Archived Weekly Wildlife News

Produced by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Sign up for the Weekly News Release via e-mail

If you are with the media please call (405) 521-4630 to sign up. 

 

December 2013

 

Dec. 3, 2013

A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation


Paddlefish annual harvest limit set at two per angler
New angling rules are pending that will help conserve Oklahoma's important populations of paddlefish. The changes include setting an individual annual harvest limit of two fish per angler and requiring that anglers report their paddlefish harvest online using the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's e-check system.
The changes were part of a resolution approved by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission at its December meeting. Last month, the Commission approved emergency rules that allow the Commission to set annual paddlefish harvest limits by resolution. Though the emergency rules are in effect, they must pass through a public comment period and be signed into law by the Governor before becoming permanent.
The annual harvest limit has been set at two paddlefish per individual, meaning that once anglers have harvested two fish, they must stop keeping them for the year. However, they can continue "catch-and-release-only" fishing for paddlefish. Additionally, the new rules require anglers to log on to wildlifedepartment.com to report their harvest, much like hunters must check in their harvested deer online. Checking fish will further expand biologists' knowledge of paddlefish populations. Current rules that limit anglers to one paddlefish per day and that require them to stop fishing for the day once a fish has been kept will remain in place.
According to Jason Schooley, paddlefish biologist for the Wildlife Department, the rule changes are important for conserving paddlefish in the Grand River system that largely supports the state's - and some would argue the nation's - most popular paddlefish fishery.
Paddlefish mature slowly - females must reach 8-10 years of age before they mature and reproduce; males, 6-8 years of age. And even then, paddlefish are "episodic" reproducers, meaning their populations are marked by good but sporadic years of successful reproduction mixed with less than ideal years. Schooley says protecting the prominent age class - in this case the 1999 age class - will help sustain the fishery while younger age classes mature. While ODWC continues to monitor recruitment, hopefully future year classes will contribute to continued paddlefish angling in Oklahoma.
Known for the unusual appearance of their long, bill-like snout and their large size, paddlefish have been the subject of intense study ever since an important Wildlife Department research facility opened in 2008 near Miami in northeast Oklahoma.
Six years of harvest data and four years of angler surveys indicate that most paddlefish anglers (84 percent) harvest fewer than two fish in a year. The remaining 16 percent of anglers disproportionately represent over 40 percent of the total harvest. Choosing an individual annual harvest limit of two fish was the ideal option to limit the high-harvest anglers (those putting the most strain on the resource) while not restricting most other paddlefish anglers. Also, survey results indicated that paddlefish anglers put more value on the opportunity to catch a fish than they do on the ability to harvest a fish. Therefore, once an individual annual harvest limit is reached, catch-and-release is still available year-round.
"What we are doing with these rule changes is protecting our paddlefish by proactively adjusting the harvest before we reach a point of over-harvest," Schooley said. "At the same time, we are making these changes while we still have some of these 1999 fish around so they can continue to support the fishery. We have enjoyed that year class as a resource, but because they have a definite lifespan, that population is declining naturally. These rules will help us bring in younger age classes while making sure we have plenty of good fishing available in the meantime."


