APRIL 2001 NEWS RELEASES 

WEEK OF APRIL 26

WEEK OF APRIL 19

 

WEEK OF APRIL 12

WEEK OF APRIL 5

Internet broadcast brings prairies to schools

A unique opportunity for environmentally oriented students to learn more about the plight of the prairie and become more ecologically aware is now available for students nationwide.

An interactive broadcast scheduled for May 10 will give school kids across five states an opportunity to learn about life on the prairie at 10 a.m.

"Teachers from Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico will be tuning in to an interactive broadcast about the short-mixed grass prairies," said Colin Berg, education supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "The broadcast is part of a cooperative effort to educate students about the importance of our native prairies. Students will learn there is more to the prairie than grass."

Students will tour the prairie with biologists and explore the diversity and interconnectedness of all things, living and non-living, added Berg. They will get a firsthand look at how people are working together to improve and maintain the prairie, and will meet landowners that are managing their land for the benefit of people and wildlife.

Students will also have a chance to observe the prairie chicken. The birds are often referred to as prairie icons and are related to sage and sharp-tailed grouse. The program will allow students to witness the prairie chicken's beautiful courtship behavior and join fellow students as they help biologists radio track the bird across its home range.

Little is known about most prairie species, but viewers will see a lot can be learned through radio telemetry (tracking). It is only one of the technological advancements that allows researchers, wildlife biologists and landowners the opportunity to learn about the animals that make the prairie their home.

"It isn't easy work, but it is challenging and very rewarding to know that what you are doing could play a part in ensuring the survival of a prairie icon," said Fred Allen, a research technician for the Sutton Avian Research Center. "When we trap a bird, we take certain biological samples which tell us more about the bird, and then attach a radio collar to the bird so we can track their daily movements and learn more about what they need to survive."

A select group of 28 6th-8th graders from Millwood, an urban Oklahoma City School, will be learning first hand what life on the prairie is like for prairie chickens, ranchers and researchers. Their morning will start at 4 a.m. as they make their way to viewing blinds in hopes of catching a glimpse and successfully trapping a lesser prairie chicken.

Berg said that teachers and students who tune in May 10 will have a chance to interactively learn along with the Millwood students, but they won't have to get up at 4 a.m. since the broadcast will be airing at 10 a.m. on the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA), as well as on satellite.

Teachers of grades 5-8 interested in learning more about this interactive learning opportunity should access the web site for the National Conservation Training Center of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://distancelearning.fws.gov/discovering_our_high_plains_prai.htm. This will be an interactive television broadcast and It will be available on both digital and analog transmission. Viewing information is available at http://distancelearning.fws.gov/ More information about prairie wildlife is available on the Wildlife Department’s webpage at www.wildlifedepartment.com

 


Funding bill reaches critical stage

Although Oklahoma's outdoor recreational opportunities have never been better - record deer harvests, increasing turkey populations, record fish being boated regularly - staying on top is always harder than getting on top, and wildlife enthusiasts must now decide their fish and wildlife future.

There are two alternatives: Ensure fish and wildlife management and outdoor access keeps pace with rising costs; or risk losing the hunting and fishing opportunities we now enjoy. Since 1990, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the state agency responsible for managing our fish and wildlife resources and providing outdoor recreation, has seen its income remain stable, while costs have risen dramatically.

The Wildlife Department receives no general tax appropriations to accomplish its mission. Instead, most of the Department's operating funds come from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and a special federal excise tax that is generated when hunters and anglers purchase sporting goods. In recent years, however, agency revenue has remained static while operating costs have risen.

"Because expenses have risen and income has been flat, the Department has had to trim budgets," said Greg Duffy, the agency's director. "Although the Department did not cut its overall budget during the current fiscal year, the three previous years each witnessed two-percent cuts while fuel and vehicle costs continue to rise."

Examples of where these cuts can be seen include mileage restrictions on the amount of patrols by game wardens, cuts in educational materials available to schools, a reduction in the Department's workforce, less maintenance of wildlife management areas and a growing fleet of outdated trucks, tractors and other pieces of equipment. Currently, there are 36 vacancies throughout the Department, up from 20 last year.

