by Max Brantley
LITTLE ROCK – Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Jay Moody dismissed a lawsuit brought by James Dockery against the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, its commissioners and director that concerned the use of funds from oil and gas leases on AGFC lands.
James Dockery of Little Rock sued the AGFC in February 2009, asking that $32.2 million in oil and gas lease funds received between 2006 and 2008 be diverted to the Legislature instead of going to the AGFC for wildlife conservation and management purposes. Under a previous consent order, the AGFC voluntarily agreed to hold the bulk of the money in the Game Protection Fund under control of the state treasurer until the court entered a final ruling, which came Thursday.
Judge Moody dismissed Dockery’s claims against the AGFC, its eight commissioners and Director Scott Henderson after concluding that provisions in the Arkansas Constitution, and in state statutes and federal regulation, require that money derived from mineral exploration and production on AGFC-owned property must be “expended by the [AGFC] for the control, management, restoration, conservation and regulation of the birds, fish and wildlife resources of the State . . . and for no other purposes.”
The two wildlife management areas where mineral leasing by the AGFC has taken place are Petit Jean River and Gulf Mountain. Petit Jean WMA is near Ola in Yell County and Gulf Mountain is near Scotland in Van Buren County. The five-year leases with Chesapeake Exploration LLC cover about 11,500 acres total. Drilling operations are expected to begin on parts of both management areas later this year.
The AGFC expects to use funds from the mineral leases to monitor and protect water and habitat conditions on both WMAs and other lands in the Fayetteville Shale Area, retire bond debt from land purchases, renovate aging WMAs and lake facilities, and potentially fund existing and new conservation projects and education programs.