Commission approves Private lands elk hunt

In its regular April meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to approve a private lands elk hunt in southwest Oklahoma for the fall 2000 season.

The hunt will increase hunting opportunities on private lands surrounding the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, said Alan Peoples, Chief of Wildlife for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation while addressing key concerns of landowners in the area.

In a related item, Peoples updated the Commission about the stakeholder meetings that were recently held across the state regarding the Department's comprehensive statewide deer management plan. The Department held meetings in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Lawton, McAlester and Woodward in which stakeholders voiced their concerns about deer management.

"Our next step is to form a steering committee composed of members who will represent all of the state's various deer stakeholders and regional interests," Peoples said. "Based on the input we got from the stakeholder meetings, the steering committee will meet May 9-11 to try to formulate a comprehensive, statewide deer management plan."

Along the same lines, Peoples announced that the Department will soon name a new upland game biologist to supervise the Department's quail management efforts. In addition, the Department will also hold a series of public meetings to gather public input on quail management.

"The issues are quite a bit different for quail than they are for deer," Peoples said. "Everyone agrees that we want more of them. Hopefully, these meetings will help us determine the best way to achieve that goal."

Addressing concerns of landowners near Ft. Cobb Wildlife Management Area, the Commission also approved establishing a series of controlled hunts at Ft. Cobb Wildlife Management Area for the fall 2000 season. These hunts will be intended to reduce crop depredation by deer on neighboring agricultural land while increasing hunting opportunities for sportsmen.

"We held a controlled hunt at Ft. Cobb State Park last year," Peoples said, "and based on the success of that hunt, we feel it would be appropriate to increase hunting opportunities on the WMA. The controlled hunt will increase opportunities for muzzleloader and modern firearm hunters."

The Commission will hold its next meeting May 1 at 9 a.m. at the Department's headquarters in Oklahoma City.

Department concludes stakeholder meetings

After concluding a series of public stakeholder meetings, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is entering the next phase in developing a new statewide deer management plan.

Mandated last fall by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the process began in February with a series of public stakeholder meetings. The meetings, held in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Lawton, McAlester and Woodward, were designed to elicit information from stakeholders with interests in managing the state's deer herd. Parties represented included private landowners, ranchers, farmers, sportsmans' groups and the insurance industry, among others. The meetings provided those individuals the opportunity to express personal, corporate and regional concerns about the state's deer resources, as well as concerns about the future management of those resources.

"The meetings were very productive and enlightening," said Alan Peoples, the Department's Chief of Wildlife. "We found some common ground among the various groups, but we also found that there are some significantly different concerns from one region to another. For example, crop depredation is a major concern in the southwest, while deer/vehicle collisions are a big issue in the northwest."

Among the findings from the public meetings, Peoples added, is that many motorists do not report deer collisions to their insurance companies. Therefore, the incidence of deer/vehicle accidents may be underestimated.

"These are all things we have to consider when we sit down to hammer out a new management plan," Peoples said.

Equipped with such a diverse bank of public input, the Department will next form a steering committee composed of individuals representing the interests of the various stakeholders. Once formed, the steering committee will meet May 9-11 to draft a statewide deer management plan.

"It's taken us 30 years to get where we are, so it's going to be quite an undertaking to formulate a brand new plan in just three days," Peoples said. "However, we are confident that the people who will be on the steering committee will fully understand the importance of their mission, and we're confident we'll develop a plan that will serve the best interests of Oklahoma's citizens, as well as the best interests of our state's deer resources."

Department announces private lands elk hunt

Responding to requests from landowners whose property border the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will offer private lands elk hunts for the fall 2000 season.

Approved April 3 by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the hunts will be held in Caddo, Kiowa and Comanche counties. Either-sex archery hunts will be held Oct. 6-8 and Dec. 15-17. Modern firearms hunts will be held Oct. 6-8 and Dec. 15-17. Modern firearms hunters may take bulls only on Oct. 6-7 and Dec. 15-16. They may take either sex on Oct. 8 and Dec. 17.

"We held a stakeholder meeting recently in southwest Oklahoma, and many of the landowners in the area surrounding the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge had some concerns regarding elk that leave the refuge," said Alan Peoples, Chief of the Department's Wildlife Division. "We feel that allowing a limited harvest of these is a proper way to address their concerns."

Hunters who choose to harvest a bull may only take an animal with at least four points on one side. Landowners may allow as many people to hunt on their property as they feel appropriate. However, hunters must have written permission from the landowner, including a legal description of the property on which they are hunting.