"The agency strives to have at least one state game warden in each county," Duffy said. "Currently, however, three counties no longer have a game warden stationed in the county, with wardens from neighboring counties assigned to cover the vacancies. We will be working to fill these voids with transfers and, when possible, new hires."

The state Legislature authorizes the cost of hunting and fishing licenses, with the last fee increase occurring in 1994. Since 1994, the inflation rate as documented by the Consumer Price Index has increased 15 percent. Legislators have been trying to pass a measure directing additional funding to the Department, but for the past three sessions (this one included), the House and Senate have been unable to agree on a common version of a funding bill.

This year's legislative session has again witnessed two proposed versions of an ODWC funding bill. The House version of House Joint Resolution 1008 calls for a vote of the people to earmark, or redistribute, 25 percent of the state sales taxes already paid on sporting goods (this would generate an estimated $5-6 million). The Senate changed the bill to call for a 1 1/2 cent sales tax increase on sporting goods (this also would raise around $5-6 million).

The House has rejected the Senate amendments and has requested a joint House/Senate conference committee. In the committee, the two houses will try to settle on one version or the other, but they could also create some type of compromise bill or kill the bill outright.

"We want hunters and anglers to have the best services and programs possible, and with recent budget cuts, the agency needs additional funding to restore and maintain current operations," Duffy said. "Furthermore, additional income would be needed to implement service improvements or new programs.

"We believe outdoor enthusiasts deserve better services which will take more money, and some form of compromise may be the key to ensuring sportsmen see all services restored, much less continuation of current programs and/or improvements in what the Department can do for the public."

If you wish to voice your opinion regarding HJR 1008 to your legislator, he or she can be reached at one of the following numbers: Oklahoma Senate number is 405/524-0126 or the Oklahoma House of Representatives number is 405/521-2711.

Anyone wanting to track the current status of fish and wildlife measures can log on to the Wildlife Department's website at www.wildlifedepartment.com

 for a complete summary of active legislation. The legislative tracker is updated daily and also offers a link to the State Legislature.

Instructors play role in hunting safety

Several hundred thousand sportsmen head into the field every year across the nation and thanks to the efforts of dedicated volunteers, Oklahoma sportsmen are among the safest. Volunteer instructors are essential to Oklahoma's hunter education program, a program designed to promote safety in the outdoors.

"Safety should always be the first concern for any sportsman heading outdoors," said J.D. Peer, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Oklahoma has always had one of the lowest rates for hunting accidents in the nation, and we are proud that is the case. One major reason for our safety rating is that we have very good, dedicated volunteers who provide excellent instruction to young hunters."

"But one hunting accident is too many, so we need to keep up the good work. The program continues to grow and we give more hunter education courses every year, so it is imperative that we continue to get more dedicated volunteers to help us provide instruction at the courses."

Peer added that becoming a volunteer hunter education instructor is easy to do. Instructors should be at least 18 years old. To become certified, instructors will need to attend a hunter education course, and a hunter education instructor certification course. During this process, instructors will learn everything they need about firearm safety, survival, ethics and wildlife identification and management to provide new hunters a thorough background during their instruction.

Once certified, instructors only need to give instruction at one hunter education course each year to keep their certification active. The Wildlife Department offers about 300 courses each year providing safety instruction to more than 13,000 sportsmen. Courses are given in every part of the state so volunteers won't have to travel far to help teach a course.

Those interested in becoming hunter education volunteers can call 405/522-4572 to receive a volunteer instructor packet and more information.

For more information visit the website at www.wildlifedepatment.com

 

State bird's anniversary celebration set

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Oklahoma City Zoo will be hosting a celebration of the 50th anniversary of our state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus), on May 12, as part of International Migratory Bird Day.

"The scissortail is an excellent centerpiece for these activities because it's a familiar, but very exotic international bird," said Melynda Hickman, natural resources biologist with the Department. "Our state bird is a neo-tropical migrant, essentially meaning that it spends several months of the year in Central America. The scissortail is one of only two neo-tropical migrants to be named a state bird, and we are looking forward to celebrating the designation anniversary."

