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April 2013

 

Not too late to submit Wildlife Department Youth Camp applications (April 5, 2013)

            April 12 is the application deadline for teenagers hoping to attend the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's annual Wildlife Youth Camp slated for July 7-13 at Oklahoma University Biological Station at Lake Texoma.

            According to Jay Harvey, game warden stationed in Choctaw and Bryan counties and coordinator for the camp, the camp is geared toward youth interested in the outdoors and careers in wildlife management.

            "We want every youth in Oklahoma interested in hunting, fishing or a career with the ODWC to apply to this year's camp," Harvey said. "It will be a fun-filled week of fishing; boating; learning about wildlife conservation, management and enhancement; shooting; swimming; and meeting kids from all over the state."

Harvey said youth applicants should be prepared for learning and "a week filled with adventure and activities."

            The free camp increases awareness of conserving and managing Oklahoma's wildlife resources through courses on wildlife-related career opportunities, rifle and shotgun training, archery, wildlife identification, wildlife law enforcement, fishing, fisheries management, ropes, swimming and hunting.

            To attend youth camp, applicants must be Oklahoma residents and must turn 14 prior to July 7, 2013, and be no older than 16. To attend, prospective campers must fill out an application form and write a 75-word essay describing why they want to attend the camp, why they should be selected and what they expect to learn. Additionally, they must provide a letter of recommendation by someone other than a family member and a photograph from a recent outdoor-related event or activity. Application forms are available online at http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/education/youthcamp.htm. The page also includes additional information about the camp and photographs from previous years.

            The camp will be open to a maximum of 35 youth, and applications will be accepted through April 12, 2013.

Turkey season here to ward off winter cabin fever (April 6, 2013)

     Blooming plant life, the warming of temperatures and longer, sunnier days mark springtime, but what matters to hunters this time of year is the startup of spring gobbler activity and the opportunity to go hunting again. 

     Turkey season in Oklahoma runs April 6 through May 6 in most of the state, excluding the far southeast counties where the season runs April 22 through May 6. 

The most popular (and probably the most successful) approach to hunting turkeys during the spring is by way of using calls that mimic hens to locate and draw male turkeys into range. When the female "yelp" call is used during the spring, the response is often a gobble from nearby toms and jakes ("tom" are mature male turkeys; "jakes" are immature male birds). 

     The yelp call is effective for locating birds, but it also often provokes nearby toms to begin approaching the direction of the call, frequently offering a safe and ethical shot for a hunter.

     Often by the start of turkey season, the weather has warmed up more so than it has this year, and wild turkeys will no longer be spending time in larger flocks as they do throughout the fall and winter. Instead, they will be on the move, looking to breed, and preparing for nesting. Much of year's breeding may already be done as well. 

     This year, biologists for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are reporting slower activity among turkey populations, perhaps because of lingering cool weather.

     Rod Smith, southwest region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, said his part of the state has been "chilly," and that toms have  still been with hens up until recently.

     "It seems like the spring break-up of flocks is a little slow," Smith said, adding that cooler weather like that which Oklahoma has been experiencing so late into the spring can in fact slow activity and leave birds "a little subdued."

     Still, the hunter's early season approach should be the same as usual, Smith said. Smith reminds hunters that some toms "will just break away" from its group and present an opportunity, even in situations like this year when birds may still be "flocked up." 

"Sometimes there is a tom that is not right with the group and he might come in unannounced," Smith warned, so hunters should be ready for anything even if turkeys seem unwilling to break apart from a group. 

     Smith said the key early in the season is knowing which direction turkeys are moving in general once they come down from their roost in the mornings, which might allow a hunter to set up in the right area before daylight.

     Smith and other biologists report that turkey numbers appear to be on par with where they were last year, despite a poorer-than-normal year for reproduction two years ago.

     To the north, Steve Conrady started observing the breaking up of flocks as early as January, when a few days at the end of the month brought warmer temperatures. However, Conrady, who is the northwest region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, said renewed colder weather appeared to cause birds to regroup. Usually, January and February marks the timing for the winter flock counts that biologists use to help monitor Rio Grande turkey populations before they break up for the spring. 

