Friday, December 20, 2013

Oklahoma Wildlife Commission recognizes Game Warden of the Year

Dru Polk, game warden stationed in McCurtain County in southeast Oklahoma, has been
named the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Game Warden of the Year for 2013 and Wildlife Officer of the Year for the Shikar-Safari Club International.
     Polk was recognized before the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission at its December meeting. Former U.S. Rep. Bill Brewster of Ardmore, a member of Shikar-Safari Club International, presented Polk a framed certificate and a silver commemorative plate from the club. 
     "To be selected officer of the year by your peers is something to be proud of," Brewster said.
     State Rep. Curtis McDaniel, a neighbor of Polk's in Smithville, also read a citation from the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Gov. Mary Fallin in recognition of Polk's accomplishments.
     "The award means a lot to me, but it means just as much to my family," said Polk, who has served as a warden since 2001. "If it wasn't for them being understanding, I wouldn't be able to do what I do."
     Polk said his favorite part of the job is "being able to ensure that we have a heritage for our kids, for my girls to be able to hunt and fish and to have the same opportunities that I've had growing up. That's why I do what I do."
     Col. Robert Fleenor, chief of law enforcement for the Wildlife Department, said Polk typifies what a game warden should be, adding that his area requires long hours and an even temperament.
     "What's interesting about Dru is that he is so well-respected in his area," Fleenor said. "It's obvious that people in his area very much respect him besides knowing that he's going to tend to the law and take care of business. Dru typifies what a gentleman game warden is all about."
     Polk graduated from Durant High School in 1990 and earned a degree in conservation of natural resources in 1998 from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. 
     Polk began his career with the Department as an hourly employee in the Fisheries Division and began working full time in 1999 as a technician at the Durant State Fish Hatchery. In 2001, Polk was promoted to game warden and was stationed in McCurtain County, a place he had always wanted to go.
     Besides his tireless efforts enforcing game laws, Polk also serves as a counselor at the Department's annual youth camp, instructs in the Department's Shotgun Training and Education Program and in the Aquatic Education Program, and is active in the Archery in the Schools Program. 
     In being selected the Department's Warden of the Year, Polk was also nominated for the 2013 Office of the Year honor from the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
     Shikar-Safari Club International began more than a half-century ago with the purpose of supporting hunting and conservation, and addressing issues that affect those areas.        The club's foundation puts more than $1 million into wildlife and conservation each year, including awarding more than 30 scholarships annually to children of wildlife professionals who are pursuing careers in wildlife or conservation.
     Game wardens are law enforcement officers for the Wildlife Department charged with enforcing fish and wildlife laws. 
     In addition to recognizing Polk, the Commission conducted the following business at its December meeting: 

  • The Commission approved a resolution that sets the individual annual paddlefish harvest limit of two per angler and requires anglers to report their paddlefish harvest online through the Wildlife Department's e-check program. Last month, the Commission approved emergency rules that allow the Commission to set annual paddlefish harvest limits by resolution. Though the emergency rules are in effect, they must pass through a public comment period and be signed into law by the Governor before becoming permanent. According to Jason Schooley, paddlefish biologist for the Wildlife Department, the rule changes are important for conserving paddlefish in the Grand River system that largely supports the state's - and some would argue the nation's - most popular paddlefish fishery. 
  • Keith Thomas, central region fisheries biologist, gave a presentation on the Wildlife Department's Close to Home Fishing Program. Through the program, the Wildlife Department partners with municipalities to offer fishing opportunities in metro areas. Over 30 ponds, lakes and other waters in more than a dozen Oklahoma cities and towns are available to public fishing through the program. Fishing opportunities include channel catfish, sunfish, largemouth bass and, in some areas, rainbow trout.
  • Sponsors for the wintertime trout programs at Dolese Youth Park Pond in Oklahoma City and Jenks' Veterans' Pond were recognized. Thanks to sponsorships from the 89er Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Dolese Brothers, trout are stocked in Dolese Youth Park Pond from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28. The pond is located near 50th and Meridian in Oklahoma City. Charles Kaminski with the 89er Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Kermit Frank with Dolese Brothers were on hand to receive the recognition on behalf of their groups. The fishery at Veteran's Pond, located at 101st and South Elm in Jenks, is new this year and is sponsored by BancFirst and the Oklahoma Chapter 420 of Trout Unlimited. The pond replaces the trout fishing opportunity previously available at a smaller pond at LaFortune Park. Jay Hannah, executive vice president at BancFirst, and David Games with the Oklahoma Chapter 420 of Trout Unlimited were both in attendance as well. 
  • The Commission accepted a donation of $4,200 from the Central Oklahoma 89ers Chapter of Quail Forever. The donation will be used for equipment to be used for wildlife habitat improvements to wildlife management areas in southwest Oklahoma. This year alone, the chapter has donated $14,375 to the Department.Through matching funds, however, the impact of the chapter's donations on conservation totals more than $57,000 this year. 
  • The Commission was updated on the Fiscal Year 2013 Actuarial Valuation Report for the Department's retirement plan, conducted by Buck Consultants; and the Fiscal Year 2013 Annual Financial Audit, conducted by Finley and Cook, PLLC. 
  • Dates were approved for 2014 Commission meetings as follows: Jan. 6Feb. 3March 3April 7May 5June 2July 7Aug. 4Sept. 2Oct. 6, Nov. 3 and Dec. 1. The Commission subsequently voted to cancel the Jan. 2014 meeting due to an expected lack of a quorum. 

     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. Feb. 3, at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.