FEBRUARY 2002 NEWS RELEASES

Week of February 28, 2002

Week of February 21, 2002

Week of February 14, 2002

 

Week of February 7, 2002

New quail season dates established

At its regular monthly meeting, held Feb. 4 in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to change quail season dates to run from the second Saturday in November through Feb. 15. The changes become effective this coming fall.

Opening the season later will not have any significant biological impacts, according to Wildlife Department personnel, but rather is designed to better align hunting opportunity with bird hunters' preferences. Two sets of public hearings and several scientific surveys of hunters' preferences yielded the recommendation for adjusting the season dates.

"Nothing we do regarding season dates, within reason, will impact the quail population one way or another," said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "About 80 percent of all quail die in a given year, and that number is the same whether there is a three-month season or no hunting at all. That means habitat and weather conditions drive yearly quail numbers, and because we can't do anything about the weather we must focus on habitat.

"With more than 95 percent of Oklahoma being privately owned, our habitat solutions must be focused at landowners and they must include educational and financial incentives. We have outlined a $40 million habitat-based quail initiative that we believe is the best recovery plan for Oklahoma's quail."

One potential source of additional revenue may be a bird stamp, similar to the duck stamp, for birds like quail and dove. Many other states have similar bird or habitat stamps. The stamp could even be a combination license for waterfowl and upland birds, with funds being allocated between waterfowl projects and upland bird habitat enhancement. Also discussed as possible funding for quail projects included legislative appropriations and corporate partnerships.

In other action, Commissioners voted to table a proposal to allow feral hog hunting on Honobia Creek, Three Rivers and Broken Bow wildlife management areas during the nine-day muzzleloader deer season. Commissioner Lewis Stiles, from Broken Bow, was unable to be at the February meeting and had requested the discussion be moved to a future meeting so he could participate. Currently, the only time when feral hogs may be hunted on these areas is during the nine-day gun deer season.

Commission members did approve a $55,000 budget transfer from existing funds to purchase 120 Glock 40 caliber semi-automatic pistols for Department game wardens. Wildlife officers have been issued revolvers in the past, but safety and effectiveness concerns prompted the recommendation to replace the older models.

Several fishing regulation changes for 2002 were adopted at the February meeting. These include:

- Changing the daily limit for largemouth bass at Konawa Lake to six fish per day, with only one 22 inches or longer. Body condition of bass in the lake has been poor and the numbers of trophy bass have decreased. The change is designed to encourage anglers to harvest bass, allowing those that remain to grow larger.

- Prohibited trotlines, throwlines, limblines, juglines, yo-yo's and bowfishing in the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River from the spillway of Great Salt Plains Reservoir downstream to the Hwy. 38 bridge.

- Establishing a protective nine- to 12-inch slot limit on smallmouth bass in Baron Fork Creek, Flint Creek, the upper Illinois River, Lee Creek and Little Lee Creek. The daily combined bass limit is six, only one of which can be a smallmouth 12 inches or longer.

- Establishing a 12-inch minimum size limit on smallmouth bass on the Glover River, from where it joins Little River upstream to the forks of the Glover River. The daily combined bass limit in this portion of the Glover is six fish, only three of which can be smallmouth.

- Adjusted the Skiatook white bass and striped bass hybrid limits to allow unlimited harvest of white bass, with the striped bass hybrid limit being set at five hybrids per day, only two of which can be 20 inches or longer.

- Adding Zoo Lake in Oklahoma City to the list of "Close to Home" fishing areas.

- Opening the Arkansas River below Zink Dam to year-round fishing.

In other business, the Commission:

• Adopted rules to open the Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area to quail hunting after deer gun season. Controlled quail hunts will continue to be offered before the deer gun season.

• Gave its approval to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to purchase 160 acres in Okmulgee County for the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge. The property will be purchased from a willing seller by the USFWS using federal duck stamp funds.

• Received an update from Administrative Chief Melinda Sturgess-Streich on the upcoming controlled hunts application process and pending Internet license sales. Sturgess-Streich advised the Commission that a $5 processing fee will be charged to each applicant applying for controlled hunts, and those applying through the Department's Web site will need to submit a VISA or MasterCard when they apply. Credit card processing cost will run around 60 cents per transaction, but that cost will be offset by data entry savings, she added.