In addition, hunters must have a resident or non-resident Oklahoma hunting license or combination license, as well as a resident or non-resident elk permit. A resident elk permit costs $35.25, and the non-resident permit costs $251. Permits are available at the Department's Southwest Region Office, located at the J.A. Manning State Fish Hatchery, in Medicine Park. For more information, call the Wildlife Division (405/521-6841) or the Southwest Region Office (580/529-2795).

1999 a safe year for Oklahoma hunters

In addition to one of the finest hunting seasons in recent memory, Oklahoma hunters also enjoyed their safest year afield ever in 1999.

Out of more than 310,000 licensed hunters in Oklahoma, only four bona-fide hunting accidents were reported last year. None were fatal. However, four accidents resulted in gunshot wounds. That's a sobering reminder that the margin of error is very slim when handling firearms, said J.D. Peer, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, so a hunter can never be too careful.

"For obvious reasons, our hunter education instructors devote a lot of time and energy teaching sportsmen about how to safely handle firearms," Peer said. "Most people take those lessons to heart, but one hunting accident is one too many. The best instruction you can get anywhere is available in our hunter education classes, and I encourage every hunter in Oklahoma to take the course. If you've already passed the course, it never hurts to take it again."

The first accident of 1999 occurred on April 18. A 23-year old Okmulgee County man was walking through the woods with his father when a turkey hunter fired at the younger man, hitting him in the right arm, neck and chin.

On July 2, another 23-year old man who was squirrel hunting in Garfield County raised his .22-cal. rifle to shoot at a squirrel. The rifle barrel hit a tree, causing the hunter to drop the rifle. It discharged upon hitting the ground, and the bullet struck the man in the foot.

On Sept. 1, a dove hunter in Mayes Co., suffered slight injuries when he was shot by one of his hunting partners who fired at a low-flying dove.

The most bizarre incident occurred on Nov. 28, when an Oklahoma Co., deer hunter in a tree stand looked up at some ducks flying past. When he turned back around, an owl hit him in the face, causing severe eye injuries.

The last accident of the year occurred on Dec. 26, when a man and his wife were target shooting in a pasture with a .38-cal. handgun. She handed the revolver back to her husband thinking it was empty, but there was still a live round in the chamber. The gun discharged when he took it from his her, hitting her in the abdomen and exiting out her lower back.

Halfway through the spring turkey season, the Department is hoping 2000 will be accident free. Brush up on your hunter safety skills by taking a hunter education class this year, and bring a youngster with you. If you'd like to volunteer to teach hunter education, call J.D. Peer at 405/522-4572 or 405/521-4636.

Texas meeting focuses on cormorant control

Those interested in commenting on a national management strategy for double-crested cormorants should attend a public meeting May 23 at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, Texas.

Initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the meeting is designed to identify regional concerns about burgeoning populations of double-crested cormorants. The birds are currently protected under the Migratory Bird Act Treaty, but anglers in many parts of the country are concerned about the impact they have on sport fisheries.

"Issues concerning double-crested cormorants are of great interest in Oklahoma, especially to our state's anglers," said Kim Erickson, Chief of Fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "We encourage anyone with an interest in this matter to attend the meeting in Athens, and to share their thoughts with the Fish and Wildlife Service. We'll be following these developments closely, and we hope the USFWS will develop a management plan that resolves these issues."

With the input from the public meetings, the USFWS will compile a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluating cormorant status, as well as their known and perceived impacts on other resources. The EIS will also include potential management strategies while evaluating the possible administrative, logistical, and socio-economic impacts of various management strategies. Potential management alternatives range from continuing present policies to implementing large-scale population control measures on breeding grounds, wintering grounds, and migration areas in the United States.

When the USFWS publishes the draft EIS, the public will be able to comment on it, as well.

The resurgence of double-crested cormorant populations over the last three decades has led to increasing concern about the birds' impact on commercial and recreational fishery resources. Cormorants and other water birds such as pelicans and herons can have adverse impacts on fish populations at fish farms, hatcheries, and sites where hatchery-reared fish are released. Because cormorants are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, their nests and eggs cannot be disturbed, and birds cannot be captured or killed unless a depredation permit is obtained from the USFWS.

In-depth information on cormorant-related issues is available on the Internet at www.fws.gov/r9mbmo/issues/cormorant/cormorant.html. Comments may be submitted electronically to cormorant_eis@fws.gov, or by mail to Chief, Office of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Fr., Room 634, Arlington, VA 22203.

Bluebird Society schedules meeting

Anyone interested in learning how to attract bluebirds and other cavity-nesting birds should attend the annual spring meeting of the Oklahoma Bluebird Society at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 13.

