News of the Week

For Immediate Release: WEEK OF DECEMBER 8, 2011

Wildlife Department quail trapping efforts successful as upland bird research continues

            Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation recently sent bobwhite quail samples to research facilities for extensive studies and banded an additional 168 quail that hunters may harvest on state wildlife management areas this year.
            The bobwhites were trapped on 10 WMAs in western Oklahoma during August and October as part of the Wildlife Department’s involvement in a research project called Operation Idiopathic Decline (OID). The Wildlife Department is working with the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, Texas A&M, Texas A&M-Kingsville and Texas Tech universities to study the gradual decline of the bobwhite quail across its range.
            At its December meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission received an update on the Department’s OID activities and other upland game bird research initiatives. Alan Peoples, chief of Wildlife for the Wildlife Department, reported that biologists trapped quail during the first OID trapping phase. There were 168 quail banded and released, and hunters are asked to report banded quail to the Wildlife Department if they harvest one. Other samples were sent to universities in Texas, where researchers are investigating the incidence of disease, parasitism, pesticides, toxins and contaminants in sampled quail.
            “We’re waiting for researchers to give us information on things like West Nile Virus, avian influenza, aflatoxins — all of the various components they are looking at,” Peoples said.
            Peoples said researchers have observed threats to quail in some regions that are not prevalent in others, such as the eye worm that has been affecting birds in Texas but not Oklahoma. Eye worms occur when a small nematode, or parasitic worm, imbeds in the ocular cavity of quail, impairing vision and hindering survival.
            “We did not observe any of our quail with eye worms,” Peoples said. “It’s very common in the rolling plains of Texas.”
            Of the birds trapped in Oklahoma, over 40 percent were adults. However, Peoples said in a normal year of hunting, most of the birds seen by hunters are young of the year birds, or those that were born in the spring. About 80 percent of the harvested quail in an average year will be young of the year birds as well, with the remaining 20 percent comprised of adult birds.
            Since young birds make up the large majority of the quail seen and harvested by hunters, reproductive success is critical. According to Peoples, extended drought conditions and record heat during the summer was detrimental for both quail nesting success and recruitment. In addition to the impact of heat on nesting sites, a lack of green vegetation led to reduced numbers of insects that young quail depend on for food in the first months of their life.
             “Fifty-five percent of our samples were young of the year birds, so that's going to be a lot better than other places in quail country, but still not as high as we'd like to see,” Peoples said.
            In addition to working with trapped birds, Peoples said the Wildlife Department is involved in a genetic research study through the Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M-Kingsville. The Department will provide samples for the study that will aid in research efforts.
            The Wildlife Department is also finalizing a contract with Oklahoma State University to conduct quail research over the next six years on Oklahoma’s Packsaddle and Beaver River wildlife management areas. Research facilities will be constructed on the WMAs, and researchers will be collecting extensive information that could lead to improvements in quail populations and habitat management.
            “We’re going to focus primarily on reproduction and brood survival,” Peoples said.
            The Department also continues to closely monitor the lesser prairie chicken in northwest Oklahoma and has plans to work with OSU and the Sutton Avian Research Center on researching reproduction and brood survival. Although additional surveys have found new prairie chicken leks, or breeding grounds, some survey routes are still too difficult to study accurately using current survey methods. Peoples said the Department will be refining its methods to better saturate survey routes and will intensify survey efforts through participation in the lesser prairie chicken interstate working group’s five-state coordinated survey, other aerial surveys, and the use of cutting edge satellite radio and traditional telemetry tracking.
            The Wildlife Department is providing periodic updates on upland game bird research and conservation through a free e-mail report called Upland Update, available free by signing up on the Wildlife Department’s website, Currently, more than 500 subscribers are receiving the updates.
            In other business, the Commission heard a presentation on the Wildlife Department’s hunter education program. Most Oklahomans must complete the Department’s hunter education class in order to hunt big game without supervision. Exemptions from hunter education certification include anyone 31 years of age or older, anyone honorably discharged from or currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, and members of the National Guard. Additionally, hunters age eight to 30 are eligible to purchase an apprentice-designated hunting license that allows them to hunt under the supervision of a qualifying adult mentor.
            The Wildlife Department certified 17,631 hunters last year alone, making it the eighth highest ranked state in the nation in the percentage of hunters certified per capita.
            “We hold hundreds of hunter education classes across the entire state every year, and we try to serve our constituents and their busy schedules by holding as many as 20 of those classes during the weekends just prior to deer gun season,” said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Wildlife Department. “Those last minute classes account for as much as 15 percent of the total number of hunters certified each year.”
            Changes to hunter education requirements in recent years have made hunting more convenient for sportsmen. In 2008, the class length requirement was reduced from 10 to eight hours, and Oklahoma residents who are exempt from hunter education requirements but who want to hunt in another state where certification is required can take a proficiency exam without taking the eight-hour class. Additionally, the Department saves money and makes the course more relevant to students by producing its own state-specific hunter education manual. The Wildlife Department also offers an apprentice-designated hunting license to hunters ages 8-30 that allows them to go hunting without first completing a hunter education course, provided that they are accompanied by a licensed mentor who is at least 18 years old and hunter education certified (or exempt from license and hunter education requirements).
            Meek said the future of the program includes an online course option that will allow students to complete their course through the Wildlife Department’s website and immediately print their certification card. Meek also is working with other education specialists at the Wildlife Department to encourage school educators to teach the hunter education course in the classroom along with other Department programs such as the Oklahoma National Archery in the Schools and Explore Bowhunting programs.
            The Commission also presented its Game Warden of the Year Award to David Foltz, game warden stationed in Garfield County. The award was presented along with the Shikar-Safari Club International Wildlife Officer of the Year Award by club members Bill Brewster and his wife, Suzie Brewster.
            Shikar-Safari Club International was started more than 55 years ago and is limited to 200 members worldwide. While it is a social organization, its sole purpose is hunting and conservation and issues that affect hunters and conservation. The club has a foundation that puts almost $1 million into wildlife and conservation every year, including more than 30 scholarships a year for children of wildlife professionals majoring in wildlife fields. The scholarships, each $4,000 a year, are designed to perpetuate an interest in wildlife careers and conservation.
            The Commission also accepted a donation of $20,000 from the Oklahoma City Zoo for local conservation projects. The donation will be used along with the assistance of zoo volunteers to assist with lesser prairie chicken surveys and other projects in northwest Oklahoma. Presenting the donation were zoo employees Jennifer D’Agostino and Cliff Casey.
            Additionally, the Commission recognized Ty Harper, northwest region fisheries biologist, for 20 years of service to the Wildlife Department, and Mike Plunkett, northeast region senior wildlife biologist, for 30 years.
            The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife 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 is set for 9 a.m. Jan. 9, at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.