• Accepted a $10,000 donation from NatureWorks, Inc., for the Department's Hunters Against Hunger Program.

The Commission's next monthly meeting will be Monday, March 4, at 9 a.m. at the Wildlife Department's headquarters in Oklahoma City.

First special antlerless season a success

State deer hunters took advantage of the new Special Antlerless Deer Gun Season held last December, harvesting more than 7,500 antlerless deer, according to check station data. Wildlife officials say the antlerless harvest boosted the total deer harvest to levels approaching year 2000's record harvest of 102,000 deer.

"We won't know for certain what the final deer harvest was for several more weeks, but I suspect we will end up with around 101,500," said Mike Shaw, wildlife research supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Considering that our harvest totals at the close of the regular gun season were down nine percent, the Special Antlerless Season was excellent from a management standpoint. Our earlier deer seasons suffered from poor weather, but thanks to hunters returning to the woods in late December we have a healthier, more balanced herd."

In an effort to curb the state's exploding white-tailed deer herd, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission authorized the Special Antlerless Deer Gun Season last year. The Commission passed the measure to increase hunter opportunity to harvest does, which will better balance the population with available habitat, reduce agricultural depredation, reduce deer/vehicle collisions and improve buck to doe ratios for better herd health.

Unusually mild and windy weather during the regular deer gun season diminished hunter success in many areas of the state. However, weather conditions during the Special Antlerless Season were regarded as ideal by many. Although much of the Panhandle, far southwest counties and far southeast counties were closed for the special season, hunters in the rest of the state had three days between Christmas and New Year's to harvest an antlerless deer. Additionally, hunters in north-central and northwestern counties had another three days prior to Christmas. Top harvesting counties for the inaugural season were Osage, with 608 antlerless deer taken, Cherokee, with 316, Craig, with 272, Caddo, with 223 and Sequoyah, with 213. Twenty six additional counties each checked more than 100 deer for the season.

"To all of our hunters who harvested a doe during the Special Antlerless Deer Gun Season, we say a big thank you," said Shaw. "Thanks to them, the overall percentage of antlerless deer harvested will probably rise close to 45 percent (compared with 40 percent in 2000). That is a significant increase, which shows that many hunters are embracing the slogan - Hunters in the Know . . . take a Doe."

In addition to establishing the Special Antlerless Deer Gun Season last year, the Commission also extended the second half of archery season by 15 days. Archers could hunt from January 1 through 15 for antlerless deer only. Shaw said the extended archery season also contributed to the increased antlerless harvest.

"Of the approximately 2,000 deer that were taken by bowhunters after the close of gun season, more than 60 percent were antlerless deer. Although we don't yet know exactly how many were taken in January. An increase in the harvest during the second half of the archery season compared to the previous year may indicate a significant number were taken," he said.

Shaw said it would be several weeks before final check station results are counted and analyzed. Hunters who wish to obtain each year's final deer harvest results can do so by subscribing to Outdoor Oklahoma magazine. Each September/October issue of the magazine includes the Annual Big Game Report. For subscription information, call 1-800-777-0019.

Funds available for habitat

Landowners interested in improving wildlife habitat on their property can get assistance in the 2002 Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). The sing-up period for 2002 funding has been set for February 4 through February 22.

EQIP provides technical, educational, and financial assistance to eligible farmers and ranchers to address soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on their lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner. Counties eligible for EQIP include Cimarron, Texas, Beaver, Ellis, Harper, Roger Mills, Woods, Dewey and Woodward.

"EQIP is just one of several cost-share programs available to private land owners who need assistance to improve their wildlife habitat," said John Hendrix, private lands biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC). "Grass plantings to improve nesting habitat, fencing to protect travel corridors and riparian zones are just a few examples of eligible projects. Other range management objectives can also be met such as eastern red cedar control and native grass restoration."

Applications for EQIP contracts will be evaluated, ranked, and approved for contact development in early spring. The purposes of the program are achieved through the implementation of a conservation plan, which includes structural, vegetative, and land management practices on eligible land. Five- to ten-year contracts are made with eligible producers. Landowners can receive up to 75 percent cost-share payments to implement one or more eligible practices.

