Education February 2019 Magazine

Arkansas Game & Fish Commission: Turning Fines Into Grants

Arkansas

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission uses fishing and hunting fines to donate half a million dollars to Arkansas Schools.

By Angela Forsyth

Getting fined while fishing or hunting might hurt a sportsmen’s pocketbooks, but knowing the money is going to a good cause should take away some of the sting. Sportsmen can now consider their fines donations for education – at least in their hearts, not for tax purposes. Each year, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) uses money collected from violations to help fund hundreds of thousands of educational programs throughout the state.

At the end of 2018, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission Division of Rural Services (AEDC) awarded grants totaling $531,602.23 to promote wildlife education and improve school conservation programs. These were given to 253 schools and conservation districts in 71 Arkansas counties.

“Now, more than ever, quality of life plays a larger role in where people look for jobs and raise their families,” says AEDC Executive Director Mike Preston. “This is a great opportunity for our state, as several of the programs funded through the Wildlife Education grant improve educational opportunities while promoting volunteerism and community involvement, all of which contribute to stronger communities.”

In past years, grant money has been used to realize a myriad of stimulating programs. From funding school archery and competitive shooting teams to providing materials for creating wildlife habitats, schools and community centers have been reaping the benefits. With these grants, schools are able to seek transportation funding for visiting an AGFC nature center or request the Fishing in the Natural State (FINS) kit full of rods, reels, tackle and a classroom set of various support materials. Several conservation districts have used the money to host environmental education days and fishing derbies.

The commission is not only giving out money. In addition to awarding grants, AGFC runs numerous conservation and wildlife programs as well as nine nature centers that are free to the public and a tenth one on the way. The newest nature center will be a colossal 22,000 square-foot museum in Northwest Arkansas – on a 61-acre-lot – that will provide more than 150 lesson plans to schools at no cost.

Shooting, archery, aquatics, boating and classroom curriculums are some of the impressive projects spearheaded by AGFC that serve thousands of students and families throughout the state. The archery program served more than 57,000 students in 2018, and the shooting program served more than 6,000. Hunter and boater education had 20,000 students, while the nature centers saw nearly 200,000 visitors, and 5,000 education programs reached more than a quarter-million participants. Many of the programs bring AGFC staff members into schools to teach kids first-hand while other programs, such as Project WILD, train teachers on wildlife and conservation standards-based curriculum that teachers can teach their students.

According to Education Division Chief Tabbi Kinion, AGFC has the most extensive youth shooting sports program in the country. Made up of mainly junior high and high school students, the shooting program served more than 6,000 kids in 2018. “Teaching people to use firearms safely is one of the most important things we do,” Kinion notes. “If people are going to have firearms, we want them to use them safely and be safe in the field. A lot of accidents happen while hunting. Our Hunter Ed works on that. It’s a required class for anyone who wants to hunt in the field.”

Recently launched in January 2019, AGFC’s newest offering in education is a well-organized program that leads individuals through a series of levels to master a variety of outdoor skills. Similar to the Boy Scouts organization, the Outdoor Skills Program involves earning patches and moving up the levels from beginner to expert and finally to mentor status. Patches can be earned in several outdoor categories including archery, conservation leadership, fishing and wildlife-watching. Courses are offered year-round at AGFC nature centers and education centers.

“We wanted families to have a structured program they could do together,” Marketing Director Spencer Griffith notes. “We took a bunch of the best programs out there and put them together into one cohesive skills program.”

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