NEW HUNTING GROUND: Wildlife Department leases more land for public hunting
Dove season opens Saturday, kicking off the first major event of the 2018-19 hunting season, and Oklahoma sportsmen and women will have 14,000 more acres of public hunting land than last year at this time.
In the past year, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has leased that many more acres for public hunting through its Oklahoma Land Access Program (OLAP).
The Wildlife Department now has about 53,000 acres enrolled in the program, which started last year through a federal grant. The agency leases land from private landowners for public use, mostly hunting.
Properties that enrolled in OLAP in the past year are located in Harmon, Greer, Jackson, Cotton, Payne, Osage, Sequoyah, Beaver and Woodward counties. Much of the OLAP properties are located in western Oklahoma and should offer dove hunting opportunities.
"In the Panhandle, there is really good dove hunting," said Jeff Tibbits, wildlife biologist, speaking about the OLAP properties. "In north-central Oklahoma, there were quite a few dove up there. They are localized. It depends on when the farmers cut their grain, cold fronts, etc. It just comes down to scouting and finding how the dove are moving."
The Wildlife Department estimates between 5,000 and 10,000 hunters used the OLAP areas during the 2017-18 hunting season, the first season the lease areas were open to hunters. Almost all are walk-in areas only and can be accessed with a state hunting license.
"There is a lot more opportunity this year," Tibbits said. "I think there will be a lot more use."
The Wildlife Department is using money from a $2.62 million federal grant administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service to sign three-year leases with private landowners for recreational use of their land for activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, etc.
The agency is still seeking more land to lease. The price of the leases vary depending on location, Tibbits said. The Wildlife Department normally pays more for land closer to metro areas, he said.
"We've got a pretty good set of properties in northwest Oklahoma, so future efforts are focusing in north-central and central Oklahoma," Tibbits said. "We've got some good properties opening up this year in southwest Oklahoma ... There are a few properties we are working on right now that probably won't be open by Sept. 1, but probably will be by Nov. 1."
In some counties, the Wildlife Department has a waiting list of landowners who want to enroll, but the agency has reached its capacity in those counties, Tibbits said. Future recruiting efforts will focus along the I-35 corridor, he said.
"We have reached our cap in many counties," he said. "We want to spread the program around and not just have it concentrated in one region."
Many of the OLAP areas are in western Oklahoma where land also is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, which came into existence as a response to the Dust Bowl. Farmers receive a rental payment from the federal government to take their land out of cultivation and provide better wildlife habitat.
"That (CRP) land is not being used for farming or cattle, so it (OLAP) is an attractive option to landowners because it doesn't interfere with that land being in CRP," Tibbits said.
The size of the OLAP areas range from 80 to 2,000 acres, but most average between 320 and 640 acres, Tibbits said.
"As the program gets more well-known to landowners, we are getting much more interest around the state," he said.
Hunters can view and print maps of the properties on the Wildlife Department's website at www.wildlifedepartment.com/olap. There is also a link to a mobile app that can be downloaded with maps of the OLAP areas.
"It's definitely the best way to view our properties," Tibbits said.
Dates: Sept. 1-Oct. 31; Dec. 1-Dec. 29
Daily limit: 15 (Any combination of mourning doves, white winged doves and fully dressed Eurasian collared doves. No bag limit on Eurasian collared doves if the head or one fully-feathered wing remains attached to carcass while being transported)
Free hunting days: Sept. 1-2. Oklahoma residents are not required to carry a hunting license or HIP Permit.
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation biologist Jeff Tibbits received the 2018 Special Recognition Award this summer from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for his work with Oklahoma Land Access Program.
Three other ODWC employees and an Oklahoma wildlife commissioner also were recognized by the organization.
Commissioner John D. Groendyke was given the Phillip W. Schneider Lifetime Achievement Award. Groendyke has served on the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission since 1976.
Fisheries biologist Jason Schooley was one of two people given the 2018 Professional of the Year Award for his efforts in managing Oklahoma’s paddlefish population.
Tony Rodger and Matt Skoog of the Wildlife Department's fisheries division received a Special Achievement Award for their work to implement a new streams management program in Oklahoma.
In addition, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant was named the organization's Federal Conservation Partner of the Year for its commitment to natural resource conservation.