Additional EQIP information can be obtained through local Natural Resources Conservation Service offices or by contacting John Hendrix, ODWC private lands biologist at 405-742-1278. Additional information can be found by logging onto: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/NRCSProg.html#Anchor-Environmental.

Conservation order set

A number of special snow goose provisions, including one-half hour after sunset shooting hours, no bag limits, electronic calls and unplugged shotguns, take affect February 11 and run through March 31. The provisions are part of the Conservation Order Light Goose Season (COLGS) designed to reduce the mid-continent light geese population.

Snow geese have become so numerous that they are causing severe habitat destruction to their Arctic breeding grounds. Since 1999, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) has cooperated with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to establish the COLGS.

"Hunting is one of the most effective tools we have to reduce the overpopulation of snow geese," said Alan Peoples, ODWC's chief of wildlife division. "The special COLGS regulations are designed to enhance hunter success while afield."

Due to land-use practices in the south-central U.S., which are beneficial to snow geese, adult survival rates have increased significantly. The mid-continent population of snow geese (breeding west of Hudson Bay, and wintering on the southern Great Plains and western Gulf Coast) has grown by almost 300 percent since the 1960s, and is now conservatively estimated at over three million. Their burgeoning numbers are now in the process of destroying their own Arctic breeding habitat. Because they pull out plants by the roots, large numbers of them can literally destroy the tundra.

"Not only are Canadian waterfowl managers concerned, but those of us in the Central Flyway of the U.S. and other areas are also concerned. Continued habitat destruction to fragile arctic and subarctic habitats also affects a variety of other migratory species," said Peoples. "Hunters are always the first group to step up and support conservation, and the COLGS presents a unique opportunity for hunters to contribute to this important conservation effort."

For more information and regulations on the COLGS, hunters should consult the 2001-2002 Oklahoma Waterfowl Hunting Guide and Regulations, available at license dealers across the state, or by downloading from www.wildlifedepartment.com.

Editor’s note: The following information regarding hunter’s registration for the COLGS season is a companion to the above story.

Light goose hunters: please sign up!

Federal law requires that the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation estimate the harvest of light geese during the Conservation Order Light Goose Season. Hunters who plan to pursue snow, blue and Ross' geese during the Conservation Order are asked to register with the Department and provide their name, address and telephone number so a harvest survey can be administered when the COLGS ends.

Hunters can register for the season by going to the Department's Web site: www.wildlifedepartment.com.com/Survey/COLGS/COLGS.htm or they may mail a letter or postcard to:

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation; Attn: COLGS; P.O. Box 53465; Oklahoma City, OK 73152.

TV show features fish cooking

To many Oklahoma anglers the one and only way to prepare crappie or catfish fillets for the table is deep-frying them in oil. However, many other techniques such as grilling, baking, and smoking are becoming popular particularly with the health conscious. Demonstrations of several fish cooking methods will be the topic of an upcoming episode of "Outdoor Oklahoma."

"Like a lot of anglers, I love eating fried fish, but there are so many other ways to cook fish that are lower in calories than frying," said Rich Fuller, information supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "We got several of our fisheries biologists together to show off their favorite fish cooking techniques and recipes. Anyone who likes to eat fish ought to watch this show to learn how easy it is to grill, bake or smoke fish. Not only are some of these techniques healthier, but in many cases they are also much easier than frying."

Cooking techniques using crappie, catfish, striped bass and even grass carp will be covered on the program scheduled to air Sunday, February 17 at 8:00 a.m. on OETA-The Oklahoma Network.

Outdoor Oklahoma features such topics as fishing, hunting; and fisheries, game and non-game wildlife management. The 30-minute program can be seen on OETA-The Oklahoma Network Sundays at 8:00 a.m. and Saturdays at 6:00 p.m. Outdoor Oklahoma can also be seen on the following television stations: KSBI Network (greater OKC metro area), Mondays-5:00 p.m., Thursdays-10: 30 p.m., Saturdays-1:30 p.m., KTEN (south-central and southeastern Oklahoma) Sundays-5 a.m., KWEM (Stillwater), Wednesdays-8:00 p.m., Fridays-7:00 p.m. and Sundays-8:00 p.m.

For a complete listing of show times and channels in your viewing area, consult the Department's Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com or your local TV guide.

