May 7 is deadline for Controlled Hunts applications

Hunters applying for this year's controlled hunts offered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation should remember that the application deadline is May 7.

This year, the Department is offering special elk, antelope, deer, turkey, quail hunts, as well as hunts for youths and non-ambulatory hunters. The Department is also offering controlled pheasant hunts this year, as well as youth waterfowl and pursuit with hounds (raccoon) hunts. There is no cost to apply for any of the hunts.

A computer will randomly select from the pool of applicants in each hunt category. Hunters who have accumulated preference points in certain categories will have a statistically greater chance of being selected. However, there have always been more applicants than permits, so the preference point system does not guarantee selection.

"Once a hunter is selected, they lose their preference points in the category for which they were selected," said Robert Taylor, fiscal services coordinator for the Wildlife Department. "However, this does not affect preference points accumulated by those applicants in other categories."

Successful applicants who are required to complete a hunter education course will be required to show their hunter safety certification when they arrive at the hunt site, Taylor added, so now is a good time to complete the free 10-hour course if you haven't done so already. For information on upcoming courses, call the Department's hunter education hotline at 405/521-4650.

This year's controlled hunt application booklets contain application forms which may not be cut nor copied, as well as a 1999-2000 season dates chart, a table listing the odds of being drawn for the various hunt categories and a map showing the location of areas hosting controlled hunts.

For information regarding the controlled hunt application process, call the Department's Controlled Hunt Helpline, Monday through Friday, at 405/524-6169 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Questions regarding specific hunts should be directed to the Department's Wildlife Division at 405/521-2739.

Governor endorses Congressional bills

Citing the need to fund programs related to wildlife conservation and recreation, Governor Frank Keating endorsed the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CRA) currently being considered by the U.S. Congress.

"I am pleased to offer my support for H.R. 701 and S. 25, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act," Keating said. "Provisions of this act would allocate portions of outer continental shelf oil and gas revenues to the states as matchable funding to support programs related to wildlife preservation and recreation.

"Given Oklahoma's outstanding record in wildlife preservation, this funding would greatly enhance our existing programs, to the benefit of all Oklahomans."

Greg Duffy, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, called Keating's endorsement a strong statement for the need to properly fund wildlife management efforts. If passed, the bill would provide up to $15 million for wildlife conservation needs and state and local parks.

"The Conservation and Reinvestment Act would provide federal funds that would still have to be matched at the state level," Duffy said. "For this reason, it is extremely important to gain additional state funds for conservation and the outdoors."

Keating joins 10 other governors nationwide in support of the CRA. Oklahoma Congressman Wes Watkins was an original co-sponsor of the House bill, which is still in committee.

For more information about the CRA, call the Wildlife Department at 405/521-4616, or see the website: www.teaming.com.

QU donations help WMA quail

With contributions from local Quail Unlimited chapters, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will improve quail forage on selected wildlife management areas this spring.

Recently, the Canadian Valley Chapter of QU donated 100 bags of seed to be used on WMAs, as well as 20 bags of seed to be used at Lexington WMA. The Canadian Valley Chapter also donated $1,000 for fertilizer and herbicide to be used on the area.

Partnerships with private organizations like Quail Unlimited are extremely important to the Department's wildlife management operations, said Steve DeMaso, upland bird biologist for the Wildlife Department, especially in light of the Department's financial limitations. Donations such as these, he added, are very helpful in allowing wildlife managers to enhance quail habitat on public hunting areas.

"Many factors influence quail populations, but habitat management is the key to ensuring stable quail populations from year to year," DeMaso added. "Providing quality habitat is the best thing you can do to help buffer against dramatic weather fluctuations and harsh conditions."

For landowners interested in planting food plots for quail on private property, DeMaso recommends planting forage in long, narrow strips within 100 yards of woody cover, such as thickets or other low-growing shrub-type cover.

