Big Brothers Big Sisters seeks anglers to mentor youth (June 29, 2012)

            Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma is partnering with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to get youth into the outdoors with adult sportsmen.

            Big Brothers Big Sisters matches youth with adults in communities across the country to develop positive relationships and have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people.

            The one-to-one mentoring program recently participated in one of the Wildlife Department's free fishing clinics at the Zebco Casting Pond at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, where youth and adults are invited all summer to learn how to fish.

            "One of the best ways to connect with somebody is in the field, whether hunting or fishing," said Lance Meek, senior information and education specialist for the Wildlife Department. "Our free fishing clinics offer an opportunity to do just that without needing to own any equipment. Anyone who is looking for something to do that's fun for all ages should come to one of our free family fishing clinics."

            The free fishing clinics are held throughout the summer as part of the Wildlife Department's Aquatic Resource Education Program. Developed in 1988, the program's objectives are to increase the understanding, appreciation, and awareness of Oklahoma's aquatic resources; facilitate the learning of angling skills, outdoor ethics, and sport fishing opportunities in the state; enhance urban fishing opportunities; develop adult fishing clinics; and provide information on specialized fishing techniques. Clinics are held from 6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. nightly Monday through Thursday at the Jenks Casting Pond and on Thursday evenings from 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. at the Arcadia Conservation Education Area Kids Pond near Edmond. Clinics also are held at other various locations across the state, with a full listing of dates and times available online at wildlifedepartment.com.

            "Being a partner with the Department of Wildlife is awesome for us because a lot of the kids in our program are kids that live in the City of Tulsa and really don't have a chance to experience these types of events," said Brian Carr, a recruiter for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma. "So this is a way to really broaden their horizons and get them out of their norm - get them outside of that box - and introduce them to the outdoors, which is something that we feel like is really important. Through this partnership, not only are we able to expose the kids to the outdoors and create a whole new generation of outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen, but we're also able to find those people who might want to become mentors; people that enjoy the outdoors themselves and might want to share that with one of the kids in our programs."

            Adults interested in volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma should contact Carr at (918) 728-7932.

            "We're always looking for new volunteers - specifically men," Carr said. "We have a really big need, especially here in the Tulsa area, for men for the boys in our programs."

            According to Carr, fishing fills a need for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma because it offers something fun that adults and youth can do together, and opportunities for good fishing exist all over the state.

            "Through this, we hope to be able to reach out to some of those men who already fish, they hunt, they enjoy the outdoors," Carr said. "And they can share that with one of the young boys in our program."

            Officials with the Wildlife Department encourage the state's sportsmen to get involved in sharing the outdoors with youth. According to Meek, the Department's educational programs and BBBS are a natural fit.

            "They have young people and adults looking for a quality experience, and our aquatic education events can provide a quality outdoor experience for them," Meek said. "Anyone who is looking for something to do that's fun for all ages should come to one our free family fishing clinics."

            For more information about the Wildlife Department's aquatic resource education program, log onto wildlifedepartment.com. For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma, log on to bbbsok.org.





American Horse Lake to close July 9 for repairs (June 27, 2012)
             Beginning July 9, American Horse Lake near Geary will be closed to public access until further notice for repairs to the dam.

            "American Horse Lake is a popular spot, and it needs repairs so it can remain a great place to take the family fishing and camping," said Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Right now there are safety concerns that will not be resolved until after the dam is repaired, so the property will be closed until the project is complete."

            American Horse Lake was built by the Wildlife Department in 1965 and covers 100 acres in Blaine Co. With a maximum depth of 75 feet and an average depth of almost 21 feet, the lake is a popular destination for anglers seeking largemouth bass, bluegills and redear sunfish.

            The dam was heavily damaged by rainfall from Tropical Storm Erin in 2007, and initial repairs did not correct problems with the dam.

            "That was such a heavy rain," Gilliland said. "Rain came so fast that it flowed over the top of the dam an estimated two feet or more, and the initial repairs just didn't properly correct all of the damage done."

            Repairs will be extensive and will include spillway, seepage and drainage repair; emergency spillway repair; and other major renovations.

            According to Gilliland, sportsmen will have a better lake to use as a result of the repairs. The Department is using the renovations as an opportunity to enhance fishing by planning additional underwater brush and structure to concentrate fish. The Department may also have the opportunity to excavate silted areas of the lake.

            "Soil samples will tell us more, but we may be able to use built-up silt from certain areas of the lake to repair the backside of the dam, which in turn could improve the lake bed for fishing in those spots," Gilliland said.

