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Wildlife and hunting-related rule changes
A number of the approved changes will benefit hunters, such as increasing youth deer hunting opportunities and expanding the state's black bear season to allow hunters more time to hunt. There were also changes to rules pertaining to the use of bait on Department lands and the use of ATVs on Honobia Creek Wildlife Management Area in southeast Oklahoma.
"The Wildlife Department is trying to simplify our hunting regulations and improve opportunities for sportsmen, so there are a number of changes this year that will help us do that," said Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Wildlife Department.
Youth hunters participating in the youth deer gun season will be allowed to harvest two deer, which may include no more than one buck. This allows them the option to harvest two does, whereas in previous years the season limit for the youth deer gun season was one antlered and one antlerless deer.
The Commission also voted to change the black bear archery season to Oct. 1 through the third Sunday in October with no quota. A bear muzzleloader season with a quota of 20 bears also was guaranteed, set to run concurrent with the deer muzzleloader season. Two of the three black bear seasons that have been held in Oklahoma since its inauguration in 2009 have closed within 48 hours due to quotas being met early.
Effective in July, the use of bait will be unlawful on all lands owned or managed by the Wildlife Department. What is considered baiting was clarified as the placing, depositing, exposing, distributing or scattering of shelled, shucked or unshucked corn, wheat or other grain or other feed.
The use of ATVs on Honobia Creek Wildlife Management Area in southeast Oklahoma will be changed to reflect rules requested by the landowners of the area. Full details will be printed in the "2012-13 Oklahoma Hunting Guide," available this summer.
The Commission also clarified responsibilities for enrollees in the Department's Deer Management Assistance Program as well the Department responsibilities for operating the program. Another proposal to increase the minimum required acreage for enrollment in the DMAP program from 1,000 to 2,500 acres was discussed at length but not approved.
Also discussed but not approved was a proposal to change several regulations pertaining to the daily and season bag limits on certain furbearers, such as eliminating daily bag limits on raccoon, gray fox and red fox as well as increasing the season limits on gray fox, red fox and river otter. No changes were made to the furbearer season regulations.
Other wildlife-related rule changes that were approved by the Commission will accomplish the following:
•Expand hunting opportunities on Corps of Engineers land around Keystone Lake by opening a 570-acre area south of the town of Prue (old Walnut Creek #1) to archery hunting and a 135-acre area on the west side of Walnut Creek (old Walnut Creek #3) to archery and shotgun hunting.
•Eliminate requirements to have a valid antelope license when hunting small game or furbearers with a rifle larger than a .22 caliber after September in an area with an antelope season.
•Require antelope and elk annual license holders to complete the "Record of Game" section on their hunting licenses when they harvest an animal.
•Revise regulations on transfer of landowner doe antelope permits so that a landowner may transfer permits no later than 14 days prior to the opening date of each appropriate season.
•Establish permanent rules on camping and non-hunter use of the Cross Timbers WMA. Temporary rules already were in place and were not changed.
•Increase opportunities on Vann's Lake Refuge.
•Increase opportunities on several wildlife management areas across the state, particularly for small game hunters and those who pursue game with hounds on Cherokee Public Hunting Area and Game Management Area, the Copan and Hulah WMAs and on the Rock Creek Unit of Osage WMA.
•Change the spring turkey limit at the Cherokee PHA and GMA to one tom combined.
•Change the fall turkey season at Three Rivers WMA to be the same as statewide season dates with an either-sex bag limit.
•Change the spring turkey season at Three Rivers WMA to be the same as the southeast season dates with a bag limit determined annually and published in the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide."
•Open the deer muzzleloader season at Mountain Park WMA concurrent with statewide season dates.
•Make it unlawful to possess an American alligator.
The Commission also was informed of a change to spring turkey season harvest limits in central and northeast regions of the state that will go into effect for the 2013 spring season. In order to address low reproductive success of wild turkeys in recent years, the harvest limit is being changed from a two-tom limit to a one-tom limit in Osage, Kay, Grant, Pawnee, Creek, Payne, Logan, Canadian, Lincoln, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Hughes, Seminole, Pottawatomie, McClain, Grady, Pontotoc, Garvin, Johnston, Murray, Carter, Love, Washington, Nowata, Craig, Wagoner, Cherokee, Adair, Muskogee, McIntosh, Sequoyah and Haskell counties. The change will not affect the 2012 spring turkey season.
"While we cannot control the weather and nesting success of our state's wild turkeys, this is one measure we can use to help the birds recover from a few years that were not ideal for nesting success," Peoples said. "Wild turkey populations in these regions have declined somewhat, and we want to do what we can to ensure they continue to thrive. Many of our sportsmen feel the same way."
Fishing-related rule changes
Fishing-related proposals affecting anglers that were considered and approved by the Commission will accomplish the following:
•Delete the 13-16-inch slot length limit on large and smallmouth bass at Lake Elmer Thomas to help increase opportunity for anglers to harvest what is currently a surplus of fish.
•Add all the ponds on the Black Kettle National grasslands to the list of lakes with a 14-inch length limit on black bass.
•Require Sooner Lake anglers to immediately release all striped bass under 20 inches in length to help manage the fishery for trophy striper fishing opportunities.
•Set the limit on striped bass at five daily statewide except at Lake Texoma where limits would remain at 10 daily with no more than two measuring greater than 20 inches.
•Allow anglers on Kaw Lake to keep up to 20 striped bass hybrids and/or white bass combined, with no more than five over 20 inches in length.
The Commission also approved a proposal to change the price of the Wildlife Department's Cy Curtis book and include a subscription to Outdoor Oklahoma magazine with every sale of the book.
Additionally, the Commission approved an emergency rule to authorize WMA biologists to approve groups of up to 25 horseback riders on WMAs during periods closed to horseback riding provided the activity doesn't conflict with hunting activity. Written approval from area managers or biologists is required.
As the governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Commission considers and votes on proposed rule changes annually after the proposals are passed through the Department's internal regulatory review committee and then presented to the public for feedback at public hearings and online. Once approved by the Commission, rule changes must pass through the legislative process and be signed by the governor. Complete details of all changes will be outlined in the next "Oklahoma Hunting Guide" and "Oklahoma Fishing Guide."
In other business, the Commission approved a memorandum of agreement with Chermac Energy Corporation to benefit the lesser prairie chicken in northwest Oklahoma. Chermac is considering construction of a high voltage electric transmission line extending from a substation south of Woodward to a location north of Buffalo and has voluntarily agreed to help offset the line's impact to prairie chicken habitat. The agreement calls for a payment of $2.5 million-to be paid upon the start of construction - that will be used to help leverage additional matching funds from private and federal entities for preservation, enhancement and acquisition of lesser prairie chicken habitat. The transmission line, scheduled for construction in 2013-14, will ultimately carry enough energy to serve over 250,000 households and allow for substantial wind energy development in Harper County.
"This agreement shows that the ODWC is working with industries in our state for a balance between sound environmental policies and economic development for our state," said Richard Hatcher, director of the Wildlife Department. "This agreement is important in recognizing the need to protect certain species and their habitat in Oklahoma while allowing energy and jobs to flourish."
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. April 2, at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.
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