Dec. 9, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation


Game warden honored as Wildlife Officer of the Year
Dru Polk, game warden stationed in McCurtain County in southeast Oklahoma, has been named the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Game Warden of the Year for 2013 and Wildlife Officer of the Year for the Shikar-Safari Club International.
Polk was recognized before the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission at its December meeting. Former U.S. Rep. Bill Brewster of Ardmore, a member of Shikar-Safari Club International, presented Polk a framed certificate and a silver commemorative plate from the club.
Game wardens are law enforcement officers for the Wildlife Department charged with enforcing fish and wildlife laws.
"The award means a lot to me, but it means just as much to my family," said Polk, who has served as a warden since 2001. "If it wasn't for them being understanding, I wouldn't be able to do what I do."
"To be selected officer of the year by your peers is something to be proud of," Brewster said.
State Rep. Curtis McDaniel, a neighbor of Polk's in Smithville, also read a citation from the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Gov. Mary Fallin in recognition of Polk's accomplishments.
Polk said his favorite part of the job is "being able to ensure that we have a heritage for our kids, for my girls to be able to hunt and fish and to have the same opportunities that I've had growing up. That's why I do what I do."
Col. Robert Fleenor, chief of law enforcement for the Wildlife Department, said Polk typifies what a game warden should be. His area requires long hours and an even temperament, Fleenor said.
"What's interesting about Dru is that he is so well-respected in his area. It's obvious that people in his area very much respect him besides knowing that he's going to tend to the law and take care of business.
"Dru typifies what a gentleman game warden is all about," Fleenor said.
Polk graduated from Durant High School in 1990 and earned a degree in conservation of natural resources in 1998 from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Polk's father worked for the Alcoholic Beverage Law Enforcement Commission, so he grew up around law enforcement.
Dru's older brother, Dane, was hired as an Oklahoma game warden in 1992.
"Of course, I rode with him some and thought, 'Hmm, I've got to have me one of these jobs.'
"I realized this was the only job that I could go to every day with a smile on my face and feel that I have accomplished something. Protecting our heritage and our wildlife was my calling," he said.
Polk began his career with the Department as an hourly employee in the Fisheries Division under the guidance of Paul Mauck, and he began working full time in 1999 as a technician at the Durant State Fish Hatchery. In 2001, Polk was promoted to game warden and was stationed in McCurtain County, a place he had always wanted to go.
"I thought of McCurtain County as kind of the last frontier in Oklahoma and love the thrill of the isolation and solitude this country had to offer," he said.
Polk and his wife, Laticha, have two daughters: Tori, 8, and Lizzi, 6. "There is not a greater pleasure in my life than to hunt with my family," he said.
Besides his tireless efforts enforcing game laws, Polk also serves as a counselor at the Department's annual youth camp, instructs in the Shotgun Training and Education Program and in the Aquatic Education Program, and is active in the Archery in the Schools Program.
Polk graduated from the Wildlife Professional Program and recently completed the Department's Leadership Development Program. He is certified as a basic instructor for the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement and Education and Training. He also conducts wildlife-based programs for local elementary schools, helps with law enforcement scenarios for wildlife law students at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, and attends career days in his county to make youngster aware of conservation-related career opportunities.
In being selected the Department's Warden of the Year, Polk was also nominated for the 2013 Office of the Year honor from the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Shikar-Safari Club International began more than a half-century ago and is limited to 200 members worldwide. The social organization's purpose is to support hunting and conservation, and to address issues that affect those areas of concern. The club's foundation puts more than $1 million into wildlife and conservation each year, including awarding more than 30 scholarships annually to children of wildlife professionals who are pursuing careers in wildlife or conservation.

 

Dec. 11, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation


New state record rainbow trout breaks 47-year-old record
A new state record rainbow trout was caught recently from Lake Watonga at Roman Nose State Park, reminding Oklahomans that this non-native, cold-water fish is in season and providing plenty of angling action across the state.
On Nov. 17, Mark Reed of Blanchard caught the 10-lb., 10.56-oz. rainbow, breaking the nearly half-century-old state record of Billy Payne, who caught his 10-lb., 4-oz. trout from the Illinois River in July of 1966.
Reed's fish was 27 3/4 inches in length and 17 1/2 inches in girth. He caught the fish from the west side of the lake using a copper-colored Super Duper 502 with a red head.
"Mr. Reed asked his sons to accompany him to Roman Nose State Park," said Keith Thomas, central region fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation who certified the record. "They turned him down - too cold and wanted to sleep in. They're kicking themselves now."
At Thomas' encouragement, Reed is having the fish mounted.
Native to cold-water streams, trout can survive all year long in Oklahoma's two year-round trout areas (the Lower Mountain Fork River and Lower Illinois River), but generally cannot survive year-round in Oklahoma's warm waters. However, they can be stocked for fishing during the winter, providing a unique opportunity to anglers. There are six seasonal trout fisheries in Oklahoma that are stocked throughout most of the fall and winter, usually beginning Nov. 1 and continuing into March. According to fisheries biologists, however, it's possible Reed's record fish wasn't stocked this year. The fish's excellent body condition and the documentation of over-summering trout because of cold water from springs that flow into Lake Watonga could mean the fish had been in the lake for some time.
Thomas said the big fish was colorful, had healthy fins and showed no bodily abrasions that are typical of trout that have recently come from a hatchery, where the fish are more pale in color and raised in concrete raceways. Once the trout acclimate to their new environment and start eating natural foods, their bright color comes out and their body conditions improve.
"Due to cold water from springs that flow into Lake Watonga, it is possible that this fish survived and grew to become our new state record rainbow trout."
Though it cannot be confirmed whether the fish was stocked this year or in a previous year, it remains that Reed's fish is one for the record books.
Along with Lake Watonga, Oklahoma's seasonal state-designated trout areas include the Blue River, Robber's Cave, Medicine Creek and Lakes Pawhuska and Carl Etling. For trout season regulations and full details on each area, consult page 38 of the current "Oklahoma Fishing Guide," available free online at wildlifedepartment.com or in print anywhere fishing licenses are sold. Urban anglers also can catch trout during the winter at Dolese Youth Park Pond in Oklahoma City (NW 50th and Meridian) and Veterans Park Pond in Jenks (101st and South Elm).
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.


