Conservation Partners Donate Thousands to Wildlife Commission

November 8, 2019

Gathered for presentation of a $124,479 donation from the Oklahoma chapter of National Wild Turkey Federation are, from left, Garrett McClendon, Jared McJunkin, Jeff Springman, NWTF State President Kamara Gatz, Jared Cullison, O.D. Curry, Earl Gilbert, Assistant Chief of Wildlife Bill Dinkines, ODWC Director J.D. Strong, Don Chitwood, T.J. Goodpasture, Rick Nolan and Leah Lowe. (Don P. Brown/ODWC)

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Conservation Partners Donate Thousands to Wildlife Commission

Thousands of dollars in donations from conservation partners and a bevy of award recognitions shared the spotlight Monday at the regular November meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission in Oklahoma City.

The National Wild Turkey Federation’s Oklahoma state chapter presented a check for $124,479 for habitat restoration, equipment, hunting heritage and hunting recruitment across the state. NWTF Oklahoma President Kamara Gatz said when paired with federal matching funds, the NWTF donations represent almost $500,000 going to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Gatz said $40,000 of the donation is earmarked for public land acquisition, which will enable NWTF Oklahoma to surpass its goal by year’s end of conserving or enhancing at least 100,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

Commissioners also accepted a $2,000 donation from the Central Oklahoma 89er Chapter of Quail Forever in support of the Wildlife Department’s Stars and Stripes License Project, which funds hunting and fishing licenses for Gold Star lapel button recipients, resident military veterans and next of kin of deceased military personnel.

Also accepted was a $500 donation from the Oklahoma Chapter of Delta Waterfowl to help with the Wildlife Department’s youth waterfowl hunting activities.

Commissioners recognized many award winners:

Gerald Choate of Catoosa was selected the Department’s 2019 Landowner Conservationist of the Year. On his 325-acre property near Dustin, Choate has employed numerous practices to promote creation and enhancement of wildlife habitat during the past 12 years. With a sportsman’s passion, Choate has devoted time and resources into prescribed burning, wildlife food plots, strategic brush piles and planting rotations, along with his generosity in donating fund-raising hunts to NWTF.

The Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies gave its 2019 SEAFWA Directors’ Special Recognition Award to ODWC Executive Assistant Rhonda Hurst, citing her years of service as coordinator of the annual Wildlife Expo and her involvement in sharing her love of outdoor activities. SEAFWA gave its 2019 Diversity Outreach and Education Award recognizing the Oklahoma Fishing in the Schools program’s partnership with the Paul George Foundation to introduce students from diverse backgrounds to the outdoors. Daniel Griffith, coordinator of the ODWC program, accepted the award at the SEAFWA annual conference in Hilton Head, S.C.

The ODWC Fisheries Division selected Senior Biologist Jason Schooley as the 2018 Fisheries Professional of the Year. He is heavily involved in operation and maintenance of ODWC’s Paddlefish Research Center near Miami, Okla., and conducts constant research focused on paddlefish in Oklahoma. In 2018, Schooley received the Professional of the Year Award from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Finally, family members of the late Alva Gregory collected the annual Firebird Award for Oklahoma from the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative for Gregory’s efforts in promoting and using prescribed fire as a habitat management tool. Gregory served as the Northwest Region Habitat Coordinator for the Wildlife Department. He died May 1, 2019, at age 55. Upland Game Biologist Tell Judkins told Commissioners that without Gregory’s habitat work during his 31-year career with ODWC, western Oklahoma probably wouldn’t be known today as “quail country.”

In other business, Commissioners:

  • Heard about ongoing quail research activities in western Oklahoma in cooperation with Oklahoma State University from Sam Fuhlendorf from the Natural Resource Ecology and Management Department at OSU.
  • Viewed a summary of this year’s quail and pheasant roadside and brood count surveys from Tell Judkins, Upland Game Biologist. The 2019 Quail Season Outlook is available on the Wildlife Department’s website.
  • Approved a chronic wasting disease response strategy.
  • Heard Director J.D. Strong’s regular report on various division activities in the Department, along with updates on state legislative matters.
  • Authorized, by a 7-1 vote, the Director to pursue the purchase of property in Woods County.
  • Recognized Game Warden Carlos Gomez for 40 years of service; Game Warden Capt. Jeff Headrick, 30 years; Game Warden Capt. Mark Reichenberger, 30 years; Game Warden Lt. Gary Wilcox, 30 years; Information and Education Division Chief Nels Rodefeld, 25 years; Wildlife Division Regional Supervisor Jerry Shaw, 25 years; Senior I/E Specialist Damon Springer, 20 years; Game Warden Shane Fields, 20 years.

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 will be 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, at Department headquarters, 1801 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City.


2019 Landowner Conservationist of the Year Award: J.D. Strong, Director-ODWC; Russ Horton, Research Supervisor; Gerald Choate, honoree;
Bill Dinkines, Assistant Chief-Wildlife; Carlos Gomez, Game Warden; Wade Free, Assistant Director-ODWC.


NBCI Firebird Award, Oklahoma 2019, posthumously honoring Alva Gregory, Wildlife Biologist: Inez Gregory, mother;
Brandon Gregory, son; Kamdyn Gregory, granddaughter; Brooke Lugard, daughter; Wade Free, Assistant Director-ODWC;
Sonja Gregory, widow; Embry Lugard, granddaughter; Russ Horton, Research Supervisor-ODWC;
Tell Judkins, Upland Game Biologist-ODWC.


Central 89ers Quail Forever donation to Stars and Stripes Project: John Bellah; Bill Dinkines, Assistant Chief-Wildlife;
Laura McIver; James Dietsch; J.D. Strong, Director-ODWC; Troy Ellefson.


Delta Waterfowl-Oklahoma donation: Bill Dinkines, Assistant Chief-Wildlife;
J.D. Strong, Director-ODWC; Denyce Prichard; Max Prichard; Mike Winters.


SEAFWA awards: Rhonda Hurst, Administrative Assistant-ODWC;
J.D. Strong, Director-ODWC; Daniel Griffith, Education Specialist-ODWC.


2018 Fisheries Professional of the Year: Ken Cunningham, Assistant Chief-Fisheries;
J.D. Strong, Director; Jason Schooley, Senior Biologist; Wade Free, Assistant Director.