Commissioners make rule changes permanent

Members of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a slate of rule changes at their regularly scheduled, February 3 meeting in Oklahoma City.

            In last year’s session, the Oklahoma Legislature authorized the Wildlife Conservation Commission to establish a Blue River Conservation Passport for entering or using the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area in south central Oklahoma. Commissioners voted to implement that new rule and establish a fee for the passport.

Individuals who hold valid hunting or fishing licenses are exempt from purchasing the passport, which will cost $13.50. Exemptions will also be allowed for those under 18 years of age, students on educational tours and those participating in organized events sanctioned in advance by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The passport will be required beginning July 1, 2003.

A significant percentage of the visitors to the area, especially during the summer months, do not hold a hunting or fishing license. The Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area is one of the top trout fishing destinations in the winter and a favorite outdoor recreation place in the summer. The passport will help to maintain camping locations, provide upkeep for roads and manage wildlife habitat.

Commissioners also passed rules that restrict certain restricted aquatic fish species that are prohibited in the state. The current law requires a $10 license from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture to commercially raise fish, frogs and other aquatic species, and these rules spell out which non-native species are prohibited from being grown or sold.

Amid growing concern over one of the state's most unique fisheries resources, the Commission also made permanent rules pertaining to paddlefish that were already in place as temporary rules.

"The last few years, anglers have become very successful at harvesting paddlefish in their pre-spawning staging areas," said Kim Erickson, chief of fisheries for the Department. "These rules will help to maintain the health of paddlefish populations and ensure long term recreational opportunity."

Paddlefish are large, prehistoric fish found in Oklahoma mainly in the Grand and Neosho river systems. Paddlefish consume algae and zooplankton from the water by swimming slowly with their mouths open.

Several regulations were amended, starting with the statewide daily bag limit on paddlefish, which was changed to one fish per day year-round. Catch and release fishing will be allowed year round until an angler keeps his or her limit of one fish, then the angler must stop snagging. The new rules define a hook used in snagging as one single hook or one treble hook and require all hooks to be barbless.

For a complete list of the regulation changes regarding paddlefish, refer to page 8 of the “2003 Oklahoma Fishing Guide.”

In other business, Commissioners accepted a $1,200 donation from the 89er Chapter of Trout Unlimited. The funds will go to the construct a trout-rearing pen below the Broken Bow Lake dam at Spillway Creek.

“The 89er Chapter of Trout Unlimited has been a great partner in improving the trout fishing opportunities in the state. Over the last year alone, the group has donated $11,500 to benefit the trout program,” said Erickson.

A pair of Department employees were recognized for their service to the sportsmen of the state.

            Frank Huebert, Oklahoma game warden stationed in Major County, was recognized for his 25 years of service.

            “Frank has been very involved in the schools in Major County and has given many presentations to the kids about the great wildlife resources in the area,” said Greg Duffy, Executive Director of the Wildlife Department.

            Nick Woodard, Oklahoma game warden stationed in Grant County, was also recognized for his 25 years of service.

            “Over the years, Nick has proven to be a great asset to the sportsmen, the landowners and to the wildlife resources of Oklahoma,” Duffy said.

            Duffy also gave commissioners an update on the pre-filed bills in the Oklahoma state legislature, which relate to fish and wildlife conservation. A daily update of the progress of those bills will soon be available on the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com

Commissioners approved a budget increase of $30,000 to improve and increase the efficiency of the computer program which processes the controlled hunt applications over the Internet. Last year approximately 60 percent of the 20,000 controlled hunt applicants applied online.

            In other action, commissioners voted to solicit bids for leasing of mineral rights on an 85.24 acre property near Roman Nose State Park. The lease will include a “no surface entry” clause to protect the downstream watershed.

The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department, and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The next scheduled Commission meeting is March 3 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City at 9:00 a.m.



Hunting and fishing licenses available online

No more waiting in line, no more checking the mailbox, you can now purchase your hunting and fishing licenses online.

