Commission Designates Free Fishing Days

At its regular May meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission designated June 3-4 as Free Fishing Days in Oklahoma.

As part of the National Fishing Week, which runs June 3-11, the Commission designated Oklahoma’s Free Fishing Days to recognize the importance of fishing to our state’s culture and economy, said David Warren, chief of the Department’s Information and Education Division.

“More than 900,000 anglers annually enjoy the great fishing we have in Oklahoma, generating more than $500 million annually to our state and local economies,” Warren said. “This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Sport Fish Restoration Act, which has been instrumental in developing Oklahoma’s fisheries resources, so it’s especially fitting to recognize Free Fishing Days this year.”

During Free Fishing Days, anyone can fish in Oklahoma without a fishing license. The purpose is to encourage non-anglers to adopt the sport while providing an opportunity to for experienced anglers to introduce newcomers to fishing.

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of Free Fishing Days in Oklahoma, the first state to establish this national tradition.

In wildlife-related business, the Commission approved a rule that will lengthen the season in which sportsmen can use hounds to pursue raccoons with a special use permit at Little River National Wildlife Refuge. The rule allows for harvest during the statewide furbearer season and also establishes a fall archery season for turkey. Furthermore, the rule provides for trapping and waterfowl seasons.

These provisions are a result of many months of negotiations between the Wildlife Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Alan Peoples, chief of the Department’s Wildlife Division, and the rules will benefit both sportsmen and wildlife at Little River NWR.

“Our agreement on Little River Wildlife Refuge is one of the most liberal in the country,” Peoples said. “This rule opens up a lot of opportunities that were previously closed, and we are pleased with the agreement.”

In a similar matter, the Commission also voted to approve a rule that would allow hunters to use .22-caliber rimfire rifles during dates open to squirrel and rabbit hunting at Deep fork National Wildlife Refuge. It would also allow hunters to pursue raccoons with hounds from Jan. 1-31 at Deep Fork NWR.

In his monthly report, Director Greg Duffy updated the Commission on the status of House Bills 1717 and 1927, which are currently under consideration by the Oklahoma Legislature. The House of Representatives has requested a conference committee with the Senate on HB-1717, Duffy said, and HB-1927 is currently under discussion in a conference committee.

In a personnel-related item, the Commission recognized Roger Kildow, a fisheries technician at Byron Fish Hatchery, for 20 years of continuous service to the Department.

The Commission will hold its next regular meeting June 5 at the Department’s headquarters in Oklahoma City.


Oklahoma offers plenty of fishing

Looking ahead to National Fishing Week, which runs June 3-11, anglers can enjoy excellent fishing for several popular species across the state well into summer.

Largemouth bass fishing will remain productive across the state, but anglers can also enjoy fine outings for catfish, crappie, sand bass, walleye and sunfish, just to name a few. Here’s a quick look at what’s hot across the state.

Largemouth Bass

Although the spawn has ended in most waters, anglers can get in on some brisk post-spawn fishing on our major lakes and rivers, said Barry Bolton, assistant chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

“For many anglers, the post-spawn is a great time to catch bass,” Bolton said. “The big fish have pulled out into deeper water, and they’re very aggressive and eager to hit a variety of artificial lures. It can make for some exciting trips.”


While some of the most productive fishing occurs during the spawn in March and April, you can still catch some big stringers in early and mid-summer. After the spawn, crappie return to deep water and seek shelter near submerged cover, such as standing timber or brush piles. If you can find such structures, you can enjoy consistent fishing for long stretches during the hottest parts of summer,” Bolton added.

“Crappie are among the most widely distributed fish species in Oklahoma,” he explained. “We have an abundance of them in most of our lakes and rivers, and for those who follow their patterns, they can provide a lot of fun fishing for anglers of all ages.”

To catch stringers of big crappie, consider fishing at night. Crappie are often more active at night than during the day in summer, and the cool temperatures at night makes the experience more enjoyable.


Likewise, sunfish activity should be kicking into high gear over the next few weeks. Bluegill, redear and longear sunfish have already spawned in some areas, and they are just now spawning in others. If you can find them, you can catch bunches well into summer with worms, crickets and small, artificial lures.

“Sunfish are, perhaps, some of the most underutilized fish species in Oklahoma,” Bolton said, “but they are also some of the most fun to catch. If you can find a sunfish bed, chances are you’ll give out before they do. They’ll take a variety of baits, so they also provide a good opportunity to introduce a newcomer to fishing. When the sunfish are really biting, that’s about as good as it gets.”

White Bass

Usually, white bass begin their spawning runs in late March and early April, but they started a bit late this year. Therefore, you can still enjoy some fast-paced white bass fishing in the upper arms of many lakes.

