A HELPING HAND: Conservation groups in Oklahoma play a crucial role in keeping outdoors traditions alive
Donovan Clary loves the Blue River.
The insurance agent from Purcell makes a weekly trip during the winter trout season to the spring-fed river in southern Oklahoma.
“It's just a rare jewel for us to be able to have in Oklahoma,” said Clary, who has been fishing the Blue for 26 years.
“My kids actually live in downstate New York and they are down here for spring break in two weeks, and that is one of the high points of their trip here, going to the Blue River. We will be down there at least one weekend fly fishing if not more. They expect to go every time.”
Even during the summer when trout is not stocked in the Blue River, Clary makes a trip at least once a month to fish for native smallmouth bass in the stream.
A member of the Blue River Fly Fishers, Clary has fished many streams in southwest Missouri and northern Arkansas for smallmouth but believes the fishing in the Blue is as good or better.
Keeping the fishing alive in the Blue
Earlier this month, Clary won the individual division of the Blue River Fly Classic, a tournament held to raise money for the Blue River. Clary and his partner, Steve Richards of Purcell, also won the team division.
The fly fishermen in the Blue River Fly Classic could only use one fly during the tournament, and they all had to fish the same one which was not revealed by tournament organizers until the day of the event. This year's mystery pattern was a size 16 bead head, gold ribbed, olive hare's ear.
The annual fly fishing tournament sponsored by the Blue River Fly Fishers raised $6,600 for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which will be matched times three with federal funds.
"In recent years, the Blue River Fly Fishers have been very generous through donations to the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area," said Matt Mauck, south-central fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
"These funds have helped secure additional trout stockings for the river and helped purchase equipment used in area maintenance."
Preserving Oklahoma's outdoors
Conservation organizations like the Blue River Fly Fishers are vital to the Wildlife Department and the sportsmen and women in Oklahoma. Without their fundraising efforts, Oklahoma would not have the same kind of hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities that exist today in the state.
“Every year, well over a million dollars is donated or granted to the ODWC in the forms of funds or materials and services,” said Michael Bergin of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“Many of these conservation groups donate thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars each year."
Wildlife conservation organizations in Oklahoma help pay for specific projects of their interest, such as funding the purchase of equipment for wildlife management areas or helping pay for part of a prescribed burning project to regenerate habitat.
In other cases, financial donations may fund a research effort, fish stocking, youth education or equipment for state game wardens.
Whether it be the National Wild Turkey Federation, Trout Unlimited, Quail Forever, Safari Club, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Striped Bass Association, Ducks Unlimited or any of the dozens-more groups, wildlife conservation is funded by sportsmen and women.
Not just about the turkeys
Turkey season is fast approaching in Oklahoma and no wildlife conservation organization has given more money to the Wildlife Department over the last three years than the National Wild Turkey Federation.
NWTF's financial donations of $164,388 to the agency since 2014 are really much larger since the Wildlife Department is able to match it with federal funds.
“Take any given conservation group, if they donate $2,500 for a project, we can often leverage that with federal money at a ratio of 25 percent to 75 percent, resulting in a $10,000 project,” said Alan Peoples, chief of the wildlife division for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “That allows us to do much more conservation on the ground.”
T.J. Goodpasture, regional director for NWTF in western Oklahoma, points out that the work of NWTF chapters in Oklahoma not only benefits turkey hunters, but all hunters and nature lovers in Oklahoma, whether their passion is deer hunting or bird watching.
“We have members who aren't even turkey hunters,” Goodpasture said. “I have officers on committees who have never killed a turkey.”
But they have joined the NWTF because they care about all wildlife and the outdoors, he said. The habitat work funded by NWTF not only is helpful to wild turkeys, but to all wildlife, he said.
“Deer hunters benefit as much as anybody from the things we are doing," Goodpasture said. "We have a spot for anyone. Without our volunteers, we are dead in the water. This stuff cannot happen without hardworking volunteers.”
So if you care about hunting, fishing or the outdoors, the message is to get involved. Join your local chapter of NWTF, Quail Forever, Trout Unlimited, or the organization that best fits your interests.
Not only you, but your children and your grandchildren will benefit from it.