This "Scissortail Celebration" will take place at the OKC Zoo and will start with an early morning bird count from 6-8 a.m. Those interested in attending the bird count should call the Department's Wildlife Diversity Program at 405/521-4616 to pre-register.

Another scissortail-associated event includes a kite design competition for all ages. First prize for this kite contest is a beautiful scissortail print entitled "Duel for a Feast," by John K. Boutwell. Other prizes include gift certificates to the popular birder's store, Wild Birds Unlimited.

The Oklahoma City Zoo will host their "Zoolympics" event on this day, as well. The zoo has been hosting this popular animal-oriented educational event for years now. It promises a day of "Roaring like a lion, eating like an anteater, and fishing like a chimp."

Several of the Department's "Watchable Wildlife Areas" throughout the state will be hosting scissortail events of their own.

 

Controlled hunt deadline quickly approaching

Thousands of sportsmen annually apply for a variety of controlled hunts offered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Those who are interested in applying for controlled hunt opportunities in 2001 should keep the May 4 deadline in mind.

"The deadline for controlled hunt applications will be here very quickly," said Melinda Sturgess, chief of administration for the Department. "We hope everyone who wants to apply for controlled hunts will have the opportunity to do so. But, we also want to remind everyone that applications must be postmarked no later than May 4, or they will not be accepted.

"The best way to assure the Department receives the application before the deadline is to apply on-line. The on-line application system has been very popular with sportsmen. It is very easy to do and all of the information and applications needed are available on the Department's website."

Sturgess added that applying on-line helps eliminate concerns about lost, incomplete or incorrect applications. The program will not accept an application if there is discrepancies or incomplete information, and will inform the applicant to correct the application. The applicant can double-check to make sure the application was accepted by going back into the website's controlled hunt page and clicking on the confirmation link.

Those interested in applying on-line can go to the Department's website at www.wildlifedepartment.com and click on the controlled hunts page. Controlled hunts booklets are available at Department installations and hunting and fishing license vendors for those unable to apply on-line. Application forms are available in these booklets. The deadline for all applications is May 4 and results of the drawings will be available July 23.

 

The crappie spawn is on!

For many Oklahoma sportsmen, spring is the best time of the year.

After all, spring means warmer weather and a great time to get outdoors and take advantage of Oklahoma's excellent fishing opportunities. Crappie fishing is one of the most popular fishing opportunities available and the action is firing up across the Sooner State.

"Crappie fishing is great at many lakes across the state right now," said Barry Bolton, assistant chief of fisheries. "They are congregating in many areas, and have already started spawning in some areas. Anglers should be able to enjoy good action throughout the next month.

"The best place to catch crappie prior to and during the spawn is around structure in shallow water. Gradually slopping gravel points are another good place to fish, and anglers might try a little deeper water along shady banks."

Bolton added that small spinners, jigs and minnows are the best baits for papermouths. These baits are very productive for a number of species. Largemouth bass, white bass, catfish and many sunfish are active this time of year and will strike these baits, offering anglers a great chance to add a little variety to their stringer.

To fish in Oklahoma, anglers 16 years and older need a resident or non-resident fishing or combination license. Other permits or requirements may apply to some lakes and anglers should always pick up a copy of the 2001 Oklahoma Fishing Guide before heading out on any fishing adventure. The guides are available at Department installations and hunting and fishing license vendors statewide.

Meetings scheduled to discuss bass virus

Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation have scheduled two public forums to discuss the Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV), a disease that was found in some Oklahoma reservoirs last year.

"We just want an opportunity to visit with the public about the virus," said Barry Bolton, Fisheries Division assistant chief. "We want to let them know everything we know about the virus, what we are doing to learn more about it, and how we plan to deal with it in the future. Our main desire is to answer any questions we can and provide everyone with the facts to dismiss any rumors that might be out there."

The meetings will be held in the northeast part of the state. Several reservoirs in that region were affected by the LMBV late last summer. Bass collected by biologists from Lakes Tenkiller, Grand, Hudson and Ft. Gibson confirmed the presence of the virus, which was first documented in the U.S. in 1995 and has since been found in several southeastern states including Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Fisheries biologists are learning more about LMBV daily and know that most fish that carry the virus appear healthy and very few will die. There is no known prevention or eradication measures that can be done to remove the virus once it is discovered, but research shows LMBV has not created any long term problems or major impacts to bass populations.