Even if you miss the spawning runs, you can still have fun fishing for schooling white bass in many Oklahoma lakes and reservoirs, Bolton said. All you have to do is watch and wait for a big school to start chasing shad on the surface. If you can get to them in time, you can catch them non-stop until the school sounds.

“The white bass is Oklahoma’s state fish for a reason,” Bolton said. “They inhabit lakes, rivers and streams statewide, and they fight like there’s no tomorrow. Best of all, they’re fairly easy to catch with a variety of lures and tackle. When they’re biting, there’s nothing like it.”

In addition to schooling fish, you can also catch white bass around islands, off flats and windy points and under bluffs in the summertime with standard bass tackle, like crankbaits, spoons and small spinners.

Those are just a few of the fishing opportunities awaiting you in Oklahoma over the next few months. Try one, or try them all. Chances are, you’ll come back for more.

To find out where your favorite fish are biting, you can receive the Department's weekly fishing report by e-mail. To subscribe, visit the Department's official website at Click on the link, "Wildlife Information," and then follow the instructions. You'll receive up-to-date fishing reports and the Department's latest news every Thursday.

Aquatic Education teaches fishing and more

While recognizing the importance of fishing in Oklahoma during National Fishing Week, it’s also appropriate to recognize the importance of Oklahoma’s aquatic resources.

That’s the mission of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Aquatic Resources Education Program (AREP). The program is conducted almost entirely by 384 volunteers who teach both youngsters and adults basic fishing skills while educating them about the many facets of Oklahoma’s aquatic resources.

Through free fishing clinics, AREP volunteers also inform people about the importance of good water quality, as well as about our state’s aquatic plant and fish communities, said Damon Springer, the Department’s Aquatic Education coordinator.

“Fishing is a very important part of life in Oklahoma, but it’s also important for people to know how other activities affect their favorite fishing waters,” Springer said. “In a sense, every person, whether they fish or not, is connected to Oklahoma’s aquatic resources, and the Department’s Aquatic Education Program is a very effective tool for enhancing and creating awareness about these resources.”

In 1999, the Aquatic Education Program conducted 180 youth fishing clinics across the state in which volunteers provided personal, hands-on instruction to nearly 18,000 children and young adults. Because of its close interaction with the public, especially urban youths, the Aquatic Education Program represents one of the Department’s most visible and effective outreach efforts.

To volunteer for to help teach Oklahoma youngsters or for more information about the program, contact Damon Springer at (405) 521-4603.

Tahlequah landowner receives national award

Veraman Davis of Tahlequah, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's 1999 Landowner of the Year, recently received national recognition for his outstanding contributions to wildlife.

As a landowner who emphasizes wildlife conservation in his land management strategy, Davis received the prestigious, National Award for Agricultural Landowners for Fish and Wildlife Conservation. The award is a joint honor bestowed by the International Association of Wildlife Agencies, The American Farm Bureau Federation, the Wildlife Management Institute, the Wildlife Society and the American Fisheries Society. Davis received the award recently at the annual Director's Meeting of the International Association of Wildlife Agencies in Chicago.

Davis is the first Oklahoman ever to receive the award.

The award is especially significant heightened awareness for the needs of wildlife by private landowners, which benefits both game and non-game wildlife resources, said John Hendrix, private lands biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

"Nearly 95 percent of Oklahoma's land area is privately owned, and this award highlights the fact that landowners like Mr. Davis can provide for the needs of wildlife while operating a highly successful agricultural operation," Hendrix said. "Their efforts make it possible for Oklahomans to enjoy the diversity and abundance of wildlife that we have today."

Davis owns about 4,500 acres in the Ozark foothills near Tahlequah. He reserves about half of his property for wildlife management practices and uses the remainder for agricultural production. Davis incorporates a rotational grazing program, which encourages nesting cover and food resources for wildlife. He also plants and maintains food plots to attract wildlife to his property, and provides supplemental wildlife food resources during stress periods if needed, Hendrix said.

In addition, Davis incorporates selective timber harvest to create additional food resources for wildlife. Rather than use so-called, "clean" farming practices, Davis allows fence lines to grow up with shrubs and brush to provide shelter for small game and other wildlife.

Davis also maintains 30 ponds on his property which he stocked with various fish species through the Department's fish stocking program. These ponds contain islands, standing timber and submerged structures to provide habitat for both fish and wildlife, especially wood ducks.

Also, Davis reserves about 1,000 acres for three wildlife refuges in which he allows no human activity . He balances deer and turkey populations with regulated hunting. His land is also enrolled in the Department's Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP) and the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP).

