The philanthropic foundation founded by NBA All-Star Paul George gave $4,200 to the Oklahoma Fishing in the Schools (OKFITS) Program during February’s regular meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Myles Williams of the Paul George Foundation presented the gift that will support travel expenses for fourth-graders in 13 Oklahoma City urban schools that are now participating in the youth fishing program of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, thanks to the foundation.
“As you know, he only has a one-year contract (with the OKC Thunder), so he wanted to come into Oklahoma City and have an impact right away to help the kids,” Williams said of George.
The foundation held a kickoff event in November on the Oklahoma River to announce the project. Dozens of schoolchildren attended and got the chance to wet a line with the pro basketball star who has enjoyed angling since he was a kid himself.
The foundation project has added 1,300 fourth-graders to OKFITS, which started in 2011 and has seen tremendous growth since. Colin Berg, Education Section supervisor with the Wildlife Department, presented an update on OKFITS for the Commission.
Berg said the program has grown from 6,100 students at the start to more than 31,000 presently. More than 350 schools are active in the program statewide. He said it’s easy for schools to get involved because OKFITS provides teacher training, Department-developed curriculum and fishing kits that include rods, reels and lures.
OKFITS is just one part of the Wildlife Department’s suite of educational programs designed to acquaint people with outdoor recreational opportunities available to them in Oklahoma. Programs include Archery in the Schools, Oklahoma Scholastic Shooting Sports Program, Explore Bowfishing, Explore Bowhunting and Hunter Education.
Also, Commissioners considered proposed changes for Title 800, the rules that govern operation of the Wildlife Department. The yearlong rule-changing process culminates with a hearing in January to collect public comments, which the Commissioners take into account before acting. Many of the approved rules were simple housekeeping measures to clarify existing rules or to adopt language to match other parts of Title 800.
Among the rules approved Feb. 5 were to open nine additional counties in central Oklahoma to the fall turkey hunting season; increase the hunting bag limit for squirrels to 25 daily; open spring turkey season on Waurika Lake Corps of Engineers non-licensed land; eliminate the bag limit for raccoon; remove the seven-round restriction on clips and magazines for .22-caliber centerfire rifles; increase shot size allowed for general hunting from BB to No. 4 buckshot; and make fishing regulations now in effect for all Department Fishing Areas applicable to all ponds on Wildlife Management Areas.
Commissioners made permanent the rules currently in place for the new Arbuckle Springs WMA, with a modification: deer archery season will run the same as statewide season but will be closed for any controlled hunts.
Proposals that were withdrawn or not approved included a new Chapter 30 section to define rules for private land access through Department-owned or managed lands, and a proposal to eliminate the annual state waterfowl stamp art contest and production of a state duck stamp.
In other business, Commissioners:
• Received reports on the status of current federal and state legislation proposals that could effect Wildlife Department operations if passed.
• Recognized Charmion Rose, payroll/benefits specialist, for 25 years of service.
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. Monday, March 5, 2018, at the Wildlife Department’s interim headquarters, 2145 NE 36 St. in Oklahoma City.