MAY 2008 NEWS RELEASES 

 

WEEK OF MAY 1, 2008

 

WEEK OF MAY 8, 2008

WEEK OF MAY 15, 2008 WEEK OF MAY 22, 2008 WEEK OF MAY 29, 2008

 

New Three Rivers agreement approved
            At its May meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to accept a new land use agreement with Weyerhaeuser Company for the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in McCurtain County.
            Under the new three-year agreement, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will lease 250,190 acres at 50 cents per acre per year for recreational public access as the Three Rivers WMA. As in the past, a Land Access Permit will be required of users.
            Beginning Aug. 1, the cost of that permit will increase to cover the cost of the new lease. Oklahoma residents ages 18-63 are required to purchase the annual Land Access Permit, which will be available for $40 at any vendor that sells hunting and fishing licenses. A three-day non-hunting and non-fishing permit will be available to Oklahoma residents for $10. A non-resident permit will be $85 per year, with no exemptions. Permits purchased prior to the price increase will be valid through the end of the year.
            Additionally, ATV use will only be allowed during deer season (Oct. 1 – Jan. 15) and only by licensed deer hunters. The following guidelines will apply to ATV use on the area:
* Any hunter while operating an ATV/ORV at any time must comply with daylight florescent orange requirements as required for deer gun seasons. If a crash helmet is worn, only the fluorescent orange chest covering is required.
* ATV/ORV use is restricted to WMA roads that are on the current Three Rivers WMA map unless otherwise closed.
* Only unaltered standard manufactured ATV/ORVs with a 700 cc motor displacement or less are allowed.
* ATV/ORV use shall be restricted to a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour.
* ATV/ORV operators and passengers under the age of 18 must wear a crash helmet that complies with standards established by 49 C.F.R., Section 571.218.
* Passengers in addition to the operator are not allowed on ATV/ORVs unless that ATV/ORV has been specifically designed by the manufacturer to carry passengers in addition to the operator.
* Leaving any ATV/ORV unattended on Three Rivers WMA without the owner’s name and address conspicuously attached is prohibited.
 