Online applications a major success

Although the Internet won't improve your chances for drawing a permit for the 2000-2001 Controlled Hunts, it certainly did make it easier to apply.

At the end of the application period, which ended at midnight on May 5, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation received nearly 24,000 Controlled Hunts applications over the Internet, said Nels Rodefeld, assistant chief for the Department's information & Education Division. Based on the average annual number of applications, this will probably amount to about 45 percent of this year's total.

Among the advantages to applying online, Rodefeld added, are convenience, accuracy and the peace of mind from knowing that your applications wouldn't be rejected. The computer only accepted applications that were completely filled out, and it alerted applicants if they left something blank.

"We knew the electronic applications would be a very popular service, and we're extremely pleased that it has simplified the applications process not only for our constituents, but also for the Department, Rodefeld said. "We anticipate that this system will streamline the application process even further in the future, but in the meantime, we will be looking for ways to make it even better."

In addition to the Controlled Hunts applications, the Department also uses the Internet to provide the latest wildlife news, fishing reports and other information of interest to Oklahoma's hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts. To experience wildlife conservation in Oklahoma, visit us at

Registration begins for summer bat events

On the outskirts of Freedom, in the far northwest corner of the state, a spiraling smoke plume rises from the distance on hot summer evenings.

Upon further investigation, observers realize that the smoke contains individual specks rising high into the sky. Farmers and ranchers don't worry much about this smoke trail, however, because they know it leads back to the Selman Bat Cave, a cave filled with 1 million Mexican free-tailed bats! Although local residents have enjoyed seeing this wondrous spectacle for decades, it hasn't been open to the public until recently.

"The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation 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 agency. "For the past three summers, the Department's Wildlife Diversity Program has conducted the Selman Bat Watches 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!"

This summer, the Wildlife Diversity Program will offer 10 evening bat watches on Fridays and Saturdays from July 7 to August 5. Pre-registration is required, and walk-ups will not be allowed to attend. Admission is $5 for children between ages 3-12, and $8 for adults.

In addition, the Wildlife Diversity Program will offer two separate "Nature at Night" evenings, which will take place 7 p.m.-midnight Saturday, June 24 and Saturday, August 12. After watching the evening's bat emergence, participants will explore the sand sage prairie after sundown. Professional biologists and volunteers will demonstrate how to observe wildlife at night by identifying wildlife tracks and night sounds. Astronomy activities will also be held, weather permitting. These evenings are limited to 20 adults (18 and up) and cost $18 per person.

The Selman Bat Watches are made possible through the efforts of the Selman Bat Cave Volunteers, Alabaster Caverns State Park, Freedom Public Schools and the James Selman Ranch.

Attention MEDIA: If you wish to attend a Media Day for the Selman Bat Watches, please contact Melynda Hickman at 405/521-4616.

For Immediate Release

May 18, 2000 Wildlife News

A Service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

News Contact - Bryan Hendricks, 405/522-1857


EDITORS: The following four articles are embargoed for publication until Sunday May 21.


21st Century Deer   Stakeholder Committee

Committee Recommends Bold Steps to Manage State's Deer Herd

Several key elements not finalized - committee's work to continue

A group of 32 key natural resource opinion leaders met May 9-11 in Oklahoma City to provide recommendations on how to better manage the state's growing deer herd. The meeting was another step in an ongoing process that the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is using to gain consensus on deer herd management and hunting regulation changes.

The committee represented every major group with an interest in deer management - from landowners and agriculture organizations like Farm Bureau, Farmer's Union and Oklahoma Cattleman's Association, to media representatives, to hunter organizations such as the Quality Deer Management Association, to state wildlife professionals including biologists and game wardens. Recommended changes will be presented to the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Wildlife Department's governing board, at an upcoming Wildlife Commission meeting. Commissioners can implement all, part, or none of the plan, but have expressed their support for involving stakeholders in the process of formulating deer management recommendations. Some recommendations may require legislative action, and some of the strategies will require additional Wildlife Department funding.

Before arriving at specific management recommendations, the committee adopted the following mission statement: Manage Oklahoma's deer herd for both quality and quantity to provide a healthy deer herd, managed specifically by habitat zones through education of both landowners and hunters.

In support of achieving this mission, the committee recommended the following five steps be taken:

Step 1: Rezoning. The group recommended a subcommittee of ODWC district law enforcement chiefs and regional wildlife supervisors create new deer management zones based on habitat types and social considerations.

Step 2: Maximize Doe Hunting Opportunity. Options to consider to maximize doe harvest include increasing the aggregate bag limit on does; allowing hunters to take two does during the primitive firearms and modern gun seasons; improving the Sportsmen Against Hunger program; establishing a January doe-only archery season; establishing three-day doe-only management gun hunts.

