News of the Week

March 5, 2015
Commission Briefed on Great Plains Trail Partnership

   Members of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission received a status report on the positive effects being generated by The Great Plains Trail of Oklahomathroughout the western part of the state.

   Melynda Hickman, a biologist working in the Wildlife Diversity Program of theOklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, presented an overview of The Great Plains Trail and described how it is benefiting the Department and local communities.

   The Great Plains Trail is a highway-based wildlife-viewing tour that includes 1,777 total miles in 33 counties west of U.S. 81. The Trail is divided into 13 distinct drivingloops exploring different habitats and offering sites providing wildlife viewing opportunities along the way.

   The lead organization for the Trail's development, promotion and maintenance is the Oklahoma Wildlife and Prairie Heritage Alliance. The Wildlife Department helps support the Trail with a $20,000 annual grant.

   Hickman told Commissioners that among the Trail's goals is to develop nature tourism, which seems to be on the rise based on the number of inquiries that sponsoring agencies have received about the Trail. Since the Trail was established in 2006, requests for Trail maps have risen from 2,000 to 10,000 annually.

   "Other benefits from the Department's involvement include more opportunities to develop relationships with western Oklahoma landowners and small businesses, and the ability to foster new and nontraditional partners in wildlife conservation," Hickman said.

   Commissioners also approved the creation of a youth elk gun season on private lands in the Special Southwest Zone only. The new youth elk gun seasons will run concurrently with Oklahoma's youth deer gun season. The Special Southwest Zone includes Comanche, Caddo and Kiowa counties, and no elk harvest quota exists for the zone. Oklahoma's first statewide private-lands elk season wrapped up this past January, and hunters reported harvesting 131 elk throughout the state's seven elk hunting zones.

   Also during Monday's meeting, the Commission:

  • Approved bids for mineral leases on land owned in Grady and Okmulgee counties.
  • Heard an update from Assistant Director Wade Free on measures that remain active in the Oklahoma Legislature that could affect Wildlife Department operations. Among the proposed legislation is HB 1104, which would tighten restrictions on the handling of feral swine in Oklahoma, and HB 1774, which would create a three-day Conservation Passport.
  • Recognized Kelvin Schoonover, wildlife biologist at Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area, for 20 years of service.

   The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Conservation 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 Senate.

   The next scheduled Commission meeting will start at 9 a.m. May 4, 2015, at Wildlife Department headquarters, 1801 N. Lincoln, Oklahoma City.