A group of people standing on a sandbar in front of a row of colorful kayaks on the Kiamichi River.
Kayaks on the Kiamichi Floating down the Kiamichi River, the first Sustainable River Project in Oklahoma. © Going West Productions

Stories in Oklahoma

A Future for Nature and People

2020 Year in Review

Man rowing a kayak on the Kiamichi River.
Mike Fuhr Oklahoma State Director Mike Fuhr floating down the Kiamichi River. © images by west

From the Director

I hope this letter finds you well. Although I almost always start my letter to you in this same way, the statement this year has special meaning given the circumstances in which we all find ourselves. The pandemic has changed life as we know it, at least for the near term; The Nature Conservancy has been taking the situation quite seriously, undertaking new policies and procedures designed to keep our donors, partners and staff safe. Many of our office staff are working from home and our preserve staff are working under special practices to keep conservation rolling forward.

For me, part of the anxiety I was feeling initially—outside the safety of my family, coworkers and friends—was related to being stuck at home. While it’s been wonderful to spend more time with my family, there was still something amiss. I quickly realized that this missing piece was time spent out in nature. The result was a concerted effort to get out to hike and float. I’ve spent time kayaking the Upper Mountain Fork and Kiamichi Rivers, hiking at the Tallgrass Prairie and J.T. Nickel Preserves, and more time in the woods behind my house.

Screen grab of a Zoom window during a Nature Connects Us webinar.

It seems so many of us are feeling the exact same way judging by the huge surge in visitation we have seen at our preserves. Our trails remain open and nature continues to dazzle us with its amazing beauty. At the same time, we’ve had to adapt to the times which means we are offering more ways to get you, our donors, out in nature, even if it means doing it virtually. I hope you’ve been able to take advantage of these new opportunities.

In this issue of our Impact Report, you’ll see many stories about the exciting work and new partnerships we have undertaken to conserve the lands and waters we all need for our well-being. Conserving nature is as much about people as it is anything else.

Thank you for your support. We simply cannot do it without you.

Partnering for Protection

We unite people and organizations to solve the tough, complex problems we face: Together.

Ensuring Sustainable Watersheds

In April, TNC teamed up with the Chickasaw Nation and Bureau of Indian Affairs to enter into a first-of-its-kind agreement to increase the amount of acres burned in Chickasaw Territory using prescribed fire on TNC properties in the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer recharge zone. Restoring the prescribed fire regime will improve wildlife habitat, enrich livestock grazing conditions and reduce the negative effects of a wildfire event.

Overlooking the Blue River at the Oka' Yanahli Preserve in Oklahoma.
Two men standing in front of a banner with text that reads "Okies For Monarchs."

Planting the Path for Pollinators

To increase pollinator habitat and awareness in rural communities, TNC partnered with the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts to create the Pollinator Challenge, an Okies for Monarchs education and outreach program for county conservation districts. In 2019, districts were challenged to gather 25 or more monarch pledges from a public event such as their local county fair. Seventeen districts participated in the challenge and gathered a total of 401 pledges. Each of these districts received a 1/2 pound of native wildflower seed mix, as well as a $500 grant.

The grant also funded materials for TNC’s Habitat in a Pack outreach program that enabled TNC to gather 516 monarch pledges from rural landowners and distributed 129 pounds of native wildflower seed mix which is enough to create 129,000 square feet of pollinator habitat.

Three men standing across a fence line planning a prescribed fire.

One Million Acres of Good Fire in the Osage

Like rain or sunshine, fire is a natural event that plays an important role in the health of many habitats across Oklahoma. The use of prescribed fire coupled with sustainable grazing practices provides healthy habitats for a myriad of plant and animal species that call the tallgrass prairie home. As of spring 2020, the prescribed burn team at the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve has burned over one million acres on the preserve and neighboring ranchers’ properties in Osage County.

Map of 17 states in the wind-belt where renewable energy can be used and not negatively affect wildlife.
Site Wind RIght Map This tool covers 17 states across the country’s wind belt, where 80 percent of the onshore wind potential is found in the U.S. © TNC

Site Wind Right for Wildlife

In 2016, TNC in Oklahoma teamed up with staff from Texas and Kansas to develop and launch the Site Wind Right map. Fast forward to 2020, and it has now expanded from three to 17 states and covers the country’s wind belt, where 80 percent of the onshore wind potential in the U.S. is found.