Step 3: Reduce Buck Aggregate Limit from Three To Two. While the committee believes there is a problem with the overharvest of young bucks, one that is especially acute in northern-tier counties, the committee's majority recommendation was to implement this strategy to balance the harvest and improve herd health.

Step 4: Address Landowner Concerns. Work to reform liability, trespass and posting laws. Other key strategies recommended allowing hunting leaseholders to prosecute trespassers; reforming poaching laws to provide for stiffer penalties; implementing a walk-in hunting program to provide additional acres of hunting opportunity; and create a landowner advisory board for each deer management zone.

Step 5: Increased Education and Communication. Strategies under this step include distributing information through all Wildlife Department channels such as the hunting regulations, website, etc; implementing cooperative efforts to disseminate information on deer management between the Department and state agricultural publications; expanding landowner technical assistance offered by the Department; expanding Operation Game Thief; and creating a jointly-supported deer management website.

One of the significant issues that was discussed but did not make the committee's final recommendations was increasing the deer gun season to 16 days. Consensus sentiment among committee members was that hunters first be provided the maximum opportunity for doe harvest within the current framework without increasing the number of days in the current deer gun season.

For example, hunters in northwest Oklahoma will be able this fall to harvest a doe any day during both the primitive firearms and modern gun seasons, but those hunting in most counties south of I-40 currently only will be allowed six days of muzzleloader doe hunting and two days during the modern firearms season. Furthermore, a 16-day season would be counterproductive to shifting harvest pressure from bucks to does, unless antlerless opportunities were increased accordingly.

"Overall I think we were all a little surprised at how much agreement there was among committee members on most of the issues," said Mike McCormick, executive editor of The Shawnee News Star and chairman of the 21st Century Deer Stakeholders Committee. "Obviously, a number of the strategies for each of these five key steps will need to be more thoroughly evaluated and given further consideration. One of the committee's first recommendations was that we stay intact and stay active. We recognized that as the plan is implemented, there will need to be some flexibility to make adjustments as the plan's accomplishments come to light."

McCormick said the group has set up several subcommittee's which will convene this summer to begin work on areas that will help support the plan once it is implemented. He added that most committee members hope to attend the Wildlife Commission meeting when the recommendations will be presented, which will happen later this summer.

The committee's consensus recommendation was that plan changes go into effect for the fall 2001 hunting seasons, although the Commission may choose to implement portions of the plan earlier.

"Two challenges kept resurfacing throughout our deliberations," said McCormick. "The Department lacks adequate funding to implement all plan recommendations, and we also recognize that there will be people who do not agree with all aspects of the plan and want to challenge its implementation.

"On those issues, the committee hopes to convince the Legislature to make Wildlife Department funding a priority, and we will strive to help overcome any roadblocks to the successful conclusion of this process."


21st Century Deer Stakeholders Committee Members

Mike McCormick, Chairman, Shawnee Alan Peoples, Oklahoma City

Bill Starry, McAlester John Hendrix, Stillwater

Pat Giulioli, Okmulgee Robert Guinn, Skiatook

Don Latham, Atoka Rodger Brook, Oklahoma City

Buck Jones, Comanche Ken Meyer, Yukon

Charles Sloan, Vian Wade Free, Sharon

Jerry Ragland, Broken Bow Michael Shaw, Oklahoma City

Mitch Ray, Guthrie Todd Tobey, McAlester

Ron Comer, Calumet John Paul Miller, Arnett

Marla Peek, Oklahoma City Bill Dinkines, McAlester

Bill Reed, Geary Rick Shelby, Webbers Falls

Mason Mungle, Oklahoma City Jim Dougherty, Tulsa

Lance Meek, Oklahoma City Max Crocker, Hooker

Darren DeLong, Oklahoma City Trent Hodgins, Holdenville

Scott Dewald, Oklahoma City Grant Huggins, Ardmore

George Hulsey, Norman Pat Clark, Mooreland

Participative Management: Calling All Stakeholders

Earlier this year, mounting pressure to control the state's deer herd, along with increased interest in not only longer and more generous seasons but also in a healthier, better balanced herd, led the Department to initiate a strategic planning process for deer management.

The Department held a series of stakeholder meetings held in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Lawton, McAlester and Woodward. The meetings were designed to elicit information from people interested in managing the state's deer herd. Parties represented included private landowners, ranchers, farmers, sportsman's 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, chief of the Department's Wildlife Division. "Essentially, we asked everyone with an interest in deer populations and deer hunting to identify the issues. 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."

