Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commissioners unanimously approved a slate of regulation additions and changes during their regular meeting Feb. 1 at Quartz Mountain Resort Lodge in Lone Wolf.
The regulations, changes to Title 800 that governs the operations of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, were proposed in December and went through a public comment period in January. Among the most notable changes and additions are:
Legal shooting hours will close at 7 p.m. daily during spring turkey season on several wildlife management areas in western Oklahoma: Altus-Lugert, Beaver River, Beaver River-McFarland Unit, Black Kettle, Cimarron Bluff, Cimarron Hills, Cooper, Ellis County, Fort Supply, Optima, Packsaddle, Rita Blanca and Sandy Sanders. The rule is designed to reduce disruption as turkeys are returning to roosting sites.
The statewide bag limit for hybrid striped bass will be 20 per day with only five greater than 20 inches long allowed.
Harvest of largemouth bass at American Horse Lake will be the same as the statewide bag limits.
Rules for shooting ranges on WMAs are being clarified to address safety concerns. Among these rules are the requirement of eye and ear protection while shooting, shooters 15 and younger must be supervised by an adult, and shooters must possess a valid state hunting license or combination hunting-fishing license unless exempt.
The entire slate of rule changes and additions is pending approval by the State Legislature. They will likely become effective later this fall.
Also, Commissioners created a Feral Hog Subcommittee after viewing a presentation about feral hogs in Oklahoma and surrounding states by Jeff Pennington, central region supervisor in the Wildlife Division.
Feral hogs are now found in nearly every county of Oklahoma and are posing problems for farmers and wildlife, he said. Primary responsibility for feral hogs lies with the Agriculture Department, as these animals are not considered wildlife. Feral hog populations have been increasing in Oklahoma in the past few decades. Pennington said in order to prevent feral hog population growth, 65 percent of the population would need to be eradicated annually. He said research indicates that hunting is ineffective for long-term population reduction. The most efficient forms of control are trapping and aerial gunning, he said.
Bill Hale, assistant chief of law enforcement, outlined Wildlife Department regulations that are in place concerning feral hogs. Oklahoma requires feral hog hunters to possess a state hunting license when hunting on public land, but no license is required for shooting hogs on private land. Also, removing any feral hog alive from a wildlife management area is prohibited.
Wildlife Department Assistant Director Wade Free said several proposals concerning feral hogs are likely to come before the State Legislature this session. Among those, Senate Bill 1451 would designate the Wildlife Department responsible for feral hog issues in Oklahoma.
In other business, the Commission:
Learned about plans in place with the Grand River Dam Authority to develop the Neosho Bottoms Wetlands Restoration Project northwest of Miami, Okla., and approved a budget addition to hire a biologist for the project.
Heard about successful social media efforts by the Department's Information and Education Division, including more than 135,000 combined fans of the Department's various Facebook pages and more than 1 million views on the "Outdoor Oklahoma" Youtube channel.
Watched presentations about Sandy Sanders Wildlife Management Area and Doc Hollis Lake before touring the areas in person.
Authorized Director Richard Hatcher to complete the purchase of 40 acres near Lexington WMA in Cleveland County.
The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate.
The next scheduled Commission meeting will begin at 9 a.m. March 7, 2016, at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Tulsa.