NatureWorks not just an art group

Since 1991, the first weekend of March has brought some the country's most talented wildlife artists to Tulsa. The annual Wildlife Art Show and Sale sponsored by NatureWorks, a non-profit organization, has generated matching grants to assist a variety of organizations for use in state wildlife conservation projects.

"NatureWorks has a proven track record in the field of wildlife conservation," said Alan Stacey, wetland development biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Their funding assistance with the Harold Stuart Waterfowl Refuge Unit within the Deep Fork WMA (wildlife management area) and the Grassy Slough WMA are prime examples of projects where NatureWorks provided key funding for wetland habitat enhancement."

Other recipients of NatureWorks' conservation grants include the Prairie Earth Trail at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County; landscaping of the Tropical Rain Forest at the Tulsa Zoo; an outdoor classroom at a Broken Arrow school; Sally Jones Lake waterfowl enhancement at Robert S. Kerr Reservoir; printing of Oklahoma Wetland Development Areas Atlas; providing grain drills for planting wildlife food plots; and cooperating with the National Wild Turkey Federation to relocate Eastern wild turkeys near Grove.

Tulsa area wildlife art lovers may not know that another project of NatureWorks has beautified many area parks. Each year in conjunction with the wildlife art show, NatureWorks presents the Wildlife Stewardship Award to recognize and honor persons in the community who have promoted conservation. Each award is then memorialized with a bronze wildlife sculpture that is put on permanent display within a city park. So far, 12 monuments have been funded by NatureWorks patrons and friends of NatureWorks.

"These bronze wildlife sculptures have really improved the aesthetics of our parks," said Jackie Bubenik, director of River Parks Authority. "We are especially looking forward to our newest sculpture which will be located in Riverside Park at 71st Street and Riverside Drive. It's going to feature a family of grizzly bears."

NatureWorks has scheduled this year's art show for the Tulsa Marriot-Southern Hills, Friday, March 1 through Sunday, March 3. Friday evening's Patron Night (5:30 -9:30 p.m.) is open to the public for $15 admission. General Admission for Saturday (10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.) and Sunday (11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) is $5 for adults, with students admitted free.

"The Tulsa show has become one of the top five wildlife art shows in the country," said Ken Greenwood, senior director of NatueWorks Inc. "Several prominent wildlife art shows around the country have disbanded. The reason for our continued success however, is that we are a totally volunteer organization with much less overhead."

Greenwood said this year's show will host renowned English painter Matthew Hillier. The featured artist is Jocelyn Lillpop Russell, who is the sculptor of the elk monument in River Parks.

Fur sale slated for Chandler

Hunters and trappers wanting to sell their furs will get the opportunity at an upcoming sale. Chandler's Agri-Civic Center will host the sale Saturday, March 2. The sale is sponsored by the First Oklahoma Trappers and Predator Callers Association.

"Furs can be sold in a stretched or green condition, and all sellers must have a valid hunting or trapping license from Oklahoma or their respective state," said Bill Jackson, sale coordinator. "Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation personnel will be on hand to tag bobcats, which must have an export tag affixed to the pelt before it can be sold. Bobcats from other states must have export tags on the pelts before entering Oklahoma."

Actual sales of furs begin at 9 a.m., with viewing allowed at 8 a.m. Reservations should be made in advance, but sellers will also be allowed to sign in the day of the auction. Sellers must be members of the First Oklahoma Trappers and Predator Callers Association to participate in the auction. Memberships can be purchased at the auction or applied for in advance by contacting Bill or Dee Jackson, 918/336-8154.

Jackson said results from a fur sale held February 2 in Chandler showed fur prices are stable overall. Pelt prices were as follows: bobcat $46 averaged with a $101 high; raccoon $7.50 averaged with a $17 high; skunk $2.10 averaged with a $2.25 high; beaver $6.60 averaged with a $18 high and coyote $6 averaged with a $ 9 high.

Track legislation on Department Web site

Hunters and anglers interested in new fish and wildlife laws currently being considered by the Oklahoma Legislature should be sure to bookmark the Wildlife Department's Web site (wildlifedepartment.com).

The agency has established a section to track pending legislation, with status updates being made daily to keep interested sportsmen appraised of changes in the bills. To find the legislative tracker, go under "Weekly Wildlife News" on the Department's index, or first page. From there, click on "Wildlife Legislation Updated Daily." The exact URL is www.wildlifedepartment.com/legislation.htm.