Equipped with such a diverse bank of public input, the Department then formed a steering committee composed of individuals representing the interests of the various stakeholders and regions of the state. To ensure that the program is biologically sound, the core group contained biologists and other personnel from the Wildlife Department.

Although the committee has made a number of specific recommendations, the group will continue to meet and address future deer management issues. Additionally, some key current recommendations must be finalized, work that will happen in the coming months.


White-tailed Deer Timeline in Oklahoma

1900 - Market/subsistence hunting and unregulated harvest eliminate nearly all deer from the state.

1917 - Total statewide deer population estimated at 500 animals. Legislature bans deer harvest.

1933 - First regulated deer season (5 days) is held. Hunt is restricted to seven southeast counties and results in the harvest of 235 bucks.

1943 - Deer restoration program started with the trap and transplant of 22 deer.

1946 - First archery season (1 day) held. No deer harvested.

1949 - Fourth archery season (5 days) results in the 1st buck taken by bow and arrow during a regulated season.

1954 - First statewide gun deer season (5 days) results in harvest of 1,487 bucks.

1969 - First primitive firearms season (3 days) held. Hunt restricted to part of LeFlore County. Two deer harvested.

1970 - Statewide 16-day deer gun season. Total harvest of 6,882 bucks.

1972 -Nine-day deer gun season with all open counties and special two-day antlerless season. Total harvest 7,670 deer.

1976 - Department begins broadscale antlerless harvest in 19 counties by issuing antlerless permits by special drawing. Total harvest 11,548 26 percent does.

1982 - Antlerless permit system deemed unpopular due to perceived inequities, and replaced by antlerless days available to all hunters. Total harvest 19, 255 23 percent does.

1990 - Statewide deer population estimated at 250,000 deer. Total harvest 44,070 deer 24 percent does.

1999 - Statewide deer population estimated at 425,000 deer. Total harvest yields 82,500 deer 36 percent does.

2000 - Deer population levels spawn a multitude of stakeholder desires and management possibilities.

Department celebrates Oklahoma Aquarium

On May 12, a groundbreaking ceremony in Jenks officially opened construction for the new, $15 million Oklahoma Aquarium.

In addition, the ceremony also opened a new era for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in northeast Oklahoma, which will relocate its Tulsa-area offices to the Oklahoma Aquarium complex.

Although the Oklahoma Aquarium won’t officially open until 2002, the Department's offices will open next year. The new location should increase the Department’s visibility in the region while making the Department and its services more accessible to a broader cross section of citizens, said Colin Berg, the Department’s education supervisor.

“We have enjoyed a long and productive partnership with the Tulsa Fairgrounds, and we have greatly appreciated their support over the years,” Berg said. “However, we are excited about the new outreach opportunities that will be available to us at the Oklahoma Aquarium. Our association with this fine new facility will allow us to continue providing a high level of personal service to our constituents in the northeast while also providing us greater opportunities to educate the public about Oklahoma’s aquatic resources.”

When completed, the Oklahoma Aquarium will cover 62,000 square feet. It will contain 200 exhibits and a 500,000-gallon tank which will house a variety of fish. The aquarium will also showcase Oklahoma’s 240 native fish species in exhibits depicting their native environments. Sport fishing and regional aquatic habitats will also get special attention, Berg said.

To complement its recreational appeal, the aquarium will also have five “wet labs” where students can conduct freshwater and marine experiments. As a whole, the aquarium will function as a learning laboratory for students of all ages, Berg added.

“That’s one of the biggest advantages to locating the Department’s offices at the Oklahoma Aquarium,” Berg explained. “There will be a constant flow of students, school groups, tourists and other visitors through the facility who may not be aware of the Department’s role in managing Oklahoma’s aquatic resources. Greater exposure to the Department, its employees and programs will enhance public awareness about the Department’s mission in managing and conserving those resource.”

Along with the natural exhibits, the Oklahoma Aquarium will also display an historic collection of antique lures and tackle assembled by Oklahoma native Karl White. The multi-million dollar collection is one of the most complete and comprehensive collections of vintage fishing gear in existence.


Scholarship honors former director Copelin

Farrell Copelin, former director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, passed away recently due to complications from surgery.

To honor Copelin’s dedication to wildlife conservation, the Copelin family has established the Farrell Copelin Memorial Scholarship for deserving students in wildlife ecology at Oklahoma State University.

Copelin served as director from 1969-72. Before his tenure as director, he spent more than two years working on lesser prairie chicken research, and his master’s thesis on lesser prairie chickens, published in the mid-1950s, is still considered a landmark document on the management and conservation of the species. Copelin also spent two years as the Department’s migratory bird supervisor. He became Assistant to the Director in Charge of Federal Relations in 1962.

