Oklahoma Sets Seasons, Accepts Conservation Money

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The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission recently voted to secure millions of dollars for conservation projects with OG&E and Tulsa-based NatureWorks as well as set important hunting regulations and dates for new seasons on black bear, antelope, elk and others.

At its April meeting, the Commission approved a memorandum of agreement with OG&E. Through the agreement, OG&E will invest $3.75 million to help offset the impact of the "OU Spirit" wind farm on lesser prairie chickens and other wildlife in northwest Oklahoma.

The prairie of northwest Oklahoma is home to both the state's most abundant wind resources and the lesser prairie chicken, identified as a species of greatest conservation need.

"We are pleased with OG&E's offer to help balance the effects of this wind power project on wildlife habitat," said Greg Duffy, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "The sand shinnery habitat where these wind towers are being built is widely recognized as biologically unique and it is limited to only a few counties in Oklahoma. This is a high priority landscape for us."

Funds will be used by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to protect, enhance and restore sand shinnery habitat through acquisition and conservation agreements. The contributions will be leveraged with additional federal grants and private donations.

"We will continue to be a leader in drawing on Oklahoma's valuable wind resources for the benefit of our customers. But, as we do so, we also will deal responsibly with concerns about the environment and wildlife," said Brian Alford, OG&E director of corporate communications and community relations. "We expect to work closely with the Wildlife Department as we pursue our plans for more wind generation and additional transmission projects."

OG&E announced plans in September 2008 to build the 100-megawatt wind farm near Woodward. The project, already under construction, is part of a renewable energy partnership with the University of Oklahoma. Researchers have found that lesser prairie chickens avoid tall structures, such as wind turbines, because they see the towers as perches for predators such as hawks, eagles and owls.

The agreement also has been endorsed by the State Secretary of Energy, Bobby Wegener, and the State Secretary of Environment, J.D. Strong.

"I appreciate OG&E's willingness to reopen a project that was well underway and not only consider its potential impact on one of our most important prairie species, but also contribute capital to establish a badly needed habitat protection and restoration fund for the lesser prairie chicken," Secretary Strong said. "Today's announcement is the beginning of a great partnership between the public and private sector to deliver a workable plan that provides clean energy in a manner that recognizes the value of Oklahoma's precious wildlife."

The Commission also accepted $79,200 in donations at its meeting from NatureWorks, Inc., a Tulsa-based conservation group that has supported the Department in the past through funds raised at its annual wildlife art show.

The donation consists of a $1,200 stipend for the winning artist of the 2009-10 Oklahoma Duck Stamp design contest; $10,000 to fund one-year subscriptions to Outdoor Oklahoma magazine for every school and public library in the state, among others; $10,000 to help fund the Wildlife Department's Hunters Against Hunger program; $18,000 for wildlife habitat improvements at Spavinaw Wildlife Management Area; $15,000 for developing hunter openings at the Deep Fork Wetland Development Unit of Eufaula WMA; and $25,000 to expand the water supply system at Choteau Wetland Development Unit of the McClellan-Kerr WMA.

NatureWorks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting in wildlife conservation efforts and wildlife education opportunities. The NatureWorks Wildlife Art Show and Sale has generated matching grants to assist a variety of state wildlife conservation projects. According to Vic Bailey, president of NatureWorks, the show is the preeminent wildlife art show in the country.

"But it's all to generate revenue so that we can support worthwhile projects like the ones that we are supporting with this check," Bailey said about the art show.

Also at its April meeting, the Commission approved regulations for an archery and muzzleloader black bear season in Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties in southeast Oklahoma. If pending legislation to establish the bear hunting license is approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor, Oklahoma will become the 29th state to have a bear season. Archery bear season has been set to coincide with deer archery season, opening Oct. 1, 2009, and continuing through the Friday before deer muzzleloader season. If the season harvest quota of 20 bear has not been met by that time, bear muzzleloader season will open to coincide with deer muzzleloader season. The season limit is one bear per hunter, and hunters will be required to report harvested bears. The use of dogs is prohibited, and baiting is prohibited on wildlife management areas. Additionally, the harvest of black bear cubs or female bears with cubs is prohibited, as is the harvest of bears in dens. The Commission approved a proposal to establish a black bear season at its March meeting.

According to Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Department has collected more than 15 years of biological data and information from responding to nuisance bear calls. Additional research projects were conducted by the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit with Oklahoma State University.

"The presence of bears is viewed by wildlife biologists as an indicator of good habitat and wildlife management practices, so it's great to see that wildlife conservation efforts have been this successful in Oklahoma," Peoples said. "We're looking forward to seeing some successful bear hunters this fall."

In addition to bear season regulations, the Commission also approved regulations for a September archery antelope season in the Panhandle. The season will open the day following the close of Oklahoma's controlled antelope hunts and will run 14 consecutive days. This year those dates will be Sept. 14-27, 2009. The season limit will be two antelope, which may include no more than one buck.

"This is an open season, and you do not have to draw out for this opportunity through the Department's controlled hunts program. However, hunters must secure written landowner permission prior to going afield," Peoples said. "We are confident this will provide an opportunity to hunters who otherwise may never get a chance to hunt antelope."

The Commission also set dates for the new northeast elk zone that it approved at its March meeting. The dates will be the same as statewide season dates for deer archery, deer youth gun, muzzleloader deer and deer gun seasons. The combined season limit for the northeast elk zone will be one elk per hunter, regardless of sex and method of taking. The same equipment that is legal for the respective deer season will be legal for harvesting elk in the zone.

The Commission also increased the daily limit of pheasant for the 2009-10 season to three cocks daily, with six in possession after the second day.

Antlerless deer hunting dates for 2009-10 muzzleloader and modern gun seasons also were set by the Commission at its recent meeting. Zone 1 will be open Nov. 21 and Dec. 6, 2009, of the deer gun season and the limit will be one antlerless deer. Zones 2, 7 and 8 will be open Oct. 24 to Nov. 1 (all of muzzleloader) and Nov. 21 to Dec. 6, 2009 (all of gun). The limit will be two antlerless deer during muzzleloader and two antlerless deer during gun season. Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9 will be open to antlerless hunting Oct. 24 – Nov. 1 (all of muzzleloader) and Nov. 21 – Dec. 6, 2009 (all of gun). The limit will be one antlerless deer during muzzleloader season and one antlerless deer during gun season. Zone 10 will be open Oct. 24-26 and Oct. 30 – Nov. 1, 2009 (muzzleloader) and Nov. 21, 28 and Dec. 6, 2009 (gun). The limit will be one antlerless deer during muzzleloader season and one antlerless deer during gun season.

Holiday antlerless deer season in zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 will be Dec. 18-20 and Dec. 25-27, 2009.

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. May 4 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.