            Use of ATV/ORVs off of delineated roads for retrieval of lawfully taken and tagged deer is permissible only with the following restrictions.
* ATV/ORVs shall not travel more than one half mile from the nearest road.
* ATV/ORVs shall not cross rivers and streams unless on a road with constructed stream crossing structures.
* ATV/ORVs used for deer retrieval shall not be used in areas otherwise closed to the use of motor vehicles.
            “For the past 10 years Weyerhaeuser, through an agreement with the Wildlife Department, has allowed hunters and anglers to use our property; however, that contract will expire this May,” said Matt Williams, Weyerhaeuser timberland manager in Oklahoma and Arkansas. “Many things have changed in the past 10 years, including the economies of timber production. Although this new agreement will be much different than our previous one, we think it represents a significant opportunity for hunters and anglers, with over 1,000 miles of private roads, hundreds of streams and rivers for all types of outdoor recreation.”
            Williams said the company looks forward to building on the success of the last 10 years, which has included both opportunities for sportsmen and benefits for conservation.
            “There’s been quality hunting and fishing experiences for the public to enjoy. There’s been a reduced incidence of wildfire, unauthorized access and dumping on the property that is critical to our continuing this agreement,” Williams said.
            Williams said the Department’s agreement with Weyerhaeuser involves what may be the largest property in the country of its kind where a private timberland company and public entity have entered into a cooperative agreement to allow public access.
            “Although we manage our properties primarily for timber production, Weyerhaeuser is dedicated to enhancing fish and wildlife resources and we hope to continue providing quality public recreation on a good portion of our property,” Williams said. “This new agreement solution is positive for all parties involved — Weyerhaeuser, the Wildlife Department and the sportsmen.”
            Richard Hatcher, assistant director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said the encouraging thing about the new agreement is that both the Wildlife Department and Weyerhaeuser are very committed to maintaining the strong tradition of public hunting and fishing in the area.
            “This area is a large contiguous area that will continue to allow us to focus our resources and management efforts,” Hatcher said. “Every dollar brought in from the land access permit goes right back into the area, whether to pay the lease or manage the property.”
            Though there are different terms and conditions with the new agreement than there has been in previous agreements, Hatcher says it is important for sportsmen to look at the big picture.
            Located in McCurtain County, Three Rivers WMA comprises thousands of acres of timberland in the rugged hill country of the Ouachita Mountains. Each year about 15,000 users purchase a Land Access Permit. The area is a popular spot among deer hunters, and last year, hunters harvested more than 1,200 deer on the area.
            Composed primarily of pine and mixed oak forests, Three Rivers supports large numbers of whitetail deer and eastern wild turkey, as well as plentiful numbers of small game such as rabbits and squirrels. The area also supports an abundance of non-game wildlife, particularly songbirds. Several highland streams flow through both areas, offering excellent fishing opportunities for a number of game species, particularly smallmouth bass.
            Land access permit holders also have access to the nearby Honobia Creek WMA, an additional 75,000 acres of land.
            For more information about the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Southeast Oklahoma land access continues; private land elk season continues to expand
            At its May meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to accept a new agreement between the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Weyerhaeuser Company for land use in the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area in southern McCurtain County.
            The Department’s 10-year lease term with Weyerhaeuser is expiring in May, and under the new agreement, just over 250,000 acres at a lease cost of 50 cents per acre will be included in a three-year lease.
            Just as in the past, a Land Access Permit will be required of users. The cost of that permit, however, will increase Aug. 1 to help cover the cost of the new lease. Oklahoma residents ages 18-63 are required to purchase the annual Land Access Permit, which will be available for $40 at any vendor that sells hunting and fishing licenses. A three-day non-hunting and non-fishing permit will be available to Oklahoma residents for $10. A non-resident permit will be $85 per year, with no exemptions.
            Additionally, ATV use will only be allowed during deer season and only by licensed deer hunters and under certain regulations. A complete list of the new ATV regulations can be viewed on the Wildlife Department’s Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.
            Although Weyerhaeuser manages its properties primarily for timber production, officials with the company say its relationship with the Wildlife Department has been beneficial to the Three Rivers WMA area, resulting in less incidence of wildfire, unauthorized access and littering as well the opportunity for quality hunting and fishing.
             “This new agreement solution is positive for all parties involved — Weyerhaeuser, the Wildlife Department and the sportsmen,” said Matt Williams, Weyerhaeuser timberland manager in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
            Richard Hatcher, assistant director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said the encouraging thing about the new agreement is that both the Wildlife Department and Weyerhaeuser are very committed to maintaining the strong tradition of public hunting and fishing in the area.
