The legislative session is underway and although education, budgets, and medical are once again at the forefront, there are several wildlife related bills on the agenda. In all, more than 50 proposed or carried-over bills await the legislators that have impacts on wildlife.

While most of the bills this year seem to be of a housekeeping measure, tweaking laws here and there, there are a couple of bills that might draw some debate on the house and senate floors.

Also, there are several bills that are being held over from last year’s session, thanks to a change in the state procedures last year. So issues that did not receive a vote last year can be brought back to active status.

HB 2324 is an interesting carry over bill, allowing landowners to purchase annual licenses and tags regardless of where they live. This is similar to some other states that allow land owners to be treated as residents.

HB 2802 makes it easier for landowners to “post” property, allowing them to paint a post with orange paint to indicate that trespassing is prohibited.

HB 3299 is another small wording change that could have big implications on wildlife law. This bill would allow for the taking of furbearing animals if they “present a threat” to livestock or other animals. Currently only predators caught in the act of destroying livestock could be killed. So a mountain lion or bobcat, or other predator could be killed out of season without a license, if they merely presented a threat.

A bill to make it legal to hunt deer with dogs appears once again on the list. I can recall several times that similar bills have been introduced, without success.

There are always one or two bills that make you scratch your head, such as this year a bill to allow the Wildlife Department to issue permits to kill black vultures. I’m sure someone has been having a problem with these big scavengers, but it makes you wonder if there is really enough of a problem to take it to law.

Unfortunately, as with most legislation, the authors of these bills are only doing what the interest groups want. They usually have very little knowledge of biology or law enforcement.

Once a bill is introduced, it is assigned to a committee in the house of origin. From the committee, the bill can be tabled, modified or passed on to the house of origin for a vote. If the house of origin passes the bill, the bill then proceeds to the opposite house, where it is assigned to a committee. The committee can table, modify or pass the bill to the floor for a vote. If the bill passes both houses in its original form, it goes to the Governor for approval or veto.

If one of the houses has modified it, the other house can accept the changes or ask for a conference committee. The conference committee contains members from each house. If the conference committee agrees on how a bill should read, it is sent to both houses for a vote. If passed by both houses it goes to the Governor for action.

Here are a few of the more interesting bills that have been filed:

· HB 1270 – Smith — Permits the Department of Wildlife Conservation to issue annual Landowner Bounty Permits and hunter licenses for feral swine hunting, with related fees deposited into a Feral Swine Bounty Hunter Revolving Fund. (Carried over)

· HB 1854 — Fetgatter, Murdock — Relates to game and fish licenses by permitting the Dept. of Wildlife and the Court to order a defendant to surrender a license or permit directly to an officer, and permits electronic sharing of related materials between the Dept. and the Court. (Carried over)

· HB 2030 — Cornwell, Murdock — Allows nonresidents to purchase lifetime combination hunting and fishing licenses. (Carried Over)

· HB 2265 – Patzkowsky — Permits the Dept. of Wildlife Conservation to require hunters tag killed antelopes, and provides for no yearly limit on antelope tags, with antelope season to be run concurrently with deer season. (Carried Over)

· HB 2324 — McDugle, Murdock, Casey — Creates an annual combination hunting and fishing landowner license. (Carried Over)

· HB 2802 — Cornwell — Permits personal property to be marked with orange paint on posts to indicate that trespassing is prohibited, with legal ramifications for trespassing applying to violators.

· HB 2883 – Tadlock — Exempts legal residents and nonresidents from the annual fishing license requirements when fishing in a private pond if permission is provided by the landowner or tenant.

· HB 3176 — West — Directs each county sheriff to enter into an agreement with the OK Department of Wildlife Conservation to receive donated processed, lawfully harvested wild game meat for the purpose of feeding persons incarcerated in the county jail.

· HB 3187 — Hardin — Requires approval by the Oklahoma Legislature for the Wildlife Conservation Commission to acquire by purchase, lease, gift or devise, waters, real property and personal property and to maintain, operate and dispose of the same.

· HB 3299 – Newton — Allows for the taking of furbearing animals if they present a threat to livestock, or other animals.

· HB 3604 – Kerbs — Creates the Dangerous Wild Animals in Captivity Act which prohibits the breeding and sale of dangerous wild animals except under certain controlled circumstances.

· SB 542 — Silk, Smith D. — Requires the Dept. of Wildlife Conservation to develop a six-hour educational program that must be attended by persons convicted of violating any section of the OK Wildlife Conservation Code. (Carried Over)

· SB 563 — Silk, Roberts S. — Includes airbows as a legal hunting method during any open conventional longbow season. (Carried Over)

· SB 567 — Dahm, Roberts S. — Prohibits game wardens from entering or investigating on private property if certain firearm violations are suspected without landowner permission. (Carried Over)

· SB 1489 – Bergstrom — Relate to unmanned aircraft by making it unlawful to disrupt operations of manned aircraft, engage in fishing or hunting, or knowingly photograph law enforcement personnel by use of an unmanned aircraft or drone.

· SB 1522 – Silk — Permits legal residents from the State Dept. of Veterans Affairs or its successor to purchase a combination hunting and fishing license from the State Wildlife Conservation Director for $375 if they are able to provide proper documentation.

Rack Madness returns Feb. 25

Madness will rule the day Feb. 25 at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. That’s when the wildly popular Rack Madness trophy scoring event will return for its fourth year with plenty of fun for everyone!

Rack Madness is a free scoring event that welcomes people to bring in their Oklahoma-harvested deer or elk antlers, pronghorn horns or black bear skulls. Scoring will happen on a first-come, first-served basis from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Wildlife Department headquarters, 1801 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City. Pre-registration is encouraged.

But the Madness isn’t limited to just the scoring frenzy.

Those who bring an item for scoring will be entered into Grand Prize drawings and be eligible to win a lifetime license provided by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Foundation. G Newscaster and avid sportswoman Lacie Lowry of KWTV News9 is scheduled to draw for the Grand Prizes. The big winner must be present to collect the prize. The license will be transferable if the winner already has a lifetime license.

Everyone can enjoy free buffalo chili and chips starting at 11:30 a.m., while supplies last. Also, several popular food trucks have been invited to attend.

Other attractions for Rack Madness include:

· Souvenir T-shirts on sale.

· Giveaway drawings on the hour.

· Free Outdoor Oklahoma magazine subscription to everyone who pre-registers.

· Educational seminars.

· Operation Game Thief trailer, featuring the Oklahoma Wall of Shame.

· Oklahoma animal mounts display in the Department lobby.

And with all the big-game hunters attending, there will be ample opportunity to swap your best hunting adventure stories and brag about that massive buck that got away!

During last year’s Madness, scorers measured two bear skulls, six pronghorns, seven elk and 287 deer. The Department hopes to eclipse those Madness numbers this year.

Qualifying scores for whitetail and mule deer, elk, pronghorn and black bear will be added to the Cy Curtis Awards Program, Oklahoma’s official record book for trophy harvests and the hunters who took them. Only racks that have undergone the required 60-day drying period will be eligible for official scoring and award recognition. Boone and Crockett forms will be available if requested.

Those wanting items to be scored should pre-register online through the Go Outdoors Oklahoma system. Just log in and click “Register”.

Each person may bring two items for scoring. All antlers must be clean and attached to the skull plate, whether mounted or unmounted. Animal heads that are in any raw condition (deadheads) are not allowed.

For more information and a link to register, go to https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/calendar/rack-madness-2020.

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