     Conrady said early season hunters may still see groups of eight to 12 hens with a few toms early in the season, but they are are beginning to scatter. The biggest problem hunters may face in the northwest region, according to Conrady, is an overall reduction in the amount of available cover for concealing themselves from turkeys, which are very alert. Conrady said hunters should be prepared with good camouflage and stay attentive for good cover. Additionally, when it comes to turkey hunting in the spring, remaining as still as possible is important no matter how much cover is available. 

     Craig Endicott, northeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, is reminding hunters that for the 2013 spring season, the tom turkey limit for many counties in his region and in central portions of the state has been reduced to a one-tom limit, among them Osage, Kay, Grant, Pawnee, Creek Payne, Logan, Canadian, Lincoln, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Hughes, Seminole, Pottawatomie, McClain, Grady, Pontotoc, Garvin, Johnston, Murray, Carter, Love, Washington, Nowata, Craig, Wagoner, Cherokee, Adair, Muskogee, McIntosh, Sequoyah and Haskell counties. 

     Endicott said the region had fair to good reproduction last spring and there are plenty of reports of jakes in the area. Just as in other regions, Endicott said turkey acitivity in the region has been a little slower than normal this year, likely due to cooler weather. He indicated wet, cold and windy conditions as "the three things you don't want as a turkey hunter." But with warmer weather on the way, he expects good hunting opportunities and higher turkey numbers than last year. 

     Central region hunters also may see better numbers this year, with biologists reporting improved reproduction last spring over the previous year. Jeff Pennington, central region wildlife supervisor for the Department, noted that even after another year of drought, the worst effects of the lack of moisture did not impact the area until after reproductive success had already occurred. 

     Pennington said there should be a good percentage of young birds in the total flock this year. However, like the northwest region, vegetation is behind and hunters may have to be on the lookout for good cover early in the season. 

     Pennington reminds hunters on public and private land to be safety conscious. Wearing orange while walking in the woods can help hunters see each other, and avoiding colors like red, white or blue is smart because these colors can be observed on the head of wild turkeys. 

     In the southeast, where the state's primary population of Eastern wild turkeys are found, the story is the same -- fluctuations in the weather appear to have slowed turkey activity, though hunters should be able to find birds. 

     "Because of fluctuations in the weather, you'll see and hear them one day, then not the next," said Joe Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department. "The weather is not giving us enough days in a row for them to get going." 

     However, since turkey season begins later in the region than in most of the rest of the state, the delay in observed activity could prove beneficial to hunters who may end up hitting the woods at just the right time, according to Hemphill. 

     The wild turkey in Oklahoma has not always been prevalent. At one time the objective for turkey conservation was to restore decimated populations, but today there are huntable populations in all 77 Oklahoma counties. Hunters' dollars and the efforts of groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation -- which actively funds and supports turkey conservation in Oklahoma -- partnered with efforts by the Wildlife Department has resulted in a very successful conservation story. 

     For complete regulations on turkey hunting in Oklahoma, including license requirements and season details, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide," available on line at wildlifedepartment.com.

State agencies submit range-wide lesser prairie chicken conservation plan to U.S Fish and Wildlife Service(April 9, 2013)

 The lesser prairie chicken is a grassland grouse species native to parts of Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Kansas. However, concerns for the bird's populations have brought state and federal agencies together in an attempt to better manage lesser prairie chickens and their habitats. Through a multi-state collaborative effort and funding provided through a grant by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and support from the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative, a comprehensive, range-wide plan for the lesser prairie chicken has been drafted by the five state wildlife agencies and submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their consideration as they deliberate on a threatened listing decision, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) Grassland Initiative.

     The WAFWA Grassland Initiative collaborated with the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group, which is composed of biologists from the five state fish and wildlife departments within the species' range, and other partners to develop the range-wide conservation plan. This range-wide plan describes population and habitat goals to secure the species going into the future and identifies voluntary conservation programs and practices to be applied to accomplish these goals throughout the lesser prairie chicken's range (http://kars.ku.edu/geodata/maps/sgpchat/).

     "The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has been working tirelessly to conserve the lesser prairie chicken and to be a part of the development of this plan," said Richard Hatcher, director of the Wildlife Department. "We are pleased with the joint effort that went into this multi-state plan and we support it fully."