"Several bills are already beginning to see action," said Richard Hatcher, assistant director of the Wildlife Department. "One promising development is the growing support for funds to begin addressing Oklahoma's declining upland bird populations and habitat. In fact, specific legislation is currently awaiting action in the House that would create a game bird license. Funds from the license would be used for game bird habitat enhancement."

House Bill 2329 by Elmer Maddux and Dale Smith of the House and Frank Shurden of the Senate would expand the state waterfowl license to be required of all game bird hunters. The license, set at $7.50 for residents and $15 for nonresidents, would be required of all game bird hunters. Only persons holding a lifetime hunting or combination license prior to the bill's effective date and persons who qualify for a disability or nonambulatory hunting license would be exempt from having to buy the game bird license. The bill has passed the House Wildlife Committee and is currently awaiting action by the full House.

Other bills beginning the legislative process include:

House Bill 2150 by Joe Hutchison of the House and Jeff Rabon of the Senate would establish a three-day special use permit for lands leased and administered by the Department for non-hunting and non-fishing activities. It would set the fee at $5 for residents.

House Bill 2203 by Smith and Shurden would authorize the Wildlife Department to administer a program to distribute the meat from lawfully harvested fish and game animals to charitable organizations.

House Bill 2374 by Paul Roan, Wayne Pettigrew and Smith of the House and Frank Shurden of the Senate authorizes the Wildlife Conservation Commission to establish a special use permit for the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area. It limits the fee to $1 more than the cost of a current annual hunting or fishing license and exempts persons holding hunting or fishing licenses. It also exempts students participating in educational tours and those participating in events sanctioned by the Wildlife Department.

Senate Bill 937 by Shurden would increase resident lifetime license fees to $175 for a lifetime fishing license; $625 for a lifetime hunting and $750 for a lifetime combination license.

Senate Bill 965 by Shurden would create a $230 combined deer hunting license for nonresidents that provides for one antlered and one antlerless deer. It also would set the fee for nonresident antlerless deer licenses at $50.

A number of other wildlife-related bills have also been introduced, all of which are listed in depth on the Wildlife Department Web site (wildlifedeparmtent.com).

Outdoor Oklahoma calling turkey hunters

More than 50,000 hunters will soon take to the fields and forests of Oklahoma to experience the thrill of calling in a wild turkey gobbler. Along with scouting and practicing various turkey calls, other helpful tips to increase your spring turkey season success can be found in an upcoming issue of Outdoor Oklahoma magazine.

By subscribing now, hunters can receive the March/April 2002 issue of Outdoor Oklahoma, which will include a special insert, The Turkey Hunter’s Handbook. Subscriptions to Outdoor Oklahoma, the official bi-monthly magazine of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC), are $10 for one-year, $18 for two years, or $25 for three years. Hunters can subscribe to the magazine on the same Universal License Form that they receive when they purchase this year's turkey license, or, they can call 1-800-777-0019 to subscribe via credit card.

"Avid turkey hunters who also subscribe to Outdoor Oklahoma may remember our special Turkey Hunters Handbook from 1993," said Nels Rodefeld, ODWC's assistant chief of Information & Education. "Since that issue was so popular and since both hunter numbers and turkey populations have grown, we wanted to revive the handbook and provide all the latest information."

Rodefeld said the special section will include updated biological data and information that wasn't available at the time of the first handbook. There will also be information covering both the basic and advanced tactics for bagging a wily longbearded gobbler. Another part of the handbook will be devoted to the remarkable population rebound of the Eastern wild turkey in southeast Oklahoma.

"In the early 90s, Easterns had suffered severe population declines due to several consecutive years of poor hatches,” said Bill Dinkines, ODWC assistant chief of the ODWC’s Wildlife Division. "Numbers were down, and hunting for Easterns decreased in popularity among many hunters. However, during the late 90s several years of good weather for poult production helped the population recover."

The comeback of the Eastern subspecies resulted in the Wildlife Conservation Commission allowing hunters to harvest two gobblers this coming spring within the southeast region (southeast eight counties). Atoka, Coal, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, Pittsburg and Pushmataha counties have a two-tom limit, while Choctaw remains as a one-tom limit county. The season in the southeast region runs April 6 through April 28.

