DECEMBER 2011 NEWS RELEASES

WEEK OF DECEMBER 29, 2011

WEEK OF DECEMBER 21, 2011

WEEK OF DECEMBER 15, 2011

WEEK OF DECEMBER 8, 2011

WEEK OF DECEMBER 1, 2011

December brings pheasant season to Oklahoma
            December brings holiday cheer, cold weather and the start of two full months of hunting the colorful ring-necked pheasant in northern Oklahoma.
            According to biologists with the Wildlife Department, two main factors determine how many pheasants will be available for hunters to pursue each season. The first is the number of adult birds that survive the winter and enter the breeding season.
            “The second and most important factor is the number of young birds that survived the summer,” said Doug Schoeling, upland game bird biologist for the Wildlife Department. “What makes or breaks our season on a bird like pheasants — and even other upland birds like quail — is recruitment, or the number of young birds that survive into the fall season. This year, while we have seen a slightly higher survival rate of adult birds, the number of young pheasants produced is down significantly after a season of drought and record high temperatures. With this decrease in production numbers, the 2011 pheasant season harvest is expected to be lower than last year.”
            According to Schoeling, there may be exceptions, such as areas with good habitat that received some scattered rainfall. Schoeling said the best way to find those pockets of birds is to go hunting.
            The Wildlife Department keeps tabs on the number of adult birds that survived the winter and the number of young pheasants that survived the spring and early summer through two different surveys. First, biologists conduct the annual crow count survey, which provides an idea of how many adult males survived through the winter. In late April and early May, biologists drive county roads and listen for crowing cock pheasants in search of mates. These 20-mile surveys are conducted in Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Ellis, Garfield, Grant, Harper, Kay, Major, Noble, Texas, Woods, and Woodward counties. Crow counts in recent years show good survival rates of adult birds, with the 2011 counts up five percent from 2010. The population trend has been going up since 2007. In those counties traditionally with the highest pheasant densities (Alfalfa, Beaver, Cimarron, Grant and Texas), and where surveys have been conducted since 1973, crow counts were up 7 percent from last year, with an increasing population trend since 1996.
            The survival of young birds over the spring and summer is gauged using annual brood count surveys, which are conducted in late August to provide a measure of how many young pheasants were produced during the nesting season relative to previous years.
            “The brood survey is really the primary means we use to determine the annual population status of pheasants and the outlook for the pheasant hunting season,” Schoeling said.
            The brood survey is conducted in the same counties as the crow count survey, and observers count the number of pheasants observed and classify the size of young birds to provide an index of pheasant abundance (number seen per mile) and reproductive success. This year, brood survey results were down 40 percent from 2010 due to the unfavorable weather conditions this summer with record heat and drought throughout the pheasant’s range.
            Because pheasant hunters only harvest male birds, biologists say hunting pressure has little effect on overall populations and that sportsmen should not hesitate to go hunting.
            The ring-necked pheasant was first introduced into Oklahoma in 1911, and the colorful birds prefer cultivated farmland habitat mixed with weedy fencerows and overgrown pastures common across northwestern Oklahoma and the Panhandle.
            Pheasant season in Oklahoma runs Dec. 1 through Jan. 31 (only in open areas) and offers hunters a chance at a popular game bird that, though not native to Oklahoma, thrives in the northwestern part of the state.
            Hunters should consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” for open counties and wildlife management areas. The daily bag limit for pheasants is three cocks, with a possession limit of six after the first day and nine after the second day. Evidence of sex (head or one foot) must remain on the bird until it reaches its final destination.
            To hunt pheasants, hunters most possess a valid state hunting license, available online at wildlifedepartment.com or at license dealers located across the state. When the deer gun and the holiday antlerless deer seasons overlap with pheasant season, all pheasant hunters must wear either a hunter orange cap or upper garment. For further regulations, including open areas, consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide.”
 
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Trout stockings resume at Lower Illinois River as Wildlife Department seeks fix for water shortages
            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has resumed trout stockings at the Lower Illinois River due to water levels improving in Tenkiller Lake, and officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say they continue to seek a lasting solution to water shortage issues at the river.
            The stockings resume after a temporary discontinuation had been in effect because of water shortages that caused two significant fish kills at the Lower Illinois this year. Recent rainfalls have improved water levels, but officials say the biggest water shortage concerns at the fishery have not been resolved.
            At its November meeting, held Nov. 7 in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission heard a presentation from Fisheries Chief Barry Bolton that addressed why water shortages pose an ongoing problem to the fishery at the Lower Illinois River. At the top of the list of concerns is a need for reallocation of water from Tenkiller Reservoir for the fishery, since currently all of the water storage in the lake is allocated to other users. The fishery had for years been fed by leakage in the dam that provided as much as 75 cubic feet of water per second. The leak has been repaired, leaving the Wildlife Department with access to only two hours of water or less per day for managing 7.75 miles of trout fishery. Any other water comes from sporadic releases from water storage holders.
            “There are anglers who count on the river for good fishing, and there are businesses in the region that count on anglers going to the Lower Illinois River to fish,” Bolton said. “Water shortages combined with insufficient flow reduces oxygen levels to a point where trout and native species cannot survive, which means anglers don’t have fish to catch. And that means fewer customers for local businesses.”
            Though water levels at the river are up now, Bolton said the fishery will likely face similar shortages again if water is not reallocated to support the fishery. Until then, he said possible short-term resolutions include more frequent releases of oxygenated water through hydropower generation, and taking steps to ensure water releases meet state water quality standards. Agreements also could be pursued that would create a temporary seasonal pool plan that provides minimum releases to maintain the fishery. Additionally, the Wildlife Department can temporarily “borrow” some water allocated to Sequoyah Fuels, who holds small percentage of storage in the lake, but that water will not always be available for fishery use.
            Though there are short-term fixes, Bolton said it is a long-term solution that is needed most, such as congressional legislation to reallocate water storage for the fishery at no cost to the state. A similar problem at the Lower Mountain Fork River trout fishery below Broken Bow Lake was resolved through federal action that resulted in the allocation of water to the fishery.
            Established in 1965 as mitigation for the construction of Tenkiller Dam, the Illinois River trout fishery has become a recreational and economic staple for the region. While finding a solution to water shortages in the river poses unique challenges, Bolton said the Wildlife Department is committed to the survival of the fishery and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure quality fishing for those who depend on the fishery for recreation and business.
 
