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State wildlife commissioner is on a mission

State wildlife commissioner Jim Barwick of Edmond has a goal to visit every public hunting area in the state managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. He has toured 50 of the 83 wildlife management areas thus far and has a photograph taken at each one. [PHOTO PROVIDED]
State wildlife commissioner Jim Barwick of Edmond has a goal to visit every public hunting area in the state managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. He has toured 50 of the 83 wildlife management areas thus far and has a photograph taken at each one. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

Jim Barwick of Edmond is doing something no other state wildlife commissioner has ever done. He is visiting every public hunting area in the state managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

So far, Barwick has been to 50 of the 83 sites, touring each wildlife management area with Alan Peoples, chief of the wildlife division for the Wildlife Department. He's also meeting with the agency's biologists and technicians for each area.

“I think it is important to know what is out there for our sportsmen, all the opportunities available, and I think it is important to interact directly with the area biologists, managers and regional supervisors,” said Barwick, who joined the eight-member Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission in July 2017 after being appointed by then-Gov. Mary Fallin and confirmed by the state Senate.

“I want to hear directly from those guys in the field what their needs and concerns are in each area.”

The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission is the governing body of the Wildlife Department. Barwick plans to visit every WMA in the state even though only one — the Lexington WMA — is in District 5, the central Oklahoma district he represents.

“I am pretty sure no other commissioner has ever done that,” said Peoples, who is retiring Oct. 31 after 30 years with the Wildlife Department, including 20 years as chief of the wildlife division.

Barwick could just pick up the phone and call each biologist to learn about the WMAs. But he says that is not the same as seeing each one and walking the ground.

“If you have ever gone out to a wildlife management area and seen what all goes into maintaining those places, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “The hard work they (biologists and technicians) have to do, they’re almost farmers is what they are.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is the amount of work it takes to maintain one of those places. You just can’t just get a good grasp of that unless you see it firsthand.”

Barwick also formed a few ideas on how they could be better.

“I would like to see the camping areas a little bit more user-friendly,” he said. “If I go to the public hunting areas in Kansas or South Dakota or someplace like that, I like to stay as close to the public hunting area as possible. If I can stay right on it, I will do that. So, I think we need to do a better job of having camping facilities.

“My daughters hunt, and they like hunting, but they would kind of like to have a bathroom.”

Barwick also has toured the Wildlife Department’s four fish hatcheries, the fisheries’ research lab in Norman and several of the Wildlife Department lakes with Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the agency. Like at the WMAs, Barwick meets and visits with fisheries personnel assigned at each location.

Even though Barwick hunts a lot more than he fishes, Bolton said the commissioner “is becoming very well-educated on what our people do.”

Barwick describes himself as semi-retired and said he realizes his colleagues on the Wildlife Conservation Commission don’t have the time to tour the state like he is doing.

“I do think it is important to make an effort and at least look at the ones in your district, so I am encouraging all the commissioners to do that as they get time,” Barwick said.

As an assistant attorney general, Barwick was the Wildlife Department’s legal counsel for 12 years before becoming a state wildlife commissioner. He helped the agency buy land to create some of the wildlife management areas. He would like to see more public land for hunting in Oklahoma.

“The main complaint of our hunters is they don’t have a place to go,” he said. “I don’t think you can have enough public land.”

Barwick grew up in Akron, Iowa, a town too small for a stoplight on the South Dakota border. It was there he developed a passion for hunting and the outdoors. His father operated a John Deere dealership.

“My dad was a big bird hunter so I did a lot of pheasant hunting growing up,” he said. “I went to the University of South Dakota and I could get my limit of pheasants within 15 minutes of leaving my dorm room.”

Barwick came to Oklahoma in 1975 to attend law school at Oklahoma City University and never left. He graduated from OCU in 1977 and now is one of the policymakers for hunting and fishing in the state. He has just started the third year of an eight-year term on the commission.

Both Peoples and Bolton said Barwick takes his duties as a wildlife commissioner, an unpaid position, very seriously.

“What is refreshing to me is he is interested in the average hunter,” Peoples said. “He wants to make the experience on our WMAs as good as he can make it.”

Said Bolton: “He is very concerned about the guy who depends on public lands to hunt. He is a staunch supporter of land acquisition.”

Barwick is an avid bow hunter and hunted on a few of Oklahoma’s wildlife management areas before becoming a wildlife commissioner. He also often hunts public land in other states and thinks Oklahoma’s wildlife management areas stack up favorably in comparison in how they are maintained and marked with signs.

His tour across Oklahoma has left him impressed with some of the public hunting areas he never visited before, especially the 30,000-acre Sandy Sanders Wildlife Management Area in Greer and Beckham counties in southwestern Oklahoma.

“That is one of the most impressive places in the state for hunting. You think you are out West hunting,” Barwick said. “It’s got some plateaus. It was a pleasant surprise to see something like Sandy Sanders.”

Ducks Unlimited fundraiser set Saturday at Silverleaf

Oklahoma Ducks Unlimited will hold its annual "Frontier Shoot" Saturday at Silverleaf Shotgun Sports in Guthrie.

Registration for the sporting clay event begins at 7 a.m. Cost is $100 per shooter or $475 for a team of five. Cost is $80 for ages 10 to 17 who must be accompanied by an adult.

Lunch will be served after the 100-target tournament. There will be a raffle, silent auction and games.

For more information, call Chancey Watts at 405-278-1943 or Paul Fincher at 405-850-0275.

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 ›