Participants will discuss the latest information on attracting bluebirds, as well as the Society's participation in the national Transcontinental Bluebird Trail, said Society President Charlotte Jernigan. The guest speaker will be Doug LeVasseur, president of the North American Bluebird Society.

The meeting will be held in the Hulbert Community Center, 14 miles east of Wagoner on Highway 51, next to the Hulbert Bank. A box lunch will cost $5.

To attend, please RSVP with Charlotte Jernigan, 918/485-5974.

Stonecipher reappointed to Wildlife Commission

Harland Stonecipher of Centrahoma was recently re-appointed to a second term on the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission by Gov. Frank Keating.

The Senate confirmed his appointment unanimously.

Stonecipher represents Oklahoma's Wildlife Conservation District 4, which includes Creek, Okfuskee, Seminole, Pottawatomie, Pontotoc, Hughes, Johnston and Coal counties.

"It gives me great honor to have this opportunity to serve the sportsmen and sportswomen of Oklahoma," Stonecipher said. "The conservation of Oklahoma's wildlife resources comes with great responsibility, and I am pleased that the Governor has confidence to entrust me with another term on this great Commission.

"A Senate staff member who attended the confirmation hearing commented that she had never seen so many people show up on behalf of a nominee," he added. "It's encouraging to have that level of support."

Stonecipher has served as a member of the Commission, the governing board for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, since 1993. He currently serves as vice-chairman of the Commission.

An avid sportsman and hunting dog enthusiast, Stonecipher is also the founder and president of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc., a company that is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

In addition to his passion for the outdoors, Stonecipher brings dynamic leadership and valuable experience to the Commission. He is keenly aware of the challenges facing the Department, and he said he is eager to continue working to ensure and maintain the integrity of the state's wildlife resources.

"I'm very concerned about our quail population in the state of Oklahoma and across the United States," Stonecipher said. "In the next eight years, I hope I can bring something positive to that particular situation."

Plan focuses on prairie dogs

With the help of landowners and a broad cross-section of interested parties, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is working to manage the state's black-tailed prairie dog populations without federal intervention.

The plan is part of an 11-state initiative to keep the black-tailed prairie dog from being federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, said Ron Suttles, the Department's Natural Resources Coordinator. Forming partnerships with private landowners, state and federal government agencies, researchers and agricultural groups is crucial for developing and implementing the plan, he added, and so far, the public has been supportive.

"Right now, the important thing is that the black-tailed prairie dog has not been listed as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act," Suttles said. "The 11 states that are involved in this process are highly committed to keep that from happening, and we are confident we can develop Oklahoma's management plan and meet our obligations for the prairie dog in a way that includes the interests of landowners and other stakeholders."

The prairie dog issue surfaced in 1998, when a group called the Biodiversity Legal Foundation filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend protection to the black-tailed prairie dog under the Endangered Species Act. The petition claimed that prairie dog populations had declined 98 percent from "historic levels," and that federal protection was necessary to save the animals from possible extinction.

In response, the 11 states directly affected by the petition, including Oklahoma, formed an Interstate Working Group. The group is patterned after similar groups that are working on related prairie species, such as the swift fox and lesser prairie chicken. The members of the Interstate Working Group are holding public stakeholder meetings in their respective states to identify and address public, private, state and regional concerns about the mammals. In Oklahoma, the Wildlife Department has held meetings in Oklahoma City and Guymon to discuss prairie dog management.

After gathering public input, each member state will develop an individual state management plan intended to conserve black-tailed prairie dog populations while preventing the need to list the species as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The goal of the Oklahoma management plan will be to maintain the viability of the species while ensuring the protection of private property rights.

"The states that were impacted by the listing proposal took a proactive approach by responding at the state level instead of waiting for action at the federal level," Suttles said. "There was universal concern about a federal listing among the landowners and other stakeholder groups that attended the meetings.

"Most of them were supportive of what we are trying to do," he added. "Since almost all of Oklahoma's prairie dogs live on private land, private landowners are the key to keeping the prairie dog off the Endangered Species List."

Controlled Hunts deadline approaching

If you're planning to participate in the 2000 Controlled Hunts, you still have time to complete your application before the May 5 deadline.

Controlled Hunts application booklets are available at area sporting goods dealers, and all the information needed to apply are contained within. Applications must be postmarked by May 5, 2000.

For the first time, you can also apply over the Internet. Applying online is easy and trouble-free. The computer won't accept incomplete applications or applications that are filled out improperly, so you can rest easy knowing your electronic application will be accepted and processed.

To apply for the Controlled Hunts online, go to the Department's website at www.wildlifedepartment.com. Click on the Controlled Hunts Application link and follow the instructions.