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FROM WATER TO WILDLIFE: J.D. Strong brings a background of dealing with water and environmental issues to his new job as state wildlife director

J.D. Strong has been on the job as director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for six months and is used to political battles from his time as executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. [PHOTO BY NATE BILLINGS, THE OKLAHOMAN]  

J.D. Strong has been on the job as director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for six months and is used to political battles from his time as executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. [PHOTO BY NATE BILLINGS, THE OKLAHOMAN]  

Six months ago, J.D. Strong became the director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation after serving as executive director of the state Water Resources Board for six years.

Strong, 45, also served for two years in Gov. Brad Henry's administration as secretary of the environment.

A native of Weatherford, Strong sat down Thursday for a question-and-answer session with The Oklahoman.

Q: What has surprised you the most in your first six months on the job?

A: I thought maybe things might not be quite as political at the Department of Wildlife as they had gotten when we were dealing with water issues, but I have since learned things are mighty political when it comes to wildlife issues just like water issues.

Why did you want this job?

Wildlife has always been my passion, from growing up hunting and fishing to getting my degree in wildlife ecology at Oklahoma State University. This is what I always ultimately wanted to do.

What are your outdoor passions?

Growing up in Custer County, my two bread and butter activities were quail hunting and bass fishing in farm ponds.

Who was your biggest outdoors influence?

Unquestionably my great-grandfather led me to where I am today. He lived until he was 96 or 97. At a young age, he taught me the importance of conservation. He showed me how to hunt and fish. He farmed through the Dust Bowl even though some of his siblings headed west during the great migration to California. He scraped by and learned to live off the land and hunted and fished to put food on the table. He knew what it was like to farm during really hard times and how important it was to conserve natural resources.

What do you think is the most critical issue facing fish and wildlife in the future?

The biggest challenge we are going to face is keeping people engaged in hunting and fishing and outdoor activities. The trend nationwide is that more and more people migrate from the rural areas to the urban areas and as they do that, they get detached from the outdoors.

That's a huge challenge for us. By the same token, we at the Wildlife Department have to adapt to the fact that people of this generation and generations to come are wired differently, and they might not be as interested in traditional hunting and fishing activities.

Most Oklahomans would see the primary role of the Wildlife Department as to provide good hunting and fishing opportunities?

There is no question the primary mission of this agency since 1909 has been largely focused on hunting and fishing. That is our bread and butter. That is the biggest source of our income.

Are you suggesting the Wildlife Department should provide more opportunities such as bird watching and wildlife viewing?

I think we have to be mindful of the fact that there is a growing segment of our population that is interested in wildlife viewing more so than wildlife shooting. I think we need to do what we can to cater to that, but at the same time making sure that we are continuing to meet the needs of our traditional hook and bullet crowd.

The last two years there has been legislation introduced to prevent game wardens who hear gunshots from accessing private property without permission? What is your opinion of that legislation?

Fortunately, we were able to talk to the authors of that legislation and get them to lay those bills aside for this legislative session. I think that is an emotional response to a bad interaction between a landowner and a game warden. Things have calmed down and cooler heads have prevailed.

Why do you think that would be a bad piece of legislation?

The wildlife resources belong to the people of the state even though 95 percent of the land base is privately held. It's fundamentally important for people to understand that we cannot protect the public's wildlife resources without being able to access private land and confront illegal activity when it occurs.

Another hot topic is the feral hog problem in the state. There has been legislation introduced to basically allow for unregulated hog hunting day and night. What is your position on that issue?

There are two feral hog bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, and those authors have been working with us to make some improvements to those pieces of legislation. Even on private land, these (bills) would require landowners to still notify game wardens if they were going to hunt hogs during deer gun season.

The big challenge that is still found in those pieces of legislation is that, at least outside of deer gun season, it is unfettered. Landowners or whoever they want to give permission could hunt hogs day or night without any kind of notification to game wardens or permits or licenses.

What are the current regulations for hog hunting at night?

We have spent a lot of time since last session putting new rules in place to essentially allow much more liberalized hunting of hogs, without any permits or licenses, but at least our rules require folks to get an exemption, which is basically a process for people to notify us so our game wardens can discern who is hunting legally and who is hunting illegally.

It's not because we think people need the government's permission. It's just to enable us to differentiate between who might be spotlighting hogs as to who might be spotlighting deer, or any other wildlife species we are charged to protect. Without some sort of notification at a minimum in place, than hog hunting becomes the excuse for everybody who is out there poaching.”

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›