Simply log on to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com. Enter your information on the secure site, pick which licenses you would like to purchase, print your license off and head out on your next hunting or fishing adventure. You can pay using a MasterCard or Visa. There is a $3.00 convenience fee to use the online license service.

“We hope this will make hunting and fishing license sales even more convenient and accessible for the sportsmen,” said Melinda Sturgess-Streich, chief of administration for the Wildlife Department. “Now you can purchase your license any time of day while checking your e-mail or the latest sports scores.”

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation receives no general state tax revenues and is funded primarily by sportsmen, mostly through license sales. These funds go to conserving the state’s diverse fish and wildlife resources for future generations, while providing the best recreational opportunities possible. Every time you purchase a hunting or fishing license in Oklahoma, you are helping fund wildlife conservation in the state.

There is more than one way to buy your license, there are over 1,000 license dealers spread across the state - from sporting goods stores to bait shops, from convenience stores to large discount centers – there is a license dealer near most every Oklahoma community. You can also order an annual resident or nonresident license (or nonresident lifetime license) directly from the Wildlife Department by calling (800) 949-6392, Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. (Visa or MasterCard only. Allow for mailing time to receive your license). In addition, you can get an instant license over the phone, 24-hours a day, 365 days a year by calling Bass Pro Shop at (800) 223-3333.

For more information on hunting and fishing in Oklahoma consult the current Oklahoma hunting and fishing guides or log on to the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.



 Paddlefish one of state’s most unique fish

With an extra long snout, gaping mouth and enormous size, the paddlefish is certainly one of Oklahoma's most unique fish.

Paddlefish, or spoonbills, are large, prehistoric fish found in Oklahoma mainly in the Grand and Neosho river systems. Paddlefish, which can grow to over six feet long and weigh over 100 pounds, gather algae and zooplankton from the water by swimming slowly with their mouths open.

“There is certainly no other fish quite like it and fishing for paddlefish seems to be growing in popularity,” said Barry Bolton, assistant chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Mature paddlefish begin staging at the upper end of reservoirs in early spring in anticipation of the spawning run. As water temperatures rise and rains bring water levels up, paddlefish begin moving upstream to spawn.

Due to changes in their habitat, paddlefish only occupy a small percentage of their former range in the U.S. Oklahoma, however, has maintained a healthy population of paddlefish in northeast Oklahoma, according to Bolton.

During their annual spring spawning run paddlefish can be more vulnerable to overharvest. To provide the maximum sustainable fishing opportunities and to ensure the long-term health of the paddlefish population, the Wildlife Department has modified the fishing regulations which pertain to paddlefish.

"During the spring, paddlefish are concentrated in the river systems. Also, this species is slow to mature," Bolton said. "Paddlefish regulations are designed to ensure that our paddlefish fishery is viable for future generations of Oklahomans."

Several regulations were amended to ensure that paddlefish will be abundant for many years to come. The daily bag limit on paddlefish taken during the spawning season was reduced from three fish to one per day. Catch and release fishing will be allowed year-round until an angler reaches his limit of one and then the angler must stop snagging. The new rules define a hook used in snagging as one single hook or one treble hook and require all hooks to be barbless. Anglers will be required to tag (with name, address and license number) all paddlefish and paddlefish parts until reaching their residence. The new rules also allow non-residents to take four daily limits home (not in boat) and changes legal snagging hours below the dam at Ft. Gibson from "sunset to sunrise" to 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

For a complete list of the regulation changes consult the “2003 Oklahoma Fishing Guide” or log onto the Department's web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.



“Oklahoma Water Atlas” now available online

 The “Oklahoma Water Atlas,” one of the Oklahoma Water Resource Boards most popular publications is now available online at www.owrb.state.ok.us. Whether you are planning a fishing trip, camping vacation or just a picnic, the atlas includes a variety of helpful information.

            The new site features 142 federal, public and private lakes throughout the state and will soon include maps of recently constructed lakes and additional details about existing lakes as new information becomes available.