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Four Oklahoma youth win outdoor getaways through writing contest
            Youth from Inola, Broken Arrow, Owasso and Boone-Apache schools have been awarded outdoor getaways for winning an outdoor writing contest designed to help youth share their hunting heritage.
            Contestants in the annual youth writing contest — sponsored by the Oklahoma Station Chapter of Safari Club International and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation — chose between two different topics and submitted entries to not only share their interest in the outdoors, but also to compete for a chance at a unique outdoor trip. Topic choices included “Hunting: Sharing the Heritage” or “What I like about Archery in the Schools and Bowhunting.”
            Winners in the age 15-17 category will receive an all-expenses-paid antelope hunt in a western state. They were Dylan Dunn, 17, of Inola School and Kaitlyn McCormick, 16, of Broken Arrow High School. Winners in the age 11-14 category receive a scholarship to the YO Ranch Apprentice Hunter Program in Texas. They were Triston Hasty-Grant, 13, of Owasso Eighth Grade Center and Brianna Sawyer, 14, of Boone-Apache Middle School. Safari Club International’s Apprentice Hunter Program is a unique, hands-on course designed for girls and boys aged 11-14. The program covers such diverse topics as history of hunting, the ethical basis of modern sport hunting, wildlife management, field identification, tracking and interpreting sign, game cooking and the SCI Sportsmen Against Hunger Program.
            “This has become a popular contest,” said Colin Berg, education supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “We always enjoy the process of going over each essay and trying to select winners It can be challenging because there are some talented youth who are passionate about the outdoors who submit essays to this contest.”
            The scholarship to the YO Ranch Apprentice Hunter Program and expenses for the antelope hunts are covered by the Oklahoma Station Chapter of Safari Club International with funds raised at the Chapter’s annual banquet.
            The youth writing competition is designed to promote America’s hunting heritage among Oklahoma’s youth. It provides them an opportunity to express the importance of hunting in their lives and to affirm their commitment to carrying on the hunting tradition. Students use the essays or short stories to relive memorable hunts, to explain why hunting is important to them and to recognize mentors who have influenced them to grow as hunters.
            The contest winners will be eligible for entry in the Norm Strung Outdoor Writers Association National Youth Essay Contest, whose winners are awarded cash prizes and scholarships.
            The Wildlife Department and the Oklahoma Station Chapter of Safari Club International will submit the winning essays to the National Youth Writing Contest held annually by the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
            Students are not the only winners. Educators Craig Savage from Inola High School, Beverly Stevens from Greenville Schools and Sam Moreton from New Life Ranch camp have been awarded scholarships to attend an eight-day conservation education school at Safari Club International’s American Wilderness Leadership School (AWLS) at Granite Ranch near Jackson, Wyoming. The AWLS program is conducted during the summer and presents an outdoor program for educators that concentrates on natural resource management. Participants learn about stream ecology, map and compass usage, fly tying, shooting sports, wildlife management, the Yellowstone ecosystem, camping, white-water rafting, educational resources, how to implement outdoor education ideas and language arts and creative writing in an outdoor setting.
 
