• Dennis McCaslin

Oklahoma dominates Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies award ceremony

Oklahoma's efforts in wildlife conservation were recognized on an international scale, as the state amassed fully half of the major awards at a recent conference of western wildlife associations.

Longtime Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commissioner John D. Groendyke of Enid has been honored with the Phillip W. Schneider Lifetime Achievement Award, the most prestigious award given by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies(WAFWA).

Additionally, four employees of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, along with the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, were honored with major WAFWA awards commending their work to conserve fish and wildlife resources. The awards were announced July 16 at WAFWA's annual conference in Eugene, Ore.

"All of these awards are an incredible endorsement for what's going on in Oklahoma for our wildlife and natural resources," said Wildlife Department Director J.D. Strong. "It’s another reminder of how blessed we are to have the best and brightest Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation staff and Commissioners, not to mention conservation partners."

Groendyke was honored for his more than four decades of leadership on the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission. Since his first appointment to the Commission in 1976, Groendyke has demonstrated an incredible commitment to fish and wildlife resources and has participated in nearly every major conservation decision or initiative in Oklahoma during that time.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin reappointed Groendyke to the Commission for a historic fifth term in 2012 and stated how remarkable it is that he has continuously served under seven governors from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

The award Groendyke received is named for Phillip W. Schneider of Oregon, whose legendary commitment to fish and wildlife resources spanned more than 40 years in a career in which he served as director of that state’s game and fish agency, and later as a commissioner and commissioner emeritus of Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Oklahoma Wildlife Department fisheries biologist Jason Schooley was among two people honored with WAFWA’s 2018 Professional of the Year Award for his contributions in managing Oklahoma’s paddlefish resource based on sound scientific data, population modeling and angler input. He’s been widely published, and shares information with anglers around the world via websites. He regularly speaks to angling groups to share his knowledge of paddlefish and general fisheries biology and ecology.

Because of Schooley’s efforts, the Oklahoma Paddlefish Research Center is known to anglers and scientists worldwide as a valuable asset to science-based paddlefish management.

Tony Rodger and Matt Skoog of the Oklahoma Wildlife Department’s Fisheries Division received a Special Achievement Award for their work to implement a new streams management program in Oklahoma. In the past few years, they have drafted a detailed five-year management plan, a comprehensive stream sampling plan, and located and secured permission at more than 100 stream access sites, all to more effectively steward Oklahoma’s natural resources.

Wildlife biologist Jeff Tibbits of the Oklahoma Wildlife Department received a WAFWA 2018 Special Recognition Award. He was honored for his efforts to kick-start and manage the Oklahoma Land Access Program, which provides public access for hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related recreation on private lands.

WAFWA honors the conservation efforts of federal partners with the Federal Conservation Partner of the Year Award.

This year’s recipient was the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma, which was honored for its commitment to natural resource conservation. The facility covers 45,000 acres, encompassing timberland, grasslands, brush land and aquatic habitat and wetlands.

While meeting its military mission, the ammunition plant does an exemplary job of stewarding the natural resources within the facility boundaries. Quality deer management, agricultural leases, invasive species control and pest management, threatened and endangered species, wetlands rehabilitation, and public outreach are the major components of the program.

Since 1922, WAFWA has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 24 western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than 40 percent of North America, including two-thirds of the United States. Drawing on the knowledge of scientists across the West, WAFWA is recognized as the expert source for information and analysis about western wildlife. WAFWA supports sound resource management and building partnerships at all levels to conserve wildlife for the use and benefit of all citizens, now and in the future.