Horny toads, bobwhites and long-range strategies

On the surface, horned lizards and bobwhite quail don’t seem to have much in common. But the one-shared response you will get from most Oklahomans is that there used to be more of both of them in past decades.

It wasn’t that long ago when, much to the dismay of most mothers, youngsters would bring home a horned lizard from the vacant lot down the street. But today a horned lizard, or horny toad as they are often called, is harder to find than an eight-track cassette.

Bobwhite quail, too, used to be in seemingly limitless supply - at least many hunters remember it that way. There was a bird dog in every backyard and a covey in virtually every fencerow. But, the times they are a changing. Although quail have been on the rebound the last couple of years, the species has witnessed a downward population trend over the last half century.

The need for large blocks of contiguous habitat is another commonality these two share. Changing agriculture practices, sprawling suburban communities and many other factors mean ever smaller islands of quality habitat, which means less and less habitat for birds and lizards.

Now for the good news. The Oklahoma conservation community is not sitting on their hands and watching the demise of these and other wildlife species. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, in collaboration with wildlife stakeholders, including state and federal agencies, farm and ranch groups, conservation and sportsmen’s groups, academic professionals and other Oklahomans, is now on the onset of an ambitious new project to further understand these two species and take the steps needed to restore and enhance their habitat. The group is creating a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy that will address the needs of all fish and wildlife species in the state.

Instead of focusing on just a single species in an isolated area, the plan will focus on the steps needed to protect, restore and enhance specific habitat types like tall grass prairie, thereby benefiting these two species and many, many more.

Hunters, anglers and boaters have traditionally funded the majority of fish and wildlife conservation. This funding has provided the means to restore deer populations, stock striped bass and many other successful conservation efforts. Unfortunately, this funding has not been enough to address the needs of all 800 plus wildlife species in Oklahoma. That is the case nationwide, and state fish and wildlife agencies have been working for 20 years to fill this funding gap. This new strategy is designed to find a way for a diverse group of wildlife stakeholders to work together towards common conservation goals.

The Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy is now on the brink of the next critical step in the process - public meetings. The opinions and desires of sportsmen, birdwatchers, landowners and anyone else with an interest in wildlife are an important component of the strategy.

Public meetings will be held across the state during the first week of March in Oklahoma City, Woodward, Lawton, McAlester, and Tulsa. Anyone with an interest in wildlife is invited to attend and voice their opinions on a variety of topics. Individuals can also express your thoughts about the strategy by logging on to wildlifedepartment.com.

All of the regional meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. Specific meeting sites are:

March 1: Oklahoma City, Metro Tech Spring Lake Campus, Business Conference Center, 1900 Springlake Drive

March 2: Woodward, City of Woodward Building, Pioneer Room, 1219 Eight Street

March 3: Lawton, Cameron University, Shepler Mezzanine, North of F Street, between the North and South Shepler Dormitories

March 4: McAlester, Ramada Inn, 1500 S George Nigh Expressway

March 5: Tulsa, OU Tulsa, Schusterman Center, 4502 East 41 Street



Stuarts leave wetland conservation legacy

Most sportsmen look for ways to give to the wildlife resource, but few can match the efforts of Harold Stuart and his wife Frances Langford Stuart.

“Harold and Frances Stuart are true conservationists,” said Greg Duffy, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Their commitment to wetland habitat across the state will be appreciated for generations to come.”

The Stuarts have a real passion for ducks and their wetland habitats. Contributions from the couple totaling $205,000 have assisted in the restoration and enhancement of nearly 5,000 wetland acres in Oklahoma.

“Wetland restoration work is not cheap, this is why partnerships with people like the Stuarts are so important,” said Alan Stacey, wetland habitat biologist for the Department. “Each of the projects that the Stuarts have helped to fund occur on public land. They have helped not only wetlands in the state, they have also raised the quality of areas available to Oklahoma hunters.”

In 1995, the Stuarts donated a total of $20,000 dollars to be used at the Deep Fork Wildlife Management Area, in Creek and Okfuskee counties. The donation, which was facilitated through NatureWorks, Inc. was used to create a 90-acre waterfowl refuge. The refuge, complete with dikes and water control structures, is used each year during the Department-sponsored youth waterfowl hunts.