            “This area is a large contiguous area that will continue to allow us to focus our resources and management efforts,” Hatcher said. “Every dollar brought in from the Land Access Permit goes right back into the area, whether to pay the lease or manage the property.”
            Other business at the Commission’s May meeting involved elk hunting in southwest Oklahoma. Following last month’s decision to increase elk hunting opportunities on Oklahoma’s private lands in the southwest part of the state, the Commission voted this month to expand opportunities even further.
            The Commission recognizes the free-ranging elk on lands east and west of SH 115 in Kiowa, Comanche and Caddo counties as two independent elk herds — the Granite herd to the west of the highway, and the Slick Hills herd to the east of the highway. According to Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Wildlife Department, the Slick Hills elk herd has nearly doubled in recent years, and suitable elk habitat in that area is limited.
            The Commission proposed emergency rules to increase the bag limit on elk that can be taken on private land in Caddo, Comanche, and Kiowa counties. Last month, the Commission approved more days to hunt elk, whereas this month they increased the season limit to two elk on lands east of SH 115, one of which must be a cow elk. The decision also simplifies the licensing process for hunters. Hunters can now purchase an elk license anywhere that sells hunting licenses but still must carry written permission from the landowner while in the field.
            Peoples said at last month’s Commission meeting that landowners in the affected counties revealed a desire to harvest more elk and to limit depredation problems caused by elk in agricultural areas.  
            In other business, the Commission approved a resolution placing a three-year moratorium on commercial turtle harvest in state waters.
            “We feel we don’t have enough information about the impact of commercial turtle harvest in public waters to justify the current system,” said Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department. “This resolution will give us time to better understand the impacts this practice could have on the resource. In the meantime, turtle harvest for private use will continue without a change in regulations.”
            Commercial harvest will continue to be permitted on private land waters, such as farm ponds.
            The Commission also recognized Scott Webb, wildlife technician at Sandy Sanders WMA, for 20 years of service to the Wildlife Department.
            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 set for 9 a.m. June 2 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.  
 
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Five-year hunting and fishing license to benefit sportsmen in 2009
            Ask any Oklahoman how much money they spend on their favorite pastime — whether it is golf, shopping, video games or another activity — and you will quickly learn that hobbies can cost big bucks. Sportsmen are no different, spending money on the latest gear, hunting leases, outdoor apparel and gasoline and food for their outings. But starting in January 2009, Oklahoma sportsmen will have the option of getting a great bargain by purchasing a five-year hunting, fishing or combination license at a fraction of the cost of buying an annual hunting and fishing license each year.
            State Rep. Randy McDaniel (R) recently authored House Bill 2667, which was recently signed into law by the governor, creating five-year hunting, fishing or combination licenses that will be available to sportsmen in 2009. Senator John Ford (R) was the Senate author.
            “Hunting and fishing are great traditions in Oklahoma and improve the quality of life for all who enjoy the outdoors,” Rep. McDaniel said. “The five-year combination hunting and fishing license will be an exceptional value for sportsmen, and it will encourage participation in our state’s outdoors.”
            Rep. McDaniel is the state’s District 83 representative (northwest Oklahoma City) and serves on several House committees, including Tourism and Recreation, for which he is vice chair; Industry and Labor; Arts and Culture; Human Services; and Health. Sen. Ford represents District 29 (northeast Oklahoma).
            The bill sets the fee for these licenses at $88 for a five-year fishing license, $88 for a five-year hunting license and $148 for a combination license, which also includes the five-year fishing and hunting legacy permit. Normally, hunters and anglers pay $5 each year for the legacy permit, or $25 over five years.
            “For most sportsmen, five years of annual combination licenses and fishing and hunting legacy permits comes to about $210, but for just $148 sportsmen can get a hunting and fishing license as well as a fishing and hunting legacy permit that will last five years,” said Melinda Sturgess-Streich, assistant director of administration for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “That is an enormous saving.”
            Sportsmen who hold a five-year license will still be required to purchase other applicable annual permits such deer and turkey licenses, appropriate waterfowl stamps, land access permits and other permits where required.
            The five-year fishing, hunting or combination license will be available in January 2009 at any sporting goods store or location that sells hunting and fishing licenses, or online through the Wildlife Department’s Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.
            The Wildlife Department is the state agency charged with conserving Oklahoma’s wildlife. It receives no general state tax revenues and is funded by sportsmen through the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and special federal excise taxes on sporting goods.
 
