FEBRUARY 2013 NEWS RELEASES 


 





Outdoor Oklahoma magazine calling for photos (February 21, 2013)

Outdoor Oklahoma magazine is calling on the people who experience the state's wildlife and outdoor heritage firsthand to send in their best digital photos showcasing the state's wildlife, landscapes, scenic and other outdoor imagery.

The annual "Readers' Photography Showcase" is featured in the July/Aug issue of the official magazine of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Submissions are being accepted through March 31. Participants whose photos are selected will have their photos published in the magazine and will also see their work posted throughout the year on the Department's Facebook page at facebook.com/wildlifedepartment and on its Twitter feed, @OKWildlifeDept.

"This is a great way for outdoor enthusiasts to see their photography on display in a magazine produced by and for people that love the outdoors," said Michael Bergin, information and education specialist for the Wildlife Department and associate editor of Outdoor Oklahoma magazine. "This is always a very cool issue of Outdoor Oklahoma filled with great outdoor photos of landscapes, wildlife, sportsmen in action and even cool sunsets, storms or other snapshots of nature."

Each participant may submit up to five original digital images. Each submission must include a description of the photo, location taken, name and hometown of the photographer and what it took for the photographer to get the right shot.

Photos should be in sharp focus, and images should be at least 300 dpi (dots per inch). The canvas size should be about 8 inches by 11 inches.

All submissions must be digital. Slides and print images will not be accepted. Though images will remain the property of the photographer, actual submissions that are emailed or mailed on disc or other storage device will not be returned. Selected photos may be printed in Outdoor Oklahoma magazine or posted on the Wildlife Department's website or Facebook page.

Photographers can email their entries to photoshowcase@odwc.state.ok.us or mail a CD or other external storage device to: Outdoor Oklahoma magazine, Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, P.O. Box 53465, Oklahoma City OK 73152.

Individuals can subscribe to Outdoor Oklahoma by calling 1 (800) 777-0019. Outdoor Oklahoma is known for providing decades of outdoor entertainment to both youth and adults. Subscriptions are just $10 for one year, $18 for two years, or $25 for three years. Subscriptions also may be purchased by logging on to the Department's website at wildlifedepartment.com. Hunters who purchase a new Oklahoma Wildlife Management Area Atlas, available from the Wildlife Department for $25, also receive a one-year subscription to Outdoor Oklahoma magazine.

 

 

Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake just around the corner (February 16, 2013)

            The best competitive bass anglers in the world will convene on Grand Lake of the Cherokees near Tulsa Feb. 22-24 to compete for $500,000 and the title of Bassmaster Classic champion.

            The event is the Bassmaster Classic, and it is equivalent to the Super Bowl or the World Series of bass fishing. It is expected to draw 70,000 visitors and account for more than 20,000 hotel nights in the region. Even more important, the Classic should pump something to the tune of $24 million dollars into the economy of Tulsa, Grove and other communities around Grand Lake.

            In addition to the prize money and the most coveted title in competitive bass fishing, the winner of the Classic can expect a range of inevitable sponsorships.

            "It really is the top prize in professional bass fishing," said Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department. "It's easily the biggest fishing event that will ever come to Oklahoma."

            Fans are invited to help kick off Classic competition at 7 a.m. Feb. 22 at Wolf Creek Park on Grand Lake. All 53 qualifiers will launch there on the first two days. The Feb. 24 finale will feature the Top 25 anglers, who will compete for the $500,000 first-place prize and the Classic crown. Daily weigh-ins will be at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa, which will be filled with 15,000-18,000 spectators at each of the three events. Doors will open at 3 p.m.; the entire event is free.

            Additionally, the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods will take place at the Tulsa Convention Center from noon to 8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The Expo will feature a range of shopping and entertainment activities to visitors.

            With over 15 hours of national media attention on ESPN and ESPN2, the Classic will be an enormous asset to the local economies and to the promotion of fishing in Oklahoma, according to officials with the Wildlife Department.

