Commission approves feral hog regulations

            At its regular June meeting, held June 4, in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission approved emergency rules that allow feral hog hunting on Department-owned or managed lands throughout the state.

            On all but three wildlife management areas, hunters will be allowed to harvest feral hogs during any regular hunting season by whatever methods are legal during that particular season. In other words, a hunter could shoot them with a shotgun during spring turkey season, or with a muzzleloader during the primitive firearms deer season. During firearms deer seasons (primitive, modern gun and special antlerless deer seasons) on WMAs open during these seasons, hunters must possess either a filled or unfilled deer license, and they must comply with other deer hunting regulations such as wearing blaze orange clothing.

            Three areas - Honobia Creek, Three Rivers and Broken Bow WMAs - will only be open to feral hog hunting during the nine-day regular deer gun season, and only with methods and means legal during that season. Season dates and hunting methods for each individual WMA are outlined in the soon-to-be-published Oklahoma Hunting Guide and Regulations. Feral hog hunting on private lands remains at the landowner's discretion, however, during firearms big game seasons (primitive, modern gun and special antlerless deer seasons and antelope and elk seasons) hunters must possess either a filled or unfilled deer license, and they must comply with other deer hunting regulations such as wearing blaze orange clothing. The Wildlife Commission was authorized to set rules for hunting feral hogs on public lands by a law enacted during the 2000 legislative session.

            "Feral hogs can damage wildlife habitat, compete with native species for food and can carry a number of diseases, including psuedorabies and swine brucelosis," said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, "but until now, we could not tell hunters to harvest them if they saw one while hunting. This is a big step in that it will allow additional hunting opportunity while hopefully helping curb the growth of hog populations on our WMAs.

            "Undoubtedly, hunters will have some questions about aspects of these regulations, so we will be working to develop a question and answer section relating to feral hog hunting on our Web site. Check under the 'Hunting' section for this feature."

            Also approved at the June meeting was an adjustment to the one of the state's new antlerless deer hunting zones. Zone two, which offers the greatest doe hunting opportunities in the state and includes most of northwest and northcentral Oklahoma, was extended east to include all of Osage County and part of Washington County. Highway 75 will be the new eastern boundary for Zone two; complete information regarding antlerless deer hunting zones also will be on-line at wildlifedepartment.com.

            In other action, Commissioners voted to approved the Department's fiscal year 2002 budget, a $25.8 million package that that includes no funding for capital improvements or land acquisition and will increase the number of vacant positions left unfilled.

            "This is the same base budget as last year, without any significant funds set aside for upgrading equipment or facilities," said Greg Duffy, the Department's executive director. "We are proposing to leave an additional eight positions vacant - indefinitely - which will bring the total to 28, up from 20 budgeted positions which were not filled last year."

            As part of the Commission's action, several after-budget add-ons were approved, including:

• an additional $150,000 to compensate for higher fuel prices.

• an added $165,000 to cover the Department's increased share of employees' dependent insurance coverage.

• $73,000 in earmarked funds from wildlife license plate sales and tax check-off donations to the Department's Wildlife Diversity Program. The money will be used to undertake additional research on the Texas horned lizard, conduct a comprehensive species inventory on Department-owned wildlife management areas and reprint several popular books and booklets.

Consideration of a budget increase for employee compensation for next year was postponed until the July meeting.

            In his final legislative update, Duffy told Commission members that HJR 1008, a bill that would have called for a vote of the people to provide additional revenue for fish and wildlife conservation in the state, was held over in conference committee and is alive for next session. Similarly, several other wildlife-related measures, including a bill to change quail season over much of the southern half of the state, were held over in various stages of the legislative process and could be considered when the Legislature reconvenes next year.

            Other newly enacted fish and wildlife laws include Senate Bill 480 which authorizes the Department to charge a $5 per person, per year, application fee for anyone applying for the agency's controlled hunts. The controlled hunts program, which allows hunters to apply for unique, controlled access hunts on select Department-owned or managed areas, is popular among hunters but costly to administer.

            The $5 application fee could raise funds that will help ensure these hunting opportunities continue to be available through a drawing system. The Department also will be looking at modifying the system to improve applicants' opportunities to be drawn. Public hearings will be held later this year to explain how the system works, and discuss possible future improvements.

