Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say continuing to acquire land will help preserve hunting and fishing.
They warn participation will drop precipitously as private landowners offer less access and younger Oklahomans move to cities, so public land is needed to maintain access to and interest in hunting and fishing.
"What we do at the Department of Wildlife helps foster nearly a $1.5 billion economic engine in the state of Oklahoma. That is hunting and fishing and all the jobs that are created from that," said Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Director J.D. Strong.
The wildlife department owns fewer than 346,000 of Oklahoma’s 45 million acres of land — less than 1 percent — organized into wildlife management areas. The state and federal governments both own more land than that, and 95 percent of Oklahoma land is privately owned.
The wildlife department pays market value to willing sellers.
Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Bill Brewster took issue with a poll conducted by the agency saying three-fourths of hunters support the wildlife department acquiring more land.
"The statement was made that polling shows that some people want more public land to hunt. I dare say some of my friends want to go to OU and OSU football games free," Brewster said, also pointing out just 30 percent of hunters use public land each year for hunting.
Groups like the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Farm Bureau and Oklahoma Second Amendment Association are staunchly opposed to the wildlife department acquiring more land.
"Our concern is at some point, at some date, there would not be any private property, and we all know that private property’s the cornerstone of holding a culture together strongly," said OK2A President Don Spencer. "So, I would propose that there be an agreed cap set by the legislature at some point at how much property could be acquired publicly."
The wildlife department leases an additional 1.1 million acres of land.