Volume 4 • Issue 12 • December 2010

"Bio" of the Month: Buck Ray

A Man of Many Trades

Some people in the United States face the exact same routine every day at work, but that situation is not the case for Buck Ray, Environmental Biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. From water quality issues to endangered species to damage assessment, Buck wears a different “hat” each day he heads to work.

“Basically, I have no typical days,” he said. “My job is diverse, and I usually don’t do the same thing two days in a row.”

As part of his job duties, Buck focuses on fish within the wildlife diversity program, which means he oversees non-game species of fish in Oklahoma, preparing grants related to fish programs and monitoring population size and habitat. He also prepares damage assessments in the event of pollution or natural resource damage, and he is the interim coordinator for the Department’s streams program.

Buck Ray is a biologist with no two days alike. Photo by Lesley B. Carson.
These tasks can take up a lot of time, but Buck manages to find time for his favorite part of the job – talking to the public.

“One of the things I enjoy the most about this job is contact with the public,” he said. “I like being at gas stations, and when people see my Department vehicle, they come up to talk. I enjoy our Oklahoma Wildlife Expo, interacting with young and old folks alike. I also do a fair number of educational programs highlighting the diversity of wildlife in our state for schools and young people.”

Buck is no stranger to education. He earned both a Bachelor and a Master’s degree in Biology from Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, MO. After graduating, he taught biology classes for high schools and colleges at Taloga public schools, Ozark Technical Community College, and St. John College of Nursing. He moved to Edmond to teach at Edmond Memorial High School, and then was hired on to work at the Department in 2006.

In the four years he has worked at the Wildlife Department, Buck has had a number of memorable experiences.

“One of my favorite memories is a day when I was sampling for fish along the South Canadian River,” Buck shared. “My truck got stuck in the sand. Really stuck – the back tire was half buried. We were close to a bridge crossing, and I managed to flag down a farmer traveling down the road on his tractor. He yanked us right out!”

Buck knows that his work serves an important purpose for the Department and for the state. In the unfortunate event of a fish kill, he works to identify the source of the kill and to make sure the problem or contaminate is corrected.

“As part of my job, I assess damage cost when we have large fish kills,” he said. “I recall one incident where a wastewater treatment plant accidentally discharged into a local creek. It killed every fish within two miles. I visited the site, wrote up the damage assessment and turned it in to one of our partner state agencies so that we ensured the cause of the fish kill was resolved and corrected. At times, this can involve monetary damages or other penalties.”

Whether working to protect Oklahoma’s aquatic species or simply conversing with a passing constituent, Buck Ray enjoys the variety of his job. Because one day is never quite like the next.

Written by Ben Davis. Ben is an Information Specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Harris Mud Crab

The Nasty Species Has Been Found!

In the summer of 2009, anglers came across a non-native crustacean — the Harris mud crab (Rhithropanopeus harrisii) — while fishing on the Oklahoma side of Lake Texoma. This find marked the first report of the species in Oklahoma and has begun a research study to determine the introduction source and potential effects on the lake’s ecosystem. Although the direct impact on Oklahoma’s fishery is unknown, this species has created both economic and ecological problems in several states, including Texas.

The Harris Mud Crab is becoming more invasive as it expands its territory. Photo by D. E. Keith, Tarleton State University.
Slightly larger than a dime, the Harris mud crab varies from olive green to brown and has white-tipped claws. It also has four pair of walking legs and one pair of pinchers. Legs are sparsely covered with hair. Generally found in brackish waters, it can complete its life cycle in freshwater, and is found throughout Texas.

Soon after it was discovered in the state, researchers from Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SEOSU) began surveying for the crabs. After several unsuccessful trapping and surveying attempts, it is thought that the Harris mud crab population in Oklahoma is limited.  Because the numbers are small, and the research has just begun, it is unknown whether the crabs have been introduced (by way of boats or released bait), or naturally traveled their way to Oklahoma from Texas through rivers. Research is also being conducted in Texas by Tarleton State University in Stephenville. There, DNA samples are being collected to determine if the crabs are more closely related to the population naturally found on the Atlantic coast, or the population found along the Gulf Coast. This should establish the introduction method — if they are from the Gulf Coast population, they may have traveled to Oklahoma on their own.

Like many aquatic nuisance species, the Harris mud crab has negatively affected the native habitat. Food competition with native species is one of the biggest threats. Another is the damage caused when the crabs clog intake valves and other water delivery systems. Curtis Tackett, aquatic nuisance species biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife urges anglers to not release their bait; and to check, drain, clean or dry their boats to limit the transfer of this and other aquatic nuisance species.

Written by Jena Donnell. Jens is quail habitat biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The Wildlife-friendly Water Garden

This is the last in the series providing information on winterizing your Wildscape.

Let me first state that the winterizing recommendations for wildlife-friendly water gardens are based on ponds that do not house koi, have tropical and exotic water plants and/or have elaborate filtering systems.  For winterizing recommendations on these types of water gardens please consult your koi dealer and ornamental garden pond specialist.  If, however, you have water gardens that have native fish such as mosquito fish, native (or hardy) aquatic plants and simple submersible re-circulating pumps, following are my recommendations for winterizing your water features for wildlife.  Please be sure to remove as much of the leaf debris as possible from your water garden.  After a killing frost cut back emergent vegetation to prevent the decaying process of the leaves and stems from extracting too much dissolved oxygen from the water.  Please consider leaving some silt (mud) in the bottom of your pond. Leopard frogs, cricket frogs, water turtles and dragonfly young hibernate or overwinter in the mud.  In the winter, open water for birds and other wildlife to drink becomes important as all natural water sources freeze solid, and even more so if there is no snow cover.  Under such circumstances more birds will visit the water source than visit the feeders.  Birds need to keep their feathers clean to help provide “fluffed up” insulation to keep warm.  If your water gardens are installed in-ground, they will absorb heat from the ground and will maintain open water for several days, particularly if there is flowing water such as waterfalls and streams. Flowing water also helps replenish oxygen and there is no better way to attract wildlife than with the sound of water!   If periods of intense cold persist, water heaters can be used as long as the heater is not placed on the liner.  Position the heater on a rock or other heat resistant surface.  Never use antifreeze.  Several methods to prevent ponds from freezing solid include: continually running the water pump, using pond heaters, floating de-icers, bubble balls, air-bubblers, passive solar heating options, or hand removal. Some ice in the pond is okay, but thick ice should not be allowed to develop and seal off the pond. Water levels should not be allowed to drop significantly over the winter months in order to maintain a healthy habitat for the plants and wildlife living in the pond. Monitoring the pond regularly throughout the winter will help ensure a healthy pond for the following spring.

Written by Melynda Hickman. Mel is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Wildlife Diversity Donations

Scissortail Supporters
Mary Grimm, Cushing

Prairie Dog Pioneers ($40-$74)                              Oklahoma Horticultural Society

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.