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Arkansas Puts $713,000 in Poaching Fines Toward School Conservation Programs

Arkansas is turning poaching fines into education dollars.

Nearly three-quarters of a million dollars is on the table for Arkansas schools to fuel conservation education programs, thanks to a partnership between the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission's Division of Rural Services. The program takes the money collected from poaching violations and funnels it into education opportunities for K-12 schools in the state.

"Contrary to what some Arkansans may think, the AGFC never sees a single penny from citations our officers write," AGFC Director Austin Booth said. "Instead, that money is invested in the children of that county to help instill that love of the outdoors that makes Arkansans unique."

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The amount of money available in each county is based upon the fines collected in that county and any unused funds from previous years. In other words, the funds collected from poaching cases stay in the county they are collected in and fuel conservation education there. So, ironically, the more poaching occurs in a given county, the more money is available for education grants. In some rural school districts, these extra dollars have played pivotal roles in offering conservation education programs that would otherwise have been cut due to a lack of funding.

"Last year these grants paid for everything from field trips to nature centers and educator workshops to building butterfly habitats and other outdoor experiences right on school grounds," AGFC Chief of Education Tabbi Kinion said. "Grants averaged about $3,000, and ranged from $300 to $16,500. The grant amount really boils down to fine money available in each county and number of applicants."

All schools in the state are eligible to participate in the program. Specific programs eligible for funding include, but are not limited to, the study of general fish and wildlife conservation issues, Project WILD Workshops, Outdoor Adventures Curriculum, Archery in the Schools, Youth Shooting Sports, Fishing in the Natural State, Arkansas Stream Team, School Yard Habitat Site Development, and specialized AGFC conservation education/educator training workshops focused on the programs above.

In previous years, the funding has helped schools create and maintain archery, fishing, and competitive shooting sports programs, according to a news release.

Schools also have used the money to help improve wildlife education by purchasing educational materials, materials for the creation of indoor and outdoor habitats, lab supplies and field trips, and by hosting environmental education days and fishing derbies for children of all ages.

"Thousands of Arkansas students will be outdoors or having hands-on experiences in nature centers, learning and perfecting skills," Kinion said. "These grants offer the opportunity to learn about wildlife habitat and conservation as part of the Arkansas school experience."

Teachers and administrators can apply for the grants directly on the AEDC website.

READ MORE: Are Poaching Penalties Too Light?