Recognizing state game warden Mark Murray, center, as 2016 Officer of the Year are, at left, Raegen Siegfried and Bill Brewster of Shikar-Safari Club International, and at right, Lt. Col. Nathan Erdman, assistant chief of law enforcement, and Col. Bill Hale, chief of law enforcement with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Not pictured: Suzie Brewster of Shikar-Safari Club International. (DON P. BROWN / ODWC)
Game Warden Mark Murray, serving in Oklahoma and Canadian counties, was honored by the Wildlife Department and by Shikar-Safari Club International as Oklahoma’s 2016 Officer of the Year during the Dec. 5 regular meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Murray’s selection is a result of voting by his peers. Col. Bill Hale, chief of law enforcement for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said the honoree has always held himself to the highest standards of performance and professionalism.
Earlier this year, Murray was recognized by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies as Oklahoma’s officer of the year for 2016.
Murray has served as a game warden since joining the Department in March 2006.
Shikar-Safari Club representatives Raegen Siegfried and Suzie Brewster presented Murray with a framed certificate and a commemorative metal plate. Murray’s wife and parents were on hand to witness the presentation.
“Mark has the respect of his peers and the community alike. He is an excellent example to others, always willing to assist, teach and counsel,” Hale told the Commission.
Shikar-Safari Club International began more than a half-century ago and is limited to 200 members worldwide. It is dedicated to the protection, enhancement and preservation of wildlife, with particular emphasis on endangered and threatened species through the promotion of enforcement of conservation laws and regulations. The club's foundation puts more than $1 million into wildlife and conservation efforts each year, including more than 30 scholarships annually for wildlife professionals and their children in hope of building interest in wildlife careers and conservation.
In other business, Commissioners learned about the state’s black bear population based on data collected to date through an ongoing research project of the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit at Oklahoma State University. Professor Sara Lyda, lead researcher, focused on the bear population in the Ozark foothills of northeastern Oklahoma, primarily in Adair, Cherokee and Sequoyah counties. Research conducted since 2011 supports an estimated black bear population in northeastern Oklahoma of about 80 bears total.
Bears are also found in southeastern Oklahoma’s Ouachita Mountains. The bear population in that region is stable and can support the limited hunting opportunity in Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties.
Also during the Dec. 5 meeting, Commissioners:
- Learned about an ongoing study of shovelnose sturgeon in the Arkansas and Red river basins in Oklahoma. Northeast Region fisheries supervisor Josh Johnston described how Department biologists have captured sturgeon and tagged them for tracking. Biologists hope to add to limited knowledge about these rare fish to better conserve the species in the future.
- Recognized Chip Leslie, Ph.D., who is retiring after serving 27 years as unit leader of the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit based at Oklahoma State University. The unit is a joint effort between the Wildlife Department and OSU for conducting scientific research involving the state’s natural resources.
- Were introduced to Jim Ansley, Ph.D., who recently became department head for the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at OSU.
- Reviewed nonresident archery deer license statistics. In 2014, about 3,000 such licenses were sold, and nonresident archery hunters reported harvesting a total of 1,301 deer. That year, 969 nonresident hunters took one deer for the season, and 235 hunters took two deer. The number of nonresident hunters who took two bucks was 61. And only two hunters managed to harvest all six deer allowed by the archery license. Compared to Oklahoma’s entire deer harvest for 2014, nonresident archery hunters took less than 2 percent of the 97,265 total. Commissioner Danny Robbins suggested that the Department could better educate the public about the small overall impact that nonresident archery deer hunters actually have on the state’s deer hunting as a whole.
- Recognized Mike Plunkett, Wildlife Division senior biologist, for 35 years of service; and Andrea Crews, federal aid coordinator, for 20 years of service.
The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The 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 Oklahoma Senate.
The next scheduled Commission meeting in January has been canceled.