Options available for reducing impact on wildlife during hay harvest (April 27, 2012)

            A long and mild spring is producing healthy, early hay crops for landowners this year, and biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are encouraging them to walk out their fields or use a flusher bar on farming equipment before cutting hay to help flush nesting or bedded down wildlife from the area.

            "This has been a great season for vegetative growth, which is what wildlife needs after last year's horrible drought," said Mike Sams, private lands senior biologist for the Wildlife Department. "And it's what farmers needed as well. But every year we have farmers call in to report having hit a fawn during the hay cutting process. So this year, we're reminding farmers early to take a few precautions."

            Sams works with landowners across the state who are interested in improving wildlife habitat on their property. Some of them are farmers, and Sams says something as simple as walking out their fields before going back over them with heavy equipment could encourage any wildlife in the area to leave.

            "Nobody wants to accidentally kill or injure an animal during the farming process, and these simple steps can help avoid it," Sams said.

            In Oklahoma, most hens are nesting this time of year, and most fawns are born in May and June. Log on to wildlifedepartment.com for more information about wildlife conservation in Oklahoma. See the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service's fact sheet at http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-2696/NREM-5006web.pdf for more information about reducing the mortality of grassland wildlife during hay and wheat harvesting. To reach Mike Sams, call (405) 590-2584. 








Walking out fields before cutting hay is one way to help avoid injuring wildlife such as nesting birds or bedded down deer fawns. 










Hackberry Flat Day offers southwest Oklahoma family fun (April 18, 2012)

            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Friends of Hackberry Flat are offering a fun-filled day for the entire family on Saturday, April 21st from 9 am to 3 pm at the Hackberry Flat Center located near Frederick in southwest Oklahoma.

            Activities on the Hackberry Flat area include a morning birding tour for intermediate and advanced birdwatchers from 8:30 a.m. until noon. Birding tours for beginners and families are offered four times on Saturday: 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. New this year, the first 25 families to sign up for and take the tour will receive one bird field guide/family. To make reservations for a bird tour, send an e-mail to mhickman@zoo.odwc.state.ok.us specifying which of the four time slots are preferred as well as the number of people in the group. Visitors may also sign up for a tour when upon arrival at Hackberry Flat Center, but each tour is limited to 20 people. A waiting list will be maintained.

            Families also can try archery and shotgun shooting for both skilled and beginning shooters, crayfish hunting, and close-up observation of the sport fish of Oklahoma in the Wildlife Department's large aquarium.

            Activities continue inside the Center with viewing wetland wildlife in the wetland classroom presented by Quartz Mountain Nature Park and the OK Wildlife and Prairie Heritage Alliance, as well as an interactive exhibit about bats in Oklahoma by Alabaster Caverns State Park.  

            Participants of the Hackberry Flat Day activities are exempt from possessing a hunting or fishing license or conservation passport normally required when entering most wildlife management areas.

            All activities will begin at the Hackberry Flat Center, a facility that provides wetland classroom experiences for school groups, programs on wildlife and wildlife-related activities as well as meeting facilities for resource-oriented programs, workshops and meetings. More information as well as directions to Hackberry Flat can be found at http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/education/hackberry_flat.htm.

            For more information about other attractions in and around Frederick, call the Frederick Chamber of Commerce at (580) 335-2126. For more information about the Hackberry Flat Center, call Melynda Hickman, Wildlife Diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department, at (405) 990-4977.





Searching for the scissortail (April 13, 2012)

            Now is the time to start searching for the scissor-tailed flycatcher on its way north from the tropics to spend the summer in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is one of only seven United States in which the bird nests.

            "Scissortails are neo-tropical migrants, which breed in North America in the summer and winter in Central and South America or the Caribbean islands," said Rachel Bradley, wildlife diversity information specialist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "People will begin seeing them in Oklahoma any day now and they'll inhabit the state until late October."

            The birds are easily identified by their long, scissor-like tail that is seen outstretched during flight. Scissortails can often be seen perching on fences and telephone wires along open prairie roadsides watching for food.

            According to Bradley, the scissortail's diet consists largely of insects.

            Landowners may make their land more attractive to scissor-tailed flycatchers and certain other bird species by planting and maintaining scattered shade and shrubs to add perching and nesting sites.

            Wildlife enthusiasts who are not landowners can still benefit scissortails and other wildlife by supporting the Department's Wildlife Diversity Program, which is committed to species not hunted or fished. They can aid the Wildlife Diversity Program by purchasing a Wildlife Conservation license plate, a Wildlife Department publication or by donating directly to the Wildlife Diversity fund. For more information about the Wildlife Diversity Program, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.





Controlled Hunts application online now (April 11, 2012)

            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's popular controlled hunts program is open to online applicants now.

