At its regular February meeting, held Feb. 5 in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to implement a slate of deer hunting regulation changes. On a 4-3 vote, the Commission also voted to keep the annual combined buck bag limit at three.
The deer proposals, several of which were discussed at length between members of the Commission and the audience, were mainly derived from a year-long planning process involving stakeholders representing numerous special interest groups. Most recently, the proposals had received public input at a series of eight hearings throughout the state, and through a special comment sheet that could be downloaded from the Department website - wildlifedepartment.com. Of the 17 individual proposals, Commission members voted to adopt 13 and reject four. All of the regulation changes were approved for this year^s deer season.
Specifically, the Commission voted to:
• Increase the total annual combined bag limit from five deer to six.
• Keep the total annual combined buck limit at three.
• Establish a Jan. 1-15 antlerless-only archery season statewide.
• Reduce the annual archery bag limit for bucks from three to two (archers will now be allowed four deer per year, no more than two of which can be bucks).
• Allow hunters to use an unfilled buck permit to harvest an antlerless deer on the last day of the muzzleloader and gun seasons.
• Increase from one to two the antlerless bag limit during muzzleloader and gun seasons in designated zones.
• Create an additional antlerless deer gun season in designated management zones anytime between Dec. 15 and Jan. 6, and other times as approved by the Wildlife Commission.
• Prohibit the harvest of antlerless mule deer during the modern gun season.
• Create two levels for properties enrolled in the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP): Level 1 is from 1,000-4,999 acres; and Level 2 is 5,000 acres and more. The cost for Level 1 will be $200, while the Level 2 cost will be $400. Requirements for both levels are the same, and include requiring cooperators to conduct spotlight counts and collect a variety of biological data when checking deer in.
• Allow the Department to issue deer depredation permits based on a history of previous crop damage.
• Make antlerless deer taken under Damage Control Assistance Program permits bonus.
Commissioners voted to reject several proposals, including measures intended to provide expanded hunting opportunities for properties enrolled in the Deer Management Assistance Program and additional antlerless hunting opportunities for private landowners and lessees whereby bonus doe permits would be issued based on acreage owned or leased.
Wildlife Division Chief Alan Peoples said he expects to present specific Department recommendations regarding additional antlerless gun hunts and changes in the antlerless bag limits, by zone, for muzzleloader and gun seasons to the Commission at its regular April meeting. Biologists need time to analyze this past year^s harvest statistics before determining which management zones warrant recommendations for increased bag limits or additional management hunts, he said.
In other business, the Wildlife Commission voted to approve two special auction items, one an elk hunt at Cookson Hills WMA and the other a special fishing package. The elk hunt, which generated $10,100 last year, is a guided three-day hunt anytime in September, October or November. Past auction hunt high bidders have harvested a 7X8 bull and a 6X7 bull elk. The fishing package includes overnight accommodations for two and guided trips for trophy striped bass on the lower Illinois River, Ouachita smallmouth fishing on the upper Mountain Fork River, trophy largemouth bass fishing at McGee Creek Lake and topwater striped bass fishing at Lake Texoma. Both packages will be sold by sealed bid to the highest bidder. All bids must be received by Friday, March 23.
Also at the February meeting, Commissioners voted to grant a conservation easement to J. Duke and Dorothy Logan of Vinita for a portion of their property in Craig County. Under the easement, the Logans agree to deeded property restrictions that prohibit development of the land, while maintaining control of access and other uses of the property.
In another land-related item, Commission members voted to enter into a settlement agreement with the estate of Ellis Cowan and the Great Plains Council Boy Scouts of America that will transfer ownership of 40 acres in Garfield County to the Department.
With little discussion, the Wildlife Commission also gave its approval to advertise for sealed bids to lease the Department^s quarter mineral interest on a 160-acre tract of Department-owned land in Ellis County.
Wildlife Department Executive Director Greg Duffy recognized four Department employees for their tenure with the agency at the February meeting. Gary Smeltzer, game warden supervisor from Creek County, was recognized for his 35 years of service to the Department. Smeltzer earned the Director^s Award in 1971 for his efforts to enroll private land for public hunting. Also recognized for his dedication to state sportsmen was Garland Wright, central region fisheries supervisor, who has been with the agency for 30 years. Wright also received the Director^s Award, which he earned in 1973 for risking his own life while trying to rescue fellow fisheries personnel from drowning below Keystone Dam. Randall Reigh, district five law enforcement chief; and Bob Mullinax, Love County game warden, were each recognized for their 25 years of service to the Department.
Also recognized at the meeting as the 2000 National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Law Enforcement Officer of the Year was Kay County Game Warden Tracy Daniel. Gary Purdy, regional director for the NWTF, awarded Daniel with a plaque of appreciation, adding that he is one of the most well-rounded wardens in the state. Daniel will compete for the title of National Officer of the Year later this month at the NWTF^s annual convention in Columbus, OH.
As an information item, Bill Dinkines, assistant chief of wildlife, told Commission members that the Department plans on holding public hearings in March to discuss increasing turkey hunting opportunities for the spring of 2002 in the southeast management zone, and adjusting the pheasant season in northwest and northcentral Oklahoma to be more like the season in the panhandle. The pheasant changes could be adopted in time for the fall 2001 season.
In his monthly report, Executive Director Duffy reported that a number of wildlife management areas (WMAs) in eastern Oklahoma were damaged by the recent ice storm. Fences, signs and roads were especially affected, but the Department was fortunate in that little structural damage was reported on its WMAs. Duffy also said there are numerous bills beginning the legislative process in the House and Senate, including several provisions that would provide additional funding for the agency and protect hunters^ and anglers^ privileges. Further details will be forthcoming as the session unfolds, Duffy said.
The Commission^s regular March meeting will be held Monday, March 5, at 9 a.m. at the Wildlife Department^s headquarters in Oklahoma City.