Hunters in the northeast, central and western parts of Oklahoma will have from April 6 through May 6 to bag a gobbler. Bag limits vary between counties, and full details of the upcoming spring turkey season can be found in the 2001-2002 Oklahoma Hunting Guide and Regulations. Hunters are reminded, however, that the statewide spring turkey season limit is three tom turkeys. With favorable weather conditions, ODWC biologists say turkey hunting across the state has the potential to be excellent this coming spring.

Rodefeld added that the upcoming March/April issue of Outdoor Oklahoma will also feature the annual Angler's Guide, which covers all aspects of fisheries management in the state.

Bids accepted for elk hunt

Hunters have just a few more weeks to submit their bid for a special elk hunt offered at Cookson Hills Wildlife Management Area (WMA). For the fourth year in a row, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) is auctioning a permit for a fully guided bull elk hunt.

Through a sealed bid auction, the hunter with the top bid has successfully harvested a trophy bull for the past three years consecutively. The hunt, which generated $11,000 last year, is a guided three-day hunt anytime in September, October or November (subject to availability). The hunter can choose to use a bow and arrow, muzzleloader or modern rifle. Hunters have harvested bulls ranging from 5X6 points to 7X8 points in the past three years.

"Harvesting a trophy bull elk, particularly within Oklahoma, can be the pinnacle of achievement for a state sportsman," said Richard Hatcher, assistant director for the ODWC. "Unlike many western states, Oklahoma has a small population of elk which only allows for a small level of harvest," said Hatcher.

"When you consider the long-shot odds of drawing a bull elk permit through our controlled hunts program, it's easy to see why elk are valued as such a desirable game species."

Hunters who wish to submit a bid should fill out their name, address, day & evening phone numbers with their bid amount on a card or letter, which should then be sealed in an envelope. Bids can be dropped off at ODWC headquarters or mailed to Oklahoma Auction Elk Hunt, P.O. Box 53465 Oklahoma City, OK 73152. All bids must be received at ODWC headquarters in Oklahoma City by 4:30 p.m., Friday, March 8. The bids will be opened and the winner notified Monday, March 11.

Bidding is open to individuals and organizations. The permit may be transferred one time by the successful bidder. Payment must be received within 10 days of notification.

Proceeds from the elk hunt auction will assist the ODWC's Hunters Against Hunger program. Through a network of statewide food banks who distribute donated venison to local shelters, the program has served meals to thousands of needy Oklahomans.

For additional information about the Hunters Against Hunger program, consult the 2001-2002 Oklahoma Hunting Guide and Regulations, available wherever hunting licenses are sold or the Department’s Web site www.wildlifedepartment.com.

Wanted: boating and fishing businesses

Persons planning vacations involving fishing or boating will soon have a valuable source of information. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF), based in Washington D.C., is offering boating and fishing related businesses free space to advertise on their Web site. www.WaterWorksWonders.org.

Fishing and boating related services such as marinas, tackle shops,

fishing clubs, boat and equipment retailers, fishing charters and

guides, boat rentals, canoe and kayak liveries, campgrounds and

conservation organizations can list their businesses on the site for no cost.

"Boating and fishing related businesses, will get tremendous exposure through our advertisements and related public relations efforts." said Bruce Matthews, RBFF's president and CEO. "This one-of-a-kind Web site is part of the "Water Works Wonders/Take Me Fishing" national awareness campaign, which is designed to increase angler and boater participation by positioning boating and fishing as unmatched leisure activities for true connection with family, friends and the natural environment."

RBFF began the Water Works Wonders/Take Me Fishing campaign in 2001, which included several television spots that debuted during the NCAA basketball tournament. The RBFF plans to continue the ads, which will encourage the public to visit the Web site. A major component of the new Web site is a where-to section featuring a database from the U.S. Geological Service. The database will include a listing of every body of water in the country with information such as access points, launch ramps, marinas and fishing information. Matthews said the site will make it easy for beginning anglers and boaters to find out how and where to boat and fish, and it will provide tips for protecting the nation's aquatic resources.

Boating and fishing related businesses can list themselves on the Web site by logging onto www.WaterWorksWonders.org and clicking on the "submit your listing" icon. You can also find a link to the RBFF through the Wildlife Department Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com.

