News of the Week

Jan. 7, 2016
Wildlife Commission Gets Bassmaster Classic Preview
Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commissioners viewed a preview of the highly anticipated Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament during its regular meeting Jan. 4 in Oklahoma City.
The national event billed as "the Super Bowl of Fishing" will return to Oklahoma'sGrand Lake O' the Cherokees from March 4-6. Daily weigh-in events will be held at Tulsa's BOK Center, along with the Classic Expo, "the world's largest tackle show," at Tulsa's Cox Business Center.
Gene Gilliland of B.A.S.S., the tournament organizer, told Commissioners how this event brings tremendous economic benefit to Oklahoma. When the Classic was held at Grand Lake/Tulsa in 2013, Gilliland said it generated an economic boost of $22.7 million to northeastern Oklahoma. He said more than 106,000 fans attended during the three-day Classic.
Sue Bunday of the Visit Tulsa! organization told Commissioners that the local host groups have pushed some new initiatives this time in efforts to grow the event, such as adding an educational curriculum for teachers. "We were a home run last time. This time, we're going to be a grand slam!" she said.
Gilliland reminded the Commission about the ways that the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation supported the event in 2013, and how the Department plans similar efforts this year.
The Department spent about $3.5 million in federal boating access funds to expand the Wolf Creek Park boat launching area, the site from which Classic competitors will take off at 7 each morning. He also cited the work of Department fisheries biologists who handled the bass that were brought to the weigh-ins and successfully returned every fish alive to Grand Lake. Department biologists are hoping to repeat that feat this year.
Also during Monday's meeting, Melinda Streich, assistant director of administration and finance for the Wildlife Department, gave commissioners a status report on the new Cherokee Nation Tribal Compact License. The tribal compact combination hunting/fishing license became effective Jan. 1. 
Under the compact's terms for 2016, the Cherokee Nation will buy 150,000 Compact Licenses at a discounted rate and will provide those licenses free to tribal citizens. Streich said about 91,000 compact licenses have been issued. Of those, about 60,000 would be eligible for license certification, allowing the Department to receive an increase of about $1.2 million in federal funds. 
"All in all, we've had pretty good numbers coming in," Streich said. She said the Cherokee Nation is planning additional license distribution campaigns, and she expects word of mouth among Cherokee citizens to increase the number of Compact Licenses issued. 
The additional federal revenue generated by the Compact Licenses will not be available until 2018 and can only be spent for management of fish and wildlife, she said. Commission Chairman John Zelbst reminded Commissioners that the Department is currently in negotiations with the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations about creating a similar compact license for their citizens.
In other business, the Commission and Col. Robert Fleenor, chief of the Law Enforcement Division, accepted a $50,000 grant award from the Shikar-Safari Club International Foundation. The Law Enforcement Division applied for the grant in August as a method to fund replacement shotguns for all the Department's game wardens. Many shotguns currently in service are 40 years old, Fleenor said.
In other business, the Commission:
  • Recognized Todd Craighead, information and education specialist, with a tenure award for 20 years of service.
  • Heard an update on proposals affecting fish and wildlife laws that might be considered in the Oklahoma Legislature.
  • Authorized Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Director Richard Hatcher to sign a negotiated agreement with Grand River Dam Authority to use wildlife mitigation funds to establish wetland habitat areas in the Neosho Bottoms area of northeastern Oklahoma.
  • Heard from Ken Kurzawski, president of the Fisheries Administration Section of the American Fisheries Society, as he presented the Outstanding Sport Fish Restoration Project Award for 2015 to the Wildlife Department's Fishing in the Schools Program and its coordinator, Daniel Griffith.
The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate.
The next scheduled Commission meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Feb. 1, 2016, in Quartz Mountain Resort Lodge at Lone Wolf, Okla.
 
Col. Robert Fleenor, chief of Law Enforcement for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, accepts a $50,000 grant award for shotgun replacement from Tom Montgomery and Robin Siegfried of Shikar-Safari Club International Foundation. (Don P. Brown/ODWC)
Ken Kurzawski of the American Fisheries Society presents a 2015 Outstanding Sport Fish Restoration Project Award to Daniel Griffith for the Oklahoma Fishing in the Schools Program. (Don P. Brown/ ODWC)