First ever statistically valid range-wide population estimates for lesser prairie chicken (October 3, 2012)
Oklahoma hunter education certification now available online (October 8, 2012)
Youth deer gun season offers young hunters first shot (October 12, 2012)
Wounded Warrior's successful hunt (October 15, 2012)
Rare endangered birds traveling through Oklahoma now(October 26, 2012)
Nov. 1 marks opening day for most trout fisheries (October 30, 2012)

Oct. 3, 2012

A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

First ever statistically valid range-wide population estimates for lesser prairie chicken

Phoenix, Ariz. - The lesser prairie chicken is an iconic grassland grouse species native to parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. However, long-term population declines have brought state and federal agencies together in an attempt to better manage lesser prairie chickens and their habitats. Through a multi-state collaborative effort, the first statistically-valid, range-wide population estimate for the lesser prairie chicken has been produced, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' (WAFWA) Grassland Initiative. The range- wide lesser prairie chicken population is estimated at 37,170 individuals.

            The WAFWA Grassland Initiative collaborated with the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group, which is composed of biologists from state fish and wildlife departments within the range of the species, the Bureau of Land Management, and West Ecosystems, Inc. of Laramie, Wyoming, to conduct a large-scale, helicopter-based survey of lesser prairie chicken leks across all five states. Leks are sites that the birds come to every spring for breeding. These surveys occurred from March-May and encompassed more than 300,000 square miles.

            Survey results will be the baseline for a range-wide lesser prairie chicken management plan currently being developed by the five state wildlife agencies in collaboration with the WAFWA Grassland Initiative. This plan is expected to be completed by March 2013, and could influence the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) decision on whether or not to designate the lesser prairie chicken as a federally threatened or endangered species. The lesser prairie chicken has been considered a candidate under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1998, and the Service expects to release a proposed rule on the status of the bird under the ESA in November 2012.

            While the lesser prairie chicken population estimate may appear low, biologists are encouraged by what they found. The surveys this spring detected several previously unknown leks, despite severe drought conditions across the region last year. They also discovered leks in Kansas beyond what was thought to be the northern limit of the historic range of the species. Lesser prairie chicken numbers have been largely increasing in Kansas for the last 15 years, while populations have declined in parts of the southern portion of the range. Biologists believe this expansion may represent a northward shift in the population of the species caused by climatic conditions associated with changing precipitation patterns.

            "Historically, we saw habitat conditions like we are observing now in the 1930s, and we thought the species went extinct", said Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA Grassland Coordinator. "However, with habitat conservation programs being implemented through various Farm Bill programs and Candidate Conservation Agreements under the Endangered Species Act, we are seeing lesser prairie chickens maintaining themselves and even expanding into new areas in some parts of their range. This definitely boosts our confidence in coming up with a plan to maintain this species", concludes Van Pelt.

            The final survey report is available at http://www.wafwa.org/html/aerial_surveys.shtml.

Oct. 8, 2012

A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Oklahoma hunter education certification now available online

            OKLAHOMA CITY - Obtaining an Oklahoma hunter education card is now just a few clicks away for most of the state's prospective hunters.

            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is now offering the complete hunter education course online. The successful cyber-student will be able to print an Oklahoma hunter education card after completing the free course.

            Most state residents who are 10 to 30 years of age are required to have a hunter education card to buy a license. Now, instead of attending a traditional eight-hour course in a classroom setting, prospective hunters can simply log on to the Wildlife Department's website to complete the course and test for a certificate.

            "We've always tried to make classes convenient for our hunters," said Lance Meek, hunter education coordinator for the Wildlife Department. "But everything we've tried, there were still people left out. The online class is the most inclusive option we've ever offered."

            Students can study the curriculum online in sections. They will not have to complete the entire course at once, which is usually the case in a classroom setting. Fifty test questions are scattered throughout the online course, and students must select the correct answers before being able to continue to the next section.

            Also, this online course can be used by prospective hunters younger than 10 to satisfy the home study requirement they need to attend a traditional Hunter Education class.

            This new option for certification promises to be quite successful. In just two weeks of initial operation, more than 1,000 hunter education cards have been printed as students have completed the course online.