Great spring fishing ahead

             If the early bird gets the worm, then the early angler gets the fish.

The first few months of the year are very productive for fishermen, especially those who target big fish. If you need proof just check out the record book 26 out of the 39 official Oklahoma rod and line record fish were caught in the first five months of the year.

"Early spring is a great time to get outside and go fishing," said Barry Bolton, assistant fisheries chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “After the long winter, fish are becoming more active as they build up their energy reserves in preparation for spawning.”

Fishing is a great way to escape from the house and spend time enjoying the spring weather and the beauty of Oklahoma’s outdoors. Ponds, streams, rivers and lakes provide Oklahoma’s sportsmen ample opportunity for a quality fishing experience.

"Farm ponds are a particularly good bet early in the year, but don’t forget to obtain permission to fish from the landowner. The fish are responding to increasing water temperatures, which usually rise quicker than they do in larger bodies of water. Of course, temperatures are also rising slowly in many of our rivers and lakes, and fishing will only get better as those temps continue to rise."

Farm ponds are not the only place where good fishing can be found.

“It won’t be long until anglers will be seeking out their favorite spot for the annual white bass (sand bass) run,” Bolton said. “The spawning run begins in early March and continues through April in Oklahoma. Most creeks, streams and rivers that flow directly into a major reservoir are good places to find white bass. Fishing can be fantastic during these annual runs.”

Early spring is also a great time to target crappie, one of the states most sought after fish species.

“Crappie will soon begin moving into the shallows of lakes and reservoirs around the state,” Bolton said. “You can catch them from the bank or from a boat, and crappie are hard to beat at a fish fry.”

From walleye to catfish, bass to bluegill, spring time is the right time to go fishing.

“No matter what kind of fishing you like to do, just get out there and go,” Bolton said. "The state is blessed with thousands of acres of fishable waters and you can enjoy some great fishing with very basic equipment, so there isn’t any reason not to get out and enjoy the opportunity."

            Before heading out, anglers should consult the “2003 Oklahoma Fishing Guide” for specific species and area regulations as well as license requirements. The guides are available at fishing and hunting license vendors across the state or by logging on to the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.


Hunters asked to help manage snow goose populations

 Once again, hunters are being called on to help manage the overpopulation of snow geese. The Conservation Order Light Goose Season (COLGS), which takes effect February 17 and runs through March 30, is designed to reduce the mid-continent light geese population.

Light geese, which include snow, blue and Ross’ geese, have become so numerous that they are causing severe habitat destruction to their Arctic breeding grounds. Since 1999, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has cooperated with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to establish the COLGS.

"Continued habitat destruction to fragile arctic and subarctic habitats also affects a wide variety of other migratory bird species and arctic animals," said Mike O’Meilia, migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Hunters are always the first conservationists to step up and support wildlife management efforts, and the COLGS presents a unique opportunity for hunters to contribute to this important conservation effort."

Due to land-use practices in the south-central U.S. which are beneficial to light geese, adult survival rates have increased significantly. The overpopulation of light geese continue to degrade Arctic habitat. Because snow geese feed by grubbing and pulling out plants by the roots, large numbers can literally destroy extensive areas of the tundra.

"Hunting is one of the most effective tools we have to manage the over population of light geese," said O’Meilia. "The special COLGS regulations are designed to maintain the long-term health and stability of light goose populations."

The COLGS provides for certain special methods of take, including one-half hour after sunset shooting hours, no bag limits, electronic calls and unplugged shotguns. Even with the special regulations, the birds can be very challenging to harvest in Oklahoma, according to O’Meilia.

“The majority of birds, once they leave their wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast, will overfly our state, but the eastern half of the state is where most light geese can be found,” he said. “The spring distribution however, can be very scattered,  so successful hunters will have to be diligent about their day to day scouting.”

For more information and regulations on the COLGS, hunters should consult the “2002-2003 Oklahoma Waterfowl Hunting Guide,” available at license dealers across the state, or by logging on to the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.