The Stuarts continued their support in 1996 when they donated $20,000 towards the restoration and enhancement of a 4,000-acre historic wetland in southwest Oklahoma. Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area, in Tillman County, has gained nationwide recognition for providing critical habitat for a large number of migrating birds in the Central Flyway.

The couple also played a role in the acquisition of one of the most diverse wetland resources in the state. In 1997, the Stuarts donated $15,000, which went towards the purchase of the 1,100-acre Grassy Slough Wetland Reserve Program/Wildlife Management Area, in McCurtain County. The area provides year-round research and educational opportunities for university students from across the state. The 160-acre moist soil wetland unit also provides excellent waterfowl hunting opportunities for sportsmen.

In 2003 the Stuarts donated $150,000 through Ducks Unlimited to be used at Eufaula Wildlife Management Area in Okmulgee and McIntosh counties. The funding will be used toward to renovate and enhance an existing 700-acre greentree reservoir adjacent to the Deep Fork River. The project will include the development of a permanent pump station and underground water delivery system as well as the renovation of existing riprap-lined emergency spillways. The project will be designed and constructed by Ducks Unlimited and work is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2004.



Hugo Lake tops list of bass tournament lakes

Finding a good bass fishing lake in Oklahoma can be like finding a snowflake in a blizzard. Good bass fishing can be found just about anywhere you look in the state.

But according to a recent survey of bass tournament anglers, Hugo Lake in southeast Oklahoma is one of the best bass fisheries in the state.

With an estimated 1,300 tournaments held each year in the state, tournament anglers are an important part of the Department’s fisheries management team. In the course of their pursuits, they provide biologists with hundreds of thousands of hours of fishing data every year. And while this information is of critical importance to biologists, you can use the same data to help plan your next fishing trip.

Cooperating bass clubs submitted data from more than 727 tournaments from 49 lakes and 91 organizations in 2003. Biologists analyzed the information and compiled an overall lake ranking based on five fishing quality factors. Hugo Lake took first place as the state’s best overall tournament lake, followed by lakes Broken Bow, Okemah, Sardis and Texoma.

Both the average size of bass caught in tournaments and the average winning weights were up from the previous year. The overall success rate, which is based on anglers bringing at least one bass to weigh-in, was also up five percent from 2002.

A total of 33,368 bass were weighed in 2003. Those fish weighed 68,972 pounds, a 16-percent increase from 2002.

The overall ranking isn’t the only thing anglers should notice. If you’re looking for a lake where you can catch a lot of bass, for example, you should compare lakes in terms of numbers of bass caught per day. In that category, Broken Bow was the best last year, followed by Hugo and McGee Creek lakes.

Likewise, if you wanted the best chance of catching a bass larger than five pounds, you should compare lakes in terms of how long it took to catch a five-pounder or better. Guthrie Lake was the best lake for big fish, with tournament anglers taking an average of 27 hours of fishing to land a fish five pounds or larger.


Check line 34 to share with wildlife

Share with wildlife by making a refund donation to the Wildlife Diversity Program when you pay your state taxes this year. It’s a two-step process. Mark line 34 and then go to schedule 511-H to complete your donation.

The state tax check-off is an easy and important way for Oklahomans to show they care about wildlife, said Ron Suttles, natural resources coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

For the past 19 years, the Wildlife Diversity Program has relied on the support of Oklahomans who donate a portion of their tax refund.

“By sharing your refund, you help protect our state’s biological diversity,” Suttles said.

The Program funds and performs surveys of rare and endangered species like the Texas horned lizard, or horny toad, and declining species in the High Plains of western Oklahoma. It monitors the state’s largest Mexican free-tailed bat colony and is working with partners to aid approximately 400 species of songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and water birds.

The Program helps people connect with wildlife through the Winter Bird Survey, Eagle Watches and the Selman Bat Watch. It produces a variety of wildlife-related brochures and guides like the Landscaping for Wildlife book and helps establish new places and opportunities for the public to enjoy wildlife.

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. 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 to:

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

Another way to support the state’s wildlife and the Wildlife Diversity Program is to purchase a $25 Wildlife Conservation License Plate. Five wildlife designs 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.


