Counties use wildlife fines to offer outdoor education in schools

    9:41 PM, Jul 13, 2012   |    comments
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    MAUMELLE, Ark. (KTHV) - Hunting without a license or during the off-season comes with a pretty hefty fine. While many know the consequences of breaking the rules, there's a misconception about where the money goes.

    Arkansas Game and Fish doesn't get to keep it. Rather, that money goes directly back to the counties and your kids.

    Come this fall, deer and duck hunters will be gearing up for hunting season. But, if you take that gun to the woods any other time of the year, be prepared for a fine.

    "Most of our fines range anywhere from a hundred dollars up to a thousand dollars, depending on the type and the seriousness of the violation," says Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, a Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officer.

    Weatherington says there is a misconception that the fine money goes directly to wildlife officers.

    "That's not the case, actually the Arkansas Game and Fish does not receive any of the fine amounts for any of our wildlife officer citations. They all go directly back into the county where the citation was issued to use for education purposes," says Weatherington.

    Since 2008, the Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission have teamed up to use the money to bring outdoor education into the classroom in each of Arkansas' 75 counties.

    "That came about through amendment 75. [The] one eighth of a cent sales tax, that was one of the pledges that we made, if that passed then all of our fine amounts would go directly back to the county where they were issued," Weatherington explains.

    There's a variety of outdoor programs that schools can use this money for and one of the most common is the schoolyard habitat at crystal hill elementary.

    Other schools in Pulaski County Special School District are also taking advantage. Fuller Middle School built picnic tables so students can study outside. Others built butterfly or vegetable gardens. Over at Robinson Middle, they're planning to build a pond complete with an outdoor study area. These plans are ideas that fit right in with Game and Fish goals.

    "We have 8 core programs that we're responsible for, hunter education, boater education, hooked on fishing not drugs, watchable wildlife, all those programs are eligible for the fine money, to use the money," explains Arlene Green, Assistant Chief of Education with Game and Fish.

    She says the reason for the partnership is to keep kids interested in the outdoors.

    "We've learned a long time ago that the future of hunting and fishing, the heritage that this state's known for, lies in the hands in of our kids. So if we don't get kids out there to learn about the outdoors, then hunting and fishing, the heritage we've known forever, is [going to] go away," Green says.

    Meantime, the money brought it every year from those fines is a significant boost.

    "Last year, I believe we returned close to $630,000 back into each county on a statewide level," Weatherington says.

    Benton County collected the most in fines at $27,371. Searcy County brought in the least at $1,420. But Green says AGFC doesn't even add it to its coffers.

    "That's really not our income. We don't count on it at all. We spend a lot of money initiating those programs in the schools. The fine is just a piece. It couldn't fund it at all, but it's a good chunk of it," Green adds.

    And for these officers, it's all about education.

    "We hope to catch the violators, teach them what they are doing wrong and why it's wrong. And then pass that on. That fine money, again, goes back to the schools so we educate the kids from the get-go what's right and what's wrong and how to conserve," says Weatherington.

    Each county's quorum court allocates the fine money to their school and conservation districts. The schools are responsible to requesting a grant from the county. The fine revenue can only be used for AGFC programs.

    The following AGFC programs meet the criteria for funding:

    • Arkansas Has It All workshops and professional development for teachers
    • Arkansas Stream Team Program
    • Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program
    • Boating Education
    • Hooked on Fishing-Not on Drugs
    • Hunter Education On Target For Life - Archery P.E. Program (additional matching money is available through AGFC)
    • School Yard Habitat Site Development
    • Watchable Wildlife Project WILD Workshops
    • Wings Over Arkansas
    • 4-H Arkansas Outdoor School (AOS). For more information, contact Joel Gill at C.A. Vines Arkansas
    • 4-H Center, aos@uaex.edu (501) 821-6884

    Specialized AGFC conservation education/educator training workshops focused on the programs above (a partnership with county conservation districts). Contact Pat Knighten at AGFC, (870) 917-2085

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