Union Volunteers Build 120 Fish Habitats for Oklahoma’s Lake Bixhoma to Benefit Fish and Anglers
Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and Major League Fishing Partner on Habitat Project at REDCREST
by Kate Nation
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) and Major League Fishing (MLF) Fisheries Management Division (FMD), teamed up at REDCREST—MLF’s Bass Pro Tour championship—to build 120 artificial fish habitats. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, MLF co-founder and Bass Fishing Hall of Fame inductee Gary Klein, FMD members and MossBack Fish Habitat deployed a portion of the structures into Lake Bixhoma on March 28 to improve the quality of life for numerous fish species.
“Much of the natural fish habitat once found in many of our reservoirs has been buried by siltation or slowly degraded over time as it decomposes,” said Steven Bardin, fisheries biologist with MLF-FMD. “This habitat loss must be addressed if we plan to continue to support healthy fish populations. That’s why a project like the Ferguson Habitat build and partnerships with Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, MossBack Fish Habitat, the KVD Foundation and Berkley Labs are so important to MLF Fisheries Management division.”
FMD habitat initiatives are science-based and community-driven. Each habitat restoration project targets a fishery near a MLF Bass Pro Tour stage location and utilizes the preferred material types of the local agencies.
Throughout the REDCREST consumer expo, 41 union volunteers representing the Oklahoma AFL-CIO, Transportation Workers Local 514, Sheet Metal Workers Local 270, Roofers Local 143, Electrical Workers Local 584 and National Letter Carriers Local 1358 donated 530 hours (a $28,090 value) to construct the habitats using tools donated by Milwaukee Tool and materials provided by Ferguson and MossBack Fish Habitat with support from the Kevin VanDam Foundation.
“The Oklahoma AFL-CIO has partnered with the USA on multiple projects in Oklahoma, and the communities are always grateful for the work we do. During the Expo, many attendees stopped by the booth to ask questions about the habitat builds and the work the USA does,” said Jimmy C. Curry, Oklahoma AFL-CIO president who organized volunteers for the project. “I’ve personally done work with our unions and different charities for over 30 years, and the projects we have done with the USA have been my most memorable. Seeing the work the USA does has made me a Union Sportsman for life.”
In July 2021, MLF and the USA signed an agreement to seek opportunities for angler recruitment, retention and reactivation utilizing each entity’s staff and vast reservoir of member volunteers to plan and execute local and state fishing events, MLF fishing events and USA conservation projects.
“Through our Work Boots on the Ground conservation program, the USA reaches into local communities to create and improve access and opportunities in the outdoors,” said Forrest Parker, USA director of conservation and communications. “Combining the USA’s workforce of union volunteers with the resources and influence of Major League Fishing through projects like this propel both of our organization’s efforts to pass on the fishing heritage to a whole new level.”
Community engagement is a priority both for MLF’s Habitat Restoration projects and the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program, and REDCREST provided ample opportunity to involve anglers and fans.
“An added benefit of bringing together skilled union volunteers to complete a conservation project in the middle of an event attended by tens of thousands of bass fans, was the educational component,” said Sam Phipps, USA conservation programs manager. “There were hourly demonstrations and printed instructions available, so expo attendees can now build habitat on their own to benefit additional water bodies and fisheries.”