Federal law requires that the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation estimate the harvest of light geese during the Conservation Order Light Goose Season. Hunters who plan to pursue snow, blue and Ross' geese during the Conservation Order are asked to register with the Department and provide their name, address and telephone number so a harvest survey can be administered when the COLGS ends.

Hunters can register for the season by going to the Department's Web site: www.wildlifedepartment.com

Or they can mail a letter or postcard to: Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation; Attn: COLGS; P.O. Box 53465; Oklahoma City, OK 73152.



Check line 34 for wildlife

Oklahomans concerned about wildlife conservation are urged to make a refund donation from line 34 of their state tax form this year. Thanks to tax form changes for 2002 it’s now a two-step process, you must also go to schedule 511-H to make your donation to this important program.

The refund check-off provides vital funding for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Wildlife Diversity Program.

"For more than 18 years now, Oklahomans have been supporting the Wildlife Diversity Program by donating a portion of their tax refund," said Ron Suttles, natural resources coordinator for the Wildlife Department. "By sharing their refund, they help protect our state's biological diversity. This is an easy and very important way for Oklahomans to show they care about wildlife.”

The Wildlife Diversity Program funds and performs surveys of rare and endangered species, produces a variety of wildlife-related brochures and guides, coordinates wildlife-viewing events throughout the state, and helps establish new places and opportunities through which the public can enjoy wildlife.

Remember, to help fund activities like these, make a refund donation on line 34 from line 1 of schedule 511-H of your state tax form this year, or have your tax preparer do so for you. There have been several changes to the 2002 tax forms, for questions regarding your donation to the Wildlife Diversity Program call the Oklahoma Tax Commission at (800) 522-8165; ext: 13160.

 Direct donations can also be made out to:

Wildlife Diversity Program, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, P.O. Box 53465, OKC, OK 73152.

Another way to support the Wildlife Diversity Program and show support for wildlife is by purchasing a $25 Wildlife Conservation License Plate. Five attractive designs of the popular license plates are available at your local tag agent.

The Wildlife Department is funded by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, federal excise taxes placed on hunting and fishing equipment and by private donations. The Department does not receive any general state tax appropriations.

Contact the Wildlife Diversity Program at (405) 521-4616 for more information about any of these activities or products, or visit the Department's web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.



Bobcat pelts bring higher prices 

            Fur buyers recently gathered in Chandler to attend the first of two fur auctions hosted by the First Oklahoma Trappers and Predator Callers Association.

            Fur prices are on the rise this year, with bobcat pelts bringing an average of $50 and a high of $110. Coyotes were also up with an average of $15 and a high of $25. Grey fox averaged out at $11 with a high of $13.

Hunters and trappers will have one more chance to sell their bounty this year. The second auction will be held Saturday, March 1 at the Creek County Fairgrounds near Sapulpa at the intersection of Route 66 and SH 33.

The event will begin at 8 a.m., and the auction will start at 9 a.m. The building will also be open the day before the sale 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 Association. 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 the seller 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. 


Wildlife funding bills clear House committee

            Two fish and wildlife funding bills were approved Feb. 18 by the Oklahoma House of Representative’s Wildlife Committee, the first step in the legislative process. The bills now await action by the full House.

            House Bill 1663, by Representatives Dale Smith and Joe Hutchison, would generate additional funds for wildlife conservation and fisheries management by increasing the cost of most annual hunting and fishing licenses, with the notable exception of youth licenses, which would actually decrease. An annual fishing license, for example, would rise from $12.50 to $20, while a combination hunting and fishing license would increase from $21 to $37.

            Under provisions of HB 1663, the price for youth licenses would decrease. In some cases, the youth license costs would be half of what the proposed adult license prices would be if the bill passed. For example, a youth combination hunting and fishing license would be $18.50, while adults would pay $37 for the same license. Youths 16 and older are currently required to purchase a regular annual hunting license, but the bill provides that youths ages 14 to 18 are entitled to purchase youth licenses.

