Bill gives ODWC licensing authority but forces delay for lands purchases
By KELLY BOSTIAN
For the CCOF
A bill that sponsors continue to push as an unhappy compromise between legislators and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation passed the House Wednesday on a 52 to 38 vote with 11 members excused. The bill now advances to the Senate.
Bill co-sponsor Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, introduced House Bill 2214 as “a work in progress” over three years with he and Senate co-sponsor Casey Murdock, R-Felt, working to limit the Wildlife Department’s ability to purchase any more lands for hunting, fishing, and outdoors recreation.
The compromise bill helps the Wildlife Department by striking existing licenses and fees that are set in statute and directs the department to create a license structure and fees through its regulatory process, with legislative rules process approval. It also allows the department to use certain funding sources to keep up fencing and to help local counties with roads maintenance near its properties.
McDugle said the idea is to allow wildlife to run licensing “more like a business” and to simplify the licenses and respond to what hunters and anglers need.
The compromise portion of the bill is that it would limit the Wildlife Department from buying any more lands for public use that are not first advertised for six months.
“The idea is to keep them from going in and swooping up land without notice,” McDugle said.
Hunting and fishing organizations throughout the state have uniformly supported the licensing portion of the bil but expressed concern about the arbitrary time limitation on the Wildlife Department’s ability to purchase property, and on individuals’ right to sell.
Questions and debate over the bill on the floor focused on whether the legislature was surrendering responsibility it should hold to the Wildlife Department and whether the department could be trusted not to gouge consumers and whether the lands provision would unfairly force landowners to advertise their lands for a long period before sale.
Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill, argued against the bill alleging such action surrendered the legislature’s oversight duties.
In discussion, Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, commented that the Rules process “is shot.”
“Every agency gets 99 percent of what they want,” he said.
McDugle countered that the Wildlife Department’s desire is to trim down a long list of different licenses set in statute that have become cumbersome for users and that the process would have to be run “like a business.”
“We still have oversight because they are voted on through (House Administrative) Rules,” he said.
He said that with his own experience as a former Wildlife Committee chairman that he believes that hunters and anglers would have no trouble letting the department know when they are wrong.
“These are people that have a strong voice,” he said.
He also said that if the department were to stray off course the legislature could reclaim the authority.
Rep. Ty Burns argued in favor of the legislation saying it’s “not perfect but is a compromise,” he said. The department should not be able to “swoop in” and purchase land without nearby ranchers first knowing it was for sale.
Burns said he is not concerned about the department setting prices that hunters and anglers won’t like.
“I would be the first to put them back in-check if they go rogue, but I don’t see that as an issue,” he said.
Kelly Bostian is a conservation communications professional working with the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to education and outreach on conservation issues facing Oklahomans. To support Kelly’s work please consider making a tax-deductible donation at https://www.oklahomaconservation.org