Wildlife Commission nominee touts private lands experience for Wildlife Department direction

Jess Kane
Bartlesville rancher and lawyer Jess Kane has been nominated for the next opening on the the Wildlife Conservation Commission by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
By Kelly Bostian
For the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation 

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s latest pick for the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission describes himself as a rancher, small town lawyer, occasional quail hunter, and a dad who takes his kids to the farm pond to catch bass.

Jess Kane is nominated to fill the District 1 seat currently held by Robert S. Hughes II, a Bartlesville area rancher who is an avid quail hunter and sportsman. His position expires July 1.

Private lands management is his strength, he said, but when it comes to fishing and public lands issues he might have some homework to do.

If confirmed by the Senate, Kane will serve an eight-year term beginning July 2.

A fifth-generation rancher, Kane grew upon his family’s diversified cow/calf production, stocker and grain farming operation headquartered in Bartlesville. That upbringing also introduced him to quail hunting at a time when “everybody had dogs and hunted quail.”

“I remember dad gave me a blaze orange vest, I was so small the vest came below my knees. I was a shell caddy, but I had me a blaze-orange vest like everybody else,” he said with a chuckle.

Today he is partner with his brother, Richard, in Clover Leaf Cattle Co., LLC, a stocker enterprise with operations on owned and leased land in Washington and Rogers Counties, and Kiowa County in Kansas. He and his wife, Ashley, are partners in a herd based in Tillman County.

He has practiced law with the firm of Robinett, King, Elias, Buhlinger, Brown & Kane with offices in Bartlesville and Pawhuska since 2009 and was named a partner in that firm in 2015. He serves as attorney for the City of Bartlesville, and said other clients run the gamut, he said.

“You have to be a generalist, I’m a small-town lawyer,” he said. “I have filed a small claims case in Osage County on the same day I filed a brief in the 10th Circuit. You have to do it all.”

The unpaid position on the Wildlife Commission, the eight-member administrative and policy-making body over the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation was not on his radar, he said.

The commission oversees land and equipment purchases, the state’s public hunting areas and programs, fish hatcheries, the state’s fishing regulations and appoints the department’s director.

“I fell into it,” he said. “Some people approached and asked if I would be interested and I said, ‘Yeah, who wouldn’t be?”

With an interview with the governor’s office months ago, and a long pause that followed, he ultimately got a call from the governor to accept the appointment. As he said, “it’s not every day you get to talk directly to the governor.”

He said he thinks the Wildlife Commission appointment will be fun overall and that the subject matter that will fall closest to his heart will be quail and upland game management, even though his outings for quail hunting are few these days.

“I love quail hunting and wish I could do more of it but between being busy with lots of things to do and not as many quail out there as there used to be it’s not like it was,” he said. “Still, if I could do any kind of hunting and had a choice that’s what I’d want to do.”

Turkey hunting has not been on his list but he said his grandfather was instrumental in re-introducing turkeys to the Bartlesville area in the 1960s.

“Of course as a result we couldn’t shoot turkeys on our ranch,” he said with a chuckle.

He enjoyed duck hunting with a college roommate and joined Ducks Unlimited in those days, he said.

Private lands management is his forte, but fisheries and public lands issues are areas where he’ll have some studying up to do, he said.

“I will readily admit that (fishing) is my weakness,” he said. “I fish with my kids, my five-year-old son (Bobby) and 8-year-old daughter (Sammy) and our fishing is generally catching bass in farm ponds.”

Kane is active with the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Oklahoma Beef Council and the Federation of State Beef Councils. Conservation practices on private lands is what he knows best, he said.

He said the Wildlife Department’s Oklahoma Lands Access Program, which works with landowners to lease hunting opportunities for public access has been a good way to keep giving hunters places to go. But the future of access for hunting will require habitat management to keep game populations healthy and growing, he said.

“It’s going to be hard for people to have access if the wildlife isn’t there,” he said.

The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the prime example in all of Oklahoma of a great habitat and management, he said.

“The Tallgrass Prairie is very close to my heart as the most unique and productive and beautiful biome you can find,” he said. “There’s nobody that wears cowboy boots that doesn’t think the Tallgrass is the cat’s pajamas… I have a high interest in preserving native Tallgrass.”

Ranchers are the ones who can really make that happen and adding that perspective to the Commission will be important, he said.

“They truly are the best conservationists you will find,” he said. “Some of the best conservation practices you’ll find anywhere on private land is up here in the Tallgrass.”

Kane said he was not aware of legislative measures introduced in recent years that would curb land acquisitions for public use by the Wildlife Department, which require Wildlife Commission approval. He said he would have to consider land acquisitions on a case-by-case basis with the understanding that the commission always should be cautious with funding.

Kane said he was not aware of legislative measures introduced in recent years that would curb land acquisitions for public use by the Wildlife Department, which require Wildlife Commission approval. He said he would have to consider land acquisitions on a case-by-case basis with the understanding that the commission always should be cautious with funding.

“I think private property is a wonderful thing,” he said. “It is literally the foundation of our form of government going all the way back to the Magna Carta.”

Endorsements for Kane attached to the governor’s announcement of his appointment  included his district senator and representative along with the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Poultry Federation, Oklahoma Pork Council, American Farmers and Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union Cooperative, and Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Kenneth Wagner.

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://oklahomaconservation.org

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