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Arbuckle Lake meeting to offer insight to anglers
            Lake of the Arbuckles has been making a name for itself as a premier bass fishery in recent years, producing three largemouth bass weighing over 12 lbs. each since 2008 alone. One of those tipped the scales at 14-lb. 8-oz. The lake is also providing anglers with quality crappie and white bass fishing opportunities. In short, the lake is serving as an important fishing destination for anglers, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is keeping the public informed by providing an opportunity Dec. 6 to learn about a range of Lake Arbuckle fishing information.
            A public meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area’s Travertine Nature Center Auditorium. Guests will receive informative updates from Department fisheries biologists on the status of the fishery and related issues. Biologists will address the biological and social aspects of fisheries management and regulations at the lake, and they will present the new Lake of the Arbuckle Five-Year Management Plan developed by the Wildlife Department. Visitors will have a chance to provide feedback on the plan as well as visit with biologists about fishing at the lake.
             “Angler opinions are important when developing management plans,” said Matt Mauck, south central region fisheries supervisor for the Wildlife Department. “We encourage the angling public to join us for an evening of informative discussions and input opportunities.”
            Lake of the Arbuckles was impounded in 1967 as a Bureau of Reclamation reservoir. At close to 2,350 acres, the Murray Co. lake offers fishing for all types of anglers and has been an active lake in the Department’s lake record fish program. Current lake records include a largemouth bass over 14 lbs., flathead and blue catfish weighing over 50 lbs., channel catfish weighing nearly 20 lbs. and smallmouth bass tipping the scales at over 4 lbs.
            Anglers can learn more about fishing at Lake of the Arbuckles by attending the public meeting and can find regulations and harvest limits in the current “Oklahoma Fishing Guide,” available online at wildlifedepartment.com. The site will also offer a draft copy of the lake’s new management plan prior to the Dec. 6 meeting.
            A map to the Travertine Nature Center is available online at http://www.nps.gov/chic/planyourvisit/upload/CHICmap1_2010.pdf
 
