Partners of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation play a crucial role in benefiting wildlife, often donating funds that help accomplish a range of conservation initiatives. The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission recently voted to accept nearly $40,000 in such donations from various partners.
Among the donations was $30,000 from the Oklahoma Station Chapter of Safari Club International, an organization dedicated to promoting wildlife conservation and protecting the freedom to hunt. The donation included $20,000 for the Wildlife Department's scholastic shooting sports pilot program and $10,000 for the Department's Operation Game Thief Trailer.
Since 1995, the Wildlife Department has been offering free instruction in basic firearms handling and wing-shooting techniques through its Shotgun Training and Education Program (STEP), exposing thousands of youth and adults to shooting sports through events such as the Oklahoma Wildlife Expo and other activities. Schools across Oklahoma have been so responsive to the Department's other educational opportunities that the Department is now working to introduce STEP to students as part of their classroom curriculum. Students at participating schools will have the opportunity to learn and develop safe firearms handling and shooting skills from trained instructors. The $20,000 donation from the Oklahoma Station will be used to provide grants for participating schools to obtain STEP equipment and training.
"We're absolutely delighted to be able to participate," said Sam Munhollon with the Oklahoma Chapter.
The Chapter's additional donation of $10,000 helps fund the creation of an Operation Game Thief Trailer, a 24-foot display trailer that can travel to events to showcase wildlife law enforcement efforts in Oklahoma and educate visitors on the importance of following the state's game laws.
Wildlife Department Law Enforcement Chief Robert Fleenor said the trailer is part of a successful program for educating the public and expressed gratitude for the Oklahoma Chapter taking the Department "under their wing" to help complete the trailer.
In addition to supporting the STEP and Operation Game Thief programs, the Chapter has helped fund recent black bear research efforts in northeast Oklahoma, the purchase of an airboat used by the Wildlife Department on waterfowl surveys and other wetland management tasks and more. The Chapter also partners with the Wildlife Department each year to hold an annual youth essay contest that provides youth a chance to share their feelings about Oklahoma's outdoors and to win great prizes, including a guided pronghorn antelope hunt in New Mexico. The chapter purchased eight elk for introduction into an existing herd in southeast Oklahoma and is a supporter of the Department's Hunters Against Hunger program, which coordinates the annual distribution of hunter-donated venison to needy, and the Department's Oklahoma Wildlife Expo.
The Commission also accepted $3,500 from the Oklahoma State Game Warden Association and another $3,000 from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for the Wildlife Department Youth Camp, which hosts a group of teen-aged campers for one week each summer and teaches them about conservation, game laws, and careers at the Wildlife Department. The camp offers character-building exercises through training and recreation in areas like shooting sports, wildlife identification, ropes and rappelling, archery, turkey and waterfowl hunting, fishing, swimming, self defense, and wildlife and fisheries management and law enforcement.
Another donation of $1,000 was accepted from the Indian Territory Chapter of Quail Forever for prescribed burns, ridge-top clearing and water impoundments on the Spavinaw Wildlife Management Area.