Wildlife director lashes out at legislation
The state wildlife director said Friday that a bill headed for a vote in the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives is “a dangerous step to privatizing our wildlife.”
J.D. Strong, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said if passed in its present form, the bill would “benefit some wealthy landowners to the detriment of most of Oklahoma's hunters and fishermen.”
Strong said seven of the eight members of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the governing body for the agency, feel the same way.
Senate Bill 1488 has been referred to as the Landowner Legacy License or Landowner Lifetime License bill.
In its present form, a landowner with 500 to 1,000 acres could pay $30,000 to the Wildlife Department in exchange for 20 deer tags, 10 turkey tags, 20 small game licenses and unlimited fishing licenses for the next 40 years.
A landowner with more than 1,000 acres could pay the agency $45,000 and obtain 40 deer tags, 20 turkey tags, 40 small game hunting licenses, two antelope tags and unlimited fishing licenses for the next 40 years.
Strong said landowners could “give out the licenses to whoever they want” or possibly even sell them.
“It doesn't say they can't (sell the licenses) so we would have to assume they can,” Strong said of the legislation. “So if the law doesn't say that reselling them is prohibited, we can't prohibit it.”
The bill originally contained language that licenses could only be used on the landowners' property, but that now has been removed, Strong said.
“So now with that language dropped out, these landowners could get these free licenses, including unlimited fishing licenses, for all their friends and they can go use them wherever they want, Grand, Eufaula, Texoma,” he said.
The Wildlife Department would lose funding if the bill passes, Strong said. The agency is primarily funded by the sale of state hunting and fishing licenses. It does not receive general tax appropriation from the state.
“The other dangerous thing about it is Oklahoma and every other state manage their fish and wildlife resources following the North American model, and the North American model is that our wildlife resources belong to the people of our state, not to wealthy landowners, not to the barons and the kings of British rule, which many of our ancestors fled from in the first place to create America.
“We are taking sort of a dangerous step to privatizing our wildlife and providing the bulk of the benefits to the landowners themselves and giving them the ability to license hunters and fishermen on their property as opposed to the state game and fish agency.”
The co-authors of the bill are Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Wallace of Wellston and Oklahoma Sen. Chris Kidd of Waurika.
Wallace is co-owner of Wilderness Ridge, a hunting preserve, and Wallahachie LLC, a whitetail deer and cattle breeding operation, according to his biographical informational on the state House of Representatives website.
Strong said he urged lawmakers to delay a vote on the bill because the Wildlife Department has received a grant to conduct a study on its licensing system, but the bill would have to be voted on this week to pass in this legislative session.
It would have to be approved by both the state House of Representatives and state Senate and signed by the governor to become law.
Neither Wallace nor Kidd could be reached for comment.