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Wildlife Department quail trapping efforts successful as upland bird research continues
            Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation recently sent bobwhite quail samples to research facilities for extensive studies and banded an additional 168 quail that hunters may harvest on state wildlife management areas this year.
            The bobwhites were trapped on 10 WMAs in western Oklahoma during August and October as part of the Wildlife Department’s involvement in a research project called Operation Idiopathic Decline (OID). The Wildlife Department is working with the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, Texas A&M, Texas A&M-Kingsville and Texas Tech universities to study the gradual decline of the bobwhite quail across its range.
            At its December meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission received an update on the Department’s OID activities and other upland game bird research initiatives. Alan Peoples, chief of Wildlife for the Wildlife Department, reported that biologists trapped quail during the first OID trapping phase. There were 168 quail banded and released, and hunters are asked to report banded quail to the Wildlife Department if they harvest one. Other samples were sent to universities in Texas, where researchers are investigating the incidence of disease, parasitism, pesticides, toxins and contaminants in sampled quail.
            “We’re waiting for researchers to give us information on things like West Nile Virus, avian influenza, aflatoxins — all of the various components they are looking at,” Peoples said.
            Peoples said researchers have observed threats to quail in some regions that are not prevalent in others, such as the eye worm that has been affecting birds in Texas but not Oklahoma. Eye worms occur when a small nematode, or parasitic worm, imbeds in the ocular cavity of quail, impairing vision and hindering survival.
            “We did not observe any of our quail with eye worms,” Peoples said. “It’s very common in the rolling plains of Texas.”
            Of the birds trapped in Oklahoma, over 40 percent were adults. However, Peoples said in a normal year of hunting, most of the birds seen by hunters are young of the year birds, or those that were born in the spring. About 80 percent of the harvested quail in an average year will be young of the year birds as well, with the remaining 20 percent comprised of adult birds.
            Since young birds make up the large majority of the quail seen and harvested by hunters, reproductive success is critical. According to Peoples, extended drought conditions and record heat during the summer was detrimental for both quail nesting success and recruitment. In addition to the impact of heat on nesting sites, a lack of green vegetation led to reduced numbers of insects that young quail depend on for food in the first months of their life.
             “Fifty-five percent of our samples were young of the year birds, so that's going to be a lot better than other places in quail country, but still not as high as we'd like to see,” Peoples said.
            In addition to working with trapped birds, Peoples said the Wildlife Department is involved in a genetic research study through the Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M-Kingsville. The Department will provide samples for the study that will aid in research efforts.
            The Wildlife Department is also finalizing a contract with Oklahoma State University to conduct quail research over the next six years on Oklahoma’s Packsaddle and Beaver River wildlife management areas. Research facilities will be constructed on the WMAs, and researchers will be collecting extensive information that could lead to improvements in quail populations and habitat management.
            “We’re going to focus primarily on reproduction and brood survival,” Peoples said.
            The Department also continues to closely monitor the lesser prairie chicken in northwest Oklahoma and has plans to work with OSU and the Sutton Avian Research Center on researching reproduction and brood survival. Although additional surveys have found new prairie chicken leks, or breeding grounds, some survey routes are still too difficult to study accurately using current survey methods. Peoples said the Department will be refining its methods to better saturate survey routes and will intensify survey efforts through participation in the lesser prairie chicken interstate working group’s five-state coordinated survey, other aerial surveys, and the use of cutting edge satellite radio and traditional telemetry tracking.
            The Wildlife Department is providing periodic updates on upland game bird research and conservation through a free e-mail report called Upland Update, available free by signing up on the Wildlife Department’s website, wildlifedepartment.com. Currently, more than 500 subscribers are receiving the updates.
            In other business, the Commission heard a presentation on the Wildlife Department’s hunter education program. Most Oklahomans must complete the Department’s hunter education class in order to hunt big game without supervision. Exemptions from hunter education certification include anyone 31 years of age or older, anyone honorably discharged from or currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, and members of the National Guard. Additionally, hunters age eight to 30 are eligible to purchase an apprentice-designated hunting license that allows them to hunt under the supervision of a qualifying adult mentor.
            The Wildlife Department certified 17,631 hunters last year alone, making it the eighth highest ranked state in the nation in the percentage of hunters certified per capita.
            “We hold hundreds of hunter education classes across the entire state every year, and we try to serve our constituents and their busy schedules by holding as many as 20 of those classes during the weekends just prior to deer gun season,” said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Wildlife Department. “Those last minute classes account for as much as 15 percent of the total number of hunters certified each year.”
            Changes to hunter education requirements in recent years have made hunting more convenient for sportsmen. In 2008, the class length requirement was reduced from 10 to eight hours, and Oklahoma residents who are exempt from hunter education requirements but who want to hunt in another state where certification is required can take a proficiency exam without taking the eight-hour class. Additionally, the Department saves money and makes the course more relevant to students by producing its own state-specific hunter education manual. The Wildlife Department also offers an apprentice-designated hunting license to hunters ages 8-30 that allows them to go hunting without first completing a hunter education course, provided that they are accompanied by a licensed mentor who is at least 18 years old and hunter education certified (or exempt from license and hunter education requirements).
            Meek said the future of the program includes an online course option that will allow students to complete their course through the Wildlife Department’s website and immediately print their certification card. Meek also is working with other education specialists at the Wildlife Department to encourage school educators to teach the hunter education course in the classroom along with other Department programs such as the Oklahoma National Archery in the Schools and Explore Bowhunting programs.
            The Commission also presented its Game Warden of the Year Award to David Foltz, game warden stationed in Garfield County. The award was presented along with the Shikar-Safari Club International Wildlife Officer of the Year Award by club members Bill Brewster and his wife, Suzie Brewster.
            Shikar-Safari Club International was started more than 55 years ago and is limited to 200 members worldwide. While it is a social organization, its sole purpose is hunting and conservation and issues that affect hunters and conservation. The club has a foundation that puts almost $1 million into wildlife and conservation every year, including more than 30 scholarships a year for children of wildlife professionals majoring in wildlife fields. The scholarships, each $4,000 a year, are designed to perpetuate an interest in wildlife careers and conservation.
            The Commission also accepted a donation of $20,000 from the Oklahoma City Zoo for local conservation projects. The donation will be used along with the assistance of zoo volunteers to assist with lesser prairie chicken surveys and other projects in northwest Oklahoma. Presenting the donation were zoo employees Jennifer D’Agostino and Cliff Casey.
            Additionally, the Commission recognized Ty Harper, northwest region fisheries biologist, for 20 years of service to the Wildlife Department, and Mike Plunkett, northeast region senior wildlife biologist, for 30 years.
            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. Jan. 9, 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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Game Warden David Foltz honored by Shikar Safari and Wildlife Department
            David Foltz, game warden stationed in Garfield Co., is the newest recipient of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Game Warden of the Year and Shikar Safari Club International’s Officer of the Year awards.
            Foltz, who was presented with the honors at the December meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, works closely with other Department employees both in the law enforcement division as well as other divisions and is active in a number of projects and programs of the Wildlife Department. He was hired as a game warden in September of 1980 and has served in Garfield County ever since.
            Foltz’s father, Delbert Foltz, is a retired game warden for the Wildlife Department and received the Oklahoma Game Warden of the Year Award in 1978.
            “David is an asset to the Department, and he’s made us proud,” said Robert Fleenor, law enforcement chief for the Wildlife Department. "David has community spirit and is a great asset to the sportsmen of our state. His qualities go above and beyond what's required in his normal duties as a game warden."
            Not only does Foltz have a strong working knowledge of his assigned county and surrounding area, but he knows the sportsmen and landowners in the region and frequently works with other game wardens in his district.
            Foltz attended Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, while working in construction. In his spare time he enjoys hunting and fishing and working on old automobiles.
            Shikar-Safari Club International was started more than 55 years ago and is limited to 200 members worldwide. While it is a social organization, its sole purpose is hunting and conservation and issues that affect hunters and conservation. The club has a foundation that puts almost $1 million into wildlife and conservation every year, including more than 30 scholarships a year for children of wildlife professionals majoring in wildlife fields. The scholarships, each $4,000 a year, are designed to perpetuate an interest in wildlife careers and conservation.
            For more information about game wardens, or for information on having a career as a game warden, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Deadline approaching to apply for youth trapper’s camp
            The warmth of July and the excitement of summer camp has long since passed with the coming of cold weather, but youth can still attend a unique camp this month — trapper’s camp.
            Youth ages 12-18 have until Dec. 15 to apply for the Oklahoma Furbearers Alliance trapper’s camp, to be held Dec. 28-31 near Chickasha. Youth younger than age 12 may attend but must be accompanied by an adult. The event is limited to 35 participants.
            “This will be an excellent opportunity for youth interested in trapping to gain hands-on experience from seasoned trappers in Oklahoma,” said Erik Bartholomew, furbearer biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
            According to John Weygandt, secretary of the Oklahoma Furbearers Alliance, the camp will cover all aspects of trapping in Oklahoma from regulations and types of traps, to proper trap maintenance, placement and operation. Additionally, species of wildlife that may be trapped will be covered as well as their characteristics and how to scout for trapping.
            The cost of the camp is $25, which covers all meals for the event and includes a one-year membership in the Oklahoma Furbearers Alliance. It also includes a one-year subscription to Trapper and Predator Caller Magazine. Adults can attend with their youngster at a cost of $20 to cover meals. Camping areas will be available on site.
            For application information, call Weygandt at (918) 645-5667.
 