Anglers interested in learning more about LMBV or other fisheries issues are encouraged to attend one of the meetings to get the most up-to-date information available. They can call 405/521-3721 for more meeting information.

LMBV Meeting Schedule

Date: April 23

Time: 6:30 pm.

Location: Indian Capital Tech Center, Rm. 500 2401 N. 41 E. Muskogee

Date: April 26

Time: 6:30 p.m.

Location: Zebco Cafeteria, 6101 E. Apache, Tulsa

Paddlefish poaching investigation yields eight arrests in Northeast Oklahoma

Eight individuals from the Claremore area recently were arrested on state and federal charges relating to illegal commercialization of paddlefish. The federal charges carry a maximum fine of $250,000 and/or five years imprisonment, plus confiscation of all equipment and property used in when violating the federal law.

Oklahoma game wardens and federal agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Marshall Service served the arrest warrants April 11. Felony indictments returned by the Federal Grand Jury for the Northern District of Oklahoma were for: James Wever Sr., Lataunia Wever, James Wever Jr., and Misty D. Gilbert. Specific federal charges are conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and violations of the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act prohibits people from transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring or purchasing any fish or wildlife species that are in violation of any law of any state.

State charges were filed against: Christy L. Wever, Jim N. McCollum, Michael Hansen and Jeremy Gilbert. All eight individuals were arrested as the result of a joint investigation into illegal paddlefish egg commercialization in Oklahoma by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The undercover operation was called "Operation Gray Pearl."

During the operation, wildlife law enforcement officers documented some 120 state wildlife violations, including snagging in a restricted area, abandoning paddlefish without proper disposal, and exceeding the limit of paddlefish. Game wardens also documented numerous federal wildlife violations over a four-month period in early 2000. Last May officials executed a search warrant on the Wever residence in the Claremore area and as a result, seized a pickup truck, motorboat, fishing gear and paddlefish processing equipment.

"It is illegal in Oklahoma to sell paddlefish or their eggs," said Tom McKay, special resident agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Fines and penalties are especially significant when someone transports or sells fish or wildlife taken in violation of state law across state lines. This can result in felony charges which carry fines of up to $250,000 and up to five years in federal prison for each count."

Paddlefish, also known as "spoonbill" are one of the largest freshwater fishes, attaining lengths of more than six feet and weights of more than 100 pounds. Paddlefish may spawn from early March to late June and do not reach sexual maturity until they are at least eight to 10 years old. Biologists have seen a decline in the paddlefish populations as a result of habitat loss and excessive commercial harvest for their eggs, which can be used to make caviar.

"Because of international restrictions on the commercial importation of caviar, extreme pressure has been placed on the paddlefish populations in the United States," McKay said. "One pound of processed paddlefish roe has a market value of $250 or more."

Anyone with information regarding illegal harvest of fish and wildlife is encouraged to call the Wildlife Department's Operation Game Thief Hotline at 1-800-522-8039. Callers can remain anonymous.

OSU seeks funds for burning program

It is a fire hazard. It degrades rangeland and wildlife habitat. It is swallowing up 300,000 acres of land a year.

"It" is the eastern red cedar, and the expansion of its range threatens to destroy the Oklahoma landscape. The most productive and cost-efficient method of fighting the encroachment of eastern red cedar is through prescribed burning - the controlled use of fire.

Oklahoma State University would like to create a training center for teaching landowners and natural resource professionals techniques for conducting prescribed burns. The training center would cost about $14 million and the University is currently seeking investors to make tax-deductible contributions toward the programs establishment.

The Program for the Restoration of Prairie and Cross Timbers Habitats will be the first of its kind in the nation. Once endowed, the program will instruct students, public land managers and private land-owners to restore prairie and crosstimber habitats with the use of fire by providing hands-on training. It will combine nationally recognized researchers, up-to-date fire equipment, and indoor and outdoor classroom environments as state-of-the-art assets to accomplish its mission.

Prescribed burning is one of the most common and effective tools available to landowners and wildlife managers. It allows the reduction of wildfire fuel hazards, the retardation of invasive plants, and slows natural succession.