            “The last hunting and fishing license fee increase was in 1994, which we projected at the time would provide sufficient revenue to meet the costs of providing services for only three or four years,” said Richard Hatcher, assistant director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “The Department does not receive any general state tax appropriations, so in response to inflation we have been forced to cut our budget more than six percent in the last five years. We’re still losing ground and additional services will be impacted unless we increase revenues.”

            Hatcher added that annual license fees in Kansas, New Mexico and Texas are significantly higher than what Oklahoma currently charges, with an annual hunting license costing $19.75 in Kansas, $28 in New Mexico and $19 in Texas. License fees in Arkansas and Missouri are similar to Oklahoma’s current fees, but both of those states share portions of a 1/8 cent statewide sales tax that is dedicated to fish and wildlife conservation.

            In the second funding measure, House Bill 1419 by Rep. Joe Hutchison, fees for lifetime hunting and fishing licenses would increase. The lifetime hunting license would increase from $400 to $600 while the lifetime fishing license would rise from $150 to $200. Lifetime combination licenses would increase from $525 to $750.

            Hunters and anglers interested in tracking these and other new fish and wildlife laws currently being considered by the Oklahoma Legislature should be sure to bookmark the Wildlife Department's Web site (wildlifedepartment.com). Sportsmen can track a bill from the time it is introduced until the time it hits the Governor’s desk.

The status of individual measures is updated daily as changes occur. In addition, links are provided to the Legislature and to previous legislative sessions. To find the legislative tracker, go under "Weekly Wildlife News" on the Department's index, or first page. From there, click on "Legislative Tracker." The exact URL is www.wildlifedepartment.com

A number of other wildlife-related bills also are awaiting action, including:

            House Bill 1138, which transfers the Division of Parks of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department to the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission.

            House Bill 1492, which would expand the type of wildlife covered and functions of the wildlife habitat development program.

            House Bill 1493, which would change the expiration date for commercial wildlife breeder’s and commercial hunting area licenses.

            House Bill 1565, a measure that authorizes the sale of squirrel hides.

            House Bill 1566, which modifies restrictions on confinement of bears and cats and increases the fee for a commercial wildlife breeder’s license.

            Senate Bill 360, which modifies provisions relating to commercial wildlife breeders’ possession of bears and cats.

            Senate Bill 362, which prohibits taxidermists from selling certain wildlife products.

            Senate Bill 449, which removes prohibitions against the Wildlife Department issuing big game licenses to nonresidents.

            Senate Joint Resolution 9, which would call for a vote of the people to provide constitutional protection for hunters and fishermen.


 Angler reels in the third largest largemouth bass in the state

 One more meal, perhaps a shad or a few crayfish, and the smile on Dave Masters’ face would be even brighter. Not that Masters was hungry, but if the huge, 14-pound, 8.5-ounce largemouth bass he caught recently was just three ounces heavier, it would have broken the state record.

Masters, who lives in Bixby, caught the lunker on a jig on an undisclosed lake in northeast Oklahoma. His nine-year old son helped him bring the impressive fish into the boat, just as the sun was going down Wednesday, February 12. The largemouth is the third largest bass ever recorded in Oklahoma. The big bass was weighed on certified scales at Greenwood Convenience and Outdoor Center in Skiatook.

“This is certainly the time of year to go fishing for the really big bass,” said Bill Wentroth, northwest region fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “If you look at the top 20 largemouth bass caught in Oklahoma, you can see that most were caught in early spring.”

The current record is held by William Cross for a 14-pound, 11-ounce largemouth bass he caught in Broken Bow Lake in March of 1999.

For a complete list of record fish and the procedures regarding state record fish consult the “2003 Oklahoma Fishing Guide.” If you think you may have hooked a record fish it is important that you weigh the fish on certified scales and that the weight is witnessed by a Wildlife Department employee.


Photo Cutline: Dave Masters, of Bixby, recently caught the third largest bass recorded in Oklahoma. The lunker tipped the scales at 14 pounds, 8.5 ounces.