            House Bill 1375 sends to a vote of the people a provision to require initiative petitions prosing a legislative measure to abolish any method, practice or procedure for hunting, fishing, trapping, or to abolish any occupation or sporting or other entertainment event involving livestock, fowl, fish or other animal contain signatures of 15 percent of registered voters, rather than the eight-percent requirement currently in place. This measure is slated to be on the November 2002 statewide ballot.

            Senate Bill 477 requires the Wildlife Conservation Commission to promulgate rules to sell hunting and fishing licenses via the Internet. Bill is effective Nov. 1, 2001; and House Bill 1262 adds the Wildlife Department to the state's Geographic Information System (GIS) Council.

            One Wildlife Department employee was recognized at the June meeting for his outstanding tenure with the agency. District 4 Law Enforcement Chief Trent Hodgins, from Holdenville, was recognized for his 30 years of service to the Department. Hodgins, who has worked in Hughes County most of his career, is the longest-serving district chief with the Department.

            The Commission's regular July meeting will be held Monday, July 2, at 9 a.m. at the Wildlife Department's headquarters in Oklahoma City.



Bat Watches Attract More Visitors

     Every night during the summer months, a million or more Mexican free-tailed bats can be seen spiraling out over Selman Bat Cave Wildlife Management Area into the evening sky.

            Now in its 5th year of operation, the Selman Bat Watches allow registered visitors to witness this amazing event, which is coordinated by the Oklahoma Department of Wild-life Conservation.

     "As the word gets out, the number of people interested in coming with us to see the bat emergence increases," said Melynda Hickman, natural resources biologist with the Department. "This is the only public opportunity in Oklahoma for wildlife enthusiasts to get close to wild bats leaving their cave in search of insects."

     Hickman also said that with rising interest in attending the bat watches, those who contact the Wildlife Department earliest are more likely to get registered for the date they would prefer.  Two of the twelve bat watch evenings are already full, and the registration forms continue to roll in.  Each evening's event can be attended by a maximum of 75 people.

            The bat watches begin at Alabaster Caverns State Park near Freedom, Oklahoma, where visitors are taken by bus to Selman Bat Cave WMA - one of several Wildlife Management Areas owned and operated by the Wildlife Department.

     Besides the standard bat watch, an additional "nature at night" event is available on June 23 which includes viewing of the bat emergence, as well as programs on identification of natural night sounds and wildlife tracking. 

            Contact the Wildlife Diversity Program of ODWC to receive a Selman Bat Watch registration brochure, by calling 405/521-4616.  This form, as well as more information about bats, can be found online by clicking on the Watchable Wildlife Opportunities link at www.wildlifedepartment.com .



Memorial dedicated to fallen Game Warden

            The first Oklahoma game warden to lose his life in the line of duty was honored with a memorial dedicated June 3 at River Park in Tulsa.

            In 1911, the Wildlife Department was very new and only a few wardens existed.  One of those men, Charles W. Estes, was killed in the line of duty in the Tulsa County area. On February 28, 1911, Charlie Estes told his wife he’d be back soon and rode off on his horse in search of poachers violating a law prohibiting hunting on Sunday.

            At the top of Turkey Mountain, Estes was shot to death by an unknown killer.  His gun, holster and bullets were stolen. His sacrifice for the future good of Oklahoma’s wildlife and sportsmen was individually recognized June 3, 2001, with a memorial service dedicating a monument to his sacrifice at River Parks.

            "It was a duck hunter he was investigating, but it wasn’t a duck hunter that shot him," said Carlos Gomez, Tulsa County Game Warden.  "He was killed by someone with a high powered rifle.         They suspected moonshiners and counterfeiters operating in the Turkey Mountain area."

            The memorial, located at 5800 S. Riverside Drive, was made possible with the hard work of Estes’ great, great nephew, Bobby Tipton, Game Warden Gomez, River Park employees and benefactors. The dedication was attended by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Commissioners John S. Zink, Vryl Keeter, and John Groendyke, retired and present Department employees, law enforcement officers from several state agencies, friends and family of the Estes family and Senator James Williamson.  

