGFC for wildlife habitat and recreation.
“Most of those are other public land agencies, like the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, etc.,” Carner said. “And each of those landowners all have their own access restrictions in what is allowed.”
Commissioner Bobby Martin of Rogers also was in favor of the use of Class I electric bicycles on WMAs and recognized the need to stay up to speed with the innovations in this growing industry.
“Multiple constituents are studying this,” Martin said. “And we need to move forward at some type of a measured pace on all of this, because we’re going to learn.”
This was the last official meeting of the Commission during Reeve’s appointment, whose seven-year term will expire at the end of June. The Commission unanimously voted to elect Commissioner Andrew Parker of Little Rock as the chairman for the next fiscal year and Commissioner Joe Morgan of Stuttgart to serve as vice-chairman.
In other business, the Commission:
- Heard an update from AGFC Chief of Fisheries Ben Batten on the status of infectious pancreatic necrosis problems along with infrastructure needs at the Jim Hinkle Spring River State Fish Hatchery.
- Approved new human resources policies to allow staff flexible work arrangements while continuing vital conservation work throughout the state in the shadow of COVID-19.
- Authorized Director Pat Fitts to enter into a partnership with the City of Springdale to grant an easement at the new J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center for the Razorback Regional Greenway Trail to go through the property.
- Approved four amendments to the captive wildlife code:
- Transferred the authority of captive alligator permits from the AGFC Chief of Wildlife to the AGFC Chief of Fisheries;
- Clarified Aquatic Turtle Permit requirements;
- Added 439 species of snakes, lizards, turtles and amphibians to the agency’s unrestricted list, and
- Moved boa constrictor from the permitted list to unrestricted list.
- Authorized Director Fitts to enter into a contract to resolve an encroachment issue with a lakeside landowner at Lake Overcup in Morrilton.
- Heard the dates for the Youth and Veteran/Active Duty Military Waterfowl hunt to be voted on at the Commission’s July meeting.
- Approved the Fiscal Year 2020-21 Operating Funds Center Budget at $87,484,644.
- Approved the Fiscal Year 2020-21 Gas Lease Funds Budget at $224,000.
- Approved the Fiscal Year 2020-21 Black River WMA Restoration Funds Budget at $1,306,000.
- Awarded outgoing Commissioner Ken Reeves his service sidearm.
A video of the meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/user/ArkansasGameandFish.