"It's important for quail to have areas nearby where they can escape from predators," DeMaso said.

Seed contributions from QU included mostly sorghum, milo and corn. Quail Unlimited is a national organization dedicated to the conservation and sound management of America's quail resources.

Field of Dreams At Hackberry Flat

If you build it, they will come.

To moviegoers, this famous phrase inspired a dreamer to create a refuge for the restless ghosts of baseball's golden age.

For those who remember the massive flocks of waterfowl that once clouded the skies of southwest Oklahoma, it has inspired visionaries to restore of one of Oklahoma's most glorious natural treasures.

That treasure is Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area, a 7,120-acre wildlife oasis located southeast of Frederick. With the generous help of many partners, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has restored the legendary wetland to provide refuge for the restless wings of prairie waterfowl - and recreation for people craving a quality outdoors experience.

On May 7, Oklahoma's newest field of dreams will make its official debut with a dedication ceremony that begins at 2 p.m.

"When you consider its history and its importance to wildlife in this region, Hackberry Flat can be rightly considered not only one of the greatest resources in Oklahoma, but in America," said Greg Duffy, director for the Wildlife Department.

Richard Hatcher, chief of the Department's Wildlife Division, said," Thanks to the wonders of modern engineering and the cooperation of so many dedicated partners, restoring Hackberry Flat to its former glory is no longer a dream, but a reality. It's a place that every Oklahoman can talk about with pride."

When pioneers arrived on the plains of southwest Oklahoma nearly 100 years ago, they encountered clouds of waterfowl so thick that they darkened the skies over Frederick. At times, the noise from birds winging overhead was deafening, and the din of their calls lasted from dawn until dusk.

Initially, the area's abundant wildlife and rugged landscape drew the attention of one of America's most famous outdoorsmen, President Theodore Roosevelt, who frequently visited and hunted near Hackberry. By "reclaiming" the wetland, he predicted, the area could experience an agricultural boom that would bring economic prosperity to the region.

In the early 1900s, local residents using hand shovels and mules drained the area by digging a massive ditch. It was about four miles long, about 20-feet deep and about 40-feet wide. The underlying soils were indeed as fertile as Roosevelt predicted, but farming the flood-prone landscape proved exceedingly difficult.

Since then, we've learned that wetlands are extremely beneficial to people as well as wildlife because they act as natural environmental purifiers. Unfortunately, Oklahoma has lost two-thirds of its original wetlands to agricultural, industrial and residential development. The restoration of Hackberry Flat represents a significant effort to reclaim lost ground, so to speak, as well as reclaiming an important part of our natural heritage. No wonder Hackberry Flat has been described as one of the most significant wetlands restoration projects ever completed in North America. It's a national treasure we can all enjoy.

Hackberry dedication set for May 7

To celebrate the completion of Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area (WMA), the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will host a dedication ceremony Friday May 7.

The event will be held at Ceremony Hill on the southwest side of the WMA, located seven miles southeast of Frederick.

The ceremony marks nearly six years of hard work that restored the natural profile of the largest isolated wetland in Oklahoma, said Greg Duffy, director of the Wildlife Department.

"Thanks to the hard work and dedication of so many individuals and organizations, Hackberry Flat once again provides valuable habitat for a multitude of wildlife species, including waterfowl and shorebirds," Richard Hatcher, chief of Wildlife Division said. "It will also be an important resource for people who value a high-quality outdoors experience to hunt, birdwatch or just enjoy Oklahoma's great outdoors."

Festivities will begin May 7 at 7 a.m. with a birdwatching tour of the WMA, followed by a breakfast at 8:30 a.m. hosted by the Frederick Chamber of Commerce. At 12:30 p.m., participants will then board buses at Great Plains Vo-Tech, which is at 2001 E. Gladstone, just off State Highway 5 west of Frederick. Afterwards, participants will remain at the area for the dedication ceremonies.