            Gomez said that enough donations were made on Estes’ behalf to place a concrete walkway leading from the jogging trail to the memorial site with boulders on either side to serve as bench seating.  A large boulder that stands erect will display a bronze plaque in Estes’ honor with a light shinning down on the memorial from a cottonwood tree.




Department sets quail field day

            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Quail Unlimited have scheduled a day in the field to demonstrate and discuss habitat requirements and management techniques for bobwhite quail and prairie chickens.

            Landowners, leaseholders and sportsmen interested in upland game birds need to meet at the Arnett Courthouse to attend the field day event slated for June 30.

            "We will be touring both public and private land in western Oklahoma," said Mike Sams, upland game biologist for the Department. "We want to provide private landowners in western Oklahoma with sound management strategies and techniques that will help wildlife and maintain beef production. Landowners will also receive information on cost-share programs they can use to implement these techniques."

            The field day will run from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Participants should meet on the north side of the Arnett courthouse and will travel by bus to several different sites throughout the day. Several speakers including Dr. Fred Guthery, head of the Bollenbach Chair at Oklahoma State University, will be on-hand to discuss and answer questions about upland bird habitat management.

            A free lunch will be provided for participants by Quail Unlimited. Those interested in attending should call Mike Sams at 405/590-2584 to reserve a lunch and a spot on the bus or for further information.




Turkey organization donations top $250,000

            The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) has been raising and spending money in Oklahoma since 1985, and has now spent more than $250,000 on habitat projects, youth events, scholarships and various other conservation-related projects.

            "It has taken a long time to break the quarter-million dollar barrier," said Mike Lambeth, Oklahoma NWTF State Chapter President, "but with the growth of our chapter system from six to 35 chapters in the last four years and with our volunteers doing such a great job with their fund raising banquets, the half million dollar mark can't be far away."

            The NWTF spends money within the state in a variety of ways, said Lambeth. It has funded habitat improvement projects on both private and public lands, purchased land for public hunting and helped fund the relocation of eastern turkeys from Iowa to Delaware County in northeastern Oklahoma. Additional support has been given to enhance law enforcement efforts, including the purchase of 20 full body remote control decoys. Dollars also have been spent to purchase reward signs and other money has been offered as rewards in poaching cases involving wild turkeys.

            The NWTF also supports many youth activities throughout the state. It has provided funding for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Youth Camp and for designated JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics, and Sportsmanship) activities, including funding for 54 JAKES events and more than $10,000 in scholarship money to graduating high school seniors.

            The National Wild Turkey Federation's partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has been very beneficial to not only the wild turkey but also to the state's sportsmen and women. The Federation has helped the Wildlife Department plant 11 miles of food plots on Honobia and Three Rivers Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), gate areas for walk-in hunting areas at Honobia, Three Rivers and Pushmataha WMAs, create fire guards for controlled burns at Wister WMA, remove eastern red cedars under turkey roosts on Ft. Supply and Cooper WMAs and plant roost trees and create artificial roost sites for turkey across western Oklahoma.

            "The National Wild Turkey Federation has helped us provide quality habitat improvements on numerous public areas for a variety of wildlife," said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the Department. "They have also provided equipment to the Department, including a $26,000 tree spade that will help us continue to improve wildlife habitat throughout the state. Our law enforcement and education efforts have benefited from our partnership with the Federation as well."

            The National Wild Turkey Federation has 325,000 members in all 50 states, Canada and 11 foreign countries and is the fastest growing conservation group in America. Internationally, the Federation has spent more than $135 million on wild turkey and other conservation related projects since 1985. Most recently, the Federation has donated $300,000 to the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, a national watchdog for the rights of hunters and has pledged $1 million over the next four years to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. For more information about the National Wild Turkey Federation or the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, log onto www.nwtf.org or www.wildlifedepartment.com.





Schedule your summer by the Outdoor Calendar

            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has a handy tool for sportsmen looking to participate in or announce outdoor activities. The "Outdoor Calendar" is just a mouse click away for anyone wanting the latest information about outdoor events happening throughout the state.

            Whether it's hunting, fishing, shooting, watchable wildlife opportunities or interpretive walks, there is something available here for every outdoor enthusiast.