Burning regularly benefits water quality and water yield, boosts livestock production and benefits prairie and crosstimber species such as bobwhite quail, wild turkey, grassland birds, migratory song birds and prairie chickens.

Think safety first

Oklahoma's turkey season is underway and sportsmen who make safety a priority should enjoy a successful outing this year.

"Safety should be the number one thing on everyone's mind anytime they are headed outdoors," said J.D. Peer, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Turkey hunters need to be extraordinarily cautious. The number one thing to remember is to always positively identify your target.

"Hunters should always wear hunter orange when they are entering or leaving the woods, and anytime they are carrying decoys or a harvested turkey they need to make sure they wrap them in hunter orange as well. The best way to carry any decoy is hidden well out of sight."

Peer added that hunters should avoid wearing any exposed red, white or blue clothing, which are the head colors of a tom turkey. When setting up in an area, hunters should choose a spot that adequately protects them from other hunters who might approach unknowingly from behind. Trees or logs that are wider than the shoulders and higher than the head provide excellent protection for a hunter.

Place decoys off to one side, and anytime another hunter approaches the area, alert them to your presence by calling out to them in a clear voice. The weather and action is warming up and many hunters will enjoy successful outings by keeping safety a priority.

Meetings scheduled to discuss bass virus

Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation have scheduled two public forums to discuss the Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV), a disease that was found in some Oklahoma reservoirs last year.

"We just want an opportunity to visit with the public about the virus," said Barry Bolton, Fisheries Division assistant chief. "We want to let them know everything we know about the virus, what we are doing to learn more about it, and how we plan to deal with it in the future. Our main desire is to answer any questions we can and provide everyone with the facts to dismiss any rumors that might be out there."

The meetings will be held in the northeast part of the state. Several reservoirs in that region were affected by the LMBV late last summer. Bass collected by biologists from Lakes Tenkiller, Grand, Hudson and Ft. Gibson confirmed the presence of the virus, which was first documented in the U.S. in 1995 and has since been found in several southeastern states including Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Fisheries biologists are learning more about LMBV daily and know that most fish that carry the virus appear healthy and very few will die. There is no known prevention or eradication measures that can be done to remove the virus once it is discovered, but research shows LMBV has not created any long term problems or major impacts to bass populations.

Anglers interested in learning more about LMBV or other fisheries issues are encouraged to attend one of the meetings to get the most up-to-date information available. They can call 405/521-3721 for more meeting information.

LMBV Meeting Schedule

Date: April 23

Time: 6:30 pm.

Location: Indian Capital Tech Center, Rm. 500 2401 N. 41 E. Muskogee

Date: April 26

Time: 6:30 p.m.

Location: Zebco Cafeteria, 6101 E. Apache, Tulsa

Deer hunting opportunities adopted

At its regular April meeting, held April 2 in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to implement a special three-day antlerless-only deer hunt immediately before New Year’s, in some areas of the state.

The bonus hunt will be available over most of the state, except for part of the panhandle, the far southeast and a portion of southwest Oklahoma. Most of the northwest will be afforded two special hunts, one immediately before Christmas and the other just before New Year’s. Also set at the April meeting were antlerless hunting days during the regular muzzleloader and deer gun seasons. Most of the state will see increased opportunities to harvest does during the regular muzzleloader and gun seasons, part of an increased emphasis to encourage hunters to help control deer populations and balance the herd.

All of the changes will be outlined in the 2001-2002 Oklahoma Hunting Guide and Regulations, available this summer at sporting goods stores statewide. And for those hunters who just can’t wait for the Hunting Guide, a complete listing of the antlerless hunting regulations is currently posted under the “Deer Hunting” link on the Wildlife Department’s website - wildlifedepartment.com.

“The Commission has been keenly interested in expanding hunter opportunity and these special hunts are a significant step toward that end,” said Alan Peoples, Wildlife Division chief for the Department. “In addition, we believe the hunts will lead to increased harvest of antlerless deer, which is something that will help with herd health. It should also help alleviate depredation conflicts and reduce car/deer accidents.”