Not too late to bid on elk hunt

It’s not too late, but time is running out on the unique opportunity to bid on a fully guided bull elk hunt at Cookson Wildlife Management Area. All bids must be received at Oklahoma Department of 0Wildlife Conservation headquarters in Oklahoma City by 4:30 p.m., Friday, March 7. For the fifth year in a row the ODWC is auctioning a bull elk hunt, and the proceeds will go to the Hunters Against Hunger program.

Through a sealed bid auction, the hunter with the top bid has successfully harvested a trophy bull for the past four years. Last year’s winner took a 6x7 bull. The hunt, which generated over $11,000 last year, is a guided three-day hunt anytime in September, October or November (subject to availability) 2003. The broken hills and rugged landscape of Cookson Hills will challenge even the seasoned elk hunter. The hunter can choose to use a bow and arrow, muzzleloader or modern rifle.

Hunters who wish to submit a bid should fill out their name, address, day & evening phone numbers with their bid amount on a card or letter, which should then be sealed in an envelope. Bids can be dropped off at ODWC headquarters or mailed to Oklahoma Auction Elk Hunt, P.O. Box 53465 Oklahoma City, OK 73152. The bids will be opened Monday, March 10.

Bidding is open to individuals and organizations. The permit may be transferred one time by the successful bidder. Payment must be received within 10 days of notification.

“Proceeds from the elk hunt auction will assist the Department’s Hunters Against Hunger program,” said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the ODWC. “Through a network of statewide food banks that distribute donated venison to local shelters, the program has served meals to thousands of needy Oklahomans.”

For additional information about the Hunters Against Hunger program, consult the “2003 Oklahoma Hunting Guide,” or log onto the Department’s Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.



 Plan approved to address audit points

A recently released federal audit of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's (ODWC) 1996 and 1997 Fiscal Years federal grants programs found no unaccounted or undocumented expenditures or revenues, although the report did question federal program accounting. During the Fiscal Years 1996 and 1997 the federal aid grant program provided approximately $16 million for ODWC activities.

Specifically, the 32-page audit report, issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector General, identified several issues relating to the timing of program expenditures relative to the grant periods. It also questioned how revenue from grazing, agricultural crop and oil and gas income was reported.

"There were differences in the interpretation of policies in grant administration between the state, the federal government and the audit contractors," said N. Joyce Johnson, chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's federal aid program in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "During the audited period, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was in the process of developing policy clarification for program income requirements, which lead to misinterpretation by several state agencies, including the ODWC with respect to grazing and agricultural crop income from lands managed with federal grant funds."

Johnson said that the federal government is now clarifying policies both nationally and with the ODWC, adding that better communication between agencies should keep these issues from being raised in future audits.

A corrective action plan addressing audit findings and recommendations has been developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with ODWC. The corrective actions do not require reimbursement of grant monies to the federal government.

"All issues were resolved to the satisfaction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Wildlife Department," said Harold Namminga, federal aid coordinator for the Wildlife Department.

Namminga said a contractor conducted the field audit of the agency for the Fish & Wildlife Service to determine allowable costs charged to the grant programs for reimbursement, and evaluate adequacy of financial and control systems of the Wildlife Department. The Office of Inspector General reviewed the findings and prepared the final audit report. Similar audits have been conducted at state wildlife agencies across the country in the last five years as part of a federal initiative to provide better oversight and accountability of federal grant funds.

"This audit was the most comprehensive and thorough audit this agency has had during my career with the Wildlife Department," said Greg Duffy, director of the agency. "The auditors were officed at our headquarters building for approximately six months, traveled to many of our field installations, examined nearly every grant document and thousands of financial records. This audit has been helpful in assisting the agency in identifying and implementing improved administrative procedures."


New Landowner Assistance Program announced for northwest Oklahoma

Good news for Oklahoma landowners and Oklahoma wildlife. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation recently announced an award of $1.5 million from Congress for a new Landowner Incentive Program to assist private landowners in conserving the short and mixed-grass prairie habitat of northwest Oklahoma.