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Lake Arcadia family fishing clinics slated throughout summer
            As the weather continues to warm up, families may be taking notice of all the fishing opportunities that surround them, including the opportunity to learn about the popular sport. And there are plenty of opportunities throughout the summer thanks to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Aquatic Resources Education Program (AREP).
            “There is a lot of great fishing in Oklahoma, but if you have never been introduced to the sport, it can be beneficial to have some help,” said Damon Springer, aquatic education coordinator for the Wildlife Department. “One of our family fishing clinics, held throughout the summer, is a great place to start.”
            Starting May 20, the aquatic education program will host the free family fishing clinics from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every Tuesday evening through Aug. 12.
            Pre-registration is required and can be done by calling (405) 521-3855.
            The Aquatic Resources Education Program is the Department's means to promote the sport of fishing and aquatic resource awareness as well as a way to give youth, regardless of family situation, an opportunity to learn about Oklahoma's aquatic environments and how to fish.
            Developed in 1988, the program's objectives are to increase the understanding, appreciation, and awareness of Oklahoma's aquatic resources; facilitate the learning of angling skills, outdoor ethics, and sportfishing opportunities in the state; enhance urban fishing opportunities; develop adult fishing clinics or seminars and provide information on specialized fishing techniques.
            These one-day events present information on such topics as fish identification, knot-tying, fish cleaning and cooking, fishing tackle selection and use, water safety, outdoor ethics and more.
            Most clinics, including Lake Arcadia family fishing clinics, include fishing at a nearby pond or lake.
            Family fishing clinics are also available in the Tulsa area at the Oklahoma Aquarium’s Zebco Pond. For more information call the Wildlife Department’s Jenks office at (918) 299-2334.
            For more information about the Aquatic Resources Education Program, log on to the Department’s Web site at http://www.wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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New crappie records set, but could be broken again soon
            Two recent crappie catches at Texoma and Thunderbird fill spots in the state’s lake record books as well as tip off one of the hottest times of the year to catch crappie.
            The Texoma crappie was caught by Edmond angler Charles Cather on a jig and tipped the scales at 2.8 lbs. The Thunderbird crappie was caught April 28 by Shelby Adcock, Moore, and weighed 2.3 lbs. And officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say anglers hoping to catch their own lake record crappie, or even just a mess of fish to serve at the dinner table, may have their best chance now.
            “We’re coming into a time of the year when catching a lake record crappie could be easier than ever,” said Greg Summers, fisheries research laboratory supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “But even if you don’t catch a record, you can certainly catch high numbers of fish, and you can do it without a boat and with simple tackle.”
            Summers is referring to annual the spawning activity of crappie, when they move to shallow waters — usually only two to three feet deep. Naturally, this activity makes the shallows along banks an excellent place for anglers to target the highly sought after fish as well to introduce youngsters to the sport of fishing.
            “All anglers really need for bait this time of year for crappie fishing is a handful of jigs or minnows,” Summers said.
            Anglers hoping to score on crappie this time of year should concentrate on brush and rocky structure in shallow water. Anglers know crappie will bite a variety of bait, are easily accessible from the bank and make excellent tablefare.
            For a complete list of regulations, anglers should consult to the current “Oklahoma Fishing Guide” or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
            The Web site also offers more information about the lake record crappie and the Wildlife Department’s Lake Record Fish Program. Through an easily-operated search feature, visitors to the site can view a wealth of lake record fish information, ranging from the size of record fish caught to what kind of bait or rod and reel was used to catch them.
            Lakes included in the program include Arbuckle, Broken Bow, Canton, Eufaula, Ft. Cobb, Grand, Kaw, Keystone, Sardis, Skiatook, Tenkiller, Texoma and Thunderbird.
            Species eligible for spots in the lake records book include blue, channel and flathead catfish and largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in addition to crappie, paddlefish, striped bass, striped bass hybrids, sunfish (combined) walleye/saugeye and white bass. Minimum weights are set for each species are detailed on the Wildlife Department’s Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.
            Anglers who catch a potential record from a participating lake should contact designated business locations around the lake that are enrolled as lake record keepers. A listing of official lake record keepers is available on wildlifedepartment.com.
            Once it has been determined that an angler has landed a record fish, the media is notified and the public will be able to view information about the catch on the Wildlife Department’s Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.
            All past and current state record fish are registered in the Lake Record Fish Program as records for their respective lakes.
            To see the complete database of all lake record fish caught, or to learn more about the Lake Record Fish program, log on to the Wildlife Department’s Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Prescribed Fire Day – spreading the news of sound land management
            “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
            Smokey the Bear coined this famous term, and by doing so created the longest running public service announcement in U.S. history.
            Smokey knows a thing or two about preventing wild fires, and starting in May, people in the state of Oklahoma will know as well—through the use of prescribed burning. May 12 has been declared Prescribed Fire Day by the Oklahoma state legislature, and that day officials from various agencies and organizations will be on hand at the State Capitol to answer questions and provide information about the benefits of prescribed fire for wildlife and livestock. Such groups include the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, Oklahoma State University’s natural resource ecology and management division, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oklahoma Conservation Commission and many others. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., is open to the public and will detail the importance of conducting prescribed fires as part of a sound land management plan.
            Prescribed fire is a beneficial tool for wildlife that helps maintain habitat for a number of wildlife species, including some that are endangered or threatened. It helps control certain disease-carrying organisms and non-native or undesirable plant species, plant diseases, insects and some animal parasites. It is also an economically and ecologically sound alternative to herbicide for reclaiming native prairies, shrublands or forests. Not only so, but it reduces the probability of wildfire by reducing flammable overgrowth and debris.
            About 2.5 million acres of native prairie, shrubland and forestland are intentionally burned through prescribed fire in Oklahoma each year — approximately six percent of the total land area in the state. Today many land owners recognize the importance of burning to maintain the health of the land.
            To learn more about prescribed fire in Oklahoma, visit wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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A new way for landowners to help manage for wildlife
            On May 1, farmers and ranchers in northwest Oklahoma will have another reason to plant native vegetation on their cropland. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently set up the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program, targeting the restoration of vital wildlife habitat to help benefit threatened, endangered and other high-priority wildlife species.
            The program, set up through the Farm Service Agency, was created to benefit wildlife in 16 states and covers up to 500,000 acres.
            "These habitat restoration projects represent the best of President Bush's Cooperative Conservation Initiative because they assist farmers and ranchers to voluntarily conserve habitat across our great nation to help a wide range of wildlife which have the greatest need," said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. "Because SAFE helps marginal, ecologically sensitive acreage, prime cropland can remain in production at a time when commodity prices are high."
            Over 15,000 acres of land in northwest portions of Oklahoma are eligible for enrollment in the state’s mixed-grass prairie SAFE program, including parts of Dewey, Ellis, Harper, Woods and Woodward counties. Habitat improvements stand to benefit wildlife such as bobwhite quail and Cassin’s sparrow, and in addition will improve habitat suitability for other grassland birds like the Bell's vireo, lark sparrow and lesser prairie chicken.
            Incentives may be available for participating landowners, including annual rental payments for 14- and 15-year contracts, sign-on bonus payments of $100 per acre, up to 50 percent cost-share and a 40 percent practice incentive payment that would help with the costs of establishing permanent vegetative cover and an annual CRP maintenance payment. Management practices that may be implemented through the SAFE program include prescribed burning, mowing and strip disking.
            Besides improving wildlife habitat, SAFE will help address issues of fragmentation and will indirectly help improve water and air quality, reduce soil erosion and provide hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities.
            The Oklahoma mixed-grass prairie SAFE program will assign acres on a first come-first served basis.  Offers for the program are accepted on a continuous basis beginning May 1, 2008. To find out if certain lands are eligible for enrollment in the SAFE program, interested landowners should visit their local Farm Service Agency office or call them at one of the following phone numbers:
Dewey: (580) 328-5331 x2
Ellis: (580) 885-7244 x2
Harper: (580) 735-2033 x2
Woods: (580) 327-3136 x2
Woodward: (580) 256-7882 x2
            For more information about the SAFE program, log on to fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_File/safe08.pdf.
 