After leaving the Wildlife Department, Copelin enjoyed a lengthy career with Ducks Unlimited, as well as with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Farrell grew up with a passion for wildlife,” said Ed Copelin, Farrell’s younger brother. “He determined early in his life that he wanted to work in that field. He firmly believed that wildlife conservation was important to the quality of life in Oklahoma, and he dedicated a lot of time and energy contributing to the conservation of Oklahoma’s wildlife resources.”

To contribute to the Farrell Copelin Memorial Scholarship, send donations to the OSU Foundation, ATTN: Farrell Copelin Memorial Scholarship, 100H Student Union, Stillwater, OK 74078.

“The value of the scholarship depends entirely on donations,” Ed Copelin said. “We hope it will continue in perpetuity, and hopefully it’ll be something a student can live on.”

For more information about the scholarship, call Ed Copelin at 405/364-7011.

Department funding bill stalls in Legislature

For the second straight year, a key bill designed to direct additional funding to the state agency responsible for managing fish and wildlife resources has died in a House/Senate conference committee.

Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say the lack of funding won’t affect essential operations, but it has already impacted the agency’s day-to-day workings.

House Bill 1717, originally introduced by Dale Smith (D-St. Louis), chairman of the House Wildlife Committee, would have directed about $2 million a year of state sales tax money already being collected on hunting, fishing and wildlife watching equipment to the Wildlife Department. Currently, the Department receives no general state tax revenues and is funded primarily through hunting and fishing license sales and a special federal tax on sporting equipment.

The last funding increase for the Wildlife Department occurred in 1994 and was only projected to provide the Department with sufficient income until mid-1997. Through wise spending and sound financial management, the agency has stretched that license fee increase much further than expected. Several year’s worth of across-the-board budget cuts and an agency-wide reduction in personnel through retirements and other vacancies have brought the agency to a critical juncture - secure additional funding or look at more reductions of services in the future. Current casualties resulting from the funding crunch include imposing mileage limitations on game warden patrols, putting a potential hunting and fishing access program on hold and not budgeting funds for capital improvements to fish hatcheries, offices and other Department installations.

“We do not believe a license fee increase is the best long-term answer to adequately resolving our funding needs,” said Greg Duffy, Wildlife Department director. “More than one-third of state residents hunt or fish, and almost just as many enjoy wildlife watching in one form or another. Combined, these outdoor enthusiasts spend about $1.3 billion in the state, generating almost $40 million in sales tax revenues and creating some 34,000 jobs. We believe that there is broad-based support for dedicating a portion of these sales tax receipts to improving the management of our resources.”

Duffy added that last year Rep. Smith introduced similar legislation that would have directed up to $6 million a year from state sales taxes paid on sporting goods, but that like HB 1717, that legislation also died in a conference committee.

Although HB 1717 got off to a strong start this session, passing the House with overwhelming support, it was rewritten in a Senate subcommittee. The Senate version, which was almost unanimously approved by the Senate, called for a sales tax increase of one-half of one percent on hunting, fishing and wildlife watching equipment and auxiliary equipment. These additional sales tax revenues, estimated at around $2-3 million, would have been earmarked for the Wildlife Department.

“I am disappointed that my original funding bill was altered in the Senate to include a tax increase on sporting goods because now it appears that the Wildlife Department will again be forced to wait another year for much needed funding,” said Smith. “My intent was to fund the Department by reallocating some of the sales tax dollars already being paid by hunters and fisherman. This wouldn’t require a new tax, and it wouldn’t result in a license fee increase. I hope we can raise awareness of the Department’s current funding needs and provide an adequate solution during next year’s session.”

Representatives Curt Roggow (R-Enid), Susan Clark Winchester (R-Chickasha) and Wayne Pettigrew (R-Edmond), and Senator Frank Shurden (D-Henryetta) co-authored HB 1717. Shurden also co-authored last year’s funding initiate, Senate Bill 199.

“I’m disappointed we couldn’t get HB 1717 worked out in conference committee, because I think we could have worked that bill out to get the funds needed to get some new revenues to give the Department’s field personnel a pay raise,” said Sen. Frank Shurden. “We will study this issue this summer and fall, and sportsmen will be a big key. If they get behind this and let their legislators know they’re for it, I think we can get it done.”

Smith said that the funding mechanism, or mechanisms, will require further discussion because the two houses of the Legislature have been unable to reach agreement.