            “We are excited about this program and we are anxious to begin working with landowners to conserve prairie habitat and wildlife. We expect to have the program up and running by mid-summer,” said Ron Suttles, Natural Resources Section head for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “We believe this program will benefit both landowners and wildlife.”

The grant is part of $34.8 million package spread over 42 states and administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

"If conservation is going to be successful in the 21st century, we must empower citizen stewards to conserve and protect natural  resources while also achieving important community and economic  goals," said Gale Norton, U.S. Secretary of the Interior. "We must provide new and expanded opportunities for landowners, land managers, and others to  participate in projects that foster innovation and create  incentives for stewardship. The Landowner Incentive Program accomplishes this."

The Landowner Incentive Program will provide direct payments to landowners who work to ensure that their land management practices co-exist with native prairie habitat and wildlife.

“Landowners are critical in conserving and enhancing short and mixed-grass prairie,” said Larry Wiemers, grasslands species at risk coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Of course, many landowners are already doing this and have been for years. Hopefully, this program will provide an extra encouragement for more landowners to join in.”

The payments will be made through 10-year conservation agreements similar to the highly-successful Conservation Reserve Program. Program details are being prepared and should be finalized by early July.

“Many landowners will not have to alter their grazing practices and they certainly won’t have to give up any rights as a landowner to be a part of the program,” Wiemers said. “These agreements are intended to provide financial and technical assistance to landowners who voluntarily protect and maintain these important high plains habitats.”

The program will be focused in northwest Oklahoma with emphasis on restoring and conserving wildlife species such as the lesser prairie chicken, burrowing owl, swift fox and black-tailed prairie dogs.

For more information about the Landowner Incentive Program call Larry Wiemers at (405) 424-0096.


Wildlife employment exam scheduled

If your career aspirations include such titles as game warden, wildlife and fisheries biologists or technicians, fish hatchery managers or information specialist you will want to make sure you take the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) pre-employment exam. As part of its selection procedures, the ODWC requires persons seeking positions to take a standardized employment exam before being considered for open positions.

On Friday, March 28, the ODWC is offering its standardized employment exam at 10:00 a.m. at the Tom Steed Development Center Auditorium located on the Rose State College campus. The Center is located immediately north off of I-40 on Hudiburg Road in Midwest City. The exam is free and participants must have photo identification upon check-in. Late arrivals will not be permitted to enter the examination room past 10:00 a.m.

"Two different exams will be given," said Kyle Eastham, Human Resource Administrator for the Department. "One exam is for biologist, game warden, assistant hatchery manager and information specialist level positions. These positions require a Bachelor's level college degree. The other exam is for technician level positions, which typically require either two years of college coursework in wildlife or a related field, or four to six years of similar job experience."

Eastham added that the education requirements for game warden positions have changed slightly.

“A bachelors degree with a preference for wildlife or a related discipline is still required for game warden positions, but, this year, any bachelor's degree with at least 16 credit hours in wildlife related course work such as wildlife, zoology, biology, agriculture, range management, environmental science or forestry will also be accepted,” said Eastham.

Specific job and education requirements for ODWC positions as well as suggested study material for the exams are listed on the Department's official Web site www.wildlifedepartment.com. In addition, the ODWC's Requirements and Selection Procedures brochure can be picked up at either ODWC Headquarters in Oklahoma City, or the new Tulsa-area office located at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks.

Individuals may take the exam once in a 12-month period. Test scores are valid for 12 months from the test date. Top scorers will be invited to submit an employment application. When a job opening becomes available, selected applicants from the test register will be scheduled for an interview. 


Department's magazine, TV show, Web site recognized

            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s “Outdoor Oklahoma” magazine, Web site and television show recently received several prestigious awards from the Oklahoma Professional Chapter of the Society of professional Journalists.