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A year in wildlife photography to be featured at Hackberry Flat Dec. 10
            In 2011, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Friends of Hackberry Flat began offering a series of Saturday morning programs at the Hackberry Flat Center located south of Frederick, and the series will conclude Saturday, Dec. 10, with an exhibit featuring the awe-inspiring work of photographer Larry Hancock.
            The exhibit, titled “A Year at the Wetlands of Hackberry Flat,” will debut at 9 a.m. Dec. 10 and will continue through Jan. 14. There is no fee, and refreshments will be provided.
            Hancock has been involved in photography for almost seven years, focusing mainly on birds.
            “I would probably be considered a serious amateur wildlife photographer since I spend almost all my spare time looking for birds to photograph,” Hancock said. “I spend most of my time in the Frederick area because of Hackberry Flat in the summer and in the winters, because of the wintering hawks that return each year.”
            Photographs on exhibit feature some of the bird “legends” of the wetlands, such as the American avocet and the Black-necked stilt.  There are also photographs of behaviors rarely observed such as the courtship display of the American bittern. Photographs of rare and elusive bird species include the common moorhen with a chick, the king rail and the least bittern. The exhibit includes over 30 photographs.
            Hancock will be on hand until noon to share photography techniques and experiences while out photographing wildlife. The Hackberry Flat Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. As always, participants at any of the Saturday morning program series are exempt from a current hunting/fishing license or Wildlife Conservation Passport requirements while at Hackberry Flat.
            The Hackberry Flat Center offers amenities for visitors, a meeting facility for events, wetland classrooms for school children and programs to help develop outdoor skills. For more information about the Hackberry Flat Center and Wildlife Management Area, including scheduled events, log on to http://www.wildlifedepartment.com .
            To get to the Hackberry Flat Center, drive south of Frederick one mile on Hwy 183, then turn east on Airport Road and proceed three miles. Follow the blacktop road south, and continue six miles.
            For more information, contact Melynda Hickman, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department, at (405) 990-4977.
 
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Holiday antlerless deer season brings Christmas cheer to hunters
            Christmas family traditions range from eating out and attending services on Christmas Eve to giving out gifts and stockings filled with treats. But in Oklahoma, families can even go deer hunting over the Christmas holidays.
            This year the holiday antlerless deer gun season will be open for 10 days starting Dec. 16 and running through Dec. 25 in open areas.
            Most of the state will be open to antlerless hunting those days, except for the majority of the Panhandle and portions of southeast Oklahoma. All public hunting areas and private lands in southeast Oklahoma’s zone 10 are closed to the holiday antlerless deer gun season. Seasons on public lands may vary from statewide season dates. For a map of Oklahoma’s antlerless deer hunt zones and to see which counties will be open for the holiday antlerless deer gun season, consult page 25 of the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide,” as well as the “Public Hunting Lands” section on page 48 of the guide for seasons on specific public areas.
            Last year almost 40,000 hunters participated in the holiday antlerless deer season.
            “A good number of those hunters were successful with 4,377 deer being checked during that season,” said Jerry Shaw, big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
            According to Shaw, high doe harvests help accomplish several important management benefits such as preventing localized overpopulations, improving buck:doe ratios for a more healthy herd, reducing competition for forage to promote greater antler growth in bucks, reducing the potential for deer/vehicle collisions, and lessening the extent of potential crop depredation.
            To participate in the holiday antlerless deer gun season, resident hunters must possess a valid hunting license and a holiday antlerless deer gun license, unless exempt. Resident youth hunters 16 or 17 years old must purchase a hunting license and a $10 youth holiday antlerless deer gun license, unless exempt. Youth under 16 are not required to purchase a hunting license but they must possess a $10 youth holiday antlerless deer gun license.
            Although nonresident deer hunters are exempt from a hunting license while hunting deer, they must possess a nonresident deer gun license.
            Hunters age 8-30 who have not completed the Wildlife Department’s hunter education class may still hunt during the holiday antlerless deer gun season, but their licenses will have an apprentice designation, and the hunter must be accompanied by a qualified adult hunter who remains within arms reach of the apprentice hunter while hunting. For details, consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” online at wildlifedepartment.com.
            In addition, hunters participating in the holiday antlerless deer season must comply with the hunter orange requirements for the regular deer gun season. Archery hunters and those hunting most other species in open holiday antlerless zones must wear either a hunter orange hat or upper garment while hunting.
            To learn more about this year’s antlerless deer season, consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Wildlife Department opens online public comment period for regulation changes
            Sportsmen have the opportunity to voice their thoughts online now through Jan. 13, 2012, regarding hunting and fishing related rule change proposals currently under consideration.
            Proposed rule changes are often considered to increase opportunity for sportsmen and improve wildlife conservation measures.
            “This is an opportunity to discuss items that could lead to changes in our hunting and fishing regulations,” said Nels Rodefeld, information and education chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “We feel strongly that our constituents should have every chance to provide their comments, which is why we are providing an online comment form for those wanting to be heard on these specific subjects. We encourage you to provide your comments through wildlifedepartment.com anytime before 4:30 p.m., Jan. 13, 2012.”
            Additionally, those interested can submit written comments by mail to the Wildlife Department’s main office in Oklahoma City (P.O. Box 53465, OKC, OK 73152).
            To view a complete listing of proposed rule changes or to complete an online comment form, log on to http://www.wildlifedepartment.com  .
            Among others, some of the proposed rule changes this year include the following:
* To make it unlawful to bait wildlife on wildlife management areas.
* To change the bear archery season to Oct. 1 through the third Sunday in October and eliminate the quota for bear archery season.
* To set the statewide daily limit of striped bass at five, except as designated.
* To eliminate daily harvest limits on furbearers so that only season limits apply.
* To establish permanent rules for newly purchased wildlife management areas while altering certain rules on already established public lands.
            The Wildlife Department also will be hosting public hearings on proposed rule changes at 7 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters auditorium in Oklahoma City (1801 N. Lincoln Blvd) and at the Kiamichi Technology Center in Poteau (1509 South McKenna).
 