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Stonecipher reappointed to Wildlife Commission
            Harland Stonecipher has been re-appointed to a third term on the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission by Gov. Brad Henry and recently was confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate.
            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.
            Stonecipher represents Oklahoma's Wildlife Conservation District 4, which includes Creek, Okfuskee, Seminole, Pottawatomie, Pontotoc, Hughes, Johnston and Coal counties.
            "It gives me great honor to have this opportunity to serve the sportsmen and sportswomen of Oklahoma," Stonecipher said. "The conservation of Oklahoma's wildlife resources comes with great responsibility, and I am pleased that the Governor has confidence to entrust me with another term on this great Commission.”
            Stonecipher has served as a member of the Commission since 1993. He was reappointed once before, in 2000, by Gov. Frank Keating.
            An avid sportsman and hunting dog enthusiast, Stonecipher is also the founder and C.E.O. of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc., a company that is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
            In addition to his passion for the outdoors, Stonecipher brings dynamic leadership and valuable experience to the Commission. He is keenly aware of the challenges facing the Department, and he said he is eager to continue working to ensure and maintain the integrity of the state's wildlife resources.
 
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District seven Wildlife Commissioner’s term confirmed
            The Wildlife Conservation Commission term of Clinton attorney Mart Tisdal, who in 2007 was named by Gov. Brad Henry to serve the remainder of the district seven term vacated by Wade Brinkman’s resignation, was recently confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate.
            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.
            Commission district seven includes Ellis, Dewey, Roger Mills, Custer, Beckham, Washita, Kiowa, Greer, Jackson, Harmon and Tillman counties.
            Tisdal, whose appointment on the Commission runs until 2011, was born and raised in Clinton and founded Tisdal Law Firm, a general practice legal office which has oil and gas, environmental law and complex litigation among its areas of focus. He earned both a Bachelor of Arts degree and his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Oklahoma. In addition to receiving numerous professional awards, he has served as the president of the Oklahoma Bar Foundation. He is also a veteran, having served on active duty in the U.S. Army, field artillery, from 1971-73.
            An avid quail hunter, Tisdal says he has many fond memories of growing up in western Oklahoma.
            “I started out hunting quail with my dad and granddad when I was about seven or eight years old,” he said. “My first shotgun was a .410, but I quickly graduated to a 20-gauge Browning Auto Five which I still use to this day. My dad, at 87 years young, accompanies us on several family quail hunts each year. He can still shoot with the best of them.”
            In addition to training what he calls his “four hard-headed pointers,” Tisdal enjoys turkey hunting, fishing, golf, running, snow skiing, and just being outdoors. He also has a keen interest in wildlife conservation. Tisdal and his wife, Marian, have a daughter, Julia, who lives and works in New York City, and son, Logan, who is currently working in Vietnam. He says sharing Oklahoma’s outdoor heritage with the next generation is an important part of the future of conservation.
            “Preserving and passing on the outdoor tradition is important to me,” he said. “We need to ensure even greater open access to outdoor opportunities, and market those opportunities in such a way that we continue, and even improve upon, our outdoor traditions.”
            “I think our outdoor opportunities exist today because of many people who have worked for the Wildlife Department and dedicated their careers to that cause. Certainly, there are ways to expand those opportunities, and I think that should always be a part of the agenda.”
 