            While expressing the magnitude of the event, Gilliland also noted that the Classic represents a tremendous opportunity for developing the region further for recreational use by anglers and boaters.

            "The Bassmaster Classic is going to be a starting point for a lot of things that will be happening in the Grand Lake area and 'Green Country' in general," Gilliland said. "As big as Grand Lake is and as popular as it is, it doesn't really have big-time boat launching facilities. The City of Grove has stepped up and is cooperating with us and some other partners to try to make that possible, not only for the Bassmaster Classic, but for the future."

            The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will be involved in the event by helping with the live release of fish back into Grand Lake following each weigh-in, through booth participation at the event expo, as well as through an extensive project to help the host community of Grove to develop world class fishing, boating and tournament facilities on the lake.

            Wolf Creek Park in Grove has been renovated to provide six boat ramp lanes, parking for up to 300, restrooms, pavilions, a drive-through weigh-in station, courtesy docks and more. The two-phase project will result in a multi-million dollar, first-class facility for the public to use.

            "This facility being built at Grand Lake is not just for the big level tournaments," Gilliland said. "But the City of Grove is trying to make something that the local fishermen can use so that they have some nicer facilities to be able to do some of their weigh-ins."

            Over the course of the two-phase project, the Wildlife Department will contribute about $3 million, which will be combined with several million dollars provided by the City of Grove, Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Grand River Dam Authority - which operates the lake. The second phase of the project could include other partners as well.

            "It's a big deal," Gilliland said. "I'm hoping that the folks at Lake Eufaula and at Lake Texoma and Ft. Gibson and some of our other major reservoirs get really jealous about seeing all this, because we'd like to do this same kind of project at those lakes and put in some really first-class facilities at other places around the state."

            A recent episode of the Wildlife Department's Outdoor Oklahoma TV show featuring the upcoming Bassmaster Classic can be viewed on the Outdoor Oklahoma Youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/outdooroklahoma.

 

 

Lumberjacks, Hot Saws, Leaping Dogs and More - Much More - at the Bassmaster Classic (February 13, 2013)
From the news editors at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation - The Bassmaster Classic is slated for Feb. 22-24 and will feature the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo in Tulsa. Make sure you come by the Wildlife Department's booth at the event. Show us your fishing license to receive a free, newly-updated "Lakes of Oklahoma" water atlas. More information is available below in this news release courtesy of B.A.S.S.
 
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Bassmaster Classic fans can always expect a world-class fishing competition. But lumberjacks and Labrador retrievers?

Count on it - and much, much more.

With less than a month to go until the Feb. 22-24 Bassmaster Classic presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, B.A.S.S. LLC and its many partners have been building on the list of free bonus entertainment for fans lucky enough to be in Tulsa, Okla., to watch the world championship.

One of the newest additions is the Outdoor Games Zone. Its anchor is a 30,000-gallon swimming pool - for dogs, that is. The pool is for the Super Retriever Series (SRS) Eukanuba Super Dock event, a dog-jumping competition that Classic fans can watch and follow over the same three days of angler competition. Not all the dogs will be Labradors, but all can jump, and spectacularly so.

Just for Classic fans, the SRS event organizer, Dancin' Dog Productions of Little Rock, Ark., is adding an audience participation segment. Fans selected from the audience will be given the opportunity to get up on the Zone stage and experience a little something of what it takes to get a dog to jump as far as it can over - and into - water.

Other fun segments are planned, such as Ducks and Dogs and Casting with Pro Fishermen. Pool activities will change frequently.

Also in the Zone will be the Daisy Inflatable Shooting Education Range. Trained volunteers from the National Wild Turkey Federation will be on hand to show kids ages 10 and up how to safely handle and fire BBs from a Daisy airgun. The Daisy range is a fully enclosed tunnel, and an adult volunteer will stay with each child. Kids will receive their paper targets to take home.

The Zone will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23; and 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24.