     The lesser prairie chicken has been considered a candidate under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1998, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposed it for listing as threatened in December 2012. A final rule for the lesser prairie chicken is scheduled to be out Sept. 30, 2013.

     "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service commends the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group and WAFWA for their tireless efforts to develop a range wide conservation plan for the lesser prairie chicken."  said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Regional Director for the Service's Southwest Region. "In the next few weeks the Service will reopen the comment period in order to provide the public the opportunity to provide additional comments on the lesser prairie chicken listing proposal and the range wide conservation plan as it relates to the Service's listing proposal."

     Throughout the planning process, which started in April 2012, the state wildlife agencies have reached out to the public. The states have received feedback from two previous draft plans and are encouraged to hear the support for a state led effort to conserve this species. Prior to finalizing the document to submit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the states are requesting their public to review the plan. The Range-wide Conservation Plan for the Lesser Prairie Chicken is found online athttp://www.wafwa.org/html/rangewide_lpc_conservation_plan.shtml and the states will be accepting written comments on the third draft of the LPC conservation plan. Comments should be sent via email to janc@gci.net or through the mail to Jan Caulfield Consulting, 114 S. Franklin St., Ste. 205, Juneau, AK 99801. The states are exploring the use of webinars to outreach to the public. These webinars and the closing period on the comments will be announced on the WAFWA website and other media outlets.

     "While we do not need a chicken on every acre, we do need to have the right acres to conserve the species," says Bill Van Pelt, the Western Association's Grassland Coordinator. "We feel we have created a plan we can partner with landowners and industry to incentivize good land management practices to secure chicken and project planning to reduce impacts."

     According to Van Pelt, there is confidence that the species can be conserved in the future.

     "Historically, we saw habitat conditions like the ones we are observing now back in the 1930s, and we thought the species went extinct," Van Pelt said. "However, it is our opinion with existing habitat conservation programs being implemented through various Farm Bill programs and enrollments in existing conservation agreements, we are seeing lesser prairie chickens maintaining themselves on the landscape and are even expanding into new areas in some parts of their range. By coordinating these existing efforts and other proposed under this range-wide plan, we are confident we will be able to conserve this species into the future. This plan is written broad enough to allow anyone interested in conserving the lesser prairie chicken to assist the states with conserving this grassland icon."

Mini boats and bass tourneys take over this week's episode of "Outdoor Oklahoma." (April 27, 2013)

     The Oklahoma Bass Anglers Tube and Mini Boat Association requires anglers to fish from boats that are 12 feet or smaller, but don't try to tell the anglers that they're at a disadvantage. They're having a whole lot of fun.

     The "Outdoor Oklahoma" TV crew will follow the club on the tournament trail to Bell Cow Lake near Chandler. The episode will air April 28 at 8 a.m. on OETA. "Outdoor Oklahoma" is the official television show of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. In addition to airing at 8 a.m. Sundays on OETA, the show can also be viewed on the Wildlife Department's Youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/outdooroklahoma

     Todd Renfro, club president, says the tournaments are set up like a typical fishing club.

     "We launch from a designated site and fish for 8 hours then meet back up for the weigh in," Renfro said. "You just have to fish from a mini boat or tube."

     The club has 10 to 12 tournaments every year in Oklahoma, ranging from small lakes in the northern part of the state to large lakes in the south, such as Lake Texoma. Renfro says the club has about 20 members, with three original members that started competing when the club was founded in 1981.

     Billy Coats, a club member in Norman, says the mini boats have their advantages.

     "You can go a lot of places big boats can't go," Coats said. "You have a tenth of the money tied up compared to a big boat club, and you have just as much fun."

     Renfro says the boats that qualify for the tournaments typically cost less than $1,000 and the tournament entry fees cost $30 to $35 with $5 from each entry going to the big bass pot.

     "For years we relied on word of mouth to contact new members, and now we have our own website," Renfro said. "I can get on there and update standings after each tournament, upload pictures and post important information about upcoming tournaments."

     For more information about the Oklahoma Bass Anglers Tube and Mini Boat Association, visit its website at www.okminiboattube.com or email Todd Renfro atbazmstr@yahoo.com.

     "Outdoor Oklahoma" TV will be airing two more premiere episodes at 8 a.m. May 5 and 12  on OETA.