Since 1909, the Society of Professional Journalists has worked to improve and protect journalism. With chapters across the nation, this professional organization is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior.

“It’s easy to do good work when you have such great subject matter,” said David Warren, chief of information and education for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “These awards are really reflective of the hard work that all the Department employees are doing across the state, as well as the outstanding natural resources we are blessed with in Oklahoma.”

The contest drew nearly 600 entries, which were judged by three out-of-state SPJ chapters. Awards in newspaper, television, radio, magazines, Web sites and public relations were presented.

The Department received the following awards:

The Department’s weekly television program, “Outdoor Oklahoma,” placed first in the sports feature, and videography/sports feature categories. Both awards were given for a pond fishing show featuring Alan Trimble, Jenks football coach.

A show featuring the Red Slough Wildlife Management area took third in the special program or documentary category. A show featuring a Baron Fork River float trip placed third in the videography - series/documentary category.

            “Outdoor Oklahoma,” the Department’s bi-monthly magazine, placed first in the feature photography category for the Reader’s Photography Showcase in the July/August 2002 issue. The July/August issue of “Outdoor Oklahoma” also placed second in the magazine - overall excellence category.

            The Department’s Web site (www.wildlifedepartment.com) was awarded an honorable mention in the best Web site category. 


Youth hunters to test their skills

Youth hunters who would like to test their knowledge and skills can sign up for one of eight Youth Hunter Education Challenge events (YHEC) that will be held across the state this spring.

“These events are a great way to stay involved in hunting and outdoor recreation all year long, and they are also a great way to hone your skills in the off-season and maybe even learn a few new ones,” said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The YHEC is a program developed exclusively for hunter education course graduates from North America up to 19 years of age. YHEC provides graduates with a unique opportunity to test their abilities at a variety of hunting techniques, including shotgun, archery, and rifle events. The event is divided into youth and senior competitions with both groups competing at the same level of difficulty. Participants also are tested on their knowledge of wildlife species, knowledge of regulations and hunting ethics. Knowledge is tested on the hunter safety trail where participants are led through simulated hunting scenarios and must not only determine when it is legal to harvest game, but also must make correct decisions about whether to shoot at all.

This training ensures the future of the American hunting tradition as a safe, viable, recreational activity the entire family can enjoy. Though participants are scored and ranked in all YHEC events, the program’s competitive edge is diminished, as the real challenge focuses on personal improvement.

"YHEC has grown to include hundreds of young people each year because of the hard work and passion of hunter education volunteers," said Meek. "It's a good chance for young people to continue their wildlife education beyond completing a hunter education course."

YHEC is sponsored by Friends of the NRA through their grant program. It first came to Oklahoma in 1997.

For more information about upcoming YHEC events contact Paul Conrady at (405) 341-6374. For more information about hunting and to find a link to the YHEC Web site, go to wildlifedepartment.com.

Following is a list of 2003 Oklahoma Youth Hunter Education Challenges:

Enid - March 15th
Garfield Rifle Assoc., Cherokee Strip Archery Club, Grand National Quail Club Gun Range
For more information contact Dale Adkins at (580) 242-1906

Canton - March 22
Chain Ranch Sportsman Club
For more information contact Rick Syzemore at (580) 886-2449

Tulsa - March 29
Tulsa Gun Club
For more information contact Bryan Young at (918) 573-1115.

Woodward - May 3
Woodward Rifle & Pistol Club
For more information contact Rick Menefee at (580) 256-6438.

Davis - May 10
Southern OK Sportsmens Club
For more information contact Jim Pumphrey (580) 226-3263

Norman - May 17
Tri-City Gun Club
For more information contact Robby Wallace at (405) 954-8030

Broken Bow - date to be announced
For more information contact Dennis Wilson at (580) 286-5175

Ponca City - June 7
Ponca City Rifle & Pistol Club
For more information contact Don Roy at (580) 362-3860           


Oklahoma City - June 21
OKC Gun Club
For more information, contact Paul Conrady at: (405) 341-6374  -30-