The Outdoor Games Zone will be just one section of the 150,000-square-foot, 180-exhibitor Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods in the Tulsa Convention Center. The free-admission Expo will be open noon to 8 p.m.Friday, Feb. 22; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday Feb. 23; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24. The Tulsa Convention Center is in downtown Tulsa (100 Civic Center, Tulsa, OK 74103).

Just across the street, the air will be abuzz inside the BOK Center, the venue for the daily weigh-in shows. At least part of the high energy on Saturday and Sunday will be provided by the Timberworks Lumberjack Show powered by STIHL. Experts will show off their timber skills in events like Hot Saw, Speed Carving and Axe Throw, just to name three. The show will be presented Feb. 23 and 24 as part of the free pre-weigh-in entertainment. BOK Center doors will open at 3 p.m. each day.

Returning in 2013 is the collegiate braggin' rights event that's been a hit at several past Classic weigh-in shows. Anglers from the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series will compete Sunday, Feb. 24, to take home the good-for-one-year boast of being "College Classic champ." Last year's winner, Arkansas, will defend its title against Oklahoma University and Oklahoma State University. Each school will field three two-student teams. The highest combined weight will win the trophy for the team.

There are two more important Classic items - quieter, perhaps, but with big impacts. One stems from a Classic partnership with Folds of Honor, a not-for-profit organization with the mission to give something back to the families of soldiers who were killed or disabled. Donations will be accepted at the BOK Center, and Fold of Honor also will have a booth at the Expo. The second activity will be collections of non-perishable food items by the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. The food bank partners with multiple local organizations to distribute the food.

Fans, of course, are invited to help kick off Classic competition at 7 a.m. Feb. 22 at Wolf Creek Park on Grand Lake O' the Cherokees. All 53 qualifiers will launch there on the first two days. The Feb. 24 finale will feature the Top 25 anglers, who will compete for the $500,000 first-place prize and the Classic crown. Daily weigh-ins will be at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa. Doors will open at 3 p.m.; the entire event is free.

For more than 40 years, B.A.S.S. has served as the authority on bass fishing. The organization advances the sport through advocacy, outreach and an expansive tournament structure while connecting directly with the passionate community of bass anglers through its Bassmaster media vehicles.

The Bassmaster brand and its multimedia platforms are guided by a mission to serve all fishing fans. Through its industry-leading publications - Bassmaster Magazine and B.A.S.S. Times - comprehensive website Bassmaster.com and ESPN2 and Outdoor Channel television programming, Bassmaster provides rich, leading-edge content true to the lifestyle.

The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series, B.A.S.S. Nation events and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the Bassmaster Classic.

B.A.S.S. offers an array of services to its more than 500,000 members and remains focused on issues related to conservation and water access. The organization is headquartered in Birmingham, Ala.

Click here to see our youtube video about the Bassmaster Classic!



Fast Facts:

Daily Launches and competition: Grand Lake O' the Cherokees; 7 a.m. launch at Wolf Creek Park, Friday-Sunday, Feb. 22-24.
Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods: Tulsa Convention Center; noon to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24.
Super Retriever Series (SRS) Eukanuba Super Dock: Friday-Sunday at the Tulsa Convention Center; Outdoor Games Zone. Begins at noon Friday, Feb. 22, and at 10 a.m., Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 23-24.
Daisy Inflatable Shooting Education Range: Friday-Sunday, Feb. 22-24, at the Tulsa Convention Center; Outdoor Games Zone.
Timberworks Lumberjack Show powered by STIHL: Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 23-24, at the BOK Center; doors open at 3 p.m.
Carhartt Bassmaster College Series exhibition event: Sunday, Feb. 24, at the BOK Center; doors open at 3 p.m.
Folds of Honor: BOK Center and Tulsa Convention Center; all day, Feb. 22-24. This not-for-profit organizations, which aims to give back to the families of soldiers killed or disabled, will have a booth at the EXPO.
Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma Donations Site: Tulsa Convention Center; all day, Feb. 22-24.
Weigh-in shows: BOK Center; Friday-Sunday, Feb. 22-24; doors open at 3 p.m.