            "It is one of the most popular pages on the Department's web site," said Kristen Gillman, web master for the Department. "The calendar provides easy access and is a great way for sportsmen and women to find out what is going on in Oklahoma's outdoors. We place the most up-to-date information in the calendar and welcome anyone wanting to publicize outdoor activities to provide us with that information."

            A version of the Outdoor Calendar has appeared in our weekly news release and in Outdoor Oklahoma magazine for many years now, and it will still appear in those publications, Gillman added. The Web site allows the Department the opportunity to provide the public with a more comprehensive and timely calendar so they can make plans for activities well in advance.

            Those interested in announcing outdoor activities on the calendar can provide that information by calling the Department's information and education division at 405/521-3856. To learn more about the Wildlife Department and the latest outdoor events, log onto the Department's Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.





You have a question; we have an answer

            Want to know about area hunter education courses? Need information on controlled hunts or about how to become a game warden?

            Answers to these common questions and many more can be found very quickly on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Web site.

            "The Wildlife Department receives questions from our constituents daily," said Kristen Gillman, the Department's webmaster. "We often receive the same questions over and over. So, we have compiled a list of more than 80 frequently asked questions and provided answers to them on the Web site."

            The Web site is easy to use and having a frequently asked question page allows the Department to provide sportsmen convenient and quick answers to many of their questions, Gillman added. Questions are divided into major categories including hunter education, controlled hunts, license and applications, hunting and fishing.

            To find the frequently asked questions page, download the latest fishing and hunting regulations, or find out more information about the Wildlife Department, go to www.wildlifedepartment.com.




Hunter education could go high tech

            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is coordinating efforts with the International Hunter Education Association to develop and implement an on-line hunter education program.

            "This is a multi-state project which is being coordinated through the International Hunter Education Association," said J.D. Peer, hunter education coordinator for the Wildlife Department. "The project aims to establish home-study hunter education opportunities on the Internet and should be complete within two years. Once the project is complete and the system is implemented, it will provide another option for sportsmen needing to take a hunter education course.

            "The on-line program will allow the Department and its constituents more flexibility in meeting the hunter education requirements. It should not reduce or replace traditional courses, but should reduce the amount of time students spend in a classroom. It will probably be similar to, and another alternative to, the home-study courses which have been very popular."

            Currently, Oklahoma requires hunter education certification for those born on or after January 1, 1972, who wish to purchase any hunting license or permit upon reaching 16 years of age. The certification is also required for anyone under 16 years of age wishing to hunt big game such as deer, antelope or elk. To be certified, students must receive 10 hours of hunter education and pass a written exam.

            Wildlife Department employees and certified hunter education volunteers conduct around 360 courses and certify 13,000 sportsmen across the state each year. Both standard courses and home-study courses are currently offered.

            To become certified during a standard class, students must attend 10 full hours of class-time and pass the written exam. The class-time may occur in one-, two- or three-day sessions. To become certified through a home-study course, a student must read and fill out a home-study manual, attend four hours of class-time and pass the written exam.

            "The home-study course can take more time than attending a regular course," Peer said. "But, it allows students to learn at their own pace and eliminates some scheduling and transportation problems. Offering the course on-line should provide these same benefits, plus make it more accessible for more students and should save the Department money by reducing the number of home-study manuals it has to purchase."

            Oklahoma has always had one of the nations lowest rates for hunting accidents, Peer added. The on-line course should provide another method to help the Department continue that tradition.

            For more information about the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Department's Hunter Education Program, or upcoming hunter education course locations, log onto the Department's Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.



Report Offers "Blueprint" for Voluntary Conservation Efforts


A report released by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Western Governors' Association offers a "blueprint" for governmental agencies, private landowners and nonprofit groups seeking to devise voluntary solutions that will not only reverse the decline of once abundant wildlife, but also benefit agriculture.

            "Ranch Conversations:  A Blueprint for Conserving Species and Rural Lifestyles," details a successful pilot project of the High Plains Partnership for Species at Risk that directly involves willing landowners in developing plans to help recover the lesser prairie chicken in the states of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

            The five states’ wildlife agencies had seen this rare groups numbers fluctuate drastically over five decades, then plummet in recent years.  To turn those numbers around, the agency directors agreed to work together as a region and formed the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group.  Since more than 90 percent of the land that was historic habitat for the lesser prairie chicken is in private ownership, one of their primary goals was to develop a cooperative working relationship with landowners.

