Black bear hunting to be allowed in more southeastern Oklahoma counties this fall
Black bear hunting will be allowed in more counties in southeastern Oklahoma this fall under rules approved Monday by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Since 2009, black bear hunting has been legal in only four southeastern Oklahoma counties: Latimer, Le Flore, Pushmataha and McCurtain.
Now, black bear hunting will be allowed during archery and muzzleloader seasons in all areas south of Interstate 40 and east of U.S. 69.
The bag limit will remain the same, but the legal areas where bears can be hunted will now more than double in size. Hunters will now also be able to pursue bears in all of Haskell and Choctaw counties and portions of Bryan, Atoka, Pittsburg, McIntosh, Muskogee and Sequoyah counties.
Joe Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, said last year when the new regulation was first proposed that the black bear population in Oklahoma was growing and could support more hunting.
“We have bears in those other counties,” Hemphill said. “It's more land to hunt than squeezing it down into those four counties.”
A hunting boundary between I-40 and U.S. 69 would be easier to enforce than county boundaries, he said.
Under new rules, hunters will no longer be able to shoot bears wearing research collars. Archery season for black bears runs from Oct. 1 through Oct. 20. The muzzleloader season is Oct. 26 through Nov. 3.
Only 20 bears total can be taken by hunters during muzzleloader season, although that number has never been reached. There is no limit during the archery season.
Last year, 85 bears were killed by Oklahoma hunters. Bowhunters took 78 during the archery season and seven were killed using muzzleloader rifles.
Anglers must report harvest of alligator gar
Anglers who catch and keep an alligator gar are now required to report the harvest to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation within 24 hours of the catch, under an emergency rule passed by the commission on Monday.
“Accurate and timely reporting is necessary for enforcement of regulations and population assessments,” said Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries of the Wildlife Department.
In Oklahoma, alligator gars are prominent in Lake Texoma and downstream in the Red River. It is considered a species of special concern by the Wildlife Department.
The current Oklahoma record alligator gar was more than 8 feet long and weighed 254 pounds.
Wildlife refuge may allow more hunting opportunities
More hunting opportunities could be offered on the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma.
A new plan being considered would open all refuge waters to waterfowl hunting during Oklahoma’s designated seasons from November through February.
Youth turkey and spring turkey hunts also would be opened through controlled hunts on various parts of the refuge. The incidental take of feral hogs and coyotes by hunters already participating in controlled hunts on the refuge also would be allowed.
The refuge is currently accepting public comments on the plan through July 7. For more information, visit www.fws.gov.
Groups seek federal protection of prairie chickens
Conservation groups last week filed a federal lawsuit in the District of Columbia seeking to have the lesser prairie chicken put on the endangered species list.
Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, first petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the birds in September 2016. The agency promised to decide on that petition by the end of summer of 2017, but failed to do so, the lawsuit states.
The birds live in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. They are severely threatened by climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation caused by oil and gas drilling, cropland conversion, livestock grazing and roads and power lines, the conservation groups allege.