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Squirrel season open
            The month of May marks the opening of one of Oklahoma’s most available but most forgotten game animals — squirrels.
            “Sportsmen who don’t spend any time hunting squirrels are missing out on a hobby they might really enjoy, not to mention a lot more time in the woods,” said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
            The squirrel season, which runs nearly nine months straight (May 15-Jan. 31), is a popular part of Oklahoma’s hunting heritage and still is recognized by many today as a great recreational activity. And though fewer squirrel hunters may take to the woods now, the opportunities to harvest game and sharpen outdoor skills through squirrel hunting are still plentiful in Oklahoma.
            Oklahoma is home to two species of squirrel that are legal to hunt, the gray squirrel, which inhabits the far eastern portion of the state, and the fox squirrel, which is found statewide in suitable habitats.
            “Squirrel hunting is a great way to introduce a youngster to the sport of hunting because of the availability and likelihood of seeing game,” said Meek. “It’s also a great way to teach people to hunt and how to keep the sport of hunting safe. Squirrels are smaller animals, but they are a challenge to hunt. Someone who learns to hunt squirrels will also acquire many of the skills needed for hunting deer or turkey as well. Also, you have a generous bag limit of 10 squirrels per day.”
            Whether pursuing bushytails with a shotgun or .22 rifle or by stalking, still hunting or following a trusty squirrel dog through the woods, hunters have no shortage of squirrel hunting opportunities. Excellent squirrel hunting can be found on Keystone, Spavinaw Hills, Deep Fork, Hickory Creek and many other wildlife management areas. Central Oklahoma residents can find good success at Lexington WMA, and hunters in northwest Oklahoma can make a trip to Canton WMA for some great and very underused squirrel hunting as well.
            Sportsmen can attract squirrels to them using calls as well as find them in the woods by searching for food and habitat sign, such as areas containing hardwoods and mast-producing trees. About any tract of oaks, hickory or pecan trees can be productive. Another option is to hunt them with a dog that is bred and trained to locate squirrels.
            Hunters taking to the woods after squirrels would also be interested to know that squirrel skins and/or tails may be legally sold and have brought up to $2 for whole skins in recent years.
            “If you’ve forgotten what it’s like to hunt squirrels, or if you miss the great taste of the once-popular tablefare or even if you want to take your kid hunting, then you should really try to get out this year and hunt squirrels,” Meek said. “You’re sure to have a lot of fun.”
            To hunt squirrels in Oklahoma, hunters need a resident or non-resident hunting license, unless exempt, and a $5 Fishing and Hunting Legacy Permit, unless exempt. Resident hunters younger than age 16 can hunt squirrels without a license. For a complete list of squirrel hunting regulations consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” or log on to the Department's Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Oklahoma’s Free Fishing Days slated
            Oklahomans looking to try something new with the family this summer may want to give fishing a try, and they can start June 7-8 during Oklahoma’s Free Fishing Days, which allow people to fish without state fishing licenses or permits (including trout licenses and fishing and hunting legacy permits).
            Urban areas across the state offer angling opportunities through the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Close to Home Fishing program, which provides quality fishing opportunities without a long drive into the country. Anglers also have access to a number of lakes, rivers, streams and small ponds where they can catch fish all day long as well. And those anglers who just don’t know where to start can turn to the Wildlife Department’s weekly state fishing report to find just the right place to go.
            “The Department’s state fishing report reveals inside information on the best places to go angling, when the fish are biting and what baits they are hitting the most,” said Jeff Boxrucker, assistant chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department.
            Compiled by Wildlife Department personnel and independent reporters, the reports even include techniques and locations within specific waters to increase angler success. Anglers can receive the fishing report by subscribing to the Department’s weekly news release at wildlifedepartment.com.
            “Fishing in Oklahoma normally requires a license and a fishing and hunting legacy permit, which you can purchase at various sporting good vendors across the state, but Free Fishing Days gives people a chance to just ‘test the waters’ and see if they would enjoy the sport,” Boxrucker said. “We are confident they will.”
            Anglers should note that certain city permits may still apply to specific fishing areas during Free Fishing Days.
            Oklahoma was the first state in the nation to offer free fishing days over 25 years ago and has since been followed by dozens of other states that have established similar days.
            Anglers should be aware of and abide by all Texas fishing license and permit requirements when fishing the Texas portion of Lake Texoma June 7-8. The Texas Free Fishing Day is June 7, so anglers will be able to fish both Texas and Oklahoma portions of the lake for free that day. On June 8, free fishing will only be allowed on the Oklahoma portion of the lake. Anglers must follow all other fishing regulations.
 
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Outdoor Marketplace returns to 2008 Oklahoma Wildlife Expo
            Oklahomans interested in the outdoors should mark their calendars now for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s fourth annual Oklahoma Wildlife Expo slated for September 26-28 at the Lazy E Arena, just north of Oklahoma City.
            The Wildlife Department will be working with a range of organizations, individuals and outdoor-related companies to host the Expo — an event intended to promote and develop appreciation for Oklahoma’s wildlife and natural resources.
            “The Expo is the state’s largest indoor and outdoor recreation event,” said Nels Rodefeld, information and education chief for the Wildlife Department. “Tens of thousands of people get a chance to enjoy the outdoors and maybe experience something new.”
            Among many other activities, Expo visitors will be able to fish, shoot shotguns, kayak, ride mountain bikes, see and touch wildlife, attend dog training seminars and learn about recreation in the great outdoors. They will also be able to win a variety of free prizes thanks to the Expo’s generous sponsors. And just like last year, the Expo will feature the Outdoor Marketplace, a large area where commercial vendors will be selling their hunting and fishing-related merchandise and services. This year’s Marketplace will again feature venders under a large tent, but outdoor open-air spaces also have been added for displaying larger items such as ATVs and treestands. Nonprofit conservation organizations also will be able to sign up for free booth spaces to promote membership and educate sportsmen about their organizations. A 10’ x 10’ booth space under the tent costs $500, while a 20’ x 20’ outside space costs $500. Both include electricity.
             “The Outdoor Marketplace was a big hit with Expo visitors last year, and we are glad to bring it back,” Rodefeld said. “It will be bigger and better than last year, and it will be a great opportunity to showcase your products to thousands of outdoorsmen.”
            Log on to wildlifedepartment.com regularly to stay up to date on the upcoming Oklahoma Wildlife Expo.
For more information about obtaining a booth in the Outdoor Marketplace or to obtain an application for a booth, contact Rhonda Hurst, Wildlife Expo Coordinator at (405) 522-6279.
 
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Young wildlife better left alone
            Springtime in Oklahoma’s outdoors means newborn wildlife, and biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say young critters are best left alone when discovered by outdoor enthusiasts.
            “When you see newborn wildlife that appears to be alone, such as a fawn, baby squirrel or bird, chances are their parents are nearby and simply waiting for you to move along so they can care for their young,” said Mike Shaw, research program supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “It is common for fawns to be left in a safe place while does feed nearby, and interfering with that always causes more harm than good.”
            In Oklahoma, most fawns are born in May and June and start becoming visible in mid to late June.
            Young birds and squirrels can be blown out of their nests during storms as well, and even though they may appear to be alone, distressed or in need of help, their parents will often find and care for them.
            “You can actually cause them more stress by trying to move or help them,” Shaw said. “Sportsmen and others who care about wildlife tend to want to help, which is a good thing, but sometimes the best help we can offer young wildlife is to leave them alone and let nature run its course.”
            In some cases, it may also be illegal to pick up wildlife. Log on to wildlifedepartment.com for more information about wildlife conservation in Oklahoma.
 