“Outdoor Oklahoma” magazine seeks “Faces in the Outdoors”

If you love outdoor photography, “Outdoor Oklahoma’s” annual Readers' Photography Showcase offers a great chance to display your color slides, prints or digital photos in a magazine that consistently receives national recognition for its photographic excellence. Photographers, either professional or amateur, have until March 26 to submit their best shots.

"Photographs can be of anything found in Oklahoma's outdoors from scenics to wildlife, however, for this year’s showcase we’ve added a ‘Faces in the Outdoors’ emphasis. We are looking for outstanding images of people hunting, fishing and enjoying other outdoor activities," said Nels Rodefeld, “Outdoor Oklahoma” editor. "Not only is our state blessed with rich and diverse natural resources, we’re also home to many fascinating sportsmen and women. So send us your best shot of people in the outdoors whether it be the fresh smile of a young fisherman or the aged face of a veteran hunter."

According to Rodefeld, 35mm slides, color prints, and digital images will be accepted. Rodefeld added that original 35mm slides still offer the best color reproduction quality, but that “Outdoor Oklahoma” will accept high-quality images captured on digital cameras or in print photos.

“There’s no doubt the Readers' Photography Showcase is one of the most popular features in the magazine as evidenced by the hundreds of great images we receive each year,” he said.

The photographer's name, address and phone number need to be printed on each slide using a fine point pen or rubber stamp. Slides should not be encased in glass.

Each participant may submit up to five images and all entries will be returned undamaged. Each submission should include a brief description of the photo including location taken, camera used, names of subjects and what it took to get just the right shot.

Photographers can mail their submission to Paul Moore, Photo Editor, “Outdoor Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, P.O. Box 53465, Oklahoma City, OK 73152.

Individuals who wish to obtain their own copy of the July/August Readers Photo issue can subscribe to “Outdoor Oklahoma,” on the Universal License form wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold; or via credit card by calling 1-800-777-0019. Subscriptions are just $10 for one year, $18 for two years, or $25 for three years.


It’s not too late to give winter trout fishing a try

Got a touch of cabin fever? Eager to feel a tug on the end of your line?

It may be a tad early for the annual spring frenzy of crappie, largemouth bass and sand bass fishing, but the timing is perfect for a trip to one of Oklahoma’s six wintertime trout areas managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

“If you have never given winter trout fishing a try, then you’re really missing out,” said Barry Bolton, assistant chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department. “It is a great way to get outdoors with your friends and family during the winter months.”

Stretching from the panhandle to southeast Oklahoma, these fisheries provide trout fishing in areas where warm water temperatures are not suitable for trout during the summer. They are stocked regularly with catchable size rainbow trout and are very popular with anglers both young and old, according to Bolton.

Before going, check the “2004 Oklahoma Fishing Guide” for complete regulations, as well as maps and additional information for each area. In addition to a fishing license, all trout anglers must also purchase a $10 trout license. A youth (under 17) trout license is also available for $5.

Oklahoma’s seasonal trout fishing areas:

Lake Carl Etling - Located within Black Mesa State Park in Cimarron County, Etling totals 159 surface acres with very good shoreline access. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - April 30. To get there, take US-325 28 miles west of Boise City. Boat ramps are on the south and east sides of the lake. Primitive and developed camping facilities are available at the park.

Quartz Mountain - The trout water is in the North Fork of the Red River directly below the dam at Lake Altus-Lugert. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - March 15. To get there from Altus, take OK-44A north about 18 miles. Lodging and camping facilities are available at Quartz Mountain State Park.

Blue River - The Blue River flows through the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area near Tishomingo. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - March 31. To get there from Tishomingo, go four miles east on OK-78 and then six miles north. Bank access and wade fishing is available throughout the area. Primitive camping is allowed at the Blue River campground.

Robbers Cave - Located in Robbers Cave State Park, the Robbers Cave trout fishery is in the Fourche Maline River directly below Lake Carlton Dam to the south boundary of the park. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - March 15. To get there from Wilburton, go five miles north on OK-2. Bank access and wade fishing is available anywhere within state park boundaries. Camping facilities and cabins are available at the park.