            The controlled hunts program offers once-in-a-lifetime elk and antelope hunts, highly sought-after buck hunts, and a range of other quality deer and turkey hunting opportunities through randomized drawings that only cost sportsmen $5 to enter. Opportunities offered through the program include hunts on Department or other government-owned or managed lands where unrestricted hunting would pose safety concerns or where overharvest might occur.

            The online application process takes just a few minutes and must be completed through the Wildlife Department's website at wildlifedepartment.com. Applicants have until May 15 to submit their applications.

            "You just can't beat $5 for a chance at an Oklahoma big game or gobbler hunt in the unique areas offered through this program," said Melinda Sturgess-Streich, assistant director of administration and finance for the Wildlife Department. "Whether you want to hunt a bull elk in the Wichita Mountains, an antelope in the Panhandle or a trophy buck at locations across the state like the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, the controlled hunts program is one of the best things going in Oklahoma hunting."

            All applicants, including lifetime license holders, must pay the $5 application fee to enter the controlled hunts drawings. The fee is paid only once per person per year regardless of the number of categories entered.

            Applications are offered online through a secure process that only accepts applications once they have been filed correctly, and a print-out confirmation page is available for sportsmen to document their submitted application.

            Log on to http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/controlledhunts.htm for complete application instructions, including tips on enhancing chances of being selected as well as a full listing of available hunts for elk, deer, antelope and turkey.





Oklahoma Lesser Prairie Chicken Conservation Action Plan draft available for public review and presentation (April 10, 2012)


            The public is invited to provide comments on a draft conservation plan for the Lesser Prairie Chicken in Oklahoma. The first draft of the Oklahoma Lesser Prairie Chicken Conservation Action Plan (OLEPCCP) is now available for public review and is posted on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's website at (www.wildlifedepartment.com/wildlifemgmt/lepc/action_plan.htm). Comments on the draft plan will be accepted until May 4, and the public is encouraged to attend an evening public meeting April 25 in Beaver or April 26 in Woodward.

            The draft OLEPCCP identifies management strategies to increase the lesser prairie chicken (LEPC) population in Oklahoma through habitat improvements. The plan emphasizes tools and incentives to encourage landowners and others to partner with agencies in conservation efforts while also achieving their land use needs. The Oklahoma House of Representatives adopted a concurrent resolution in April 2011 directing ODWC to coordinate development of the LEPC conservation plan to "protect, enhance, and restore [LEPC] habitat while also addressing other factors leading to their decline." The plan is intended to benefit the people, economy, and wildlife resources of Oklahoma by providing a framework for effective LEPC management and habitat improvement that will facilitate population increases.

            The LEPC is a North American grouse species that historically occupied sand sagebrush, shinnery oak, and mixed grass vegetation types of the southern Great Plains. LEPC and the habitat upon which they depend have diminished across their historical range by about 90%. In 1995 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that the LEPC was warranted for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Unless populations sufficiently increase, the species may be listed in the future, resulting in potential federal regulation of some activities and developments within its range.

            Public meetings to present the draft OLEPCCP and to hear public comments will be held Wednesday, April 25, 6:30 p.m. - 9 p.m. at the Beaver County Fairgrounds Pavilion Building, Douglas Ave. in Beaver, and Thursday, April 26, 6:30 p.m. - 9 p.m. at the City of Woodward Pioneer Room, 1219 8th St. in Woodward. Written public comments should be sent to janc@gci.netor 114 S. Franklin St., Ste. 203, Juneau, AK 99801 by Friday, May 4.

            The OLEPCCP is being prepared by a consulting team led by the Ecosystem Management Research Institute (www.emri.org), assisted by Jan Caulfield Consulting. For more information, contact Dr. Jonathan Haufler, Ecosystem Management Research Institute (406) 677-0247.




Last chance for teens to apply for Wildlife Department Youth Camp (April 10, 2012)

            April 13 is the application deadline for teenagers hoping to attend the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's annual Wildlife Youth Camp slated for June 24-29 at Oklahoma University Biological Station at Lake Texoma.

            According to Jay Harvey, game warden stationed in Choctaw and Bryan counties and coordinator for the camp, the camp is geared toward youth interested in the outdoors and careers in wildlife management.

            "We urge anybody between the ages of 14 and 16 that's interested in hunting or fishing or a career with the Department to apply," Harvey said.

            The free camp increases awareness of conserving and managing Oklahoma's wildlife resources through courses on wildlife-related career opportunities, rifle and shotgun training, archery, wildlife identification, wildlife law enforcement, fishing, fisheries management, ropes, swimming and turkey and waterfowl hunting, management and law enforcement.

