The annual Oklahoma Wildlife Expo that normally takes place during late September has been postponed this year and will be back in 2014. Instead, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation will play host to a national conference of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) around the same time the Expo normally is held.
"The Wildlife Expo is an enormous undertaking on the part of hundreds of Wildlife Department employees and volunteers," said Rhonda Hurst, Wildlife Expo coordinator for the Wildlife Department. "The manpower, time, money and personnel resources required to host the SEAFWA conference would not allow us to provide the high-quality experience normally enjoyed by Expo guests. So, the Expo will be back in 2014."
The Wildlife Expo is an annual, multiday event featuring hundreds of booths and activities to introduce people to the outdoors by letting them experience it firsthand. It's usually held the last weekend in September at the Lazy E Arena north of Oklahoma City. Expo visitors have the opportunity to participate in shooting sports such as archery and shotgun shooting, float in a kayak, catch a fish in a stocked pond, ride an all-terrain vehicle or mountain bike, attend a hunting dog training seminar or even build a birdhouse to take home with them.
"We want the Wildlife Expo to remain at the top of the list of great outdoor-related events and experiences in Oklahoma, and it will be in 2014," Hurst said.
In the meantime, the SEAFWA conference will be attended by representatives from at least 15 state wildlife agencies across the southeastern United States, where some of the best minds in wildlife and fish management can share ideas, progress, research, future plans and information to help all states better manage fish and wildlife.
"We know there will be some disappointed folks who won't get to attend the Wildlife Expo this year, especially kids," Hurst said. "We're disappointed as well. But one important thing to remember is that about 50,000 students from across the state will, in a way, get to experience the Wildlife Expo all year long by participating in the Wildlife Department's various outdoor education programs offered in about 400 schools this year."
Currently the Department offers schools an outstanding suite of program curriculum including Oklahoma National Archery in the Schools, Fishing in the Schools, Hunter Education, Explore Bowhunting and now a scholastic shooting sports program. Students are learning about outdoor activities through these programs, and Wildlife Department officials hope they will take an interest in conservation as a result of the introduction they receive in the classroom.
"Of course, the concept only works if an adult is willing to take them into the outdoors on their own time, outside of the classroom," Hurst said. "That's where you come in. We're challenging you to carry the spirit of the Wildlife Expo into the fall this year by taking a youth outdoors for a fishing or hunting experience. You'll have fun and you'll create a memory for a youth while helping them see the benefit of conservation and the role that sportsmen play in it."
The next Wildlife Expo is planned for Sept. 27-28, 2014.