 

PUBLIC NOTICE (February 13, 2013)

SH-99 POND CREEK BRIDGE REPLACMENT
SECTION 4(F) DE MINIMIS IMPACTS TO HULA WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA


The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is proposing to replace a bridge on State Highway 99 (SH-99) within the Hula Wildlife Management Area (HWMA). The truss bridge is over Pond Creek located 5.1 miles north of the SH-10 junction in Osage County. Right-of-way within the HWMA will be required in order to reconstruct this bridge. Due to the proposed transportation use of property located with the HWMA, Section 4(f) regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966 apply to the project. Section 4(f) affords protection to publicly-owned recreation areas (resources) including city, state, and national parks, wildlife refuges and management areas and historic sites.
ODOT has coordinated with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) and United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with regard to avoidance and minimization of impacts of this project on the HWMA and the ODWC and USACE are supportive of these measures. This will be accomplished in part by constructing the new bridge on a slightly offset alignment to the west, one-half at a time to minimize impacts and right-of-way. The existing SH-99 roadway will be utilized to maintain existing traffic during construction. This allows for minimal use of property located within the WWMA and accommodates local traffic. ODOT is proposing to obtain approximately 4.42 acres of the 21,505 acre Hulah WMA, which constitutes less than 0.020 percent of the wildlife management area. The use of appropriate best management practices (including storm water, erosion and dust control, and chemical/fuel handling) will be conscientiously implemented.
Based on the avoidance and minimization of impacts to the HWMA as described above, the ODOT, in coordination with FHWA, are proposing a de minimis impact finding with regard to Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act (1966). ODOT welcomes your comments on the effects of this project on the projected activities, features, and attributes of the HWMA (the Section 4(f) resource). Please mail or e-mail any comments you have by March 18, 2013 to:
Mrs. Jennifer Koscelny
Able Consulting
9225 North 133rd East Avenue
Owasso, Oklahoma 74055
jkoscelny@cox.net


-----------------------------------------------------------------


SH-99 CANEY RIVER BRIDGE REPLACMENT
SECTION 4(F) DE MINIMIS IMPACTS TO HULA WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA


The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is proposing to replace a bridge on State Highway 99 (SH-99) within the Hula Wildlife Management Area (HWMA). The truss bridge is over the Caney River located 7.5 miles north of the SH-10 junction in Osage County. Right-of-way within the HWMA will be required in order to reconstruct this bridge. Due to the proposed transportation use of property located with the HWMA, Section 4(f) regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966 apply to the project. Section 4(f) affords protection to publicly-owned recreation areas (resources) including city, state, and national parks, wildlife refuges and management areas and historic sites.
ODOT has coordinated with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) and United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with regard to avoidance and minimization of impacts of this project on the HWMA and the ODWC and USACE are supportive of these measures. This will be accomplished in part by constructing the new bridge on a slightly offset alignment to the west, one-half at a time to minimize impacts and right-of-way. The existing SH-99 roadway will be utilized to maintain existing traffic during construction. This allows for minimal use of property located within the WWMA and accommodates local traffic. ODOT is proposing to obtain approximately 6.55 acres of the 21,505 acre Hulah WMA, which constitutes less than 0.030 percent of the wildlife management area. The use of appropriate best management practices (including storm water, erosion and dust control, and chemical/fuel handling) will be conscientiously implemented.
Based on the avoidance and minimization of impacts to the HWMA as described above, the ODOT, in coordination with FHWA, are proposing a de minimis impact finding with regard to Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act (1966). ODOT welcomes your comments on the effects of this project on the projected activities, features, and attributes of the HWMA (the Section 4(f) resource). Please mail or e-mail any comments you have by March 18, 2013 to:
Mrs. Jennifer Koscelny
Able Consulting
9225 North 133rd East Avenue
Owasso, Oklahoma 74055
jkoscelny@cox.net

 

Wildlife Commission approves new rules while withdrawing, rejecting and amending others (February 8, 2013)

