Hunters Against Hunger Program Feeding Thousands

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Oklahoma deer hunters have contributed hundreds of thousands of meals to feed Oklahoma’s hungry through donations of nutritious venison. In the 2003-04 deer hunting seasons alone, more than 21 tons of donated venison was served statewide through a network of community shelters and food pantries.

The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission recognized two organizations at its regular monthly meeting, held July 12th in Oklahoma City, which have been instrumental in the success of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Hunters Against Hunger Program.

According to Richard Hatcher, assistant director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the program could not happen without the assistance of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.

“One of the most challenging aspects of the Hunters Against Hunger program involves the collection of venison from our cooperating meat processors and then the distribution of the meat to local food pantries and shelters, “ said Hatcher. “Not only do these organizations pick up the venison from the processors, but more importantly they know where to get it into the hands of quality charitable organizations that prepare meals for those in need.

According to Bill Hendrix of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, the program serves a critical need for Oklahoma’s hungry.

“Although we receive many donations of canned goods and other non-perishable food items, meat is one of our least-donated foods,” said Hendrix.

“When you consider how many pounds were donated last year (more than 42,000), and a typical venison burger or other meal consists of approximately one-quarter pound of meat, the Hungers Against Hunger program is providing a tremendous amount of meals to hungry Oklahomans.”

Through the Hunters Against Hunger Program, sportsmen can donate their deer to a network of cooperating local meat processors listed annually in the “Oklahoma Hunting Guide”. To help offset processing charges, the hunter is requested to make a $10 tax-deductible donation to the processor at the time of donation. Additionally, the program receives funding assistance from conservation groups across Oklahoma, most notably NatureWorks, a non-profit organization that sponsors the annual Oklahoma Wildlife Art Show in Tulsa each March.

In other business, commissioners voted to accept a donation of $1,231.84 from the Ouachita National Forest Interpretative Association to be used for construction of an observation tower at Red Slough Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Red Slough WMA covers 7,800 acres in southern McCurtain County and is a prime waterfowl hunting area in the fall and a popular bird watching destination in the spring and summer months.

Also at the meeting, the Commission accepted a $1,000 donation from the National Rifle Association Foundation to be used toward the annual Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Youth Camp.

“For several years now, the NRA Foundation has provided funds to assist our very popular youth camp held each summer for junior high and high school age kids,” said John Streich, law enforcement chief for the Department. “We greatly appreciate their commitment to making each year’s camp a very worthwhile experience for the kids.”

Commissioners also voted to accept a $2,178.95 donation from the University of Hook Setters angling organization. The funding will be matched with Federal Sportfish Restoration grants to construct amenities at the youth fishing clinic complex located on the Arcadia WMA, near Edmond.

In other business, the Commission voted to approve a resolution establishing hunting regulations for migratory game birds that open prior to October 1. The resolution establishes the season length for dove, rail, gallinule, woodcock, common snipe, resident Canada Geese and the special September teal season.

“Due to a decline in the results of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s May waterfowl breeding population surveys, this year’s teal season length was reduced from 16 to nine days,” said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the Department. The season lengths for all of the other early migratory species will remain the same as last year, according to Peoples.

For a specific listing of hunting season dates for the species listed above, consult the “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” available at hunting and fishing license vendors in late July.

Commissioners also voted to approve a $307,464.00 federal pass-through grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The special grant will then be matched with a larger private grant from The Nature Conservancy to purchase a 3,100 acre parcel in Ellis County. The property lies along the South Canadian River and provides critical habitat for two endangered species, the Interior Least Tern and the Arkansas River Shiner. The area will also be open to some hunting opportunities for upland birds and deer.

In other business, the Commission heard a status report from wildlife division personnel on a highly successful cooperative agreement with the Wildlife Department and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In the year since the initial agreement was signed, the NRCS has provided funds to the Department to hire four regional private lands wildlife technicians who are assisting landowners within the NRCS’s Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP).

“Since last year, the NRCS has allocated nearly $1.2 million to be used on approved WHIP projects on private lands throughout the state,” said Alan Peoples. “We’re very proud of the fact that that figure represents the second highest allocation of federal WHIP funding among the 50 states,” said Peoples. “The effect of these projects should be long-lasting to enhance habitat for quail and a variety of other Oklahoma wildlife species.”

The Commission also heard a status report on the Department’s systems for purchasing hunting and fishing licenses from Melinda Sturgess-Streich, administration chief for the Department. Although cost prohibitive in the past, the cost of an electronic “point-of-sale” purchasing system has become more economically feasible. The Department will soon be testing a prototype point-of-sale system that will alleviate administrative costs required by the current Universal License Form system. Using computer and Internet technology, the point-of-sale system will streamline the collection of payments to the agency and will automatically enter hunter/angler information into the license database.

The Commission also recognized a Department employee for his outstanding service to the sportsmen of the state. Dale Schmitz, assistant hatchery manager at the Holdenville State Fish Hatchery was recognized for his 25 years of service to the Department.

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.