Monday, April 9, 2012

Oklahoma Wildlife Habitat to Benefit From QF Donation

At its April meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission accepted a donation from the 89er Chapter of Quail Forever to benefit quail habitat in northwest Oklahoma.

The donation includes specialized equipment for conducting prescribed burns to be used on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Beaver River Wildlife Management Area in northwest Oklahoma.

For years, wildlife professionals have promoted the benefits of prescribed fire to wildlife habitat, particularly as it pertains quail. The equipment donation will help improve habitat through prescribed burns that eliminate brushy overgrowth and promote new growth of beneficial native vegetation.

According to Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Wildlife Department, newly acquired portions of Beaver River WMA stand to benefit from prescribed burning because of heavy overgrowth.

"As a matter of fact, its so thick you can't find the fence in a lot of that pasture," Peoples said.

Though prescribed fire is an important tool for wildlife management, Peoples said the risk of burning away too much vegetation is one of the challenges of prescribed burning in northwest Oklahoma. When excessive burning is combined with the lack of rain and high winds common to the region, the area's sandy soils can shift too easily and inhibit further vegetative growth.

Peoples said the Wildlife Department's personnel have the experience to conduct prescribed burns on the WMA effectively and safely and in a way that will benefit wildlife.

Additionally, the portions that will be burned in rotations over the course of four years are uniquely situated with borders formed by highways to the north and east, the Beaver River to the south and additional WMA property to the west.

Current research on Beaver River and Packsaddle WMAs in partnership with Oklahoma State University is focused on causes of quail decline, and the Department is currently using radio technology to track the movements and mortality of 69 quail on Beaver River WMA and 44 quail on Packsaddle WMA. According to Peoples, 11 of the quail being tracked on Beaver River WMA are scaled quail, also known as blue quail. The units worn by the quail aid in tracking the birds and notify researchers when a bird stops moving for an extended time period.

The research taking place on the WMAs will also use weather stations to track localized weather events and their effects on radio-tracked quail and will focus on the effects of grazing and burning techniques. Researchers hope to learn more about the causes of quail mortality and population declines as well as help identify beneficial management techniques.

In other business, the Commission voted to increase the Wildlife Department's fiscal year 2012 budget in the amount of $73,750 for the construction of a personnel residence on the newly acquired Cross Timbers WMA; $34,200 for windmills, solar wells, fence materials and building roof materials on the Beaver River WMA; $14,405 for the removal of eastern red cedars, treatment of salt cedars, burning and planting of cottonwood trees on Packsaddle WMA; and $1,000,000 for the fourth and final acquisition of property comprising the new Cross Timbers WMA.

The Commission heard a presentation from Melinda Sturgess-Streich, assistant director of administration and finance for the Wildlife Department, on the agency's plans to host the 2013 annual conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA). The organization is made up of fish and wildlife agencies across the southeast United Stated responsible for the management and protection of fish and wildlife resources in 15 states, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. Members of the association meet annually to discuss and collaborate on the latest research, management techniques and state of fish and wildlife affairs in the region.

Additionally, the Commission approved several recommended policy changes to the Department's employee handbook.

The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife 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 Senate.

The next scheduled Commission meeting is set for 9 a.m. May 7, at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.