            American Horse Lake is one of 15 Wildlife Department-owned and managed lakes across the state, ranging from as small 30 acres to more than 260 acres.

            The lake and surrounding property, including the campsites, will be closed to public access until the renovations are complete. Until July 8 the lake will be open to bank access only. Stay up to date by logging on to wildlifedepartment.com.




"2012-13 Oklahoma Hunting Guide" available now online (June 22, 2012)

            Hunters can log onto wildlifedepartment.com today to view a draft copy of the "2012-13 Oklahoma Hunting Guide" from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

            The new full-color guide contains statewide hunting regulations and season information for 2012 and 2013. It also features a wide range of hunting-related articles and other helpful information, such as sunrise/sunset tables and detailed information on the state's wildlife management areas.

            "Printed copies will be available for free in August anywhere hunting licenses are sold, but hunters anxious to read up on the latest hunting regulation changes and dates for their favorite seasons can do so today online," said Ben Davis, information specialist and hunting guide coordinator for the Wildlife Department. "It's an important publication because it contains so much of the information our state's hunters need to know in order to follow the game laws in Oklahoma. Some of the regulation changes covered in the new "Hunting Guide" include the expansion of black bear season, new youth deer season opportunities, new baiting restrictions on public lands and rule changes pertaining to the use of ATVs on Honobia Creek Wildlife Management Area.

            The migratory bird regulations portion is a draft and will not be finalized by the USFWS and the Oklahoma Wildlife Commission until Aug. 6.

            To view all the changes and the full draft copy in detail, log on to wildlifedepartment.com. A link to the guide is provided on the homepage.





First range-wide lesser prairie-chicken aerial survey concluded (June 20, 2012)

            Recent aerial surveys conducted to assess lesser prairie-chicken populations across portions of five states including Oklahoma have turned up some good news, according to biologists.

            Despite concerns about the lesser prairie-chicken across its range and the severe drought that occurred last year across the surveyed region, biologists were able to make several observations in Beaver, Ellis, Harper and Texas counties during the survey. The survey was looking for additional "leks," or areas used by lesser prairie-chickens each year for courtship and mating.

            "This is an important effort among several partners, and Oklahoma is directly involved," said Doug Schoeling, upland game bird biologist for the Wildlife Department. "We don't want to see the lesser prairie-chicken designated as a federally threatened or endangered species - obviously first and foremost because we want the species to thrive in Oklahoma. Also, we feel that the Wildlife Department has exceptional relationships with our state's landowners and our other partners, which allows us to have the most beneficial impact on the management and recovery of the lesser prairie-chicken."

            Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation participated in the surveys as part of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Interstate Working Group, which includes representatives from Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas fish and wildlife agencies as well as collaborators from Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and West Ecosystems, Inc of Laramie, Wyo.

            The unique effort included a large-scale, helicopter-based survey to locate lesser prairie-chicken leks across the High Plains region in the five states. These surveys encompassed more than 300,000 square miles and the results will be used to produce the first ever, statistically valid, five-state lek estimate. Final survey results will be available this summer.

            The majority of lesser prairie-chicken habitat is in Kansas, and the survey also discovered leks in Kansas that are beyond what was thought to be the northern extent of the historic range of the species. Lesser prairie-chicken numbers have been increasing in Kansas for the last 15 years, while populations have declined in the southern portions of the range. Biologists believe this northward expansion may represent a shift in the population of the species as a result of improved habitat and the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides incentives to farmers and landowners for converting cropland back to native grasses.

            The lesser prairie-chicken has been considered a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1998, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service will be releasing a proposed rule on the status of the bird under ESA in September 2012. Information from these surveys will be used as a baseline by the state fish and wildlife agencies to monitor trends in prairie-chicken populations and to target conservation programs in partnership with private landowners; oil and gas; wind industry; and electric utilities.

            For more information about lesser prairie-chickens and other wildlife in Oklahoma, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.





Have GPS? Plug in waypoints of fish attractors to explore over 100 lakes (June 15, 2012)

            Anglers can access the GPS waypoints of manmade fish attractors in 102 Oklahoma lakes right now on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's website.

            The Wildlife Department's website at wildlifedepartment.com provides a link on the homepage that directs anglers to a list of lakes where fisheries personnel have submerged a range of fish attractors such as cut cedar trees, tire reefs, spider blocks, brush piles and even old car bodies. By clicking on the name of any lake, anglers can access the coordinates for the sunken fish attractors and plug them right into their GPS. Also listed with each lake is the type fish attracting structure that has been submerged and other unique details that may be available such as the area name where the attractors can be found, their submerged depth, date of placement and whether or not they are marked or accessible from the bank or for persons with disabilities.

