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How the government shutdown affects the Oklahoma outdoors

by Ed Godfrey Published: October 6, 2013

The government shutdown is causing headaches for outdoorsmen.

In addition to campgrounds being closed on areas controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and popular destinations like the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, popular deer hunts also are being canceled.

This weekend's youth deer hunts on the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge were canceled because of the shutdown. Twenty-four youth hunts had been scheduled this weekend and another 39 are scheduled in two weeks.

Other youth deer hunts scheduled in the upcoming weeks at federally controlled wildlife refuges such as the Salt Plains, Sequoyah, Washita, Deep Fork and Little River are in jeopardy.

Bow hunters are not allowed on the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, which was open to buck hunting once again this year.

Micah Holmes, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said the agency has received numerous calls asking about the controlled hunts. Hunters will be notified if their hunts have to be canceled, he said.

The popular archery deer hunts at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, however, are expected to go on as planned, said Joe Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department. The first of six weekend archery hunts are scheduled next weekend in McAlester.

“From what we've been told, everything here is in good shape,” Hemphill said. “Now they could call us Monday and tell us to shut it down.”

Hunters, campers and anglers will feel the pain of a long shutdown. For Oklahoma trout anglers, less rainbow trout will be swimming in the Lower Illinois River in the future if the shutdown continues.

State wildlife officials normally add hatchery-raised rainbow trout to the Lower Illinois River near Gore once per week, but every other week the agency had been getting those trout from a federal fish hatchery.

That will now cease, and trout from the state's commercial provider only will be added to the river every other week until the federal furloughs end.

“There are thousands of fish in the river now,” said Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Wildlife Department. “It's not a reason not to go, but if the federal furlough continues for several weeks, it certainly will impact the trout fishery.”

The shutdown doesn't affect any future fishing in the Lower Mountain Fork River near Broken Bow — the state's other year-round trout fishing area — because almost all of those trout come from a commercial trout producer in Nebraska.

Black bear season slower than last year

In addition to deer archery season opening statewide on Tuesday, it also was the opener for the black bear archery season in McCurtain, Le Flore, Latimer and Pushmataha counties. The season has started slower than past years.

“We're up to 20 bears (taken by hunters) after three days,” Hemphill said Thursday. “We had 20 bears after the first day last year.”

Bow hunters killed 66 black bears during last year's archery season, but it will be difficult to match that number this year.

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by Ed Godfrey
Copy Editor, Outdoors Editor, Rodeo, River Sports Reporter
Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more...
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