Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wildlife Commission Honors Landowner of the Year

 The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has selected Eric Harland as its 2014
Landowner of the Year, continuing a 25-year tradition to recognize the important conservation role played by private landowners.
   Harland was honored at the regular September meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission held Monday in Oklahoma City.
   Since 2005, Harland has owned and managed Nickel Creek Ranch, a 522-acre property north of Arcadia along the Oklahoma-Logan county line. Since then, he and his family have devoted much time and energy toward improving the landscape for both wildlife and for recreational use.
   Harland said like most landowners, he takes a great deal of pride in his property and truly wants to make improvements. Because 95 percent of land in Oklahoma is privately owned, Harland said it's even more important to get landowners involved and participating in programs that aim to improve wildlife habitat.
   Doug Schoeling, private lands biologist for the Wildlife Department, nominated Harland for this year's honor and shared details about the activities Harland has undertaken at Nickel Creek. To improve wildlife habitat, Harland has thinned heavily wooded areas, removed invasive cedars, improved access to key areas along creeks and in wooded areas, and increased the amount of food sources available to wildlife.
   When Harland acquired the property, he found some areas that had been heavily overgrazed, He undertook native grass restoration and rested those areas to allow for regrowth, He also strip-discs areas to promote the growth of forbs as a food resource for wildlife.
   Harland has established 15 acres of fall and winter wildlife food plots on the ranch, and he uses several supplemental protein feeders.
   He manages a 15-acre lake for sport fishing and for waterfowl use. And he uses the lake as a water source for five other ponds that provide more fishing opportunity and help in erosion control.
   Harland said he was thankful for the many resources that have helped him along the way, including programs from the Wildlife Department, conservation district and Oklahoma State University. And he credited his family and friends for their support.
"You think about what you try to do just to fix up your garden in the backyard, and (then) you get out and try to do the stuff you'd like to do to improve wildlife habitat ­­- that's a tall glass of water.
   "It's not just me that deserves this; it's a lot of folks," he said. "At the end of the day, what you folks are doing really does make a difference."
   Also at the meeting, Chip Leslie, Ph.D., presented an overview of the ongoing research partnership enjoyed by the Wildlife Department and the Oklahoma State University Fish and Wildlife Co-op Unit. Leslie, co-op unit leader, said that the research partnership has a 65-year history, and since 1989, total Wildlife Department funding has increased from about 30 percent to more than 80 percent of total co-op project funding.
   Leslie said Wildlife Department funds support 15 of 26 research projects currently under way in various wildlife and fisheries areas. He outlined three current joint projects: black bear research, fish sampling studies relative to water flow in streams, and research into the decline of bobwhite quail populations. (The Department issues "Upland Update," periodic news releases about ongoing quail research; to receive "Upland Update," sign up at wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/quail.htm.) Joint project findings are aimed at helping the Wildlife Department make the best management decisions regarding the state's natural resources.
   In other business:
Commissioners were briefed on the upcoming 2014 Oklahoma Wildlife Expo from Nels Rodefeld, Information and Education Division chief. The event will take place Sept. 27-28 at the Lazy E Arena north of Oklahoma City, and it features fun and free activities indoors and outdoors for the entire family.
The Quality Deer Management Association presented its 2014 Agency of the Year Award to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. J.B. Wynn, QDMA's Southwest Region director, cited the Department's deer management efforts in the field as well as the "Hunters in the Know ... Let Young Bucks Grow!" educational campaign as keys in being selected for the prestigious honor.
Commissioners were introduced to Thomas G. Coon, Ph.D., newly appointed vice president at Oklahoma State University, dean of the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and director of the Cooperative Extension Service.
Director Richard Hatcher told commissioners that a multiyear, multimillion-dollar renovation project has begun at the Durant State Fish Hatchery.
Three Department employees received 20-year tenure awards: Nels Rodefeld, Information and Education Division chief; Lt. Brek Henry, game warden in Rogers County; and Brandon Lehrman, game warden in Greer County.
   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 10 a.m. Oct. 6 at Kiamichi Technology Center, 301 Kiamichi Drive in McAlester.