            "These fish attractors can concentrate larger numbers of fish in specific areas," said Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department. "This can give anglers an edge, especially if they know a few details about where to find the structure or how deep they are under the surface of the water. It can take some of the guessing out of the decision of where to fish, and hopefully can help our anglers have more success."

            Fish attractors may be comprised of cedar trees that have been cut down and removed from local wildlife management areas by Wildlife Department personnel because of their limited value to wildlife and tendency to be invasive. Brush may be placed in piles or rows, and spider blocks may be placed that are made from plastic tubing that has been cemented into cinderblocks to create usable structure for fish.

            "One of our important goals is to help anglers be successful, and making these underwater fish attractors available to fish and then making their location available to our anglers is one way we can accomplish that goal," Bolton said.

            Along with providing fish attractor locations, the Wildlife Department's website at wildlifedepartment.com offers extensive resources for anglers, hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts to get the most from Oklahoma's outdoors. Timely fishing reports, license requirements and purchasing options, detailed maps and other useful information are available along with much more on the site. To learn more, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.






NWTF and Wildlife Department to continue conservation partnership (June 13, 2012)

            The National Wild Turkey Federation has been a strong supporter of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for decades, and the two recently sealed plans to continue their partnership into the future.

            At its June meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission entered into a memorandum of agreement with the NWTF to continue partnering in conservation efforts in the state. While longtime agreements that have been in place between the two have focused on restoring and enhancing turkey populations and habitat, the two are looking toward a future of generating interest among Oklahomans in the outdoors and getting people into the woods to enjoy wildlife and engage in conservation.

            According to Robert Abernethy, NWTF vice-president of agency programs, the NWTF signed a similar memorandum of agreement with the Wildlife Department in 1988 that focused primarily on goals to expand turkey populations and "make sure that every available acre of turkey habitat in Oklahoma has turkeys."

            "Over the last 20 years the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Turkey Federation - working together in partnership - have achieved that goal," Abernethy said.

            He went on to describe the evolution of the NTWF's involvement in conservation over the years as it seeks to involve people in the outdoors.

            "The old agreement was primarily dealing with turkeys," Abernethy said. "The new agreement is dealing with our women's program. It's dealing with our Wheeling' Program where we get wounded warriors - we get disabled veterans, we get people with disabilities - out in the woods, and we tell them that 'you can hunt again.'"

            The NWTF also operates youth programs, conservation scholarships and a range of other efforts to introduce and keep people involved in the outdoors and conservation.

            The NWTF is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and other wildlife, and its Oklahoma chapters have played an important role in the state. With more than 50 Oklahoma chapters, the NWTF has spent over $1 million in Oklahoma in recent decades on things like wildlife habitat enhancements, land purchases, education, outreach and more within the state.

            "We have those partners that we rely heavily on, and the NWTF steps up to the plate all the time," said Alan Peoples, chief of Wildlife for the Wildlife Department.

            Other partners to the Department such as the Oklahoma Bowhunting Council play important roles in conserving wildlife and promoting the outdoors. Along with the NWTF, representatives from the Bowhunting Council attended the June meeting and presented the Commission with a donation of $500.

            The donation will be used for the Department's Operation Game Thief program, which allows the public to send anonymous tips and reports of game law violations in Oklahoma.

            "The Oklahoma Bowhunting Council has been a strong partner in our archery program for years, and they've helped make it what it is today," said Robert Fleenor, law enforcement chief for the Wildlife Department.

            In other business, the Commission heard a presentation on the current state of Oklahoma's whitetail deer management program.

            According to Alan Peoples, recent figures indicate that Oklahoma attracts an estimated 92,406 archery hunters, 94,905 muzzleloader hunters, and about 203,915 modern firearms hunters every year.

            "We've made the statement that on opening day of gun season, we'll have more people in the woods than a home football game at OU, OSU or Tulsa combined," Peoples said. "Deer hunting is a pretty big deal for us in Oklahoma."

            At the start of statehood, market and subsistence hunting had driven Oklahoma's deer numbers down to an estimated population of fewer than 500. Today hunters regularly harvest close to or in excess of 100,000 deer annually during fall hunting seasons.