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Lake Record Fish Program still growing as records mount
            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Lake Record Fish Program is going strong, with lake records continuing to be caught at lakes across the state. Recent lake record catches were established in the last week at Thunderbird and Canton lakes, with the popular annual “Canton Lake Walleye Rodeo” held May 15-18 yielding three new lake records in the walleye/saugeye, largemouth bass and sunfish categories.
            Lakes included in the program include Arbuckle, Broken Bow, Canton, Eufaula, Ft. Cobb, Grand, Kaw, Keystone, Sardis, Skiatook, Tenkiller, Texoma and Thunderbird.
            Species eligible for spots in the lake records book include blue, channel and flathead catfish and largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in addition to crappie, paddlefish, striped bass, striped bass hybrids, sunfish (combined) walleye/saugeye and white bass. Minimum weights are set for each species are detailed on the Wildlife Department’s Web site at wildlifedepartment.com.
         Anglers who catch a potential record from a participating lake should contact designated business locations around the lake that are enrolled as lake record keepers. A listing of official lake record keepers is available on wildlifedepartment.com.
            Once it has been determined that an angler has landed a record fish, the media is notified and the public will be able to view information about the catch on the Wildlife Department’s Web site.
            All past and current state record fish are registered in the Lake Record Fish Program as records for their respective lakes.
            Below is an updated listing of recently caught lake records. To see the complete database of all lake record fish caught, including an easily-operated search feature that allows those interested to view a wealth of lake record fish information, ranging from the size of record fish caught to what kind of bait or rod and reel was used to catch them, or to learn more about the Lake Record Fish program, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
 
NEW LAKE RECORDS CERTIFIED
 
Broken Bow
Smallmouth
Weight: 5.7
Angler: Chuck Tillman
Date: Feb. 9
Bait: Soft plastic bait
Photo link: http://lake-record.ou.edu/fishsite/public/fishView.php?id=466
 
 
Fort Cobb
Striped Bass Hybrid
Weight: 12.1
Angler: Shanon Pack
Date: April 19
Bait: Hard baits/Plugs
Photo link: http://lake-record.ou.edu/fishsite/public/fishView.php?id=476
 
Canton
Flathead catfish
Weight: 45
Angler: Betty Willey
Date: May 4
Bait: Hard baits/Plugs
Photo link: http://lake-record.ou.edu/fishsite/public/fishView.php?id=462
 
 
Canton
Walleye/Saugeye
Weight: 9.3
Angler: Corey Newer
Date: May 16
Bait: Hard baits/plugs
Photo link: http://lake-record.ou.edu/fishsite/public/fishView.php?id=471
 
Canton
Sunfish
Weight: 1.5
Angler: Raylee Tautfest
Date: May 17
Bait: Natural bait
Photo link: http://lake-record.ou.edu/fishsite/public/fishView.php?id=473
 
Canton
Largemouth bass
Weight: 7.4
Angler: Justin Norton
Date: May 17
Bait: Soft plastic bait
Photo link: http://lake-record.ou.edu/fishsite/public/fishView.php?id=475
 
Thunderbird
Largemouth bass
Weight: 7.1
Angler: Delbert E. Gault
Date: May 17
Bait: Spinner
Photo link: http://lake-record.ou.edu/fishsite/public/fishView.php?id=472
 
