Commission approves conservation order

At its regular January meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to approve a federal conservation order to reduce North American light goose populations.

The conservation order will allow hunters to harvest light geese, which includes snow geese and Ross’ geese, until March 31. There will be no harvest limit or possession limit. Hunters will be allowed to use unplugged shotguns and electronic calls. Legal shooting hours will begin 30 minutes before legal sunrise and will end 30 minutes after legal sunset.

The conservation order will take effect immediately after the close of the regular dark goose season and will end Mar. 31. Hunters who participate in the conservation order are asked to provide the Department with their name and address as a way to survey the success of the action.

The conservation order is necessary, said Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, because light geese have become so overpopulated that they pose a serious threat not only to themselves, but also to their breeding habitat and neighboring wildlife and plant species.

“There are about 2.5 million light geese in North America,” Peoples said. “The administrative order, which was issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, allows the states greater flexibility in reducing those numbers. This is critical because the geese have ruined roughly one-third of the tundra in their breeding grounds around Hudson Bay in Canada. The damage is irreversible in our lifetimes, and this has put other wildlife that share that habitat, including some endangered species, at extreme risk.”

In other business, the Commission joined the National Wild Turkey Federation in honoring Wesley Webb, the Department’s District 7 Law Enforcement chief, as the NWTF’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for Oklahoma.

The NWTF awards similar honors to game wardens in all other states. From that pool of candidates, the NWTF then selects a national Officer of the Year.

In a land-related matter, the Commission entertained a lengthy debate before voting to grant conditional approval for adding 900 acres in McCurtain County to the Little River National Wildlife Refuge. The Commission tabled the issue at its December meeting to give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife an opportunity to revise certain regulations that were perceived to restrict hunting activities on the area. The USFWS submitted revised regulations at the January meeting. The USFWS will finalize its guidelines for hunting and fishing at Oklahoma refuges. If the Commission accepts those guidelines at its February meeting, the USFWS will be granted final approval to purchase the 900 acres. The motion to approve the conditional transfer passed, 5-3.

In addition, the Commission accepted a check for $300 from Sue Robins, executive director of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce. The money will be used to help the Department manage the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area.

In his monthly computer system update, Robert Taylor, the Department’s fiscal coordinator, reported that, after months of preparations, the Department’s computer system experienced no Y2K compatibility problems.

In related business, the Commission listened to a presentation by Carlos Johnson, a representative of KPMG, a private firm that recently audited the Department’s finances. The Department’s retirement plan is 96-percent funded, which is very strong, Johnson said. He also said the Department’s funds are adequately balanced and are consistent with those of other state agencies.

The Commission will hold its next meeting Feb. 7 at 9 a.m. at the Department’s headquarters in Oklahoma City.

Department looking at quail program

For the last few years, both hunters and wildlife managers have noticed that Oklahoma’s quail have experienced a “bust” similar to the one experienced by the oil industry in the 1980s.

Like oil, quail hunting is an integral part of life in Oklahoma, and when times are bad, it affects everyone. Needless to say, everyone has ideas they think will improve our state’s quail problems. Sentiments among quail hunters range from reducing the daily bag limit to restricting hunting to three days a week. Some even advocate closing quail season altogether. The fact is, however, that there no easy solutions.

Many factors, both natural and man-made, influenced quail populations, including weather, rainfall and temperature, said Alan Peoples, chief of the Department’s Wildlife Division. Oklahoma has experienced record-long warm spells this year, he added, as well as record drought and ever-changing land use patterns. All of those factors affect quail populations and hunter success.

“There’s no doubt that the type of weather anomalies we’ve experienced the last couple of years have had a definite impact on the success of quail hunters,” Peoples said, “but we don’t feel those factors are sufficient reason to jump to hasty and inappropriate actions and conclusions.

There is no doubt that the quail decline in Oklahoma is real. Over the last two years, the spring and fall roadside bobwhite quail surveys conducted by the ODWC indicate that quail populations were well below peak levels. Likewise, the roadside quail surveys have traditionally been fairly reliable indicators for hunter success in the upcoming season. So far, those numbers have been reflected in the low hunter success rates reported by Oklahoma hunters.

However, biologists for the Wildlife Department are not waiting for natural cycles alone to replenish quail populations. Instead, they will be looking for ways to improve the state’s quail populations through a variety of management, habitat and regulatory options.

“We know action must be taken, and we are going to start by taking a close look at our quail management program, as well as our survey methods for estimating quail populations,” Peoples said. “There is absolutely no one more committed to improving our quail situation than our agency’s biologists.”

