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The new Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Foundation officially launched during Monday’s regular meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Foundation’s purpose is to help provide additional support for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and its activities in managing the state’s fish and wildlife resources and habitat.

Wildlife departments in many other states have had similar charitable foundations assisting them for years. This is the first charitable foundation solely dedicated to supporting the state Wildlife Department.

Creating a charitable foundation has been a priority for years, and Commissioners have discussed and studied the issue extensively during previous regular meetings.

The Foundation came into being when Commissioners formally approved a Certificate of Incorporation making it a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit charitable organization pending IRS approval; a set of bylaws; and the Foundation’s initial Board of Directors comprised of three Wildlife Conservation Commissioners and six non-Commissioners.

Former Wildlife Department Director Richard T. Hatcher of Edmond was appointed president of the Board, and former Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Mark Patton of Oklahoma City was appointed vice-president of the Board.

Current Commissioners who are now also Foundation Directors are James V. Barwick of Edmond, John D. Groendyke of Enid and John P. Zelbst of Lawton. The other Foundation Directors are Barbara J. “Jean” Kates of Jones (serving as Secretary/Treasurer of the Board), Ethan D. House of Oklahoma City, James L. Johnson of Oklahoma City, and William W. “Will” Reagan of Edmond.

Among the Board’s first tasks will be raising funds to help kickoff the Foundation.

Because of its status as a tax-exempt, charitable organization, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Foundation will be able to give financial and material gifts to the Wildlife Department. This additional source of support will increase the Department’s ability to promptly address needs and manage natural resources more effectively in many cases than it has in the past with traditional funding resources.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Commissioners learned about the Oklahoma Youth Hunting Program from its president, Darrell Noblitt. Since 2008, this all-volunteer organization has provided hunting experiences to nonhunting youths ages 12-17 and a parent/guardian during the annual Youth Deer Gun Season.

Youths receive pre-hunt training and during-the-hunt guidance from volunteer huntmasters and mentors. All hunts are conducted on private lands with meals, equipment and accommodations provided free.

The program serves about 50 youths each year, but Noblitt said he hopes that number can increase this coming season. He asked Commissioners to help publicize the program. “We could take 250 kids each year if you can help get the word out.”

This year, the program will celebrate taking it’s 500th youth on a hunt with a special event at Chandler on Sunday of Youth Deer Gun Season.

In other business, Commissioners:

  • Learned about the Department’s Wildlife Resource Professionals program and recognized it’s 21 graduates for 2018. WRP is an inter-divisional employee training program lasting 160 hours over two years, which provides a working knowledge of the roles fulfilled by the Wildlife Department in managing the state’s fish and wildlife.
  • Heard updates from Wildlife Department Director J.D. Strong on federal legislative issues of interest to the Department and activities within the Department during the previous month.
  • Recognized recently retired Senior Biologist Jack Waymire as the Wildlife Division’s Biologist of the Year for 2017, and Technician Zeke Hawkes as the Wildlife Division’s Technician of the Year for 2017.
  • Announced Commissioners’ committee assignments for fiscal year 2019.
  • Recognized Lt. Doug Gottschalk, Game Warden Supervisor in District 8, for 35 years of service.

The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate.

The next scheduled Commission meeting will be Sept. 4, 2018.

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