Dec. 12, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Give a lifetime hunting and fishing license for Christmas, make a sportsman for life
Harvesting a deer with Grandpa's gun, watching a kid catch his or her first fish, or even hearing that first booming gobble on the opening day of spring turkey season - these special moments continually draw men, women and children back into the wooded haunts of big bucks and to waters teeming with crappie or bass. That's why few gifts are more practical and useful for the Oklahoma sportsman this Christmas than an Oklahoma lifetime combination hunting and fishing license.
Lifetime license holders are exempt from the purchase of most annual hunting and fishing licenses in Oklahoma as well as the deer, elk, antelope and turkey license; the Oklahoma waterfowl license, trapping license and the fur license.
"The lifetime license is exactly what it sounds like - a good-for-life hunting and fishing license that sets up hunters and anglers to enjoy almost all of Oklahoma's hunting and fishing opportunities hassle free," said Melinda Sturgess-Streich, assistant director of administration and finance for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "With a lifetime license, sportsmen can bypass the annual ritual of renewing their hunting and fishing licenses and buying licenses for commonly hunted game like deer and turkeys. All these license holders need to do is grab their gear and go. What a great Christmas gift for any sportsman!"
Over time, the lifetime license also represents a significant savings for those who hunt or fish. The lifetime combination hunting and fishing license costs $775, meaning active sportsmen can be saving money on license costs in a matter of years.
"If a youngster in your life is showing interest in the outdoors, now is a great time to hook them for life by getting them a lifetime license," Streich said. "Or maybe you want to reward that longtime sportsman in your life with a gift they'll truly cherish. Giving the gift of a lifetime combination hunting and fishing license is a sure way to send a message of appreciation to a loved one during the holidays."
While a lifetime combination hunting and fishing license represents the best bargain, sportsmen also have the option of obtaining a lifetime hunting license for $625 or a lifetime fishing license for $225.
A holder of a lifetime license - whether it be combination, hunting, or fishing - will not lose the benefits of the license by a change of address, even if he or she ceases to be an Oklahoma resident by moving out of the state. Oklahoma residents of at least six months qualify to purchase a lifetime license.
To obtain any lifetime license, hunters and anglers can submit an application by mail or in person at the Wildlife Department's Oklahoma City headquarters office (1801 N. Lincoln). Mailed applications can be downloaded from wildlifedepartment.com and must be approved by the game warden stationed in the county in which the applicant resides. Full details and applications for obtaining a lifetime license can be found online at http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/license/lifetimeapps.htm.