Also approved by Commissioners at their April meeting were a slate of elk season dates for private lands in Kiowa, Comanche and Caddo counties. This year, there will be five-day either sex archery hunts in October and December, along with two two-day modern firearms hunts, also one in October and one in December. The archery hunts, which are set for Oct. 15-19 and Dec. 10-14, will be either sex, while the gun hunts, which are set for Oct. 20-21 and Dec. 15-16 will be bull-only Oct. 20 and Dec. 15, and either sex Oct. 21 and Dec. 16. Legal bulls must have at least five points on one side, while cows must not have any visible antler.

Another change for this coming fall’s hunting seasons will be a uniform pheasant season running from Dec. 1 through Jan. 31, with two cocks allowed per day. Commission members unanimously approved the change in the season, which creates uniform hunting opportunities for the panhandle and northwest. The southern boundary also was expanded south from Hwy. 412 to Hwy. 51. All areas west of Hwy. 18 and north of Hwy. 51 will be open to pheasant hunting.

The final hunting regulation change adopted by the Commission was changing the spring 2002 turkey season in the eight southeastern counties. This year, the southeast turkey season runs from April 11-May 1, but those dates will be extended for 2002 when the season will begin April 6 and run through April 28. Additionally, hunters will be allowed two toms per county in the southeast, except for Choctaw County, where the limit will be one tom. The Department is undertaking a trap and transplant restoration effort in a portion of Choctaw county and biologists want to ensure the flock is established before increasing hunting pressure on the birds.

Also at the April meeting, Commission members voted to accept a bid of $70,469.18 to lease the Department’s mineral interest on 921 acres of Department-owned property in Atoka County, and agreed to solicit sealed bids on another proposed mineral rights lease, this one encompassing 10 acres in Beaver County.

In other business:

• Commissioners voted to accept a $18,996.90 donation from the estate of James K. Benne, a Tulsa resident and wildlife enthusiast who left the donation to the Department for its Land Acquisition Fund.

• Voted to solicit bids for actuarial services for the Department’s retirement plan, pending negotiations with the Department’s current actuarial service provider, William M. Mercer.

• Heard a report from Dr. Terry Bidwell, professor of rangeland and ecology, Oklahoma State University, regarding the school’s efforts to raise $14 million to create a training center for teaching landowners and natural resource professionals techniques for conducting prescribed burns. Using carefully planned controlled burns, according to Bidwell, is the best, most cost-effective method for controlling Eastern red cedar encroachment, which degrades wildlife habitat and creates wildfire hazards.

• Delegated authority to Wildlife Department Executive Director Greg Duffy to negotiate the sale of one-half acre of Department land at Raymond Gary Lake in Choctaw County.

• Voted to allocate unspent funds for payment of the program audit being conducted by the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office. The program audit will look at what specific statutory requirements the Department is mandated to adhere to, along with which Department programs are self-supporting and which are not.

• Voted to allocate unspent funds for payment to KPMG to conduct a readiness assessment regarding the Department’s reporting of financial statements. Federal guidelines mandate a change in accounting practices, and all state agencies must bring their reports into compliance with the new standards.

• Received a report on pending fish and wildlife legislation from Director Duffy. Of particular interest, he reported, is that House Joint Resolution 1008, a bill calling for a vote of the people to raise money for fish and wildlife conservation, is still alive and appears headed for a conference committee. Much of this year’s legislation has become inactive, but several bills remain active. The status of the various measures is updated at www.wildlifedepartment.com/legislation.htm for those who want to track the progress of pending bills.

Recognized at the April meeting was a group of 23 Wildlife Department employees who have completed the agency’s Wildlife Professionals Program. Through this hands-on training course, employees receive more than 150 hours of training on all facets of Department service. Game wardens, for example, learn how Fisheries personnel sample lakes, and wildlife biologists learn how game wardens conduct poaching investigations. The goal of the program is to better train employees to assist the public. To date, 50 Department employees have completed the two-year training program.

The Commission’s regular May meeting will be held Monday, May 7, at 9 a.m. at the Wildlife Department’s headquarters in Oklahoma City.

Department awards auction trips

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has awarded two outdoor adventures offered through auction earlier this year. For 2001, the Department offered a bull elk hunt and a fishing package for two.