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Holidays are for the birds
            As the holiday seasons are fast approaching and you’re readily preparing with lights, trees, and ornaments, wildlife enthusiasts can take it a step further and create a holiday “feeder tree” for birds.
            “This is a great family activity that is fairly simple and cheap while adding holiday cheer to your backyard,” said Rachel Bradley, wildlife diversity specialist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Instead of decorating your backyard trees with traditional ornaments, decorate with a few food items a variety of winter birds are sure to love.”
            Suggested bird food is black oil sunflower seeds, suet, and Niger thistle seeds. Bradley suggests having the kids spread peanut butter on a pinecone and then roll it in birdseed to create an edible ornament for birds.
            Bradley also suggests making a garland string of popcorn, cranberries, raisins, grapes, or blueberries for a nontraditional and colorful approach. This can be created using nylon fishing line wrapped around the designated tree.
            “It’s also a good idea to make a few extra garland strands and refrigerate them for later use as needed,” she said. “Be sure to remove nylon from the tree when the food has been eaten.”
            Popcorn is more likely to attract sparrows and black birds, whereas the fruits will attract mockingbirds, bluebirds, and American robins. According to Bradley, providing bird seed and other food sources can attract a range of birds that winter in Oklahoma, many of which can be viewed online at okwinterbirds.com. Operated by the Wildlife Department, the site provides species profiles of many birds that winter in Oklahoma, including sharp photography, identification, feeding tips, winter ranges and more.
            Enjoying the time of year by sharing holiday cheer with the birds is fun and easy for all ages to get involved while spending quality time with family and friends on a cold, winter afternoon. For more information on attracting wildlife to your yard, subscribe to The WildSide, a free monthly Wildlife Diversity e-newsletter, by signing up on wildlifedepartment.com.
 
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Calling all citizen scientists to help conduct Wildlife Department’s Winter Bird Feeder Survey
            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Winter Bird Feeder Survey starts Jan. 5 and gives wildlife enthusiasts and their families an exciting way to kick off the New Year.
            Attracting birds and maintaining backyard feeders for wintering birds is popular in both urban and rural areas of Oklahoma. People in both places can help the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation by participating in the survey while also getting close-up views of a number of unique birds.
            Any Oklahoman with a backyard bird feeder can participate by choosing any two days between Jan. 5-8 to count birds at their feeders and record their observations. And according to Rachel Bradley, wildlife diversity specialist for the Wildlife Department, attracting birds to backyard feeders is not difficult.
            “Just provide food, water and some cover,” Bradley said.
            With participants observing birds across the state for four days straight, biologists can obtain important information that can help the Department better understand bird ranges and populations.
            “Citizens scientists’ participation in the survey helps biologists gather information from a greater area in a shorter amount of time,” Bradley said.
            Currently biologists have documented more than 20 year’s worth of upward and downward trends of birds visiting winter feeders thanks to the support of avid birders across the state.
            The survey includes counting birds at backyard feeders at least four times a day for two days during the survey dates and completing a form provided by the Wildlife Department. For detailed instructions and to take the survey, log on to the Wildlife Department’s Winter Bird Feeder Survey website at okwinterbirds.com. The website is an extensive bird-watching resource that provides species identification tips, bird diets, feeding behaviors and winter ranges as well as links to other birding websites. The site also details how to draw birds to backyard feeders using homemade bird attractants that are both healthy and beneficial to wintering birds.
            While anyone who has a bird feeder can participate in the 2012 Winter Bird Feeder Survey, certain efforts can be made to attract more birds to feeders. Black-oil sunflower seed is a good choice for bird feeders because of its high protein content for birds during the winter and because virtually all seed-eating Oklahoma songbirds will eat it. Other seed options are white proso millet, nyjer (“thistle”) or safflower. Suet cakes — animal fat that is sometimes mixed with grains or peanut butter, are good for drawing in species such as woodpeckers and birds that do not primarily eat seeds. Finally, a source of water and cover such as brush piles or dense shrubs located near the feeders helps draw more birds.
            Among the top birds seen last year at backyard feeders during the survey were the American goldfinch, dark-eyed junco, red-winged blackbird, northern cardinal, mourning dove, house finch, Carolina chickadee and blue jay, but participants also documented sightings of wild turkeys, warblers, kinglets and others.
            To learn more about the survey or to participate, log on to www.okwinterbirds.com.


