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Historic agreement signed in Jenks

A historic agreement was signed in Jenks July 7 that will greatly improve services to private landowners who want to improve fish and wildlife habitat on their property.

The cooperative agreement, the first of its kind in the nation, will partner funds from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to provide four full-time wildlife technicians. The employees will be responsible for providing direct technical and management assistance to landowners, as well as coordinating enrollment and oversight of a number of federal Farm Bill programs that provide cost-share funds for private lands habitat improvement.

“We already have a strong private lands habitat improvement program and these additional technicians will dramatically increase the services we provide,” said Alan Peoples, wildlife chief for the ODWC. “That increase in service will be seen in better habitat on the ground, which in turn helps all outdoor enthusiasts by increasing populations of such species as bobwhite quail, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and an array of other species, particularly those associated with grasslands. We see this as a real plus for Oklahoma and are grateful that we were able to pioneer such an agreement.”

Specifically, the agreement calls for the NRCS to obligate $100,000 per year and the Wildlife Department to contribute $100,000 per year. The four wildlife technicians, who will be stationed in Woodward, Lawton, Jenks and Higgins, will provide assistance to private landowners throughout their
respective regions. Wildlife Department biologists currently provide technical assistance for both fisheries and wildlife-related habitat improvement and Peoples added that they would continue to do so.

“This will be additive to what we’re already doing, which means we’ll be able to expand the scope and reach of habitat work on private land,” he said. “That’s important because the state is about 97 percent privately owned and as such, conservation practices by landowners directly affect fish and wildlife populations.”

The cooperative agreement was signed at the regular meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, which oversees the Wildlife Department. The meeting was held at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, reflecting another unique partnership involving the Wildlife Department. The Department’s Tulsa-area offices are housed in connection with the Aquarium’s $15 million facility on the banks of the Arkansas River.

In other business, the Wildlife Conservation Commission accepted a donation of nearly 150 wildlife mounts from Norma Stone of Beggs. Stone donated the mounts on behalf of her late husband, Troy Stone. The taxidermy collection will be housed at the Department’s Jenks Office, at locations in Oklahoma City, and future plans call for many of the waterfowl mounts to be on display at the Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area. Commissioner Bruce Mabrey of Okmulgee presented her with a plaque recognizing and thanking her for the generous donation.

Commissioners also voted to:

  • approve an $866,000 permanent budget add-on that will address infrastructure needs including replacing vehicles and purchasing boats and equipment;

  • approve a resolution establishing hunting regulations for dove, rail, gallinule, woodcock and common snipe. The only significant change from previous seasons will be a 15-bird combination limit for doves that includes all three dove species now found in Oklahoma - mourning doves,
    white-wing doves and Eurasian collared doves. White-wings are becoming more common in the western and southwestern part of the state and Eurasian collared doves, an exotic species, are being seen in a handful of locations across the state;

  • accept a $2,500 donation from Tulsa-based NatureWorks for stream habitat restoration work on the lower Illinois River trout stream below Lake Tenkiller;

  • accept a donation of eight lots in Clinton, Oklahoma, from Daniel and Peggy Hazelrigg. The property will be sold with the funds being used for fish and wildlife conservation in the state; and advertise by sealed bid to lease the Department’s mineral interest in 18 sections of land in Atoka County. The property encompasses 6,620 acres of the Atoka Wildlife Management Area.

Sara Bales, an Oklahoma State University graduate student, presented information on a study she recently completed involving black bears in southeast Oklahoma. The study, funded in part by the Wildlife Department, tracked the movements, habitat use and reproduction of female bears in a
portion of the Ouachita National Forest in LeFlore County. Bales told Commissioners that all of the study’s data indicate a growing bear population in that part of the state, and suggested additional research could help in assessing the population and developing management strategies.

Following a brief executive session, Commissioners voted to direct the Department to proceed with purchase negotiations for real property in Oklahoma and McCurtain counties.

The next meeting is scheduled for August 4 in Oklahoma City at 9 a.m.