Wildlife Commissioners View Lexington WMA Renovations

Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commissioners met Monday in Oklahoma City for their regular November meeting and then took a tour of renovation projects at Lexington Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

Commission Chairman John Groendyke along with Commissioners Leigh Gaddis and Jim Barwick were among those at the “first shot” ceremony signaling the grand opening of a revamped Lexington WMA shooting range. Commissioners also visited Dahlgren Lake at Lexington, where the Wildlife Department’s Fisheries Division has been renovating the area to create more fishing and boating access for the public.

While some finishing work must still be completed, the Lexington shooting range is open to the public. A renovated shooting range also has opened at Cherokee WMA near Lake Tenkiller in eastern Oklahoma.

In 2015, the Department committed to update shooting ranges and increase support of shooting activities, whether conducted by hunters or not, because all people who participate in the shooting sports are part of the Department’s core constituency. “A big portion of our funding from the Wildlife Restoration grant program comes from firearms purchases and ammunition sales,” said Nels Rodefeld, chief of Information and Education for the Wildlife Department.

In addition, the National Rifle Association Foundation supported the project with a $6,000 donation.

Lance Meek, coordinator of shooting range renovations for the Wildlife Department, said the current plan is to renovate at least 11 shooting ranges on Department lands through 2021. Renovations will continue with Beaver and Pushmataha WMAs in 2018; James Collins and Okmulgee WMAs in 2019; Fort Gibson and Canton WMAs in 2020; and Texoma-Washita Arm, Hickory Creek and Optima WMAs in 2021.

During their visit to Dahlgren Lake, Commissioners learned that most lake renovation projects have been completed and now all that is needed is for rain and runoff to refill the lake. Commissioners were able to witness the first stocking of sunfish in the slowly filling lake.

Kurt Kuklinski, research supervisor at the Oklahoma Fishery Research Lab in Norman, pointed out the new boat ramp, expanded Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant parking area and courtesy dock, revamped and new fishing jetties, and bank slope repairs. Fish habitat structures are visible through the lake bed, and plans are in place to build new access paths around the lake for bank anglers.

Dahlgren Lake attracts more anglers than any other Department fishing lake because of its proximity to the Oklahoma City metro area. Several other Department fishing lakes, including American Horse and Lake Vincent, have been renovated since Fisheries Chief Barry Bolton challenged his staff to make ODWC’s fishing lakes the finest fishing areas in Oklahoma.

Kuklinski said Dahlgren wouldn’t become a great multi-species fishing lake until 2019 at the earliest.

Both of these renovations and similar projects are funded with grants from the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. Anglers, hunters and outdoors enthusiasts pay an excise tax when they buy certain outdoors-related items. That tax revenue is distributed back to individual states. So each time an Oklahoman buys a license or outdoors-related merchandise, he or she is supporting important conservation efforts such as installing boat ramps or increasing hunting access.

Also, Commissioners accepted donations from several Quail Forever chapters. Laura McIver, Oklahoma and Texas regional representative for Pheasants/Quail Forever, presented a $2,500 check to buy native seed for Cross Timbers WMA, and a $1,137 check toward mowing equipment for Three Rivers WMA.

In other business, Commissioners:

Recognized six employees who each have logged 25 years of service to the Wildlife Department. They are Game Warden Jay Harvey, Game Warden Curtis Latham, Fisheries Assistant Hatchery Manager Bill Newman, Wildlife Regional Supervisor Jeff Pennington, Game Warden Dane Polk and Wildlife Senior Biologist Eddie Wilson.

Authorized Director J.D. Strong to negotiate the possible purchase of property in Atoka County.
Heard a summary of the 2017 annual financial audit, in which no exceptions were noted in the Department’s financial practices.
Received routine updates about federal, congressional and state legislative issues that might potentially affect the Department.
Agreed on a schedule of meeting dates for 2018.

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, Dec. 4, 2017, at the Wildlife Department’s interim headquarters, 2145 NE 36 St. in Oklahoma City.