At its September meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission heard a presentation on the plan, made possible by a Farm Bill program grant of more than $2.2 million awarded to the Department last month. With more than 95 percent of the land base in Oklahoma under private ownership, the program will open more access to sportsmen looking for places to hunt and fish.
Officials with the Department say the details of lease agreements and plans for the program are in the early stages of development, but special emphasis may be placed on lands in close proximity to populated metro areas as well as on species for which there are few existing public opportunities.
According to Russ Horton, wildlife research supervisor for the Wildlife Department, the agency anticipates making access to new properties available to sportsmen by as early as fall 2016.
"Additional details on this program will be forthcoming as we move through the planning stages," Horton said.
In other meeting business, the Department presented its Landowner of the Year Award to Kingfisher Co. ranch owner Barry Bollenbach. The award acknowledges outstanding conservation efforts on Oklahoma private lands.
Bollenbach is the owner and operator of Paradise Valley Ranch, a 4,000-acre property west of Hennessey. The mixed grass prairie ranch includes approximately 1,000 acres of cropland, 2,500 acres of native rangeland and 500 acres of introduced grasses. In addition to making the ranch profitable, Bollenbach has focused on improving wildlife habitat for quail and other wildlife as well as providing hunting and fishing opportunity for family and friends.
Habitat improvement efforts at Paradise Valley Ranch have included cedar removal projects, prescribed burning programs, leaving agricultural crops for wildlife and involvement in landowner programs such as the Wildlife Department's Habitat Improvement Program.
The Commission also heard a slate of presentations:
Wildlife Department Director Richard Hatcher recognized three Department game wardens, each for 25 years of service to the agency: Lt. David Robertson, game warden supervisor stationed in McIntosh and Okmulgee counties; Lt. Bryan Wilkerson, game warden supervisor stationed in Ellis County; and Linda Powell, game warden stationed in Marshall County.
The Commission accepted donations from two conservation organizations - $3,870 from the Blue River Fly Fishers, and $5,000 from Quail Forever for habitat work on Cross Timbers Wildlife Management Area.
Wildlife Diversity biologist Mark Howery gave an update on the revision process of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. The strategy was developed and approved in 2005 as part of requirements to make the Department eligible to receive State Wildlife Grants funding available through congressional appropriation each year. The strategy focuses on conservation actions at the habitat level for Oklahoma's rare and declining species and is the guiding document for how the Department uses State Wildlife Grant funding. Development criteria for the plan require that it be revised every 10 years, and the Department is in the final stage of the first revision.
Fisheries biologist Matt Gamble delivered a presentation on the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area. The area offers more than 3,300 acres in south-central Oklahoma popular for its wintertime trout fishery and year-round opportunities for recreation. For complete information on the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting area, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.
Colin Berg, education supervisor for the Department, gave a presentation on the Department's Fishing in the Schools Program and a brief overview of its other education programs designed to spark interest and offer exposure to outdoor recreation among youth. Through the Fishing in the Schools Program, the Department trains teachers and provides fishing equipment to schools across Oklahoma to implement its fishing and conservation curriculum in the classroom. Currently the program is being taught in more than 200 schools across the state, and students on average participate in five weeks of the program in their schools. Recently the Oklahoma Fishing in the Schools Program was selected to receive the Sport Fish Restoration Outstanding Project Award for its education manual.
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. Nov. 2, 2015, at the Wildlife Department temporary headquarters, NE 36th and Martin Luther King Avenue in Oklahoma City.