 
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Wildlife Department opens online public comment period for regulation changes
            Sportsmen have the opportunity to voice their thoughts online now through Jan. 13, 2012, regarding hunting and fishing related rule change proposals currently under consideration.
            Proposed rule changes are often considered to increase opportunity for sportsmen and improve wildlife conservation measures.
            “This is an opportunity to discuss items that could lead to changes in our hunting and fishing regulations,” said Nels Rodefeld, information and education chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “We feel strongly that our constituents should have every chance to provide their comments, which is why we are providing an online comment form for those wanting to be heard on these specific subjects. We encourage you to provide your comments through wildlifedepartment.com anytime before 4:30 p.m., Jan. 13, 2012.”
            Additionally, those interested can submit written comments by mail to the Wildlife Department’s main office in Oklahoma City (P.O. Box 53465, OKC, OK 73152).
            To view a complete listing of proposed rule changes or to complete an online comment form, log on to http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/aboutodwc/public_meeting.htm 
            Among others, some of the proposed rule changes this year include the following:
* To make it unlawful to bait wildlife on wildlife management areas.
* To change the bear archery season to Oct. 1 through the third Sunday in October and eliminate the quota for bear archery season.
* To set the statewide daily limit of striped bass at five, except as designated.
* To eliminate daily harvest limits on furbearers so that only season limits apply.
* To establish permanent rules for newly purchased wildlife management areas while altering certain rules on already established public lands.
            The Wildlife Department also will be hosting public hearings on proposed rule changes at 7 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters auditorium in Oklahoma City (1801 N. Lincoln Blvd) and at the Kiamichi Technology Center in Poteau (1509 South McKenna).
 
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Dolese trout season kicks off Jan. 1
            Northwest Oklahoma City will start off the New Year by providing metro anglers with an opportunity to catch trout practically in their own backyards during the Dolese Youth Park Pond trout season. In addition, the City will partner with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to host a free trout fishing clinic to help anglers have the best chance of catching trout during the season.
            On Jan. 1, the metro trout season will open at Dolese Youth Park Pond, located north of NW 50th and a half block west of Meridian Ave in Oklahoma City.
            The two-month long trout season runs through Feb. 28 and features several stockings of rainbow trout provided through a generous donation from BancFirst.
            "This event is all about outdoor family fun,” said David Rainbolt, CEO of BancFirst. “BancFirst enjoys being a part of the tradition."
            Wildlife Department fisheries personnel say the support of BancFirst and its commitment to the Dolese trout season over the years have been crucial to providing the local trout fishing program, which has proven to be popular, affordable and entertaining among anglers. BancFirst ranks 19th in the nation on the Forbes 2012 list of best banks in America and is the only Oklahoma bank in the top 25 listing.
            The free trout fishing clinic will be held from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. Jan. 13, at the Putnam City High School gymnasium (5300 NW 50th). Pre-registration is required by calling the H.B. Parsons Fish Hatchery at (405) 755-4014. Clinic topics include bait and tackle, pole rigging, trout biology, fish cleaning and recipes, knot tying, safe casting and trout season rules and regulations, followed by a question-and-answers session.
            Part of the “Close to Home Fishing” program, the Dolese trout season is a result of a partnership between the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department. The “Close to Home” fishing program provides fishing areas that are often just a short drive away from even the most urban locations, saving families time and gas money. In addition, it allows parents and children to fish together after school or on a busy weekend. The Dolese trout season also offers anglers a chance to catch a unique fish that they don't catch at other times of the year when water temperatures are warmer.
            “The Dolese trout seasons has been a great opportunity for area anglers to fish for nice sized rainbow trout in their own community,” said Bob Martin, fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department. “What makes Dolese trout seasons popular is most people travel a few blocks or miles to fish instead of hours of expensive travel.”
            According to Martin, successful trout anglers at Dolese should keep several colors of powerbaits as well as an assortment of other trout baits in their tackle box, as the best baits to use often change throughout the day. Anglers should have success using 4- to 6-pound test line equipped with a slip sinker and small hook. Along with powerbaits, choice baits include corn, small worms, small minnows, small spinners, jigs and spoons.
            There is a daily limit of six trout per person during the Dolese Park Pond trout season. In addition, angling is permitted from the bank only, and each angler may only use one rod and reel while fishing for trout. Trout caught and placed on a stringer or otherwise held in possession cannot be released. Regulations for other species that may be caught at Dolese are available in the current “Oklahoma Fishing Guide” or online at wildlifedepartment.com.
            Those fishing for trout at Dolese must purchase an annual state fishing license, unless exempt. In addition, an Oklahoma City Fishing Permit is required for anglers ages 16-61 unless exempt.
            Dolese Youth Park and the H.B. Parsons Fish Hatchery are operated by the City of Oklahoma City's Parks and Recreation Department. For more information about trout fishing at Dolese and other Close to Home fishing opportunities, contact the city's H.B. Parsons Fish Hatchery at (405) 755-4014, visit the Lakes and Fishing page of the city's website at okc.gov, or log on to the Wildlife Department’s website at wildlifedepartment.com.
            Tulsa area residents also have an opportunity to fish for trout without venturing far from home. This Tulsa trout fishing opportunity is made possible by a partnership between the Trout Unlimited Oklahoma Chapter #420, the Tulsa Fly Fishers and Tulsa-based conservation group NatureWorks. Trout Unlimited Oklahoma Chapter #420, Tulsa Fly Fishers and NatureWorks are non-profit organizations working for statewide conservation issues. For more information about Trout Unlimited Oklahoma Chapter #420, log on to tulsaflyfishers.org. For more information about NatureWorks, log on to natureworks.org.
            This year the selected pond is located in LaFortune Park at the corner of 51st Street and Hudson in Tulsa, and the season has been open since Dec. 26. The pond is stocked periodically.
            “Children only” days are scheduled for Jan. 16, Feb. 20 and March 19. On these days fishing will be open to children under the age of 16 only, and children fishing on these days must be accompanied by an adult. The accompanying adult may fish on these days. All other days during the season will be open to all ages. All anglers over the age of 16 must have a valid Oklahoma fishing license. A bag limit of six trout per day per angler has been set, and catch and release of trout is discouraged.
 