 

Dec. 13, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation


Holiday antlerless deer season offers last chance to gun hunters
Deer hunters have another opportunity to tote a firearm to the woods during the 10-day holiday antlerless deer gun season Dec. 20-29.
The holiday hunt will be open across most of the state, excluding the western reaches of the Panhandle and in far southeast Oklahoma. Additionally, deer taken by a hunter during the holiday antlerless deer gun season are not included in the hunter's combined season limit.
Last year about 35,000 hunters participated in the holiday deer season, taking 4,385 deer.
"It's the last opportunity to use a firearm to fill your freezer with tasty venison," said Erik Bartholomew, big game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "School's out, so it's a great chance to get your kids out in the woods again."
Bartholomew said the approach to hunting during the holiday season should simply be hunting near large food sources or travel corridors between bedding and feeding areas.
High doe harvests help accomplish several important management benefits such as reducing 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.
According to Bartholomew, overall deer harvest is down somewhat this year. He and fellow biologists had predicted as much, pointing to the wide availability of natural food sources that became available with the return of rainfall to much of the state. Those rejuvenated food sources would keep deer from having to travel as far to meet their daily food requirements, reducing their visibility to hunters. Coupled with the increased food availability, the rains promoted dense vegetation regrowth that would make deer more difficult for hunters to see.
Additionally, inclement winter weather and icy road conditions throughout the deer gun season - including blizzard-like conditions and ice during the first weekend, heavy fog during the second weekend and bitter cold and poor road conditions during the last weekend - likely discouraged some hunters from traveling and limited some hunters' success.
Bartholomew encourages hunters to help make up for the lower harvest by taking advantage of the holiday antlerless deer gun season. Archery hunters also can hunt through Jan. 15, but will need to renew annual hunting and deer licenses if they plan to hunt Jan. 1-15.
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. 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 20 of the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide," as well as the "Public Hunting Lands" section starting on page 39 of the guide for seasons on specific public areas.
To learn more about this year's holiday antlerless deer season, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide" or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.


Dec. 19, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation


Wildlife Department offering online public comment period for proposed regulation changes
Sportsmen have the opportunity to log on to wildlifedepartment.com to voice their thoughts on a list of Oklahoma hunting and fishing related rule change proposals.
Most notable is a proposal to expand private lands elk hunting opportunity to statewide. For several years elk have been hunted on private lands in Caddo, Comanche, and Kiowa counties in southwest Oklahoma. More recently, Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, Mayes, Muskogee and Sequoyah counties in the northeast part of the state were added to the list of locations where these animals could be pursued by hunters. While elk were historically found in Oklahoma, the majority of the current private lands elk population found in the state is the result of animals that were either intentionally liberated or escaped from a captive facility. A recent survey showed that at least 30 of the state's 77 counties are home to elk. The proposal will allow elk hunting opportunity in every county of the state. The popular controlled hunts program will not be affected by this proposal and will continue to offer hunters lucky enough to draw a permit the chance to pursue elk on certain state and federal managed areas.
In fishing, a proposal to give the Wildlife Conservation Commission authority to set individual harvest limits on paddlefish annually would effectively lead to a two-fish harvest limit per angler next spring. Anglers would also be required to check in paddlefish through the Wildlife Department's online e-check system. These rules are currently in effect as emergency rules but must pass through the public comment period and be signed by the Governor before becoming permanent. Another fishing proposal would make it legal for noodlers to harvest blue catfish and channel catfish in addition to flatheads. Under the proposed format, noodlers would be able to harvest three blue, channel or flathead catfish, or three in aggregate, of which only one could be 30 inches or longer from May 1 through Aug. 31, annually.
A number of other hunting and fishing related rule change proposals that will affect sportsmen are being considered, and the public and view them and provide their comments through wildlifedepartment.com.
To view a complete listing of proposed rule changes or to complete an online comment form, log on to wildlifedepartment.com. The online comment period will remain open until 4:30 p.m., Jan. 10, 2014.
If comments cannot be made online, written comments will be accepted by mail until Jan. 10, 2014, at the Wildlife Department's main office in Oklahoma City (P.O. Box 53465, OKC, OK 73152).
The Wildlife Department also will be hosting a public hearing on proposed rule changes at 7 p.m., Jan. 7 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters auditorium in Oklahoma City (1801 N. Lincoln Blvd).