            The lines of communication with landowners opened wide during and after a series of 12 “Ranch Conversations”. The message was, "We’re here to ask questions, not to pass edicts."

            Incentives have proved important to offset the costs landowners incur when making improvements that benefit the bird and its habitat. In the two years since the first Ranch Conversation was held in Buffalo, Oklahoma, more than 84,000 acres of private land have been committed to grazing and vegetation management plans that will enhance or recover range conditions to benefit lesser prairie chickens.  Another 200,000 acres of private land have been proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for enrollment in Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances as funding becomes available. 

            "Ranch Conversations opened the lines of communication between agencies and private landowners," said Colin Berg, chair of the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group. "We learned landowners across the five states are concerned about the declining populations of lesser prairie chickens. We also found they are interested in working with us as long as it isn’t detrimental to their ability to make a living off the land."

            Berg added, that it is sad to note that the funding just isn’t there to do the work that needs to be done. The interest is there, but so far the funding is inadequate. Because of positive relationships formed at the Ranch Conversations, private landowners, local communities, state and federal agencies are all working together to secure funding for future lesser prairie chicken conservation efforts.

            In the future, other initiatives will be undertaken using the model developed by the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group.  It is hoped that this document will assist other conservation initiatives that require cooperation between the public and private sector. 

            A copy of the report is available on the Western Governors' Association’s Website.           


Crawford accepts award for Hackberry Flat partners


            In recognition of leadership resulting in the restoration of Hackberry Flat, a significant wetland resource located in southwest Oklahoma’s Tillman County, seventh-district Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commissioner William H. Crawford has been awarded the 2001 Alexander Calder Conservation Award.

            Crawford received the commendation in a ceremony at the National Press Club, June 21, in Washington D.C. The award is sponsored by International Paper Company and is awarded by The Conservation Fund to recognize those who protect critical wildlife habitat in the United States.

            Crawford led the six year effort to restore Hackberry Flat by involving various corporations, businesses, and the City of Frederick in a partnership that included state and federal agencies and non-profit conservation organizations. His efforts resulted in the successful restoration of what was once the largest natural wetland in the state.

            "I am honored and humbled to accept the award on behalf of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and all the partners involved in restoring Hackberry Flat," said Crawford. "The blending of federal, state, local and business monies made the project unique. This award is unique because it recognizes that partnership and the work and dedication of all those involved."

            The award, celebrating vision, dedication and excellence, carries with it an unrestricted $10,000 grant. The funds will be donated to the Hackberry Flat Foundation for continued conservation and resource education according to Crawford. The Frederick businessman and resident was nominated for the award by Dr. Don C. Davis, president of Cameron University.

            The award was begun in 1987 in honor of Alexander Calder, who began the nation’s first corporate land gift conservation program under his chairmanship of Union Camp Corporation. Calder was one of the first executives to take a role in conservation and the corporation has since given 84,000 acres of land valued at $25 million to non-profit groups and public agencies. International Paper has continued the award program since its merger with Union Camp in 1999.

            Hackberry Flat is the most important wetland restoration project ever attempted in Oklahoma. The area was once considered the largest natural wetland in the state until it was drained in the early 1900s for agricultural purposes.

            With leadership from Crawford, the Wildlife Department undertook the Hackberry Flat restoration project in 1993. The Department acquired and restored 7,120 acres of wetlands and surrounding upland vegetation from willing sellers. Private contributors donated more than $1,500,000, including a contribution of more than $1 million from The Williams Companies, Inc., toward the project which was dedicated as the Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area in 1999.

            Since its dedication, Hackberry Flat has been a haven to thousands of migrating waterfowl, and has provided sportsmen with amazing migratory bird hunting opportunities. The area has also attracted a diversity of wading birds and shore birds, and provides many species with breeding habitat throughout the spring and early summer. It is rapidly becoming one of the states most visited watchable wildlife areas.

            To learn more about Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commissioner William Crawford or the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, log onto the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.


Cutline for photo: Seventh District Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commissioner William H Crawford was awarded the 2001 Alexander Calder Conservation Award in recognition of his leadership resulting the restoration of Hackberry Flat.