            The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission met Feb. 5 and voted to approve a slate of hunting and fishing related rule changes to go into effect this year. Some of the Commission's most notable actions at its meeting included unanimously withdrawing a proposal to change the structure of the antlered deer harvest limit, rejecting a proposal to lower the age limit on youth deer and turkey season participation, creating a new fall turkey hunting opportunity for youth and amending a proposal to change rules regarding the transportation of bait.
            The actions taken by the Commission come after a wave of feedback received during a public comment period held by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation from Dec. 3 to Jan. 11. The Wildlife Department received thousands of comments on the list of law change proposals up for consideration this year. Officials confirmed that input from the public always plays an important role in the decision-making process, but this year sportsmen were especially vocal on certain issues.
            "People in Oklahoma take their hunting and fishing very seriously," said Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "And they're passionate, and we heard them."
            Every year, feedback collected during the official public comment period plays an important role in the process. This year, one proposal was withdrawn that, had it been approved, would have restricted hunters' annual antlered deer limit to one buck during muzzleloader and gun seasons combined. With no changes made to the current rules, hunters will continue to be allowed two bucks as part of their combined season limit that spans archery, muzzleloader and gun seasons.
            By rejecting the proposal to lower the current age requirements for youth deer and turkey seasons, youth seasons will remain open to those under 18 years of age. Additionally, youth will now be able to harvest a turkey during the youth deer gun season if hunting in a county that is open to rifle hunting during the fall turkey gun season. Turkeys harvested during this season are not "bonus" turkeys and do count toward the youth hunters' fall turkey season harvest limit.
            Another proposal that would have prohibited the transport of live bait from any body of water was amended to specify no transport of bait only from reservoirs known to have silver and bighead carp. These non-native, invasive fish can be difficult to distinguish from shad when castnetting for bait, and they can outcompete native species for resources and wreak havoc on fisheries when established in a body of water. The revised language will allow the Wildlife Department to modify and update the list of applicable lakes each year in the Oklahoma Fishing Guide. The rule only applies to "waters of the state" and does not include private waters and farm ponds.
            "In so doing, we can make it possible for anglers to transport bait from lakes where there currently aren't any known infestations of bighead or silver carp, but if we discover any then we can update the list of lakes from which transporting bait is prohibited," said Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department.
            Bolton said nearly 400 comments were received on the bait transportation proposal alone during the public comment period, and that the amendment was made after "careful consideration of all the comments and biological considerations."
            While complete details will be available in the next Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Guides, a listing of the changes approved by the Commission at its February meeting will be made available online at wildlifedepartment.com.
            In other business, the Commission heard a presentation on the Wildlife Department's new scholastic shooting sports program, which is being added to a suite of other outdoor education programs currently offered to schools by the Department. Through the program, educators and instructors at certain schools and FFA organizations will be trained and certified by the Wildlife Department's Shotgun Training and Education Program (STEP) to implement the program in their schools. Students who receive the training will have the opportunity to learn safe gun handling as well as recreational and competitive shotgun shooting.
            The shooting sports program will initially be piloted in 20 pre-selected schools that already participate in either FFA shooting sports or the Department's outdoor education suite, which includes the Archery in the Schools, Hunter Education, Explore Bowhunting and Fishing in the Schools programs.
            Participating schools will receive a grant to help purchase equipment for the program, thanks to a partnership with the Oklahoma Station Chapter of Safari Club International, which donated $20,000 to kick off the pilot program.
            "Through this program we are hoping to build camaraderie like students would in any other school sport, as well as build outdoor skills and foster appreciation for the outdoors in our youth," said Damon Springer, STEP coordinator for the Wildlife Department.
            According to Springer, another goal of the program will be continuing to provide support for the FFA sporting clays program.
            Early surveys of educators involved in the Department's outdoor education programs indicate interest in the scholastic shooting sports program is high among schools, and the Department plans to expand the program after the pilot year.
            The Department's other education programs have enjoyed significant growth and expansion into schools in recent years, such as the Archery in the Schools Program which has grown over a 10-year period from its original 10 pilot schools to about 400 schools across the state that participate today. The Hunter Education program, which has educated tens of thousands of sportsmen over the years and is credited for a reduction in hunting-related accidents in recent decades, has been and continues to be used widely as in-class curriculum in Oklahoma schools, and the Explore Bowhunting program builds on the Archery in the Schools program by focusing on the hunting aspect of the sport of archery. Also, the Fishing in the Schools program implements the Wildlife Department Aquatic Resource Education program to teach students in schools about fishing for recreation and conservation.
            To learn more about how educators and schools can become involved with the Wildlife Department's outdoor education suite, contact Colin Berg, education supervisor for the Wildlife Department, at (918) 299-2334.
            The Commission also heard a presentation from Richard Hatcher, director of the Wildlife Department, recognizing Lt. Frank Huebert, game warden supervisor stationed in Major Co., for 35 years of service to the Wildlife Department, and Charmion Rose, payroll and benefits specialist for the Department, for 20 years of service.
             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. March 4, at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.