Lake Watonga - This 55-acre lake lies within Roman Nose State Park. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - March 31. To get there from Watonga, go seven miles north on OK-8A. Bank access and a boat ramp are on the west side of the lake. Camping and lodging are available at the park.

Lake Pawhuska - This 96-acre lake is about three miles south of Pawhuska. Trout season runs Nov. 1 - March 31. During the trout season, the City of Pawhuska waives the City fishing fee. To get there from Pawhuska, go three miles south on OK-60, and then go 1.75 miles east on the county road. The lake has a boat ramp, fishing dock and restrooms. Primitive camping is available at the lake.

In addition to these areas, the Department also manages year-round trout fisheries at the lower Illinois and lower Mountain Fork rivers. The Department stocks both of these areas with brown and rainbow trout.


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.

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 instructors," 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 13th
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 20
Chain Ranch Sportsman Club and Canton 4H Shooting Sports Club
For more information contact Rick Syzemore at (580) 886-2449

Tulsa - March 27
Tulsa Gun Club
For more information contact Bryan Young at (918) 573-1115.

Broken Bow - April 17
For more information contact Dennis Wilson at (580) 286-5175

Ponca City - May 1
Ponca City Rifle & Pistol Club
For more information contact Don Roy at (580) 362-3860.

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

Davis - date to be announced
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

State Championship
Oklahoma City - June 19
OKC Gun Club
For more information, contact Paul Conrady at: (405) 341-6374


Waterfowl hunters can extend their season and help out the Arctic ecosystem at the same time

Waterfowl hunters who aren’t quite ready to hang up their goose hunting gear for the year have the perfect chance to extend their season and help out the arctic tundra at the same time. The Conservation Order Light Goose Season (COLGS), which takes effect February 16 and runs through March 31, 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.

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 continues 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.

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.

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.

For more information and regulations on the COLGS, hunters should consult the “2003-2004 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.


Spring fever has quick cure

The angler in your family may be acting a little strange lately. Constant gazing out the window, frequent trips to the garage to look over fishing equipment and repeated jaunts to the local tackle store - these are all sure signs of spring fever. But there is no need to worry, there is a quick and easy remedy. A trip to their favorite fishing spot will make any angler feel better, although repeated doses may be necessary for a complete cure.

After being cooped up during the winter months, 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.

“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.”

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 of the 39 official Oklahoma rod and line record fish were caught in the first five months of the year. From walleye to catfish, bass to bluegill, springtime is the right time to go fishing.

“No matter what kind of fishing you like to do, your odds are improving daily,” 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 “2004 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.


Wildlife-related bills heard by state legislators

This time of year most sportsmen are more concerned about what is happening at the local turkey roost or their favorite fishing hole than what is going on in the halls of the state capitol. However, the Legislature often addresses fish and wildlife during the annual legislative session.

Throughout Oklahoma’s history the state Legislature has worked in a spirit of cooperation with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which receives no state tax appropriations, to conserve the state’s rich natural resources and provide ample opportunities for hunters and anglers. Since the Legislature regularly deals with issues affecting sportsmen, every hunter, angler and wildlife enthusiast should remain aware of what bills are moving through the legislative branch.

While several different wildlife-related bills have already been introduced during the 2004 legislative session, each of the bills is still in the early stages of development. Before becoming law, bills must be approved by several different committees, pass through both the House of Representatives and the Senate and be signed by the Governor.

Sportsmen interested in tracking the 2004 wildlife-related bills currently being considered by the Oklahoma Legislature can do so with just a few clicks of the mouse. At the Wildlife Department's Web site (wildlifedepartment.com) individuals can track a bill from the time it is introduced until the time it hits the Governor’s desk.

The status of individual measures often changes frequently throughout the course of the session, but the site 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



Wildlife employment exam scheduled

If your career aspirations include such titles as game warden, wildlife and fisheries biologist or technician, fish hatchery manager or information specialist you will want to make sure you take the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) employment exam. The exam is the first step of the hiring process for anyone seeking the positions listed above.

On Friday, March 26, 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 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."

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. For more information, contact the Department of Wildlife’s Human Resources office at (405) 521-4640.