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Now is no time for cabin fever
            With several open hunting seasons and some good fishing to be had across the state, most outdoorsmen know this is no time to be suffering from cabin fever.
            While several important fall hunting seasons have come and gone, there are still several hunting opportunities available right now in Oklahoma, including seasons such as deer and turkey archery, quail, pheasant, rabbit, squirrel, furbearer and waterfowl. There also are hunting seasons for some species that are open year-round. Trout season is well-underway, and anglers can even pursue wintertime crappie, bass, striped bass and other sport fish on waters across Oklahoma.
            “This is not the time to pack away all your gear until spring,” said Nels Rodefeld, chief of information and education for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Instead, it’s time to get out and enjoy the outdoors.”
            Oklahomans don’t have to look far for a place to hunt or fish during the late season, either. The Wildlife Department maintains wildlife management areas in every part of the state that are open to public hunting, and lakes, ponds and rivers provide fishing access even during the coldest months. Seasons on public lands may vary from statewide seasons, and hunters should consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” online at wildlifedepartment.com before going afield.
 
Open seasons at a glance
Deer archery – either sex through Jan. 15
Turkey fall archery – through Jan. 15
Squirrel – through Jan. 31
Furbearer – through Feb. 29
Pheasant – through Jan. 31
Quail – through Feb. 15
Rabbit – through March 15
 
Waterfowl
Ducks, mergansers and coots – Panhandle through Jan. 4; Zone 1 through Jan. 22; Zone 2 through Jan. 29
Canada geese – through Feb. 12
White-fronted geese – through Feb. 5
Light geese (snow, blue and Ross’) – through Feb. 12
(Conservation Order Light Goose Season – Feb. 13 - March 30, 2012)
Sandhill crane – through Jan. 22 (west of I-35 only)
 
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See a soaring iconic symbol in Oklahoma now
            Oklahoma’s mild winters make the state a great fit for eagles during the coldest months of the year, and a number of opportunities are available to see one.
            Wintering eagles begin arriving in Oklahoma in November and early December. Their numbers peak in January and February, and most birds have left for their northern breeding grounds by the end of March. Additionally, Oklahoma is home to a resident eagle population that has grown since the late 1980s from no birds to over 80 pairs. Eagle populations have fluctuated over time, and were once on the national endangered species list (from 1972 through 2007).
            Today eagles are a common sight during the winter at lakes and reservoirs. A number of organized and self-guided eagle viewing opportunities at as many as 15 locations this winter are outlined on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s website at wildlifedepartment.com.
            Lakes and their spillways have historically served as reliable Oklahoma bald eagle viewing areas. Lakes with the highest concentration of eagles are Kaw, Keystone, Texoma, Tenkiller, Ft. Gibson, Grand, Canton, Great Salt Plains, Tishomingo and Spavinaw.
            Specific bald eagle migration patterns vary each year depending on weather and other factors like severity of northern winters, and water discharges from individual reservoirs will often determine how attractive a particular lake is to bald eagles. These conditions can change overnight; therefore, a good wildlife viewing rule of thumb is to call ahead for up-to-date wildlife viewing information.
            With a wingspan longer than seven feet, bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in Oklahoma are primarily found in the eastern and central portions of the state, and the peak viewing time for bald eagles in Oklahoma will extend into February.
            To learn about eagle viewing sites and upcoming viewing events, tour dates and times, log on to wildlifedepartment.com and select the “Wildlife & Land Management” tab, then choose “Birds and Bats.”
 
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