Over the next few months, the Department will thoroughly review its quail program to identify any special needs that would improve the Department’s ability to conduct quail research and management. The purpose of these efforts, Peoples said, is to improve Oklahoma’s quail populations, which ultimately benefit both the resource and the state’s sportsmen.

“While the Department acknowledges there are some significant problems facing Oklahoma’s quail, we also realize that 98 percent of Oklahoma’s land mass is privately owned,” Peoples said. “Most of Oklahoma’s quail habitat, and therefore, most of Oklahoma’s quail, are on private land, so we will continue to look for ways to emphasize quail management on private land. For the benefit of Oklahoma’s quail, we hope to expand our partnership with our state’s private landowners.”

In addition, the Department will continue to examine various regulatory options, such as season dates and daily bag limits.

Deadline approaching for auction hunts

Sportsmen wanting to bid on the four action hunts offered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation should remember that the bid deadline is Jan. 31.

In 1998, the Oklahoma Legislature authorized the Department to auction as many as five permits a year for special hunts outside the regular Controlled Hunts drawing. Money raised through the special auction hunts will receive matching federal funds, all of which will be used for wildlife conservation projects in Oklahoma.

In 2000, bids will be taken for one elk hunt at Cookson Hills Wildlife Management Area, a modern firearms deer hunt at McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, a spring turkey hunt at the Osage-Western Wall Wildlife Management Area and a quail hunt for two people at the Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area.

“These auction hunts provide every Oklahoman an opportunity to participate in a very special hunting experience that wouldn’t otherwise be available,” said Alan Peoples, chief of the Department’s Wildlife Division. “The revenues generated through these hunts are used to enhance wildlife habitat throughout the state to improve public hunting opportunities for all Oklahomans.”

These auction hunts create four new hunting opportunities in addition to more than 4,000 hunting permits available annually to all Oklahomans through the free Controlled Hunts drawing, Peoples said. They are not subtracted from the number of opportunities offered through the Controlled Hunts, and any legal hunter may bid on the hunts. Like any other hunting situation, participants are not guaranteed success.

In 1999, the Department offered two hunts; an elk hunt at Cookson Hills WMA and a spring turkey hunt on the McCurtain County Wilderness Area.

Sealed bids must be submitted by mail to the Department no later than Jan. 31, 2000. For more information, call the Department’s Wildlife Division at 405/521-2730 or visit the Department’s website at www.state.ok.us~odwc.


Deer totals point to new record

True to expectations, Oklahoma deer hunters appear to be on course to set another all-time harvest record this year.

After tallying harvest totals from both muzzleloader and gun deer seasons, along with the early and late archery seasons, personnel from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation recorded a preliminary harvest total 76,322 deer. That number does not include deer recorded in personnel books, deer taken on land enrolled in the Deer Management Assistance Program, nor those harvested during the 1999 Controlled Hunts.

Last year, the preliminary total at the end of the regular deer seasons was 73,258, said Mike Shaw, the Department's wildlife research supervisor, and late entries boosted the total to the final figure of 80,008. Based on last year's numbers, Shaw projected this year's final harvest at about 82,250.

"We witnessed a fairly sizable increase in the harvest, but I'm disappointed that the biggest increase has been in the buck harvest," Shaw said. "Obviously, that's an issue of ongoing concern, but it's an issue that's going to gain importance unless something is done to correct it."

So far, Osage County yielded the highest preliminary harvest with 4,404, compared to a final tally of 4,185 last year. This year's preliminary total includes 3,072 bucks and 1,332 does.

Next in line was Cherokee County with 3,417 (2,038 bucks, 1,379 does). Cherokee Co. was also the 1998 runner-up with a final harvest of 3,332.

Osage and Cherokee were the only counties where hunters harvested at least 1,000 does. Craig Co. was third in that category with 998 does, followed by Sequoyah Co., with 886. Delaware Co., was fifth with 631. Overall, hunters took 25,099 does, accounting for 33 percent of the harvest.

Like last year, pleasant weather conditions during most of the gun and muzzleloader seasons contributed greatly to this year's success. Blackpowder hunters took 15,891 deer in 1999, compared to 12,538 in 1998. Bowhunters took 10,584 deer, including 4,454 does.

Webb receives NWTF award

From near extinction to today's record high populations, the resurgence of the wild turkey in Oklahoma is one of America's great conservation stories.