For the dedication, Director Duffy will make opening remarks, and Rye Wilhite, a student at Frederick Elementary School, will lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Bill Crawford, chairman of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, will then introduce the master of ceremonies, actor Jameson Parker.

Speakers for the event will include Julius Wall, President of Ducks Unlimited; Keith Bailey, president of The Williams Companies, Inc.; Mary Fallin, Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor and Bob Misso, Wetland Reserve Program Director for the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Afterward, Commissioner Crawford will unveil a monument commemorating the event, and Parker will deliver closing remarks.

Restoring the Hackberry Flat wetland would not have been possible without the help and support of many significant partners, including:

o The Williams Companies, Inc.
o North American Wetlands Conservation Council
o The Natural Resources Conservation Service
o Wildlife Restoration
o City of Frederick
o Ducks Unlimited
o Bureau of Reclamation
o U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
o Phillips Petroleum Company
o National Fish & Wildlife Foundation
o Holloway, Updike, Bellen, Inc.
o Tillman County Commissioners
o First Southwest Bank
o Pioneer Trucking Company
o Wildlife Forever
o Arrow Trucking Company
o Williams Fluor Daniels Engineering
o Oklahoma Station of Safari Club International
o Oklahoma City Sportsman's Club
o Evans & Associates Construction Company, Inc.
o U.S. Geological Survey


Summer viewings at Selman Bat Cave

On the outskirts of Freedom, in the far northwest corner of the state, you can see a plume of smoke spiraling skyward on hot summer evenings.

Upon further investigation, observers realize that the "smoke" consists of countless individual specks flying in concert into the upper atmosphere. Local farmers and ranchers don't worry much about this smoke trail, however, because they know it leads back to the Selman Bat Cave, which is home to one million Mexican free-tailed bats!

Although local residents have had the opportunity to see this wondrous spectacle of nature for decades, only recently have others been able to participate thanks to its acquisition by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

"The Wildlife Department purchased the Selman Bat Cave in 1996 to protect this unique resource in perpetuity and to provide bat viewing opportunities to the public," said Melynda Hickman, natural resources biologist with the Department. "For the past two summers, the Department's Wildlife Diversity Program has conducted the Selman Bat Viewings to give people an appreciation for bats and for what they do for us. For example, the million bats in the Selman Bat Cave are estimated to eat 10 tons of insects nightly!"

More than 2,500 people have attended the previous bat viewings, with some coming from as far as Houston and Kansas City to view one of the largest bat colonies in America.

Although several of this summer's dates have been completely booked, 13 evenings are still open from July 9 to August 7. Because the Wildlife Diversity Program has to make busing arrangements beforehand, people must pre-register for the weekend viewings; they cannot just show up. Prices to attend the bat viewings are $5 for youth (3-12 years) and $8 for adults (13 years and up).

This summer, the Wildlife Diversity Program will offer a new experience called "Nature at Night," which will take place from 9 p.m. to midnight on July 17 after that evening's bat emergence. This event will include astronomy lessons (weather permitting), wildlife tracking and an overview of nightlife in the midgrass prairie. Participants will even get to howl at the moon and make s'mores! This activity is limited to 30 adults (13 and up) and costs an additional $10 per person.

Using funds donated by the Oklahoma City Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, the Wildlife Diversity Program thinned trees from the cave entrance to provide a safer exit for emerging bats. This is intended to lower the height that the bats fly, making them safer from predators such as owls, kestrels and hawks. Additional seating will also be erected in two of the three viewing areas. The third area is open (no seats) so that visitors can spread their blankets and watch the bats fly overhead.

Other supporters include the Selman Bat Cave Volunteers, Alabaster Caverns State Park, Freedom Public Schools and the James Selman Ranch.

Editor's Note: Two Media Days have will be held June 12 and June 16 to showcase the night-time bat emergence at Selman Bat Cave. To attend, contact Jeremy Garrett at 405/521-4663.