“I ran a roll check in the House of Representatives on the Senate amendment of HB 1717 and there was little support to pass the bill as amended,” Smith said. “The problem is that the House passed reallocating the sales tax money, but that would not pass in the Senate, and the sales tax increase on sporting goods that was passed in the Senate would not pass in the House. I have asked the Speaker for a study that will include people from the Governor’s Office, the Senate, the House, the Tax Commission and the Office of State Finance. It is my hope that this diverse group can help set up a comprehensive plan that will adequately fund the Wildlife Department.”

Smith added that whatever mechanisms are recommended, they should be able to adequately fund the Wildlife Department to allow the agency to address salaries for all employees, as well as update equipment, improve existing programs and establish new ones that will provide additional services to the people of the state.

Department tours valuable wetland areas

When you think of McCurtain County, you think of broad mountain vistas, deep hollows, tumbling creeks and vast tracts of pine and hardwood forests.

In the extreme southern part of the county, however, there’s no trace of mountains anywhere. This is the swamp country of the Red River Valley, with landscapes more similar to the Mississippi Delta region of northeast Louisiana and southeast Arkansas than those traditional associated with Oklahoma.

These lowlands also contain some of Oklahoma’s richest and most diverse wildlife communities, providing habitat for many species of waterfowl, shorebirds, amphibians and a myriad other species.

To promote public awareness of these areas, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation joined several state, federal and private conservation organizations Wednesday to tour the Red Slough and Grassy Slough wetland reclamation projects near Idabel. Together, these areas comprise nearly 8,500 acres of prime bottomland wildlife habitat, said Alan Peoples, chief of the Department’s Wildlife Division, expanding a chain of bottomland habitat that includes such areas as the Little River National Wildlife Refuge.

“Many people are surprised to learn that Oklahoma ranks among the top 10 states in terms of total acres enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program,” Peoples said. “Oklahoma currently has 102 active WRP projects encompassing more than 29,000 acres. When you consider that more than 80 percent of the nation’s wetlands have been lost over the last 100 years, there’s no way to overstate the importance of these areas. That’s why it’s such an honor to conserve such high-quality areas as Red Slough and Grassy Slough. They are assets that our state can be proud of.”

Acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in 1997, Red Slough WMA contains 7,300 acres. Most of the area was once used as a rice farm, and it is famous for the large numbers of waterfowl that visit during the fall migration. Nearly 4,200 acres of wetlands have been restored and have recently attracted several species that are not normally seen in Oklahoma, including the roseate spoonbill and wood ibis.

Grassy Slough WMA contains about 1,100 acres. Its centerpiece is a 130-acre wetland complex, as well as an extensive buffer area. In addition to providing wildlife habitat, both areas will also offer public access, including superb public hunting opportunities.

Cooperating partners in the projects are the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited, NatureWorks, the Conservation Fund and several conservation districts.

Hunter Ed instructor honored nationally

Thanks to the efforts of volunteer hunter education instructors like Vickie Southard of Tuttle, Oklahoma hunters are among the safest in the nation.

As a tribute to her efforts, Southard recently placed third nationally in the 13th annual Hunter Education Volunteer Instructor of the Year competition sponsored by Winchester Ammunition.

“Oklahoma traditionally has one of the nation’s lowest rates for hunting accidents, and that’s something we’re very proud of,” said J.D. Peer, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “A major reason for that is the excellent instruction that young hunters receive from dedicated volunteers like Vickie Southard. She devotes countless hours to educating Oklahoma’s hunters, and the results of her work are obvious in our excellent hunter safety statistics.”

In 1999, Southard taught 18 hunter education classes and certified 420 hunters. She taught most of her classes at H&H Gun Range in Oklahoma City. She also organized several special classes, including some especially for women. Furthermore, she was instrumental in developing the Oklahoma Sensory Safari. Offered cooperatively by the Wildlife Department, H&H Gun Range, the Oklahoma Station of Safari Club International and Crossroads Mall, the Oklahoma Sensory Safari employs taxidermy mounts to give sightless children contact with various wildlife species.

Additionally, she established a permanent sign listing a regular monthly schedule of hunter education classes. More than 117,000 cars per day pass the site, providing constant advertisement for hunter education.

Along with the Winchester Ammunition award, Southard has also received a Governor’s Commendation for her untiring efforts and dedicated contributions in promoting the wonderful heritage of the shooting sports and to the betterment of the people of Oklahoma. She also received the President’s Award for outstanding commitment to the shooting industry.

“Not only is the award good for me, but it’s also good recognition for our state and for the Wildlife Department’s Hunter Education program,” Southard said. “I’ve always said that education is the key to safety, and I firmly believe that education is the most effective tool to eliminate hunting accidents.”

