Oklahoma outdoors: Deadline nears to voice concerns on proposed hunting and fishing regulation changes
Sportsmen and women have through Friday to officially voice their opinions on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's proposed hunting and fishing regulations for 2021.
On Thursday, the lone public hearing in the state on the proposals will be held at 7 p.m. in the John D. Groendyke Wildlife Conservation Building, 1801 N Lincoln. Because of COVID-19, attendance will be limited to 50 percent capacity in the auditorium and masks are required.
"This year, especially, we are encouraging people to comment online," said Micah Holmes, assistant chief of information at the Wildlife Department.
Making comments on social media does not count. Anyone wanting to officially voice their opinion must use the public comment portal at www.wildlifedepartment.com. All public comments are forwarded to the commissioners on the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, who vote on the proposals.
"They read them all," Holmes said. "It sounds cliche, but we want to hear what people think."
Unlike past years, there seems to be little controversy about this year's proposed rule changes. The most significant proposal is to reduce the daily limit of rainbow trout that anglers can keep from six to three at all of the state's trout fishing areas. The Lower Mountain Fork River already has a three-trout limit.
State wildlife officials want to decrease the daily limit to help offset the rising costs. The Wildlife Department buys most of the rainbow trout that is stocked in the two year-round streams (Lower Illinois and Lower Mountain Fork) and the six winter areas the agency manages.
The Wildlife Department spends about $641,000 annually on trout, said Ken Cunningham, assistant chief of fisheries for the agency.
Another proposal is to end the catch and release only restrictions for paddlefish on Mondays and Fridays. If approved, the legal daily harvest of one paddlefish per day would be permitted each day of the week.
There are 114 rule change proposals for 2021 and reading through them can be confusing. For example, Holmes said the agency has received a few inquiries from people who thought the Wildlife Department was ending the electronic check system for game.
That is not the case. E-check requirements were listed in the regulations with each species, and state wildlife officials are simply taking out the duplication and listing them only once in the general provisions portion of the hunting and fishing regulations, Holmes said.
Many of the 114 rule change proposals are similar housekeeping measures, such as removing redundant and antiquated language in the regulations.
"We spent a lot of time on them (the current regulations) just to clean up things," Holmes said. "For instance, there were places in the law where it said game rangers and we haven't called them game rangers in many decades. There are a bunch of changes but not really many ones that are going to affect people's hunting and fishing, besides the trout (proposal). The trout is the biggest one."
Several proposals involve hunting season dates and bag limits on specific wildlife managements areas in the state. So, if you have a favorite public place to hunt, you might check to see if there are any proposed regulation changes for it.
The proposed 2021 rules can be viewed at www.wildlifedepartment.com.
ODWC leases more land in the Panhandle for public hunting
The Wildlife Department recently added 5,050 acres for public hunting in Beaver and Texas counties.
In addition to what land the agency owns, the Wildlife Department also leases private properties for public hunting and fishing through its Oklahoma Land Access Program. OLAP began in 2017 with a $2.26 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
There are now more than 85,000 acres in the state enrolled in OLAP for walk-in hunting only. Almost all of the OLAP lands are restricted to shotgun and archery hunting only.
"For bow hunters, small game hunters and bird hunters, there are a lot of opportunities," Holmes said.
A few of the properties also have ponds and access to streams for fishing. Less than 600 acres enrolled in OLAP are restricted to just wildlife watching.
Anyone with a valid Oklahoma hunting and fishing license can access OLAP lands. To learn more, go to wildlifedepartment.com.
Reporter Ed Godfrey looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @EdGodfrey. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.