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Economic freefall from COVID-19 pandemic will hurt Oklahoma wildlife conservation efforts

Ducks fly up from the water at Drummond Flats in northwest Oklahoma. The wetland restoration west of the town of Drummond was aided by donations from Ducks Unlimited, but this year's fundraising efforts by DU and other wildlife conservation groups have been hampered by COVID-19 and the economic downturn. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]
Ducks fly up from the water at Drummond Flats in northwest Oklahoma. The wetland restoration west of the town of Drummond was aided by donations from Ducks Unlimited, but this year's fundraising efforts by DU and other wildlife conservation groups have been hampered by COVID-19 and the economic downturn. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

The economic shutdown from COVID-19 is hurting fundraising efforts by wildlife conservation organizations in Oklahoma, money that is critical for habitat projects in the state.

What that means for the future is unknown, but the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation relies heavily on financial donations from organizations like Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants and Quail Forever, Trout Unlimited and more.

Almost every dollar the Wildlife Department gets from wildlife conservation organizations can be matched three times with federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration revenues, money raised by federal taxes on hunting and fishing merchandise then disbursed to state wildlife agencies.

"We couldn't do what we do as a Wildlife Department without our friends and partners in these nonprofit groups," said Micah Holmes, spokesman for the state Wildlife Department. "They are critical."

The biggest fundraisers for the conservation organizations are spring banquets, many which had to be canceled or postponed when the state shut down because of COVID-19. Some are having online auctions and raffles, but those only raise about 25% of the funds they normally would through banquets, said Richard Godfrey, state chairman of Ducks Unlimited.

In Oklahoma, Ducks Unlimited had to postpone 13 banquets and cancel one shotgun shooting fundraiser, Godfrey said. Nationally, DU had to cancel 2,000 events and the loss of fundraising was estimated to be $21 million, he said.

DU hopes to reschedule fundraising banquets in the fall, but with the economic downturn because of COVID-19, no one is sure how much money can be raised in the near future, Godfrey said.

"In Oklahoma, we have been hard hit with a double whammy with the oil collapse," Godfrey said.

DU is hopeful that people will financially support the organization like in the past, but "we don't know how people are going to react," Godfrey said. "Nobody knows what it is going to look like as we come out of this."

In Oklahoma, DU chapters raise about $800,000 annually and over the last 20 years have contributed about $20 million to Oklahoma projects, he said.

"The most current one we have put a lot of time in the last five years would be Drummond Flats by Enid," Godfrey said.

DU has helped the Wildlife Department buy land and restore the natural wetlands area as a public hunting destination.

Laura McIver, the Oklahoma representative for Pheasants and Quail Forever, said nationally the organization is projecting a decline of 20,000 members because of the financial hardships imposed by COVID-19. Memberships, at a cost of $35 per person, and banquets are the two primary ways the organization raises money.

McIver anticipates there will be less conservation dollars for wildlife habitat in the short term.

"I would venture to say that we are looking at two to three years here to rebound, due to the implosion of our oil and gas industry and the additional stresses on our agricultural community," McIver said. "Fortunately, we are blessed here in Oklahoma with passionate volunteers and supporters who will do all they can to keep projects and initiatives in their area moving forward with ingenuity, careful planning and enthusiasm."

The National Wild Turkey Federation canceled or postponed 14 fundraising banquets in Oklahoma. Last year, NWTF budgeted $172,000 for Oklahoma projects, said T.J. Goodpasture, mid-south director of development for the NTWF.

"After matching funding, that is over a million dollars of conservation work that was done or supposed to be done this year," he said.

NWTF also has been fundraising online, but the money raised is significantly less than banquets, Goodpasture said.

NWTF also is expecting less financial contributions in the near future, but 80% of funds raised by nonprofit organizations comes from 20% of its donors, he said.

"That 20% of folks is still pretty committed to the causes," he said. "Now, do they give right now what they would have given? Probably not. But they are still going to support us. People want to give."

Champion bird dog Oklahoma breeder dies

Lee West, a federal judge in Oklahoma City for almost 40 years and champion bird dog breeder, died April 24 in Muskogee at the age of 90.

Four of West's bird dogs from his Barshoe kennel are in the Field Trial Hall of Fame. A large painting of Barshoe Curmudgeon, West's first national champion, hung in his chambers in the Oklahoma City federal courthouse. West's dogs won the American Field Quail Futurity four times and claimed three national championships.

"It's almost silly and maudlin, but they get to be part of your family," West once said of his bird dogs. "You really feel responsible to a good dog. If they have good potential, you don't want to be the one that messes it up."

Walleye rodeo postponed

The oldest fishing tournament in the state, the Walleye Rodeo at Canton Lake, has been postponed until later this summer, it was announced Saturday.

The 53rd annual Walleye Rodeo was scheduled for May 14-17. Organizers hope to hold the event in a couple of months.

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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