This remarkable recovery is the result of a special partnership between the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, private landowners and, of course, the National Wild Turkey Federation. Wild turkey restoration is now complete in Oklahoma, said Gary Purdy, regional director for the NWTF, and the Department's law enforcement officers deserve a great deal of credit for the program's success.

To honor the game wardens who have been so instrumental in national wild turkey recovery efforts, the NWTF recently established its inaugural Game Warden of the Year Award. Capt. Wesley Webb, the Department's District 1 Law Enforcement Chief, was named the first recipient of the award in Oklahoma at the regular January meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission in Oklahoma City.

"Nationwide, the wild turkey has rebounded from 30,000 birds in the early part of the 1900s to nearly 5 million," Purdy said. "Turkey populations have been restored throughout their traditional range, and they have even expanded into areas beyond their traditional range. Of course, much of this success is attributed to the dedication of individuals such as Capt. Wesley Webb, who personally trapped more than 3,000 turkeys that were relocated in other parts of the state. In one net drop in Greer County, he trapped 240 birds, which remains a record."

Also, Webb issued 230 turkey-related citations over a period of 31 years, including a number of roost-shooting cases. Roost shooting is illegal in Oklahoma.

In addition to his law enforcement duties and trap-and-transplant efforts, Webb has made other significant contributions, Purdy said. Several years ago, for example, a paper company attempted to purchase several large cottonwood groves from landowners in Greer County. The groves provide critical roosting habitat for turkeys, and Webb convinced the landowners to leave the trees intact.

Furthermore, Webb has been very instrumental in promoting turkey conservation by introducing many sportsmen to the art of turkey hunting.

"There's probably not any individual who has helped more first-time turkey hunters be successful than Wes Webb," said Greg Duffy, director for the Wildlife Department. "There's probably not a better public relations person for the Department, and we appreciate his efforts."

This year, the NWTF bestowed Game Warden of the Year honors on game wardens from each state. These officers form a pool of candidates from which a national Game Warden of the Year is chosen. The winner of that award will be announced at the NWTF national convention in Nashville, Tenn.

Give us your best shot!

If a camera is part of your sporting gear, here's a chance to publish your best shots in a magazine nationally-known for its outdoor photography.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation invites photographers to submit wildlife-related photographs for possible publication in the Readers' Showcase. The Readers' Showcase is featured annually in the July/August issue of Outdoor Oklahoma, the Department's award-winning, bi-monthly publication. The Readers' Showcase is one of Outdoor Oklahoma's most popular features, said Nels Rodefeld, Outdoor Oklahoma editor, and it gives readers an opportunity to share their unique photographic experiences with others.

"Great photography has long been a hallmark of Outdoor Oklahoma, and the Department is very proud of its magazine's reputation in that field," Rodefeld added. "Consequently, it has become quite an honor among many of our readers to have a photo appear in the Readers' Showcase.

"One thing we've discovered over the years is that Oklahoma has some outstanding photographers who have keen eyes for great outdoors images," Rodefeld said. "It's an honor to share those images with the rest of our readers."

With so many great photos to choose from, judging is the best and worst part of the contest, Rodefeld said.

"It's great to see all those fantastic photos, but it's tough picking the finalists," he explained. "I wish we could print them all, but space is limited."

There are no prizes given for photos published in the Readers' Showcase, only the satisfaction of knowing your photograph was of sufficient quality to be deemed, "Best of the best."

To enter, send no more than five original, 35-mm color slides to: Paul Moore, Photo Editor, Outdoor Oklahoma; Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, 1801 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73105.

Color prints, color negatives and large format transparencies cannot be considered. Make sure the photographer's name, address and phone number appears on each slide, either with a label, fine point pen or rubber stamp. Do not use glass cases. Outdoor Oklahoma has an excellent history of returning all slides in good condition to their rightful owners. Deadline for entry is March 24, 2000.

Predators have limited effect on quail numbers

Perhaps no other group of hunters is as informed and opinionated as quail hunters. Many of their opinions are based on biological fact, but some are rooted in rumor and hearsay.

The subject of predators and their effect on quail is a popular topic in the coffee shops of Western Oklahoma. Much of that discussion blames dwindling quail numbers on coyotes, bobcats, hawks and other predators. Some of that blame is justified, but much of it is misguided, too.