Bird watchers owe thanks to duck hunters

Through the sale of the Oklahoma Waterfowl Hunting License, waterfowl hunters have funded dozens of wetland habitat projects across Oklahoma. Not only have wetland restoration areas such as Hackberry Flat and Red Slough wildlife management areas (wma) benefited waterfowl during fall migrations, many are also becoming major springtime destinations for uncommon shore and wading bird species. The opportunity to view uncommon visitors to Oklahoma such as black-necked stilts, American avocets, long-billed curlews and king rails have bird watching enthusiasts flocking to the areas as well.

Beginning in 1980, duck and goose hunters have been required to purchase an Oklahoma Waterfowl License. When matched with Federal Wildlife Restoration funds (generated through excise taxes placed on firearms, ammunition and hunting accessories), the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) has funded projects to restore thousands of wetland habitat acres.

"Thanks largely to waterfowl hunters, we have a growing number of places in the state that are truly multi-use destinations for hunters and bird watchers alike," said Julian Hilliard, natural resource information specialist. "Hackberry Flat and Red Slough WMAs, in particular, are developing into popular bird watching destinations. Because of the wetland restoration project at Hackberry, the diversity of wetland-related birds has increased more than 25 percent in the last six years. Similar increases have been seen at Red Slough, and both have attracted many visitors from inside and outside of Oklahoma."

Hilliard said that Oklahoma has a growing number of "serious" bird watchers and groups devoted to bird watching. Hackberry Flat WMA, located seven miles southeast of Frederick in Tillman county, has become a favorite destination for birders in the spring. Birders equipped with strong binoculars or spotting scopes can easily access the area's 7,000 acres to get exceptional views of wading birds.

"Recently, we had an unusual visitor to Hackberry - a snowy owl," said Hilliard. "Once the word got out, birders from across the state showed up to catch a glimpse of the beautiful and rare arctic visitor."

Another area becoming renowned in birding circles is Red Slough WMA. Located 17 miles east of Idabel in McCurtain County, Red Slough represents the far-western edge of the gulf coastal plain. Saw palmetto and bald cypress trees can be found on the area, which reminds visitors of areas in Louisiana or Florida. More than 230 species of birds have been identified on the 3,500-acre area including white ibis, roseate spoonbills and black-bellied whistling ducks. A bird watching tour of Red Slough WMA is the topic of an upcoming episode of "Outdoor Oklahoma" on Sunday, February 24, at 8:00 a.m. on OETA-The Oklahoma Network.

Outdoor Oklahoma features such topics as fishing, hunting; and fisheries, game and non-game wildlife management. The 30-minute program can be seen on OETA-The Oklahoma Network Sundays at 8:00 a.m. and Saturdays at 6:00 p.m. Outdoor Oklahoma can also be seen on the following television stations: KSBI Network (greater OKC metro area), Mondays-5:00 p.m., Thursdays-10: 30 p.m., Saturdays-1:30 p.m., KTEN (south-central and southeastern Oklahoma) Sundays-5 a.m., KWEM (Stillwater), Wednesdays-8:00 p.m., Fridays-7:00 p.m. and Sundays-8:00 p.m.

For a complete listing of show times and channels in your viewing area, consult the Department's Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com or your local TV guide.

Controlled burning benefits wildlife

Once regarded as an ecological catastrophe, fire is being seen more as a beneficial land management tool. Due to several factors, February and March are the most preferred months for conducting prescribed fires in Oklahoma.

Landowners burn for a variety of benefits, including controlling eastern red cedar, improving wildlife habitat, increasing cattle forage production and for managing fuel loads to reduce uncontrolled wildfires.

Oklahoma's native plant communities evolved under a regime of periodic fires. Prior to settlement, natural wildfires encouraged "prairie" plants such as big bluestem and other tall grass varieties that fed wandering herds of bison. Conversely, wildfires deterred the expansion of woody vegetation such as eastern red cedar which historically only grew in locations that were protected from fires such as stream banks, rock bluffs, and rugged canyons. Beginning with settlement, however, Oklahoma's plant communities have changed dramatically due to fire suppression.

Infestation of cedar is perhaps the best example of how fire suppression has resulted in changing Oklahoma's landscape. In the 1950's cedars had taken over 1.5 million acres and was advancing at a rate of seven percent per year. Today eastern red cedars have invaded approximately nine million acres of rangeland.

