Sportsmen could be losing some access on one public hunting area in eastern Oklahoma but are gaining more than 4,000 more acres of public land on another in western Oklahoma.
First the good news. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation closed a land deal Thursday where the agency acquired 4,700 acres to expand the Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area.
The price tag was $4 million and most of it was paid for through the $3.75 million that the Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., gave the department in mitigation for loss of prairie chicken habitat as the result of its new wind farm. Legacy permit funds also were used in the purchase.
“We are going to work on improving it for lesser prairie chicken habitat,” said Alan Peoples, chief of the wildlife division for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “We don’t know if there are leks on it or not. We think there probably are, but we are not for sure. There are prairie chickens in the vicinity.”
Even though the land primarily was bought to try to keep the lesser prairie chickens from disappearing, it also will provide deer, turkey and quail hunting opportunities, Peoples said.
The new area, which adjoins Packsaddle on the east, will not be open for public hunting until the state Wildlife Department can post signs and print maps marking the boundaries.
Now for the bad news, or possible bad news. The Army National Guard is wanting use of the Cherokee Wildlife Management Area near Camp Gruber for more training exercises.
State wildlife officials are currently in discussions with the Army National Guard about future public hunting access on the 31,00-acre wildlife management area in Cherokee County that borders Muskogee County.
“We don’t know what it means yet,” said Richard Hatcher, director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “We have had one meeting with them. Whatever the outcome, there will still be hunting on Cherokee. We just don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
Hatcher said the deed on Cherokee is a “war assets” deed and the Army National Guard is entitled to the land. But most of the training by the Army National Guard would be done in the summer. As a result, Hatcher said he believed there will be very little change in public hunting opportunities on the Cherokee Wildlife Management Area when the discussions with the Army National Guard have ended.
Paul Sund, communications director for Gov. Brad Henry, issued the following statement when asked by The Oklahoman about the issue.
“Gov. Henry is working to broker an agreement that will protect the rights of hunters and fishermen and address the long-term future of Camp Gruber and the needs of the servicemen and women who use the facility for military training. Discussions have been productive, and the governor is hopeful a consensus can be reached.”