Southard is a member of the National Rifle Association and an advisor for two Boy Scouts Explorer Posts, one of which is a Junior Olympics Shooting Club.

Get started now For lifetime of fishing

If you're looking for the perfect opportunity to introduce a youngster or non-angler to the sport of fishing, then the weekend of June 3-4 is an excellent time to take them to your favorite fishing hole.

Why? Because June 3-4 have been designated as this year's Free Fishing Days in Oklahoma. During that time, anyone can fish without having to purchase a fishing license.

According to the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), more than 90 percent of today’s anglers started fishing before they turned 18.

Furthermore, research says that if a boy or girl isn’t introduced to fishing by the time he or she is 13, chances are they will never take up the sport.

As people continue to move to the cities, and with so many activities competing for our free time, the opportunity to introduce youngsters to fishing gets increasingly difficult. Therefore, many youngsters don't have the opportunity to participate in a sport that offers a lifetime of fun that can impart and enhance the values of sportsmanship, responsibility, relaxation, patience and concern for the outdoors.

In his 1988 book, An Outdoor Journal, former president Jimmy Carter wrote, “The most vivid and pleasant memories of my childhood are of those times when Daddy and I were able to fish and hunt together, or ride along in a pickup truck talking about it.”

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Aquatic Resources Education Program annually teaches more than 16,000 kids the sport of fishing, said Damon Springer, Aquatic Resources Education coordinator for the Wildlife Department. Through this popular program, Department employees and volunteers teach youngsters the basics of fishing, such as knot tying, fish identification and casting skills, as well as aquatic resources conservation.

“Many kids who were exposed to fishing through the Aquatic Resources Education Program have developed a genuine love of fishing that will last a lifetime,” Springer said. “Even if participants in the program don’t become avid anglers, the things we teach them give them a greater understanding of the aquatic world and the needs of our state’s aquatic resources, which in turn gives them a better understanding of the world around them.”

If you have or know of a child that you would like to introduce to the

sport, Springer offers the following tips:

Have fun. Don’t worry too much about technique. Share the proper, safe way to cast a rod and reel. Save the fancy stuff for later.

Keep it simple. You don’t need fancy equipment. You don’t need a boat. Fishing from a dock or shore will do just fine.

Use reliable equipment. Good fishing equipment is important to ensure everyone has a successful trip. If you are going to buy a rod and reel for a child, spend a little extra for a quality spin-cast rig (good equipment costs only about $20). The little “cartoon character” rods are more frustrating for both you and the child in the long run.

Keep it short. Kids have short attention spans, so don’t force a child to fish for hours. Sometimes a child will be happy fishing for 15 minutes and then playing with the worms for an hour.

Quick success. With youngsters, a little success early on will hook them for a lifetime. Find a spot where you are sure to catch fish. Remember, kids don’t care about size or species, but they do like to catch fish, even little ones.

Use live bait. Leave the expensive lures at home. Hooks and bobbers are a kid’s best bet. Sometimes digging for earthworms in the garden or catching grasshoppers or crickets can be the most fun in a child’s outing.

Don't intimidate. If a child catches a fish, don’t force him or her to take it off the hook, or to touch the fish. Do it for them.

Safety first. The most important thing you can teach a kid on his or her first outing is the importance of safety. Water needs to be respected. Wear life jackets. Make sure no one or thing is in the way to be hooked when casting.

Time is precious. Spending time with your child is the most important part of a child's fishing trip. Your time is the most valuable possession to a child.

For more information about the Department’s Aquatic Resources Education program or for information on volunteering, call Damon Springer at (405) 521-4603.

Texoma white bass not in danger

After investigating a die-off of white bass at Lake Texoma, fisheries personnel with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife have concluded that the lake’s white bass population is not in danger of large-scale losses.

Dying white bass were first noted in the Big Mineral arm of the lake on May 16, said Paul Mauck, the Department’s south-central region fisheries supervisor. They examined the Red and Washita River arms the following week and found specimens along shorelines and floating on the lake surface.

“The fish we collected exhibited poor body condition caused by the overall stress of spawning activity and poor food availability, ” Mauck said. “We also found an incidence of several types of bacteria and other protozoans that are typically present in lakes, streams and ponds which we believe were secondary causes. The weakened conditions of the fish affected their abilities to fight off the pathogens.”

The incidence of dying fish at the present time appears to be declining and is hopefully on the end of the cycle,” Mauck added.

“We also collected healthy fish in good condition which did not exhibit any signs of the disease,” Mauck continued. “White bass in reservoirs across the country have been subjected to similar causes. It is nature’s way of thinning the population and leaving the strongest to survive.”