Approved by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Department’s governing body, the two packages were offered to the highest bidder through a sealed bid system. Proceeds from the auction will go to fish and wildlife conservation in the state.

A Tulsa-area resident received the bull elk hunt based on his $11,000 bid. The hunt will occur at the Cookson Hills Wildlife Management Area, a rugged 13,650-acre area in northeast Oklahoma's Ozark country. It will be a guided three-day hunt anytime in September, October or November. The hunter can choose to use a bow and arrow, muzzleloader or modern rifle. Past auction hunt high bidders have harvested a 7X8 bull in 1999 and a 6X7 bull last year.

The other adventure being offered for auction was a special fishing package that includes overnight accommodations for two and guided trips for trophy striped bass, trophy largemouth bass and Ouachita smallmouth bass. The Department awarded this package to an Edmond resident who bid $2,050.

Specifically, the trip will include:

• A June 13, 2001, trophy stripers trip on the lower Illinois River with guide Delmer Shoults, 918/773-5213. Lodging will be provided for the night of June 12, at the MarVal Trout Camp, 918/489-2295, located on the banks of the lower Illinois trout stream.

• A day of chasing striped bass at Lake Texoma with two Department selected fishing specialist. Peak surface fishing times are between April 15 and May 15. Bob's Lake Country Motel, Kingston 580/564-4424, will provide lodging.

• A one-day largemouth bass trip with trophy bass guide, Chuck Justice, 580/889-6742, on one of Oklahoma's most noted trophy bass lakes, McGee Creek. The trip can be booked anytime, but the best time will be between April and June. Lodging will be provided by Firefly Hollow, 580/889-2690.

• A one-day Ouachita smallmouth bass trip on the upper Mountain Fork River with guide Ethan Wright, 580/494-6109, and a stream management specialist. The trip can be taken anytime, but prime floating dates are April to June. Whipporwill Cabins, 580/494-6476 at Broken Bow, will provide lodging. Breakfast will also be provided.

Striped bass numbers way up at Lake Texoma

Netting data from this spring shows that striped bass populations are higher than they have been in the last 15 years at Lake Texoma, one of Oklahoma’s most popular vacation spots and one of the best inland striper fisheries in the country.

Fisheries biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department surveyed the Red and Washita River arms of the 88,000-acre lake in February and their results verify what local anglers have been saying in the last few years - fishing is getting better and better. Gill net catch rates, a standardized survey method used by fisheries professionals to measure fish populations, shows that this year’s catch rates are the highest since 1987, and catch rates for large fish (those 20 inches or longer) are the highest since 1985.

“Fishing should be excellent as we move through the end of spring into summer,” said Paul Mauck, southcentral region fisheries supervisor for the ODWC. “Reports of anglers catching fish upwards of 20 pounds are becoming more common, and although recent rains have temporarily slowed fishing success due to high, muddy water, I expect anglers will see one of the best fishing years in recent memory.”

Mauck added that one of the most telling aspects of the survey data involves the percent of the catch made up of fish 20 inches and longer.

“More than 25 percent of this year’s catch were larger fish,” he said. “That certainly bodes well for anglers who like catching bigger stripers.”

Shad, which are small baitfish that striped bass feed on, experienced some winterkill this year due to several prolonged cold snaps. That could make the striped bass even easier to catch, since they won’t have as much natural forage available as they usually do.

“Gizzard shad numbers are relatively good, but threadfin numbers are below normal,” Mauck said. “We will be collecting threadfin brood stock from other locations, and do not expect any long-term impacts from this winter’s shad kill.”

Those fishing Lake Texoma need either an Oklahoma or Texas annual fishing license, or anglers can purchase a $7.75 Lake Texoma Fishing License. Those fishing with a regular state license are restricted to fishing only those Texoma waters in their respective state (for example, an angler with an Oklahoma license must stay on the Oklahoma side of the lake), while those fishing on a Texoma License may fish the entire lake.

 

Department receives estate donation

At its regular April meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission accepted an $18,966.90 donation from the estate of James K. Benne, a Tulsa-area wildlife enthusiast.

