Oklahoma DWC Opens 3,000 Acres in SE Oklahoma

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The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to open more than 3,000 acres in southeast Oklahoma to public hunting and fishing. The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the memorandum of understanding to open the area to public access at its July meeting.

"This is a great day for hunters, anglers and others who love the outdoors," said Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Wildlife Department. "Before this agreement the area wasn’t available for public access, but now it will be open for all Oklahomans to enjoy."

The property, which covers 3,270 acres in LeFlore County's Cucumber Creek area, is owned by The Nature Conservancy. The area will be used for public hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing and education purposes. Hunting seasons on the area will be the same as statewide season dates, and the agreement will be in place for 10 years with the possibility of renewal.

Cucumber Creek is a clear stream flanked to the north by Kiamichi Mountain and to the south by Blue Bouncer Mountain. Lynn Mountain divides Cucumber Creek from the Beech Creek National Scenic Recreation Area, part of the Ouachita National Forest. The creek is named for the Cucumber magnolia, a small tree native to Eastern forests whose range barely extends into Oklahoma in the Ouachitas.

The Wildlife Department and The Nature Conservancy are also partnering with the US Forest Service, which owns approximately 13,000 acres on three sides of the Cucumber Creek WMA. The three organizations will work cooperatively on a variety of habitat projects. Combined, the area will provide about 16,000 acres of walk-in public access.

"The new Cucumber Creek area is a great addition to the public hunting and fishing areas in southeast Oklahoma, and it was a great opportunity to work with The Nature Conservancy and Forest Service to make this happen," Peoples said.

In other business, the Wildlife Commission accepted nearly $90,000 in donations and grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, of which $75,000 is designated for the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP). Under WHIP, landowners enter into 10-year contracts with the Wildlife Department for approved projects to develop, preserve, restore and manage wildlife habitat on private lands. The Department shares part of the cost of habitat improvement work, and in exchange, the landowner agrees to maintain the habitat for a period of 10 years.

Examples of approved projects include, but are not limited to, fencing projects, the creation of small openings in stands of timber and the planting of certain types of trees.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also provided a $12,900 grant to the Department's Oklahoma Archery in Schools program. The program is designed to introduce youth to the sport of archery through school curriculum by equipping educators with the tools and skills necessary to operate an archery program. The two agencies will educate school children, parents and teachers about the outdoors and wildlife conservation at the 2009 state Archery in the Schools tournament to be held at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.

The Commission also recognized Chris Cowlbeck as the 2008 Wildlife Department Landowner of the Year. Cowlbeck owns 115 acres in Carter Co., on which he has made a variety of wildlife habitat improvements including restoring native grasses in Bermuda pastures, restoring oak savannah and woodlands and creating permanent cover for quail and other wildlife. Cowlbeck is responsible for a number of habitat improvement projects both on and off his property and has started the Arbuckle Mountain Area Chapter of Quail Unlimited.

Additionally, the Commission approved the Oklahoma Aquatic Nuisance Species Plan, developed by Wildlife Department fisheries personnel to control nuisance species such as golden alga, hydrilla and invasive species such as zebra mussels. The plan now goes before the governor for approval before being sent to the National Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force for approval and possible funding, which would be used to fight aquatic nuisance species through public education and outreach.

The Commission also recognized Doug Gottschalk, game warden stationed in Noble Co., for 25 years of service to the Wildlife 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.

The next scheduled Commission meeting is set for 9 a.m. Sept. 8 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.