Commission Approves Rule Changes for Alligator Gar, Black Bear

The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission approved changes affecting harvest reporting of alligator gar and black bear hunting during its regular June meeting Monday at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters in Oklahoma City.

The emergency rules affecting anglers who harvest alligator gar are designed to clarify the existing requirement to report the harvest. The new wording specifies that an angler who harvests an alligator gar must report the harvest within 24 hours to the Wildlife Department using methods described in the annual Fishing Regulations guide.

Barry Bolton, Chief of Fisheries for the Wildlife Department, said the reporting requirement was not well defined in Title 800, the administrative rules that govern hunting, fishing and Department operations.

“Current rules do not define the method of timeline required for reporting the harvest of alligator gar,” Bolton said. “Accurate and timely reporting is necessary for enforcement of regulations and population assessments.”

In Oklahoma, alligator gar are found in Lake Texoma and downstream in the Red River. It is a species of special concern for the Department. Oklahoma is the westernmost part of the species’ known range that includes the lower Mississippi River system, where these primitive Cretaceous carry-overs are the apex predator.

The current Oklahoma record alligator gar was more than 8 feet long and weighed 254 pounds.

Commissioners also authorized expanding the open zone for black bear hunting from four counties to include all or part of 12 counties in southeastern Oklahoma. This fall, black bear hunting will be allowed south of Interstate 40 and east of U.S. 69. The quota will again be 20 bears for muzzleloader season (Oct. 26-Nov. 3), and no quota for archery season (Oct. 1-20).

Also during Monday’s meeting, Commission Chairman John Groendyke and Director J.D. Strong recognized the assistance and cooperation shown by the many conservation partner groups that regularly work with the Wildlife Department to help fulfill its conservation mission. Representatives of partner organizations including Quail Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited and Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association were invited to attend the meeting and a special recognition lunch afterward.

In other business, Commissioners:

Adopted hunting and usage regulations for the new Sans Bois Wildlife Management Area so the area can be open for public use this fall. This 7,602-acre WMA is in southeastern Haskell County.

Approved a proposed budget of $70.15 million for fiscal year 2020, which is down 7.8 percent from last year’s budget.

Heard Director Strong’s regular report on various division activities in the Department, along with summaries of relevant federal and state legislative matters. Strong reported that a successful benefit concert in May featuring Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan had raised more than $144,000 for the new Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Foundation.

Postponed until the July meeting all discussion or action on a Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan.

Recognized Wildlife Technician II Jeff Neal for 30 years of service.

Elected new officers for the coming year: Bruce Mabrey, chairman; Robert Hughes II, vice chairman; Leigh Gaddis, secretary.
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 be 9 a.m. Monday, July 1, 2019, at the Department headquarters, 1801 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City.