            "Anyone interested in coming should note that the camp is being held in June this year instead of July like the last three years," Harvey said.

            To attend youth camp, applicants must be Oklahoma residents and must turn 14 prior to June 24, 2012, and be no older than 16. To attend, prospective campers must fill out an application form and write a 75-word essay describing why they want to attend the camp, why they should be selected and what they expect to learn. Additionally, they must provide a letter of recommendation by someone other than a family member and a photograph from a recent outdoor-related event or activity. Application forms are available online at http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/education/youthcamp.htm. The page also includes additional information about the camp and photographs from previous years.

            The camp will be open to a maximum of 35 youth, and applications will be accepted through April 13, 2012.





Northwest Oklahoma wildlife habitat to benefit from Quail Forever donation (April 6, 2012)

            At its April meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission accepted a donation from the 89er Chapter of Quail Forever to benefit quail habitat in northwest Oklahoma.

            The donation includes specialized equipment for conducting prescribed burns to be used on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Beaver River Wildlife Management Area in northwest Oklahoma.

            For years, wildlife professionals have promoted the benefits of prescribed fire to wildlife habitat, particularly as it pertains quail. The equipment donation will help improve habitat through prescribed burns that eliminate brushy overgrowth and promote new growth of beneficial native vegetation.

            According to Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Wildlife Department, newly acquired portions of Beaver River WMA stand to benefit from prescribed burning because of heavy overgrowth.

            "As a matter of fact, its so thick you can't find the fence in a lot of that pasture," Peoples said.

            Though prescribed fire is an important tool for wildlife management, Peoples said the risk of burning away too much vegetation is one of the challenges of prescribed burning in northwest Oklahoma. When excessive burning is combined with the lack of rain and high winds common to the region, the area's sandy soils can shift too easily and inhibit further vegetative growth.

            Peoples said the Wildlife Department's personnel have the experience to conduct prescribed burns on the WMA effectively and safely and in a way that will benefit wildlife.

            Additionally, the portions that will be burned in rotations over the course of four years are uniquely situated with borders formed by highways to the north and east, the Beaver River to the south and additional WMA property to the west.

            Current research on Beaver River and Packsaddle WMAs in partnership with Oklahoma State University is focused on causes of quail decline, and the Department is currently using radio technology to track the movements and mortality of 69 quail on Beaver River WMA and 44 quail on Packsaddle WMA. According to Peoples, 11 of the quail being tracked on Beaver River WMA are scaled quail, also known as blue quail. The units worn by the quail aid in tracking the birds and notify researchers when a bird stops moving for an extended time period.

            The research taking place on the WMAs will also use weather stations to track localized weather events and their effects on radio-tracked quail and will focus on the effects of grazing and burning techniques. Researchers hope to learn more about the causes of quail mortality and population declines as well as help identify beneficial management techniques.

            In other business, the Commission voted to increase the Wildlife Department's fiscal year 2012 budget in the amount of $73,750 for the construction of a personnel residence on the newly acquired Cross Timbers WMA; $34,200 for windmills, solar wells, fence materials and building roof materials on the Beaver River WMA; $14,405 for the removal of eastern red cedars, treatment of salt cedars, burning and planting of cottonwood trees on Packsaddle WMA; and $1,000,000 for the fourth and final acquisition of property comprising the new Cross Timbers WMA.

            The Commission heard a presentation from Melinda Sturgess-Streich, assistant director of administration and finance for the Wildlife Department, on the agency's plans to host the 2013 annual conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA). The organization is made up of fish and wildlife agencies across the southeast United Stated responsible for the management and protection of fish and wildlife resources in 15 states, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. Members of the association meet annually to discuss and collaborate on the latest research, management techniques and state of fish and wildlife affairs in the region.

            Additionally, the Commission approved several recommended policy changes to the Department's employee handbook.

            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. May 7, at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.





March produces second black bass state record (April 5, 2012)

            Just days after Poteau angler Benny Williams, Jr. landed a new state record largemouth bass from Cedar Lake in southeast Oklahoma, an angler in the opposite southern corner of the state has reeled in a new state record smallmouth bass.

            Ryan Wasser of Pocasset was fishing March 31 at Lake Lawtonka in preparation for an upcoming local tournament when he hooked a fish that he knew was special.

            "The fish came to the top where I could see it, and I knew that I had a potential record type smallmouth on," he said.

            And a record smallmouth it was. At 8 lbs. 7 oz., the fish outweighs the previous record smallmouth by four ounces.

            Wasser caught the bass on a oz. shakyhead lure from Flatlands Custom Tackle rigged with a finesse worm and 10-lb. test line. He was using a Shimano reel on an Abu Garcia rod. The fish measured 23 1/8 inches in length and 18 inches in girth.