            Jerry Shaw, wildlife programs supervisor for the Wildlife Department, presented the Commission with a state history of the progression of deer management since that time leading up to the thriving deer population of today. The decades since statehood have been marked with recovery efforts, trap and transplant programs, increased hunting opportunities, antlerless harvest management and overall booming success for whitetail populations, habitat and hunters.

            In recent years the Department has helped improve herd dynamics by increasing antlerless deer harvest and also by expanding buck hunting opportunities to encourage hunters to be more selective. This included expanding the deer gun season in 2003 to allow hunters more time to be selective and reducing annual antlered deer limits from three to two in 2007.

            "As I look around and I try to take count and stock of what we've done, I would say we have been very successful," Shaw said. "Our total deer harvests are level or they're showing a stable to increasing trend. Our antlerless harvests are at record highs. In 2009 we set our antlerless harvest record with over 50,000 antlerless deer tagged. Over the past five years we've averaged 43 percent does in our harvest - that's keeping our population from expanding and potentially damaging the habitat. And at the same time that our harvests are increasing, our buck harvest is remaining stable. We're not taking more bucks - we're just taking a little bit better quality deer. If you look at individual seasons, our success rates for archery, muzzleloader and rifle season are all improving. We have more liberal season dates than ever before. If you're a deer hunter in Oklahoma, this is the time you want to be around. We've got the longest seasons we've ever had. We've got the highest bag limits. It's a great time to be a deer hunter."

            Shaw also said the percentage of yearling bucks harvested has decreased in recent decades and bigger deer are being harvested. There have been seven new Cy Curtis Awards records set in the past 16 years. The Department's Cy Curtis Awards program recognizes big deer that have been harvested in Oklahoma and the hunters who have taken them.

            Additionally, recent game harvest surveys conducted by the Department indicate that the majority of Oklahoma hunters have held steady opinions over time about deer hunting.

            "On average, over 60 percent of our hunting population say in order for them to consider it a successful deer hunting experience, they want to see many deer of both sexes," Shaw said.

In 2010, the Department used its game harvest survey to ask 1,037 hunters who had hunted deer in 2010 how they think Oklahoma's deer herd should be managed.

            "Fifty-four percent said 'for maximum deer hunting opportunity,'" Shaw said.

            And while Oklahoma has been successful in helping the majority of Oklahoma deer hunters realize what they consider a successful deer hunting experience, Shaw said that the hunters who have preferences toward trophy hunting have a way to achieve their goals as well.

            "For the minority of hunters that wish to manage for trophy bucks, we have a cooperative program designed to help them meet that goal."

            That program is the Deer Management Assistance Program, or "DMAP," which helps cooperative groups of hunters and landowners manage for individualized goals on private lands while still allowing for statewide regulations that benefit the majority of the hunters looking for maximum hunting opportunity.

            Shaw pointed out future management opportunities such as increasing youth participation and additional antlerless hunting opportunity. He also referenced the Department's online e-check system as a way to allow for real time analysis of deer season data, to save hunters gas money and to save operating costs for the Wildlife Department.

            The following is a listing of other business conducted by the Commission at its June meeting:


            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. Aug. 6, at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.




Calling all social networking anglers: "like" Lake Murray and win a trip (June 8, 2012)

            Facebook users can win a chance at an all-expense-paid outdoor getaway for four by going to https://www.facebook.com/TakeMeFishing?sk=app_335076299898427 this week and "liking" Lake Murray State Park.

            This week, Lake Murray State Park is up against Arizona's Alamo Lake State Park and Texas' Guadalupe River State Park in "Nature's Waterpark Showdown," a weekly contest taking place on the TakeMeFishing.org Facebook page. Each week the contest pits three state parks against each other to see which one can get the most "likes," and the winning park for the week is added to a list with seven others from throughout the contest period. Facebook users who "like" a park in the contest can register to win a trip for four to one of the top eight parks of their choice. Additionally, $50 gift cards to Bass Pro Shops will be given away weekly.

            "Let's show Lake Murray State Park our support by going to the TakeMeFishing.org Facebook page this week and voting," said Micah Holmes, information supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "We want people to know we are proud of the great fishing and other recreational opportunities our state has to offer, and this contest is a great way to tell the rest of the country how we feel. Plus, you can win a great trip."

            TakeMeFishing.org is a tool of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) for increasing nationwide participation in fishing and building appreciation of the need to "protect, conserve and restore" the nation's aquatic natural resources. The RBFF uses TakeMeFishing.org as a comprehensive boating and fishing resource for the public.