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Wildlife Department wants to expand black bear hunting

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation wants to open more areas in southeastern Oklahoma for black bear hunting. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO] 

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation wants to open more areas in southeastern Oklahoma for black bear hunting. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO] 

Black bear hunting would expand to additional counties in southeastern Oklahoma under a proposal by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Since 2009, black bear hunting has been allowed in four southeastern Oklahoma counties: Latimer, Le Flore, Pushmataha and McCurtain.

Now, the Wildlife Department is wanting to open black bear hunting during archery and muzzleloader seasons in all areas south of Interstate 40 and east of U.S. 69.

It is among the agency's regulation change proposals for the 2019-20 hunting season in Oklahoma. Eighty-five black bears were killed by Oklahoma hunters this past season, a record number.

Joe Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, said the black bear population is growing in Oklahoma and can support additional hunting opportunities.

“We have bears in those other counties,” Hemphill said. “It's more land to hunt than squeezing it down into those four counties. We wanted to pick up a whole bunch of Pittsburg County, Atoka County, those places right around there.

“Between McAlester and Daisy and Antlers even, that is some of the most remote stuff in Oklahoma. Other than the Indian Nations (Turnpike) running through it, there is not much access in there. We have done some trapping in those areas, so we know we got bears in those areas.”

Hemphill said there are probably not many bears in Bryan and Choctaw counties, but a hunting boundary between I-40 and U.S. 69 would be easier to enforce than county boundaries.

“County boundaries are very hard to follow,” he said. “We wanted to find a line that was easier to draw that everybody was well aware of.”

Other fish and wildlife regulation changes being proposed include opening raccoon season year-round and removing fish harvest and possession limits on private ponds. All of the rule change proposals can be viewed online at www.wildlifedepartment.com/public-meeting.

Public hearings are scheduled Jan. 3 in Oklahoma City and McAlester on the rule changes. Public comments about the proposals will be accepted by the Wildlife Department through Jan. 4 via online or mailed to the agency.

Letters should be addressed to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Public Comment, P.O. Box 53465, Oklahoma City, OK 73152. Letters must be postmarked by Jan. 4.

Any regulation change must be approved by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the governing body of the Wildlife Department, and then signed by the governor before becoming law.

New sportsmen's group advocates for public lands

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, an organization dedicated to protecting public lands, is launching a chapter in Oklahoma.

Land Tawney, president and chief executive officer of the group, was in Oklahoma City last month and met with more than 100 people who attended an organizational meeting.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers started in 2004 and now has chapters in 38 states and two Canadian provinces.

“We are focused on hunting and fishing, but camping, bird watching, kayaking, mountain biking, any kind of recreation that happens on public land, we want to make sure it is there for everybody,” Tawney said.

Tawney describes Backcountry Hunters & Anglers as an educational-advocacy organization that wants to influence policy decisions on public lands in addition to fish and wildlife habitat.

Public lands are very important to Oklahomans, especially hunters. Oklahoma has 1.3 million acres of land available for public hunting. According to a 2017 survey by the Wildlife Department, 36 percent of Oklahoma hunters use public lands.

Three out of four Oklahomans who responded to the survey also wanted the Wildlife Department to buy more land for public hunting access.

To learn more about the new Oklahoma chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, go to its Facebook page or backcountryhunters.org.

Volunteers needed for Trails Advisory Board

The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department is seeking applicants to fill five volunteer positions for the Oklahoma Trails Advisory Board.

The nine-member board is primarily responsible for advising the state tourism department on grant awards.

Each position represents specific interests. There are board positions open for equestrian, 4-wheel drive, hiking, disabled accessibility and environmental/conservation.

For an application, contact Susan Henry at susan.henry@travel.com.

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 ›

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