            "I was fishing in less than five feet of water when the bass bit," Wasser said.

            He said the drag on his reel was too loose at first and that he had to slowly adjust it to gain on the fish.

            Wasser was fishing with his mother and his six-year-old son when the fish hit.

            "He was just as amazed as I was," Wasser said of his son's reaction to the fish. "He hasn't seen many smallmouth, and none of us have seen one even close to that big."

            And most Oklahoma smallmouth anglers won't.

            "Definitely more than a dream-come-true experience that none of us will ever forget," Waser said.

            The fish's weight was certified by Ryan Ryswyk, southwest region fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. According to Ryswyk, the bass caught by Wasser and the state record largemouth caught March 23 are just two examples of why now is a great time to be fishing in Oklahoma.

            "This is a great time of year to be out on the water. The fish are biting and the weather has been beautiful," said Ryswyk. "Two new bass records have been set in the past few weeks, but don't forget about the crappie and saugeye action that is heating up as well. You can catch fish even without a boat. Bank fishing, float tubing, or wading shallow water are other good options for people who don't own a boat. With many reservoirs, ponds, rivers, and creeks within our state, Oklahomans shouldn't be too far from a fishing spot in any part of the state."

            According to Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department, Lake Lawtonka was one of the first lakes in the state to be stocked with "Tennessee strain" smallmouth bass, which grow larger and are seemingly more adaptable to large lake environments than the state's native strain of smallmouth bass that inhabit the many Ozark and Ouachita streams and rivers of eastern Oklahoma.

            "An 8-lb. smallmouth is huge anywhere in the country," Gilliland said.

            In addition to Lawtonka, Oklahoma is home to several outstanding smallmouth fisheries including Eufaula, Texoma, Skiatook and Broken Bow lakes.

            In manmade lakes, smallmouth seek clear, clean water usually with a rocky substrate. Weedy areas along the shoreline, flats off channels and shelves are all good areas to find smallmouth. In streams, smallmouth anglers should look for riffles, pools and the shallows above rapids. Food sources include crayfish, small fish, insects, worms, frogs and tadpoles.

            Currently all but one of the Oklahoma state record black bass in the books - which include smallmouth, largemouth, spotted and hybrid black bass - have been caught during the month of March.

            The three main species are similar, but can be easily identified. The most objective way to tell them species apart is by the relationship of the eye and the mouth hinge. On a smallmouth bass, the mouth hinge vertically lines up in front of the back edge of the eye, whereas on a largemouth bass the mouth hinge vertically lines up behind the back edge of the eye. The mouth hinge on a spotted bass lines up vertically with the back edge of the eye. Coloration is also a good indicator of species but can be unreliable because water clarity can vary from lake to lake.

            Anglers who believe they may have hooked a record fish must weigh the fish on an Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture certified scale, and a Wildlife Department employee must verify the weight. For a complete list of record fish and the procedures for certifying a state record, consult the current "Oklahoma Fishing Guide" or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.


Hummingbirds coming to a feeder near you (April 5, 2012)

            If you haven't already, now is the time to hang those hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds are one of the most sought after birds in Oklahoma during the spring and summer months. Hummers are seen beginning in early April, and you can help the Wildlife Department's Wildlife Diversity Program monitor populations this year by participating in the 2012 Hummingbird Survey.

            Hummingbirds are one of the most enjoyable birds to watch because they fly backwards and upside down while their wings pump 70 times per second. The most common species seen is the ruby-throated hummingbird, but eastern Oklahomans may also spot the black-chinned hummingbird.

            "It's fairly simple to attract hummers to your backyard," said Rachel Bradley, wildlife diversity specialist for the Wildlife Department. "Hummingbirds take to sugar water mixtures (one part sugar to four parts water) in a hummingbird feeder and bright, tubular plants such as trumpet creeper vines and petunias."

            Hummingbirds are also attracted bee balm, salvia, trumpet creeper vines, lobelia, phlox, four-o-clocks and penstemons. Hummingbirds feed by sight rather than smell and often visit plants with vibrant colors and tubular shapes.

            "As long as your hummingbird feeder has red on it, it is not necessary to use red food coloring in the sugar water mixture," said Mark Howery, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department. "Be sure to clean the feeders about every five days in cool weather and every two or three days in warm weather to ensure they don't become contaminated with yeast and bacteria."

            Hummingbird feeders should be placed outside in early April. Visit wildlifedepartment.com's Wildlife and Land Management Citizen Scientist page to download the Wildlife Department's Hummingbird Survey complete with instructions.

            This citizen scientist survey is a project of the Wildlife Department's Wildlife Diversity Program. The Wildlife Diversity Program is committed to species that are not hunted or fished. For more information, visit wildlifedepartment.com.