Wildlife Commission opposes bevy of bills
This year's battles over wildlife legislation has begun.
The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the governing body for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, issued a position statement at its Monday meeting opposing more than 20 bills that have been filed this legislative session in the state Senate and House of Representatives.
In its statement, signed by seven of the eight wildlife commissioners, the commission opposes bills that would:
• Legislatively block the Wildlife Department’s constitutional requirement to acquire and provide public hunting and fishing land and water.
• Legislatively changing hunting season dates, harvest limits and means of take without fully contemplating the negative impacts to wildlife populations based on science established by the Wildlife Department’s biologists.
• Legislatively reducing critical revenue for the Wildlife Department by providing special benefits to certain classes of people, particularly nonresident landowners, and by improperly and unfairly taxing public lands owned by the agency.
• Legislatively erode the enforcement of wildlife violations and trespassing on both public and private land.
• Strip the Wildlife Department and the commission of its constitutional powers.
• Deprive ODWC employees of their constitutional right to hunt and fish.
• Create more unregulated conflict on public hunting and fishing lands.
Among legislation introduced this year at the state Capitol are bills that would establish the dates for deer seasons; Create an archery and gun season for antelope; Allow airbow hunting;
Establish special temporary hunting and fishing permits for landowners of 300 acres or more; Make the Wildlife Department pay property taxes for land the agency buys after Nov. 1, 2019;
Allow hunting guides to operate on public hunting land owned or managed by the Wildlife Department; Prohibit game wardens from entering or investigating on private property if certain firearms violations are suspected without landowner permission;
Disallow the commission from buying property without selling the same amount of property within the year; Prohibit Wildlife Department employees from hunting on public land owned or leased by the agency;
Require the commission to create a three-day and five-day special use permit for purchase by certain landowners and others with permission to hunt and fish on their land without other required licenses.
All commissioners voted for the position statement, except Bill Brewster, who abstained. Brewster pointed out at Monday's meeting that many of the bills introduced will likely change over the course of the legislative session.
Some of the bills or similar versions of them have been introduced in the past and failed to pass.
Changes unlikely after waterfowl hunter survey
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation last week released results of its survey of waterfowl hunters about the season split and duck hunting zones.
The results do not reveal a public outcry for change.
Most hunters were indifferent or had no opinion about whether the season should close for two weeks in the middle and then reopen. Some hunters have been advocating for ending the split and starting duck season later in the year.
As of now, duck season closes Nov. 26 in most of the state (zones 1 and 2) and then reopens Dec. 8.
Of those hunters who did offer an opinion, more hunters (24.5 percent) were satisfied with the season split than those who were dissatisfied (16.5 percent).
Also, a large majority of hunters were either neutral or satisfied with having three duck hunting zones (Panhandle, zones 1 and 2), but about one-third suggested combining zones 1 and 2.
Josh Richardson, the Wildlife Department’s migratory bird biologist, said the agency likely would not recommend any regulation changes based on the survey results, at least for the 2019 waterfowl season. The agency may revisit the issue next year, he said.
The survey also showed the primary reason people hunted waterfowl was to spend time in the outdoors. Bagging a limit of ducks was the least important reason given among the options.
The Wildlife Department received 8,627 responses to the survey.
Archery champions crowned
Chandler's High School and Junior High won team titles at Thursday's Archery in the Schools west tier 1 championships held in Oklahoma City on the state fairgrounds.
Northmoor Elementary School of Moore was the team champion in the elementary school division.
Caden Eyestone of Park Road Elementary in Chandler was the elementary boys' champion and Joseph Shaw of Chickasha was the high school boys' champion. Both tied for the top overall score in the tournament. Jerod Aycox of Zaneis School in Wilson was the middle school boys' top scorer.
In the girls' competition, Annie Brannon of Chandler was the top high school shooter, while Haleigh Ryan of Moore West was the junior high girls' champion. Lexi Marzall of Park Road Elementary in Chandler was the elementary girls' champion.