 

Bidding now open for two ODWC owned Ag Leases (February 6, 2013)

The Commission of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) invites interested parties to submit sealed bids for two agricultural leases in the state for use by summer and fall crops. The first lease of interest is the Lower Illinois River Public Fishing and Hunting Area, Watts Unit for a 5 year lease. This property is lease # W1, details for the Lower Illinois River lease can be found here (PDF). The second lease includes land in the McClellan-Kerr Wildlife Management Area for a five crop year period. McClellan is lease # MK11, details on this property can be found here (PDF). Bids open February 5, 2013 and 2:00 p.m.



Assurances offered to landowners in case lesser prairie chicken gets listed as federally threatened or endangered (February 5, 2013)

In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a "threatened" listing for the lesser prairie chicken, an upland bird native to western and northwest Oklahoma. If the proposal advances to a final listing, then additional federal regulations and oversight can apply to landowners in the bird's native range that may affect what happens on their property or how it may be used.

A federal ruling is expected by the end of September 2013, and landowners in certain western and northwest Oklahoma counties may be eligible for free participation in an agreement that will protect what they can do on their land if the bird is listed. The newly created agreement is called the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances Program (CCAA). Landowners with approved management plans in place with the CCAA before a final listing decision is made will have the guarantee of assurances against certain liabilities and federal restrictions in the event that the lesser prairie chicken is listed as a threatened or endangered species. The CCAA permit is issued to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Wildlife Department will include participating landowners under the permit.

"This is a significant step toward securing not only long-lasting conservation efforts for the species, but it also provides an avenue for certainty for landowers should the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirm its proposed listing of 'threatened,'" said Gary Sherrer, Oklahoma secretary of the environment.

Enrolled landowners and Wildlife Department biologists will collaborate on a wildlife management plan specific to the property enrolled, which may include efforts such as red cedar removal, fence marking and grazing management, among others. In return, landowners who enroll and participate receive the assurances offered by the permit. The CCAA is designed to conserve lesser prairie chickens and their habitat while minimizing impacts that a federal listing would have on landowners in the eligible region.

"The CCAA is like insurance for landowners in case the lesser prairie chicken is listed," said Wade Free, assistant director of the Wildlife Department. "It provides assurances that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not be able to add additional requirements to landowners."

The CCAA is a voluntary program, and participation is not dependent on the presence or absence of lesser prairie chickens on the enrolled property. Through the program, landowners agree to perform certain habitat work to benefit lesser prairie chickens in exchange for the assurances provided under the Certificate of Inclusion.

"The Agricultural Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) reached between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is a solid step toward appropriately managing the lesser prairie chicken on a state and local level in Oklahoma," said U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). "This key agreement allows landowners in 14 western Oklahoma counties the opportunity to voluntarily work with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to take steps to conserve the lesser prairie chicken and its habitat on their property in exchange for assurances against land use restrictions. As Oklahoma's state agencies, job creators, and land owners continue to work to address the lesser prairie chicken, I will continue to work with them to protect our jobs and hold sacred our private property rights. It is my hope that these and other actions taken by private landowners and the state will be sufficient to prevent a listing of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act."