The donation was earmarked for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Land Acquisition Fund, an account intended to secure hunting and fishing access for Oklahoma sportsmen. According to relatives, Benne loved to hunt and fish. He was 80 years old when he passed away last October, and he still owned several boats. He had also planned a deer hunt, and a javelina hunt in Texas which, unfortunately, he was never able to take.

“We are truly honored that Mr. Benne believed in the Department and its mission with enough conviction to place us in his will,” said Alan Peoples, Wildlife Division chief. “I did not know Mr. Benne, but I wish I had. I understand he had a great passion for the outdoors.”

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is the state agency responsible for managing the state’s fish and wildlife resources. The agency does not receive any general state tax revenue and is funded entirely by hunting and fishing license fees, special federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment and unsolicited private donations.

Controlled hunt application system popular success

Sportsmen looking for an advantage in applying for special hunts offered in Oklahoma can find it by applying on-line. The on-line application system is immediate and eliminates concerns about incomplete or lost applications.

Those interested in applying for controlled hunts on-line can log on to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s website at www.wildlifedepartment.com and click on the 2001-2002 Controlled Hunts link. The site will provide all information needed to apply, including hunt categories and area hunt dates and locations.

"The on-line application system has been a very popular and valuable resource for our constituents," said Melinda Sturgess, Chief of Administration for the Wildlife Department. "About 45 percent of the applicants applied on-line last year and more than 30,000 applicants have already used the system this year. The process is very user-friendly and applicants know immediately if their application was received.”

Sturgess added that the system will not accept any applications that are incomplete or show discrepancies, and will alert the applicant to check the information provided if something isn’t correctly filled out. Applicants can double check to make sure their application was accepted by clicking on the confirmation link provided on the Controlled Hunts Page.

Those who don’t have internet access can still mail their applications to the Department. Applications can be found in Controlled Hunts booklets available at Department installations and license vendors statewide. The deadline for all applications is May 4.

 

Federal funds aimed at conserving wildlife

Oklahoma will receive more than $735,000 for additional conservation efforts aimed at wildlife species most in need of additional assistance as a result of a federal appropriation passed last year by Congress.

The money, which totals $736,095, will go the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the agency responsible for managing the state's fish and wildlife resources. The Department may use the money from the new program, officially called the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Pro-gram, for wildlife conservation through land acquisition, habitat improvement, research, education and other efforts. Up to 10 percent of the funds may also help pay for wildlife-related recreation projects, such as the construction or improvement of wildlife viewing areas, observation platforms, and land and water trails.

"We are considering funding a wide variety of projects with these new federal dollars," said Harold Namminga, federal aid coordinator for the Department. "One of the specific projects being considered is an extensive and holistic effort towards the fish and wildlife species of the short and mixed grassland of western Oklahoma. The species of most concern in this region include the lesser prairie chicken, mountain plover, northern bobwhite, black-tailed prairie dog, swift fox and ferruginous hawk."

Namminga said that other conservation needs include educational and interpretive centers for wetland species, development and use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in habitat conservation plans for species in need, stream habitat developments and statewide wildlife species inventories. Specific research and conservation efforts involving northern bobwhite quail, red-cockaded woodpecker, Texas horned lizard, black bear, western diamondback rattlesnake and the Rich Mountain salamander also are being considered.

Although the $735,000 appropriation could advance the causes of many wildlife species in Oklahoma, the program requires a 25-percent matching contribution from the state as a part of each project. With the current funding appropriation, the Wildlife Department will need almost $250,000 in matching funds. The program set-up is similar to the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program, which also provides a 75 percent federal reimbursement, with the Department matching that with contribute at least 25 percent of the cost.

The funds from the new program are meant to supplement, but not replace, existing funds available from the Federal Aid in Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs for both new projects and activities, as well as to enhance ongoing ones.

The popular user-pays, user-benefits Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program are financed by excise taxes on sporting arms, fishing and boating gear, and motorboat fuels. Collectively, these programs have raised more than $5.2 billion to assist state conservation agencies in the conservation and restoration of sport fish and wildlife species. While these programs are funded by permanent appropriation, the new Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program was created by Congress by the Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001, and will require annual approval for continued funding.