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Oklahoma Aquarium turns five years old
            The Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks turns five years old this month, and in that time has enjoyed successful growth while leaving its mark on Oklahoma.
            The Oklahoma Aquarium houses over 200 exhibits consisting of both salt and freshwater fish.
             “People need to come out and see the Aquarium,” said Colin Berg, education supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “The exhibits are awesome, and they even have record fish on site, like the state record blue catfish that you can see up close. This really is a great partnership.”
            Over the last five years, the Oklahoma Aquarium has welcomed about 2 million visitors, and approximately 1/3 of its guests come from out of state. Additionally, the Aquarium has led to an estimated $100 million in tourism for Oklahoma and has educated more than 100,000 pre-K to graduate level students through organized field trips, internships and other structured programs.
            The Wildlife Department is proud to be a part of the Oklahoma Aquarium’s success. Along with maintaining an office branch at the Jenks-based Aquarium, the Department gets involved by holding aquatic education clinics at the site. Additionally, the Hayes Family Ozark Streams exhibit at the Aquarium was partially funded through the Oklahoma Sport Fish Restoration Program.
            Visitors to the Oklahoma Aquarium can learn about the biodiversity and adaptation of many different species. Learning is only half the fun, though, as the Oklahoma Aquarium holds within it some very special visual opportunities.
            The Hayes Family Ozark Streams exhibit features Oklahoma fish such as smallmouth bass and sunfish as well as the aquarium’s first mammals, including beavers, raccoons and river otters. The unique design of the exhibit allows guests to come nose to nose with the animals, separated only by glass. Hand-carved concrete mimics the rocky cliffs of northeastern Oklahoma at the foot of the Ozarks, and a crashing waterfall adds to the ambience. Even the lighting and temperature contribute to the environment. This exhibit gives visitors to the already popular Oklahoma Aquarium a chance to learn about stream ecology and the importance of protecting Oklahoma’s native scenic waters. However, the Ozark Streams exhibit is not the only reason to visit the Oklahoma Aquarium. Other exhibits include the Karl and Beverly White Fishing and Tackle Museum, which showcases antique tackle and fishing gear; the Fishes of Oklahoma exhibit, offering the opportunity to see a state record blue catfish, seven-foot-long gars and an alligator snapping turtle that is more than 120 years old,; and the Ray & Robin Siegfried Families Shark Adventure, which has a walk-through tunnel and dome that allows you to see the largest bull sharks in captivity swimming alongside you and even right over your head.
            Visitors to the Oklahoma Aquarium who present a current Oklahoma hunting or fishing license upon arrival receive $2 off admission.
            For additional information about the Oklahoma Aquarium and how you can plan your visit, log on to okaquarium.org or call (918) 296-3474.
 
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Selman Bat Watch provides unique glimpse of wildlife
            Come see one million bats spiral out of their roost, flying over your head and into the nighttime sky at a Selman Bat Watch. The nightly exodus of bats attracts visitors to the Selman Bat Cave near Freedom where the state’s only Mexican free-tailed bat viewing occurs.
            The Bat Watches will be held on the last three weekends in July and the first weekend in August.  Visitors must pre-register in order to attend. You can download the registration form beginning June 2nd at wildlifedepartment.com.
            The Department purchased the area around the bat cave in 1996 because of its ecological importance to the Mexican free-tailed bat. According to Melynda Hickman, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department, the cave is important because it is one of only five major sites in Oklahoma that is used by females to raise their young.
            Hickman says the bats provide a great service: free pest control. The bats spend daylight hours inside the cave. But most of the action is after sunset.
            “They fly about the countryside hunting insects from dusk until dawn,” Hickman said, “We estimate they eat about 10 tons (20,000 pounds) of insects, moths and beetles every night.”
            The bats’ evening emergence is the highlight of a Bat Watch, but there’s more to the evening than simply watching bats. There’s also learning and exploring. Buses take visitors to the Selman Bat Cave Wildlife Management Area, usually closed to the public. Visitors learn facts about bats and the prairie community. There is also an optional nature hike before the bats emerge.  On Friday and Saturday evenings, staff and telescopes from the University of Central Oklahoma’s Selman Living Laboratory will be at the observatory to assist stargazers.
            The Bat Watches benefit the local economy by drawing tourists from a multi-state region into Oklahoma.  Hickman feels Oklahomans are lucky to have the bats here.
            “It is exciting to offer this rare opportunity to get close to wild bats and to share their importance to our environment and economy,” Hickman said.
            The event is limited to 75 people each night, and registration is required.  The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for youth aged 12 and younger.  For more information, call 405-424-0099 or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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First Central Oklahoma Women in the Outdoors Skills Workshop
            Ladies, grab a friend, your mom or sister and come to the first Central Oklahoma Women in the Outdoors Skills Workshop to be held Saturday, June 7 at Choctaw Creek Park in Choctaw, Oklahoma, just 15 miles east of Oklahoma City.
            The workshop is part of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Women in the Outdoors outreach program, which is now celebrating its 10th year. Since 1998, the program has worked to share the outdoor tradition by providing expert instruction and hands-on education through events designed for women. During its inaugural year, Women in the Outdoors hosted 18 events and today the program organizes more than 400 events across the nation.
            Sponsored by H&H Gun Range, the city of Choctaw and the Choctaw Chamber of Commerce, the workshop will feature over a dozen classes on archery, shooting, Dutch oven cooking, mountain biking, backpacking, fishing, outdoor photography, nature journaling, jewelry making, gardening for wildlife and more.
            “Women are discovering that outdoor hobbies provide fun ways to reconnect with the special people in their lives,” said Beth Ann Amico, coordinator for the event. “This day-long workshop will offer ladies ages 14 and up the opportunity to learn new outdoor skills and meet people with similar interests in a relaxed, non-competitive environment.”
            The registration fee is $50 and includes choice of three classes, use of all equipment, lunch, a one-year membership to the Women in the Outdoors program and a subscription to Women in the Outdoors magazine, which features articles about conservation and outdoor activities for families to enjoy.
            For more information about the Women in the Outdoors Skills Workshop, contact Beth Ann Amico at (405) 769-4108.
 
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