Prepare for fall with summer shooting

            Summer is here and while many are thinking about ballgames, barbecues and trips to the lake, others are thinking and preparing for the fall hunting seasons which are just around the corner.

            In Oklahoma, dove season traditionally starts each year’s fall hunting seasons when it opens on September 1. Dove are fast flying acrobatic targets and are a challenge for any shooter, but hunters can increase their success by practicing their wingshooting at a local skeet or sporting clays range throughout the summer.

            "Shooting skeet or sporting clays is a great way to spend quality time with family and friends," said Mike Sams, upland wildlife biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "It is a lot of fun and is also a great way to sharpen shooting skills. Practice is important in any sport and it is very important to becoming a proficient shooter."

            When shooting skeet, shooters fire at a total of 25 targets from eight different stations. Depending on the station, a shooter will face clay targets, or "birds," going away or incoming, as well as passing shots and overhead shots.

            Sporting clays, on the other hand, is often called "shotgun golf." A typical round of sporting clays consists of 50 targets in a variety of settings designed to mimic actual hunting situations. Shooters will face "birds" launched to imitate flushing quail, fast-flying doves, high-flying mallards and scampering rabbits. Many stations feature a combination, requiring quick reflexes and the ability to make snap decisions.

            While shooting skeet or sporting clays is generally inexpensive, shooters can usually get considerable discounts by joining a skeet or sporting clays league. Many ranges host summer leagues in which shooters often meet new friends, fellow gun enthusiasts and new hunting partners.

            "Shooting at the range is a great way to have fun and get some practice in a safe environment, but there are still some safety considerations to keep in mind," said J.D. Peer, hunter education coordinator for the Wildlife Department. "Shooters should always wear eye and ear protection and should always clearly identify their target and what is beyond their target. I would also recommend that any new shooter goes through a hunter education course before going to the range and handling or firing any firearm."

            Landowners and sportsmen who have access to private land where shooting is permitted can also practice on their own, added Peer. Those shooting on private land should always think safety first, and make sure they have an adequate area for pellets to travel safely downrange.

            Once a safe area is established, everyone can enjoy shooting with equipment available at many retailers, Those interested can often find a mechanical thrower for less than $40, and a box of clay targets usually costs less than $5.

            Every shooter should spend as much time at the range as they can. The time spent practicing will pay off on opening day of dove season and throughout the season.

            To find out information about skeet and sporting clays events happening across the state, or more information about the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Department’s hunter education program or current hunter education courses, log on to the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.





Mountain Fork River trout regulation takes effect January 1, 2002

            A new regulation changing size restrictions and bag limits on rainbow trout in Zone III of the lower Mountain Fork River will take effect January 1, 2002.

            The change will cover rainbow trout found in the portion of the Mountain Fork River designated as Zone III, that portion of the river from the re-regulation dam downstream to Highway 70.

            The lower Mountain Fork River contains three trout regulation zones. Regulations for rainbow trout will not change for Zones I and II, and brown trout regulations will remain the same for the entire stream. The change was approved by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission this past March and will take effect next January. The regulation will change the Zone III 20-inch minimum size limit, one per day bag limit on rainbow trout to six per day with no size limit.

            "There seems to be some confusion on when the regulation goes into effect," said Kim Erickson, fisheries chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "The main thing for anglers to keep in mind is that this change does not take effect until 2002 and that current regulations for brown trout will not change at all. We changed the regulation for rainbow trout because water temperatures in that portion of the river are warmer and very few rainbows were reaching 20 inches.

            "The key to the change is in the water temperatures during the summer. They just aren’t cold enough in that portion of the river for rainbow trout to reach 20 inches right now. If additional cold water releases become available in the future, we might reinstate size and bag restrictions. We just wanted to do the best thing for both anglers and the resource."

            There are a lot of nice rainbow trout in the river and the new regulation should allow anglers additional opportunities, Erickson added. Anglers will have the opportunity to take more trout home while still having an excellent opportunity to catch a trophy-sized trout. Anglers even have the opportunity to catch a state-record as the Mountain Fork produced the current state-record, 9 pound, 10.5 ounce brown trout, caught by angler Jim Horton this past January.

            For more information on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Mountain Fork River Trout Area, trout stocking information, or to download current fishing regulations, log onto the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com