            Meek said the online course also offers young students the benefit of involving parents in learning about safe hunting.

            "One of my favorite things about this online class is that I love the idea of the kids sitting down with their parents to work through the hunter safety curriculum," he said. "Parents or mentors are a hugely important part of the process of becoming a hunter."

            The hunter education course is free, whether the student attends a classroom session or chooses the new online course. Anyone may take the online course by logging on to www.wildlifedepartment.com. The course was developed locally by Career Tech using curriculum from the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Many of the test questions relating to accidents and violations are based on real-life experiences reported by game wardens in the field.

            "Now there are three options for hunter education certification," Meek said. "You can take the course online if you are 10 years old or older, you can take an eight-hour classroom course, or the home study that requires a four-hour class."

To learn more about the Wildlife Department's online hunter education course, or to see a listing of in-class and home study hunter education courses available statewide, log on to www.wildlifedepartment.com/education/huntered.htm.

            Exemptions from hunter education certification requirements in Oklahoma include anyone 31 or older, those honorably discharged or currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, and members of the National Guard. If an Oklahoma resident is exempt from taking hunter education in Oklahoma but needs a hunter education certification card to hunt in a different state, they can also complete the new course online for certification. 

Oct. 12, 2012

A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Youth deer gun season offers young hunters first shot

            Youth hunters have the first chance at a deer with a rifle during the youth deer gun season slated for Oct. 19-21.

            The youth season is open to hunters under 18 years of age who are accompanied in the field by an adult who is at least 18 years old or older. The adult is permitted to archery hunt while accompanying the youth, but they may not hunt with a firearm.

            New this year, hunters participating in the youth deer gun season may now take either a buck and a doe or two does during the season. The total youth season limit is two deer, only one of which may be antlered. A deer license is required for each deer hunted, which means young hunters wanting to harvest two deer could purchase three licenses to maximize their opportunity (one antlered and two antlerless licenses), only two of which may be filled during youth season.

            According to Erik Bartholomew, big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the fact that youth deer gun season takes place earlier in the year than other seasons may benefit youth hunters.

            "Since the deer aren't moving as much as they would be during rut, the deer should be easy to pattern, giving kids the chance to set up on a known area and have the opportunity to harvest a deer," he said.

            While deer may not be as active as during the rut, when breeding takes place, the cooler weather may still cause deer to be on the move more so than a few weeks ago when temperatures remained high.

            Deer taken by hunters participating in the youth deer gun season are included in the hunter's combined season limit (six deer, of which no more than two may be antlered) but do not count as part of the regular deer gun season limit. Therefore, if a youth harvests a buck during the youth deer gun season, they can harvest another buck during either the regular gun season, archery season or muzzleloader season, for a total of two. Additionally, resident youth hunters who do not harvest a deer during the youth deer gun season may use their unfilled youth deer gun license during the regular deer gun season. Hunters who do harvest a deer during the youth deer gun season may purchase another youth deer gun license and harvest a deer during the regular gun season.

            Oklahoma youth under the age of 16 are exempt from the purchase of a hunting license but must possess a youth deer gun license or apprentice-designated youth deer gun license or proof of exemption.

            Resident youth 16 or 17 years old must possess a hunting license or proof of exemption, plus a youth deer gun license for each deer hunted. A $5 youth hunting license or a $9 youth combination hunting and fishing license is available to 16 and 17-year-old residents, and resident youth deer gun licenses are $10.

            Youth can hunt with an apprentice-designated hunting license if they are eight years old or older as long as they are accompanied by a licensed hunter who is 18 years old or older and hunter education certified or exempt. For complete details on the apprentice-designated hunting license, consult page 10 of the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide."

            For complete information on youth deer gun season details and regulations and the apprentice-designated hunting license, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide" or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

Wounded Warrior's successful hunt (October 15, 2012)
Panola, Okla., native Quinton Picone, 23, and two other Wounded Warriors from Fort Sam Houston, Texas, enjoyed success the weekend of the 13th in October in the archery deer hunt at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant. Picone, on his first-ever deer hunt Friday morning, harvested a nine-point buck that dressed out at 175 pounds, a new base record! Fellow Army buddies Stephen Peterson and Roger Benton also took nice bucks over the weekend. This was the fourth year that Army and ODWC staff members have hosted Wounded Warriors at the controlled hunts held at the 45,000-acre ammo plant. Congratulations Quinton, Stephen and Roger!

