Oklahoma Wildlife License Modernization Act signed by Stitt

Mar. 29—The Oklahoma Wildlife License Modernization Act was signed into law March 26 by Gov. Kevin Stitt, after it previously passed the state House of Representatives and Senate.

The measure streamlines and simplifies hunting and fishing licenses, and will provide funding for the Wildlife Conservation Department primarily by adjusting license costs to regional averages.

The act will become effective July 1, 2024.

More than 20 years have passed since any notable changes were made to the state's fishing and hunting licenses and fee structure. This modernization plan reduces the array of licenses previously required for many activities and adjusts license fees to maintain a stable funding source for future conservation of fish and wildlife in Oklahoma.

"As an avid outdoorsman and a lifetime hunting and fishing license holder, I'm proud to sign the Wildlife License Modernization Act," Stitt said. "We're going to be top 10 in everything and give Oklahoma hunters a streamlined licensing system. This bill gets government out of the way by combining multiple licenses, cutting red tape, and modernizing the process. I'm excited for hunters to take advantage of the new licenses. Oklahomans will now get more bang for their buck. Literally."

The legislation was sponsored by State Sen. David Bullard of Durant, and State Rep. Ty Burns of Watchorn.

"After more than 20 years, we have finally simplified our hunting and fishing licenses, and given residents more for their money," Bullard said. "We also were able to get out-of-state licenses up to the regional average. This is a big step forward for Oklahoma outdoorsman especially residents."

Some highlights in the act: — Consolidation of more than 50 current hunting and fishing licenses into 15. — Defining all "youth" as anyone younger than 18, whether resident or nonresident. — Creation of a single "youth super license" that will take the place of about 15 different types of youth hunting licenses. — Providing resident deer hunters one license for all deer they are allowed to harvest in a season, which previously was only offered to nonresidents. — Increasing license costs for nonresidents hunting deer and waterfowl in Oklahoma. — Adding the black bear hunting license to the privileges granted with the lifetime hunting and lifetime combination licenses.

"Restructuring Oklahoma's cumbersome and outdated licensing structure has been the No. 1 priority the past several years for the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission," said Wade Free, interim director of the Wildlife Conservation Department. "We are grateful for the sponsorship of Senate Bill 941 by Sen. Bullard and Rep. Burns during this legislative session. And we want to express our deepest thanks to the more than 15 conservation-minded partner groups who threw their support behind ODWC and this measure because they understand how crucial it is to the future of Oklahoma's natural resources."

The act adjusts license costs to more realistically reflect the cost of wildlife conservation activities at present. ODWC has struggled to maintain operations during this time with no appreciable increase in license fees and stagnant revenues.

This act also brings Oklahoma's fees more in line to those of other surrounding states. In some cases, the license cost will increase, and in others the cost will decrease. For example, a resident deer archery hunter who wanted to harvest all six deer allowed for last year's season, had to have a $32 annual hunting license and a $20 deer license for each animal taken, at a total cost of $152. Under the new fee structure, that same hunter will now pay a total of $72 — annual hunting license at $36, and full-limit deer archery season license for $36.

By restructuring into fewer licenses and assigning more realistic prices, the act is expected to generate as much as $10 million in additional revenue to fund fish and wildlife conservation in Oklahoma. The funding will enhance fish and wildlife habitat improvements, address infrastructure and deferred maintenance needs, and can be used to access federal Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration funds at a rate of $3 for every state license dollar. The Wildlife Department is a user-funded agency that is solely supported by hunting and fishing license sales and receives no state tax appropriations.

"The license restructuring provides simplification, and is a big boost for conservation in Oklahoma, and it will be a significant improvement for everyone who hunts and fishes in the state," Free said.