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Bill to legalize hunting guides on public lands advances to House

Hunting outfitters could do business on public land in Oklahoma if Senate Bill 566 passes the House of Representatives and signed into law by the governor. [PHOTO PROVIDED]
Hunting outfitters could do business on public land in Oklahoma if Senate Bill 566 passes the House of Representatives and signed into law by the governor. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

Senate Bill 566, the proposal to allow hunting guides on public land, has been amended since it was first introduced in the Legislature to allow the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to regulate guiding if the bill does become law.

The bill has been passed by the full Senate, 30-11, and by the House Wildlife Committee.

The legislation now awaits a full vote in the state House of Representatives.

Corey Jager, legislative liason for the Wildlife Department, said the agency does not take a position on the bill in its present form.

State wildlife officials did ask for the amendment which would give the Wildlife Department the ability to issue rules and regulate the activity, she said.

Still, it is unpopular with many hunters.

“I have heard from a lot of hunters who don’t like it,” Jager said.

Historically, the public hunting areas in Oklahoma have been off-limits to private individuals who want to profit from guiding.

Hunting outfitters have not been allowed on public lands, even though fishing guides are licensed, because of a state law which prohibits people from engaging in commerce on such lands, Jager said.

State wildlife officials have always interpreted that law to mean hunting guides were taboo on the lands bought by or leased with funds paid by the state's hunters and anglers, she said.

Hunting guides and fishing guides are different animals because of who owns the land and water, Jager said.

“We manage some of the lakes and fisheries but we don’t own that water,” she said. “It’s not bought by hunting and fishing dollars. WMAs (Wildlife Management Areas) are paid mostly by hunting and fishing license sales and federal grant money, so it’s paid for by hunters.”

If SB 566 does become law, Jager said the agency would be able to license and charge a fee for hunting guides.

The agency also expects it could pass rules preventing hunting guides on heavily-used WMAs.

“Lexington probably wouldn’t be a good one (for hunting guides) because it’s already significantly used by hunters,” she said. “It’s probably more likely there that people would run into guides and there would be issues, but we haven’t had extensive conversations about it.”

Jager also pointed out that on wildlife management areas the Wildlife Department leases, the decision to allow hunting guides would be made by the land owners, not the agency.

For example, the Wildlife Department manages several public hunting areas that belong to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

Timber companies own the land in the Three Rivers and Honobia Creek Wildlife Management Areas in southeast Oklahoma.

“They could choose to not allow it (guiding) and we would have to agree to it if we wanted to continue management of their land,” Jager said.

Neighboring Arkansas allows hunting guides on public land and the Wildlife Department could look there for guidance if SB 566 does become law, she said.

“Arkansas is the most closely similar to Oklahoma in terms of public land,” Jager said. “They have a bunch of state public land. Not federal land like the Western states.”

Arkansas charges a fee for hunting guides to operate on public lands, does not allow non-residents to guide on public lands and prohibits all guiding for waterfowl hunting on public property, she said.

“That might be a starting point, to talk to Arkansas and see what works for them and maybe model after their system, but there are a lot of different ways we could do it,” Jager said.

Still, SB 566 must pass the House and be signed by the governor before becoming law.

Other wildlife-related bills still active include:

• House Bill 2324 which would allow out-of-state landowners and their extended family members to buy hunting and fishing combination licenses at same price as resident licenses.

The Wildlife Department claims the bill, if passed, would dramatically reduce the $4.1 million the agency receives annually from nonresident hunting and fishing license sales.

• House Bill 2030 would create a nonresident lifetime combination license for the cost of $7,500.

• House Bill 2029 would establish by statute a 23-day deer gun hunting season on private lands.

• Senate Bill 923 would create a three-day special permit for landowners with 200 acres or more to host veterans and charitable events for hunting and fishing.

• Senate Bill 927 would allow hog hunting at night without first notifying a game warden. Currently, permits are not required for hog hunting at night, but the Wildlife Department must be notified in advance.

Game wardens say poaching would be more difficult to prove without the advance notification.

New Mexico fishing guide to speak in OKC

Tim Urtiaga, head guide and owner of Eagle Nest Fly Shack and Lodge in New Mexico, will speak at Tuesday's meeting of the 89er Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

The meeting will be at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters on 1801 N. Lincoln Boulevard.

Urtiaga will be conducting a fly tying session at 6 p.m. then speak on fishing opportunities near Eagle Nest, New Mexico, at 7.

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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