Wildlife Department monitoring key bills in Legislature

  • Prairie dogs at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

OKLAHOMA CITY – With a new legislative session comes new bills from the House and Senate addressing matters related to wildlife in Oklahoma, an issue, obviously, of great importance to the state Department of Wildlife Conservation.

At the most recent monthly meeting of the ODWC commissioners, legislative liaison Corey Jager summarized approximately 30 bills including one from State Sen. Casey Murdock, a Felt Republican who is seeking to allow landowners to kill prairie dogs without a permit, except during deer hunting season.

In southwest Oklahoma prairie dogs are quite common, as evidenced by the vast number of the black-tailed variety that have long made Elmer Thomas Park in Lawton their home.

Another agency, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, typically addresses issues related to the invasive rodent that Murdock seeks to cull. As a result, since there are already rules about the hunting of prairie dogs, “the bill is not necessary” and its path through the Legislature will likely not go any further, Jager said.


Another bill of interest to the ODWC that Jager discussed was HB2721 from State Rep. Meloyde Blancett.

The bill, as written, “(p)rohibits the killing, capturing and mutilation of any wildlife protected by Wildlife Conservation Commission and establishes fines for failure to use the edible meat of hunted wildlife.”

And while Southwest Ledger was unable to get a comment from Blancett and Jager had not yet discussed the bill with the Tulsa Democrat, Jager said it likely was a “constituent request.”

A bill of this nature, from an urban legislator, is not common, although Jager said “some urban Reps. hunt and fish.” The commission, she said “like the good intent behind” the bill and that it is not an anti-hunting bill as some have assumed.

Some interesting facts about prairie dogs:

• Prairie dogs are rodents and part of the squirrel family.

• North America is the only place on Earth that prairie dogs are found.

• Hawks, eagles and ferrets are just some of the predators that seek out prairie dogs.

• In the spring, the succulent portions of herbs and grasses, leaves and new shrubs are desired by prairie dogs. In the summer, seeds are sought after. And in the fall and early winter, the rodents prefer stems and roots for a meal.

State Rep. John Talley (R-Stillwater), introduced HR1002, which “supports efforts that highlight the importance of public lands to Oklahomans and recognizes their importance to the state’s economy.” It is now in the Senate as SR 3, which is getting major support from the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma in the form of a Public Lands Resolution.

As the state’s Nature Conservancy has noted: “Outdoor recreation is a major economic driver in Oklahoma, generating an estimated $10.6 billion in consumer spending and supporting more than 97,000 jobs in the state. Additionally, our public lands support our agriculture and timber industries who rely on them for grazing and timber supply. Oklahoma’s timber industry generates more than 19,000 jobs and contributes $3.3 billion in revenue to our great state.”