Last Sunday’s “Collected Wisdom” in the Oklahoman was with the new state wildlife director, Richard Hatcher.
Here’s more “wisdom” from Hatcher on a variety of issues facing Oklahoma sportsmen.
On Oklahoma’s diversity:
“Outside of the marine states, Oklahoma is the most diverse state in the nation and it’s our diversity that keeps us interesting. We got places in the Panhandle with only 10 percent annual rainfall and places in southeast Oklahoma with 50 to 60 percent.
“We got pronghorn antelope and we’ve got alligators. We have mesquite country in the southwest and the Ozarks in the northeast. We’ve got the Tallgrass Prairie and cave communities. It’s important for us to maintain that diversity. That’s our unique stamp in the world.”
On whether the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation needs tax revenue. (The agency is funded almost entirely on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, although other states fund their wildlife departments with state appropriations and tax revenue.)
“I would not seek a general appropriation at this time. Some day we may have to. I wouldn’t be interested in pursuing a state sales tax at this time. There is never a good time to seek a new sales tax but right now is a horrible time. So that’s not something we are looking at in the short run. We look at Arkansas getting $20 million a year off of state sales tax. Missouri’s being doing it for decades. They are more up in the $50 or $60 million range. Could we use that money? You bet. Could we put it to good use? You bet. But it’s not something that we are going to have to have right now to maintain the level of management we’ve got.”
On the legislative task force that is currently studying ways to consolidate the state’s hunting and fishing licenses:
‘It’s a good idea to simplify what it takes to be legal in the field. I think it’s hard to recruit new hunters when they don’t understand the laws or they don’t understand what permits are required. I think some good ideas have come out of that task force. We don’t want a person, when a game warden comes up them, to think ’Oh, I hope I’m legal.’”
On the state’s Wildlife Department’s plans to buy more land with Legacy Permit funds:
“Right now we’ve got more offers to purchase land than we have money to purchase them. So we are trying to prioritize. The Legacy program is a great program but it is still only a finite amount of money. We need to put it to use where it will do the most good to protect sensitive wildlife habitat and provide opportunities for our hunters and fishermen.”
On the fact that anglers outnumber hunters but most Legacy Permit money is being used to benefit hunters:
“There’s more land than there is water available for sale. Cimarron Bluff has a beautiful fishing lake on it with nice bass in it. We are looking for more river access areas. That’s a priority. We are very conscious of it. We are doing what we can to take care or our anglers, too.”
On Oklahoma’s first bear season, which opens Oct. 1 in four southeastern Oklahoma counties:
“It’s going to be a limited opportunity. I don’t expect a whole lot of people will take advantage of it, but once again it highlights the diversity we’ve got in the state. I don’t think there will be a whole lot of bears killed the first day, but I think there will be several. Less than five.”
On the possibility of establishing a license for hunting guides. (Oklahoma fishing guides are now required to buy a license and receive training.)
“I am not going to push for it, but if the opportunity is there I would like to see it. We got to work out a lot more details. We’ve got to work with hunters and outfitters more to determine how would we define that. How would you define it? What constitutes a guide? I take you quail hunting on my property and you buy my lunch, did I just do that for commercial reasons? Am I now a guide? If I let you hunt on my property for a lease price and I tell you where the best place to hunt are, am I now a guide?”
On the state’s water issues.
“As there are more and more demands made on water, we have to make sure that wildlife and fishery needs are kept in that discussion.”
On invasive species in the state that are threatening fisheries:
“Invasive species are going to be a huge problem in the future. Zebra mussels are on us right now. There is a water transfer system out of Lake Texoma right now going into Texas, Lake Levon, a pipeline that they have had to shut off because of zebra mussels are going through that transfer system into a new lake. There is a municipal source that has been shut off because of an invasive species.
“There is a new alga we’ve discovered in the Mountain Fork called Diddymo. We’ve been fighting golden alga. We’ve seen fish kills as the result of it but not large enough to effect the industry.
“We have to learn more about what causes it and how to contain it. The best thing we’ve got going for us is education. We have to convince our boaters and anglers the importance of not moving this from one lake to the next. Washing down their boat before they leave one body of water and going to the next.”
On the biggest threat facing Oklahoma sportsmen:
“In Oklahoma, it’s not the anti’s. The biggest threat to Oklahoma sportsmen is becoming irrelevant. We’ve got to maintain presence of mind among all Oklahomans the importance of sport hunting and fishing to our economy and our quality of life.”