"The really alarming thing is that the amount of acres invaded in Oklahoma is doubling every 18 years, " said Mark Moseley, state range conservationist with Natural Resource Conservation Service. "Not only are many areas becoming more densely populated with cedar, but the trees' range is expanding to places like Beaver County in the panhandle, where there hasn't been any before."

Mosely said that in order to curb the spread of eastern red cedar, landowners are adopting a variety of removal measures, with prescribed burning being the most preferred method.

"Prescribed fire is by far the most cost-effective control measure for eliminating eastern red cedars that are 10 feet tall or smaller, but you have to use either mechanical or herbicide measures for bigger trees which can get very expensive.

"If landowners can implement a prescribed burning program before their trees get big, then they'll certainly be ahead in the long term," Moseley added.

Although cedars do have some benefit as a wildlife cover, they are not a significant food source for wildlife. They also tend to suppress other plants within the same area.

Reducing cedar infestation is just one aspect of burning's benefit to wildlife habitat. For many years, wildlife biologists have periodically burned wildlife management areas during late winter and early spring in order to encourage plant diversity and forb production.

"Forbs are essentially weeds, and weeds are excellent producers of wildlife foods," said John Hendrix, private lands biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Sunflowers, ragweeds and croton, are prime examples of forbs that are beneficial to quail, and several other wildlife species. These and other forbs can be enhanced through prescribed fire."

Landowners who would like more information about the benefits of prescribed burning can contact their county's Natural Resource Conservation agent. In addition, Internet users can get prescribed burning information by logging onto: www.OK.nrcs.usda.gov.

Hunters reminded to tag bobcats

Oklahoma's winter weather has been beneficial to state hunters and trappers, allowing them to spend more time pursuing furbearers, especially bobcats.

The 2001-2002 Oklahoma bobcat season closes Feb. 28, and the Wildlife Department wants to remind anyone who has harvested a bobcat that they must have it tagged by March 14, 2002. All bobcats must be tagged within 10 working days of the close of the season by an authorized Wildlife Department employee or at a designated bobcat tagging station. A list of designated private bobcat tagging stations are available on the Department's Web site. Stations may charge a fee of 75 cents per tag. The tags need to be on the pelt to verify its legal harvest.

Bobcats are very common in Oklahoma, and pelts from cats harvested in the state may be sold on a worldwide market. But, bobcats are not as common in other parts of the nation. Therefore, an international law was developed to keep track of where animals were harvested. The law created in 1975 is known as the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

"The law requires states which allow the hunting or trapping of bobcats to monitor their harvest and document their origin of take. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may use the tags to detect if a species is being overharvested and where problems with trade may occur," said Dennis Maxwell, law enforcement assistant chief for the Wildlife Department. "By meeting the law's requirements, our hunters and trappers are able to enjoy one of the most liberal bobcat seasons available and have the opportunity to export and sell the pelts they harvest."

Outdoor Oklahoma wants your best shot

If you love outdoor photography, Outdoor Oklahoma’s annual Readers' Photography Showcase offers a great chance to display your color slides in a magazine that consistently receives national recognition for its photography. Photographers, either professional or amateur, will have until March 29 to submit their best photos.

"Photographs can be of anything found in Oklahoma's outdoors from scenics to nature to people hunting, fishing and enjoying other outdoor activities," said Nels Rodefeld, editor of Outdoor Oklahoma. "The readers photography issue (July/August) is very popular among photographers, as evidenced by the fact that we receive hundreds of outstanding slides."

Rodefeld said that due to the reproduction and printing requirements, all entries must be original 35mm slides. Color prints, color negatives and larger format transparencies cannot be considered. The photographer's name, address and phone number need to be printed on each slide using a fine point pen or rubber stamp. Slides should not be encased in glass.

People wanting to obtain their own copy of the July/August Readers Photo issue can subscribe to Outdoor Oklahoma, on the Universal License form wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold; or via credit card by calling 1-800-777-0019. Subscriptions are $10 for one-year, $18 for two years, or $25 for three years.

Each participant may submit up to five color slides and all entries will be returned undamaged. Photographers can mail their submission to Paul Moore, Photo Editor, Outdoor Oklahoma, Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, P.O. Box 53465, Oklahoma City, OK 73152.