Landowners in the following counties are eligible: Alfalfa, Beaver, Beckham, Cimarron, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Harper, Major, Roger Mills, Texas, Washita, Woods and Woodward.

The Wildlife Department does not issue incentive payments to landowners for participation in the program. Participation is free for landowners, and landowners may opt out at any time.

Officials with the Wildlife Department say conservation measures accomplished through the program could even help convince the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that a final listing is not warranted.

For more information or to enroll, contact one of the following Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation personnel: Doug Schoeling, (405) 301-9945; Alva Gregory, (580) 334-4459; or Matt Fullerton, (580) 571-5820.

For more information, or to see a copy of the Agricultural CCAA or a sample management plan, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

 


Airborne surveys confirm state's waterfowl woes (February 4, 2013)


With another season of duck hunting now in the books, many of the state's waterfowl hunters have reported a season of overall fewer ducks and geese, and limited to mixed hunting success.

Pre-season surveys in the northern United States and Canada indicated last spring's duck population was at an all-time high of 48.6 million birds. But the number of ducks and geese in Oklahoma during the first week of January appeared to be lower compared to the same period in 2012, said state Wildlife Department personnel who participated in the annual Mid-Winter Waterfowl Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, the reason for the lackluster season was not necessarily due to the overall bird population.

"This year, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma seem to be in the worst shape, as far as habitat for waterfowl," said Terry Liddick of Spearfish, S.D., a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot-biologist who flew a survey aircraft this winter in Oklahoma.

The situation that hunters have faced this year was similar to or worse than what they experienced in the 2011-12 season, said Josh Richardson, migratory game bird biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "It's unfortunate our local conditions the past two years have made for average to below-average hunting seasons in Oklahoma," he said.

Read almost any edition of ODWC's biweekly Waterfowl Report this season, and the most prevalent words have been "poor," "low" and "below normal."

Again this year, the Department partnered with the federal agency to conduct the waterfowl survey in Oklahoma. Richardson and Jeff Neal, a migratory game bird technician with ODWC, spend about 50 hours in two small aircraft as observers from Jan. 7 to Jan. 14, flying low and slow across the state to count waterfowl and other migratory birds.

Richardson, who surveyed western areas of Oklahoma, said he counted fewer ducks and geese this year than he has in recent years. His preliminary numbers this year are about 40 percent less than his survey results from last year.

Richardson said what he saw on his survey flights was "pretty discouraging," with poor habitat conditions across western Oklahoma. He said when food and water are not plentiful, the area will not hold waterfowl for very long. He speculates the ongoing drought along with milder weather conditions have conspired to keep many migratory birds from stopping over in, or even reaching, Oklahoma.

Neal surveyed eastern areas of the state, and his observations were mixed. Overall, though, Neal said waterfowl numbers seemed to be below average. A few areas he surveyed were holding a near-average number of ducks, where the habitat conditions were close to normal. But many reservoir areas were in poor shape, with great expanses of bare ground due to lack of water.

During last year's mid-winter aerial survey, Wildlife Department surveyors both in aircraft and on the ground counted 293,175 ducks; 364,106 geese; 1,532 coots; 6,680 sandhill cranes; and five swans in the state during the first week in January. And while the total numbers from the latest survey are not yet available, it's a safe bet that fewer ducks and geese were counted this year.

Oklahoma's Department of Wildlife Conservation has teamed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in surveying waterfowl populations for decades. The mid-winter aerial waterfowl count conducted in January each year is one of the oldest wildlife surveys, dating to the 1930s.

For the survey, teams of pilot-biologists and observers employ aircraft to crisscross North America at tree-top level, counting the number of ducks, geese and swans, and assessing the quality and quantity of wetlands and breeding areas, while ground crews cover additional areas. The survey flights are conducted within a one-week period, weather permitting, across the U.S. so as to minimize any double-counting of migrating birds.

