Game wardens say they expect to begin issuing citations to folks who aren’t following state law when they visit the Sparrow Hawk Primitive Area northeast of Tahlequah, just off scenic State Highway 10.
Sparrow Hawk has long been a popular area for hikers, mountain-bikers, runners, bird-watchers and other visitors, but Game Warden Brady May says many of those people have been ignoring state law for the past four years.
“A lot of people don’t realize that Sparrow Hawk’s primitive area is owned by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, and is a state public hunting area,” said May.
Those who visit Sparrow Hawk – and a number of other public wildlife areas in Oklahoma – are required to have one of three items: a valid fishing or hunting license, or an Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Passport.
Annual hunting or fishing licenses for Oklahoma residents cost $25, and the Wildlife Conservation Passport is $26.
Being caught in a public wildlife area without one of the three can result in a $206 fine, May said.
A sign posted at Sparrow Hawk outlines the requirements for visiting the wildlife area, but May said most people seem to ignore them.
“We’ve had a sign up there, very visible, for four years, and the general public just ignores it and goes on down the road,” said May. “People are just walking right past the sign. We’ve done our part to educate and inform, but the public has taken advantage of it.”
Last Saturday, May visited Sparrow Hawk and checked the compliance of those who were visiting the area. Five hunters were there, and all were properly licensed.
“In the meantime, there were hikers coming up and down,” said May. “I showed them the sign, and told them they can enter and hike, but they have to be licensed. Some of them showed me their hunting or fishing license, and I told them to have a good day. Two of them, right there on their iPhones, decided they would just go ahead and buy a fishing license as well. But the majority of people did not want to follow the law, and they turned around and went home.”
May said no citations have been written there for violation of the license laws – yet.
While game wardens have tried to offer verbal warnings to visitors at Sparrow Hawk for several years, the officers will soon begin writing citations to those ignoring the rules.
Licensed hunters who use Sparrow Hawk have complained about others who visit without the proper license or passport, May said.
“If hunters have to follow the rules, others do, too,” said May. “The people who are enjoying Sparrow Hawk need to follow state law.”
May said the Oklahoma Legislature introduced the conservation “passport” about five years ago. Details of the regulations can be found in the Oklahoma hunting guide, or online at www.wildlifedepartment.com.
“With a Wildlife Conservation Passport, they are basically licensed to use those public lands just like the hunters or fishermen who have to pay to use those lands,” said May.
While some areas managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife don’t allow non-hunting activities during hunting season, May said Sparrow Hawk is open to non-hunting activities year-round.
“Sparrow Hawk is such a popular, non-hunting-activity area, that it is the only one in Cherokee County that is not closed for non-hunting activities during hunting season,” he said. “Having a passport is just $1 more than a hunting or fishing license. I would spend $20 if I just went to the movies one night. The way I look at it is, if you’re wanting to enjoy one of eastern Oklahoma’s most popular trails, help contribute, just like the hunters and fishermen do who pay for the area and keep it up.”
To learn more about Oklahoma hunting and fishing licenses or the Wildlife Conservation Passport, along with associated prices and exemptions, log on to www.wildlifedepartment.com or pick up a copy of the state’s hunting guide.