Roth: Bragging rights for conservancy
By Jim Roth | July 11, 2011
From cypress swamps in the far southeast to Black Mesa in the Panhandle, with the Ozark, Ouachita and Wichita mountains in between, Oklahoma has one of the most diverse environments in North America.
The Nature Conservancy is a private 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.
This mission is met through collaboration with landowners, corporations and government agencies. The establishment of nature preserves benefits both people and nature. The conservancy owns more than 75,000 acres in Oklahoma dedicated to conservation.
The Oklahoma chapter was founded in 1986. The state office is in Tulsa, with other offices in Oklahoma City, Pawhuska, Pontotoc, and Tahlequah.
The year 2010 celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, the 10th anniversary of the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve, along with many more success stories.
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest, most complex attempt anywhere to restore a functioning tallgrass prairie ecosystem. It provides an unsurpassed opportunity for ecological research. Current projects include utilizing GPS collars to analyze bison and cattle landscape use, surveys on rare insects and their ecology, plant virus surveys, and development of oil-field remediation techniques.
Two recent land acquisitions increased the preserve size to 39,800 acres of TNC-owned and -leased lands. The first tract was 160 acres located in the northeast part of the preserve. This land is almost entirely unplowed native tallgrass prairie, with the remainder being flood-plain forest and cross timbers at the headwaters of South Pond Creek. The TNC has now purchased the property after 20 years of leasing the grazing rights.
In January of 2011, in the first partnership of its kind, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College turned the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve into the largest living laboratory in the state. The college signed an agreement with The Nature Conservancy to give faculty members and students unprecedented access to the preserve as well as other conservation areas across the state.
The 17,000-acre J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve anchors the conservation work in the Ozarks. The woodlands, savannas, and prairies that once characterized the region are being restored. Over the past decade, this former cattle ranch has been transformed into one of the region’s most impressive natural areas. Fences have been removed, tallgrass prairie has replaced Bermuda grass pastures, dense forest canopies have been opened to the sun, and species-rich savannas have re-emerged. Elk and black bear now move freely among the hills and hollows.
The Oklahoma Nature Conservancy has many more preserves across the state, including the Pontotoc Ridge in the Arbuckle Plains. Oklahoma Chapter’s premier cross timbers property protects headwater springs, tallgrass and mixed-grass prairie, bottomland hardwood forest, and post oak woodlands characteristics of the region before settlement.
Blue River in Pontotoc County emerges from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer to become one of Oklahoma’s most attractive spring-fed streams and home to at least 86 fish species.
Boehler Seeps and Sandhill Preserve is a prime example of a gulf coastal plain sandhill ecosystem that safeguards acid hillside seeps, bluejack oak sandhills, freshwater marshes, river otter, chicken turtle, green tree frog and many other rare forms of wildlife.
Four Canyon Preserve encompasses 4,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie and is home to many grassland birds, including the lesser prairie chicken.
Cucumber Creek in the Ouachita Mountains was created in 1989 to benefit neotropical migrant birds. Located in LeFlore County, Cucumber Creek and the Conservancy are partnering with conservation-minded ranchers to adopt alternative grazing practices and utilizing conservation easements to ensure the preservation of wildlife.
Black Mesa Preserve consists of about 1,600 acres of central shortgrass prairie.
The Keystone Ancient Forest Preserve protects post oaks and red cedars that are hundreds of years old.
Several of the numerous caves located in the limestone hills of the Ozarks are protected by the Oklahoma chapter.
You depend on nature and the Oklahoma Nature Conservancy is here to save it by working with you to make a positive impact in Oklahoma and your own backyard.
For information about the Oklahoma Nature Conservancy, visit www.nature.org/oklahoma.
Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.