These surveys are a model of partnership-driven conservation. Analysis of the survey data helps determine the status of North America's waterfowl populations and plays a significant role in formulating annual waterfowl hunting regulations for the season to come. Surveys such as these are vital tools that guide decisions of waterfowl managers throughout North America.

 


Arbuckles' remarkable bass point to management successes (February 1, 2013)

SULPHUR, Okla. - Recent remarkable catches at Lake of the Arbuckles have made a big splash in the local bass fishing community. On successive weekends in January, the winners of separate bass tournaments managed to haul in five-fish stringers totaling more than 40 pounds each.

That means each of the five largemouth bass on these two stringers weighed on average more than 8 pounds apiece!

The lunkers validate the fisheries management activities conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation over the previous decade at Lake of the Arbuckles.

"The ingredients that you need to produce trophy bass are present in Arbuckle right now," said Gene Gilliland, assistant chief of fisheries with the Wildlife Department. "I really like seeing how Arbuckle has become quite a success story from a fisheries management perspective."

During the Jan. 19 season-opening tournament held by Backyard Bassin' Tournament Trail, anglers Jeff Reynolds and Johnny Thompson scored a big win with a stringer weighing 42.04 pounds. But they failed to win biggest-bass honors that day; that title went to a fish weighing 10.7 pounds that was brought in by the team of Marc Barber and Gary Rowland.

A week later on Jan. 26, Marco Vaca and Doyle Idleman won Future Bass Team Trail's season opener. Their five-bass limit weighed in at 41.92 pounds. Again, the winning team did not catch the biggest bass of the day. Second-place team Reynolds and Thompson weighed in a 10.65-pound lunker for the prize.

Gilliland said Arbuckles' big bass illustrate how proactive fisheries management can yield great results over time.

"Historically, Arbuckle has not been a great bass fishery. It was dominated by large numbers of small, slow-growing bass," he said. "In the early 1990s, the Wildlife Department backed off on stocking Florida strain largemouth in Arbuckle because there was a period when the Department didn't have enough production from the hatchery to stock Florida bass in very many lakes in the state."

About a decade ago, as the hatcheries' Florida strain largemouth production increased, the Wildlife Department resumed stocking them in Arbuckle and other Oklahoma lakes to enhance the trophy possibilities.

"Those fish have obviously matured," Gilliland said. "The fish that we stocked, or the offspring of those stocked fish, are now turning into these trophy bass that are being caught on a pretty regular basis for about the past three years."

He said Lake of the Arbuckles has grown big bass because of the favorable conditions found there. "You have good genetics from the stocking program, good habitat, and good forage. Arbuckle has a very good survival rate of young bass, and it's also a lake where fish can live deep most of the year, avoiding encounters with anglers and growing older and bigger.

"Catching those bigger fish gets pretty tough later in the year, so the bass have a chance to grow up. I don't think that many people realize how long it takes to produce an 8- to 10-pounder," he said.

Gilliland cited another factor that might be contributing to angler success at Arbuckle.

"The fishing pressure has increased dramatically over the past few years. On an 'angler per acre' level, Arbuckle gets hammered," he said. "There may be just as many big bass in other lakes where we have stocked Florida bass on a regular basis, like Sardis or Broken Bow, but those fisheries are much bigger," which means the fishing pressure is spread across a larger area.

"When you have more anglers on a 2,300-acre fishery that is very accessible, the chances of someone catching a big fish generally go up," Gilliland said.

Oklahoma's bass fishing will be in the national spotlight in late February as the world's greatest anglers gather at Grand Lake northeast of Tulsa for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic tournament, widely considered the Super Bowl of professional bass fishing. The event is expected to lure as many as 70,000 people to the region, with a potential boost of about $24 million to the region's economy.

"It's easily the biggest fishing event that will ever come to Oklahoma," Gilliland said.