The October 1998 issue of Quail News, a newsletter of game bird research and management from the Bollenbach Chair, Oklahoma State University, addressed this topic by summarizing two studies of predator control in south Texas. The first was a research project conducted by Sam Beasom on the King Ranch. During a two-year study period, Beasom removed 188 coyotes, 120 bobcats, 65 raccoons, 46 striped skunks, and 38 other mammal predators from an area encompassing nine square miles. Beasom then studied the effects of the removal on bobwhite broods. Bobwhites on the area with predator control produced, on average, slightly more than one additional chick per hen than a similar area where predators had not been removed.

In another study, also in south Texas, researchers removed 132 coyotes, 18 bobcats, 15 raccoons, 22 striped skunks, and 40 other mammal predators from a research area covering six square miles over two years. Their results indicated that intensive predator control had "but a slight influence" on quail populations.

Both studies concluded that the only tangible effects of predator removal enabled populations on poorer habitat to maintain roughly equivalent numbers with those on better habitat.

The biggest detractor in both research projects was the high cost of predator control. The treatment performed on the King Ranch cost $1,771 per square mile, or $26 per additional bobwhite produced. That also translates to $131 per bird harvested since not all birds produced are taken by hunters.

The annual cost of applying a predator control program on a scale similar to that on the King Ranch was estimated at $1.4 million, and more than $36 million for an area equaling the size of the state of Oklahoma. The total annual budget for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is only $25 million.

So, why doesn't predator control produce widescale benefits for quail?

Research shows that predator control is not guaranteed to increase the abundance of quail because natural processes reduce its effectiveness. For starters, predators aren't the only things that kill quail. Between 20-40 percent of quail die each year from weather conditions, disease, accidents or old age. These deaths occur whether predators are present or not.

Another natural process is that bobwhite hens are resilient nesters. In an average year, a hen may attempt to nest as many as three or four times to raise at least one brood. The more times she attempts to nest, the better the odds are that she will produce a brood. This is a natural mechanism to offset nest predation.

Not only that, but bobwhite hens may attempt to hatch more than one brood per season. Evidence suggests that hens are more likely to attempt multiple broods if the first nest is destroyed. In that light, there may actually be some benefit to nest predation. Nest destruction delays the average hatch and improves the chicks' survival chances. The later the hatch occurs, the more quail will appear at the start of the hunting season.

There is also some debate concerning the effectiveness of predator removal. Studies conducted in sheep-producing areas show that the intensive removal of coyotes causes coyotes to breed at an earlier age. It also results in larger litters of coyote pups. Therefore, intense suppression may have little net effect on year-to-year coyote populations.

In addition, removing larger predators such as coyotes and bobcats may actually cause problems for quail and other ground nesters by increasing the numbers of small mammals that compete with quail for food. Ground squirrels, cotton rats, fox squirrels and brown rats are known nest predators.

Larger predators also exert a degree of population control over mid-sized predators. For example, there is evidence that duck production is higher in areas where coyotes are not controlled than where they are controlled, presumably because coyotes suppress foxes, skunks, raccoons and other smaller predators. It is possible that this applies to quail production.

For some time, biologists have insisted that habitat is the key to quail production. Loss of habitat, especially loss of cover, increases the contact between game birds and predators. When the habitat is reduced to small islands of permanent cover, it forces game birds to share that cover with predators, leading to greater losses.

Most biologists concur with Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife conservation, in this statement made in 1933 concerning predators and quail:

"There is an intimate relationship between quail harassment (by predators), cover, food, and winter survival; and one of the most effective forms of predator control is plenty of escape cover and food."

Fur auction set for Chandler

The First Oklahoma Trappers and Predator Callers Association will hold its last fur auction of the 1999-2000 fur harvesting season Saturday Feb. 5 at the Agri-Civic Center in Chandler.

The event will begin at 8 a.m., and the auction will start at 9 a.m. The building will also be open on Feb. 4 from 2 - 5 p.m. for dealer set-ups and for harvesters to store furs.

To participate in the auction, sellers must have a current Oklahoma trapping and hunting license. Sellers must also be members of the First Oklahoma Trappers and Predator Callers Assoc. Furs may be stretched and dried or "green." All bobcat pelts must be affixed with an export tag before they can be sold or shipped. Personnel from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will be present to provide tags, if necessary.

In addition, sellers who bring furs that belong to another person must possess that person's hunting and trapping license, as well as a letter signed by that person authorizing you to sell his or her fur.

Likewise, fur buyers are required to possess an Oklahoma fur buyer's permit in order to purchase unprocessed fur.

For more information, contact Bill Jackson or Dee Jackson at 918/336-8154.