Oct. 26, 2012

A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Rare endangered birds traveling through Oklahoma now

            In the last two weeks a very rare bird was spotted at Lake Overholser in Oklahoma City - an unusual location for the endangered whooping crane. Standing at nearly five feet tall, the whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and can be seen passing through the state until mid-November. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is asking state residents to report sightings of this rare bird.

            "Just over 300 whooping cranes are en route from their nesting grounds in Canada to their wintering location along the central Texas coast," said Mark Howery, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department.

            Howery advises Oklahomans to keep watch for the cranes around shallow wetlands, marshes, river bottoms and partially-flooded pastures and grain fields in the western half of the state.

            "Whooping cranes typically migrate during the day in groups of one to six birds," Howery said. "They can be identified by their large size, bold white plumage, black tips on their feathers, red and black markings on their heads, and their long legs that extend beyond their tail feathers while in flight and long, stretched neck during flight."

            Despite their distinct appearance, they are often confused with the white pelican (short legs with a large band of black feathers along the trailing edge of each wing - not just the tip), snow goose (short legs not visible beyond tail feathers, usually flies in large flocks of 30 or more birds), and great egret (no black feathers on its wings, holds its neck in an S-shape when in flight). Also, during low light or backlit conditions, whooping cranes and sandhill cranes will both appear dark and can look similar.

            "Sighting reports from the public are very beneficial for the Wildlife Department, and we greatly appreciate them," said Howery. "They help us monitor the time of migration and those areas of the state that may be more or less important to the migrating population."

            The Department received just over a dozen reports last year from Woodward, Alfalfa, Blaine, Caddo, Canadian, Stephens, Jefferson and Tillman counties. Most sightings were seen near reservoirs and rivers.

            To report a whooping crane sighting in Oklahoma, contact Howery by email atmhowery@zoo.odwc.state.ok.us or by phone 405-424-2728. The Department requests information such as the date, time, approximate location, number of birds and habitat they were using at the time of the sighting.

            Video footage of the whooping crane spotted at Lake Overholser recently can be viewed on the Wildlife Department's YouTube channel athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyPk3xKyiyc&feature=youtu.be.

Nov. 1 marks opening day for most trout fisheries (October 30, 2012)
Reports of cool weather and the onset of hunting season draw many outdoor enthusiasts to the field, but Nov. 1 also marks an important day on the water - the opening day of Oklahoma's winter trout season.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation operates two year-round trout fisheries - at the Lower Mountain Fork River (LMFR) and the Lower Illinois River - but seasonal opportunities exist in several other areas, including Lake Pawhuska, Robbers Cave, Blue River, Lake Watonga and Lake Carl Etling.
Unfortunately, the Quartz Mountain trout fishery in southwest Oklahoma will no longer be stocked with trout as a result of golden alga blooms. Golden alga is a microscopic organism that, under certain conditions, can produce toxins that cause extensive fish kills.
"Once established in a water body, golden alga are there to stay, and it is not possible to predict when the next toxic episode will occur," said Ryan Ryswyk, southwest region fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department.
The Wildlife Department is looking at options to provide trout fishing elsewhere in southwest Oklahoma.
Rainbow trout usually are stocked about every two weeks at most of the state's trout areas during designated trout seasons, while the Lower Illinois River and LMFR below Broken Bow Dam also are occasionally stocked with brown trout.
Trout fishing can be made as challenging or as easy as anglers want it to be. Fly fisherman can catch fish on flies they've tied themselves, but young anglers can sit on the bank with a jar of salmon eggs and have just as much fun, and a lot of success.
Trout anglers must carry a resident or nonresident fishing license, unless exempt.
Trout angling tips as well as daily trout limits, season dates and other trout fishing regulations for each area are available on the Wildlife Department's Web site at wildlifedepartment.com or in the current "Oklahoma Fishing Guide."