Pulling together more than 100 sources of data on wind, energy and wildlife, Site Wind Right reveals that there are 90 million acres in the Central U.S. where wind energy development would have minimal impacts on wildlife.

A prothonotary warbler sitting in a tree.

Restoring Oklahoma’s Forests

The Nature Conservancy was awarded a grant through the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to restore the structural diversity of forests, woodlands and surrounding habitat in south-central Oklahoma at Pontotoc Ridge Preserve. This project will return a consistent, yet adaptive fire regime to the landscape and increase the plant quality and diversity benefitting 19 species of greatest conservation need including the Prothonotary Warbler, a neotropical migratory bird that has been in decline due to the clearing of southern swamp forests.

Inspiring People For Nature

We work to strengthen Oklahoman’s connection to our natural resources and inspire action for conservation.

Plates for Pollinators

More than 12,800 Oklahomans voted for their favorite of six monarch-themed license plate designs in an online contest in September 2019. With 3,383 votes, the vibrant and colorful plate designed by local artist Rick Sinnett of Mustang is the winning artwork selected. 

The initial registration fee for the monarch license plate is $40 and the annual renewal fee is $36.55. A portion of the initial registration fee and annual renewal fee ($20) will benefit TNC’s efforts to raise awareness about monarchs and increase pollinator habitat throughout the state.

Woman holding monarch themed license plate.
Man piping frosting on his invasive species inspired dish.

A Tasty and Educational Competition

The Nature Conservancy hosted the first annual Malicious But Delicious fundraiser and educational event in 2019 at the Woodward Mansion in Tulsa. During the event, attendees indulged in specially-created foods and beverages made by local chefs and brewers and inspired by invasive and native species.

One chef walked away with the most votes to be Oklahoma’s first “Nature Chef.” Chef Albert ‘Nook’ Ducre with Copper Restaurant and Bar at Price Tower in Bartlesville was the winner of the 2019 Malicious But Delicious competition.

Historic Investment in Nature and the Economy

A bi-partisan group of 310 U.S. House lawmakers passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) in July, making it one of the most impactful bills for conservation funding in years. The Act creates jobs and bolsters local economies through conservation and maintenance work on public land. Passage of the bill provides full and permanent funding of $900 million each year for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the amount it is authorized to receive from offshore oil and gas revenues – not tax dollars. 

Additionally, the bill invests $1.9 billion annually for the next five years toward maintenance in national parks and other public lands.

Improving the Bi-Partisan Narrative

Over the last year, TNC’s Climate Specialist, Brad Carl, has conducted research on perceptions of climate change within various sectors in Oklahoma. From churches to utility companies, Brad spoke with 168 individuals through a series of focus groups designed to identify commonalities, challenges and opportunities for strengthening the bipartisan narrative around climate change. The findings from these listening sessions will guide our team in developing a “How to Talk Climate” training program as well as a climate action and policy plan to launch in 2021.

US Rep. Frank Lucas and his staff visit the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.
Man holding a freshwater mussel.

Securing Healthy Rivers

The natural flow of a river resembles a healthy human heartbeat.

Oklahoma’s Future Water Health

The Kiamichi River, located in southeastern Oklahoma, is a unique watershed due to the high diversity of organisms and the Ouachita Mountains ecoregion where it is found. Currently, the river provides drinking water to approximately 20,000 people. The demand, however, will increase by 2030 when the city of Oklahoma City begins utilizing the river via Sardis Lake as a drinking water source.

The Sustainable Rivers Program

In April 2020, the Kiamichi River watershed was accepted into the nationwide Sustainable Rivers Program (SRP), a collaborative effort developed by TNC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find more sustainable ways to manage dams and reservoirs to maximize benefits to people and nature.

This partnership will improve the health and life of the Kiamichi River by assessing alternative dam operations to restore and protect natural areas and wildlife, while maintaining or enhancing other reservoir benefits such as flood control, outdoor recreation, water supply and fish and wildlife.

Engaging in a New Era

This year brought new challenges for in-person togetherness. However, that was not going to stop our team from connecting with the people we love the most: You! We went straight to work digging out gidgets and gadgets to bring nature to you in the safety and comfort of your living room. The one thing you didn’t see, however, was all it took to make it happen. So here’s a peek behind the screens just for you.

Join us for conservation education and many on-air bloopers during our Nature Connects Us webinar series.

Truck bed balancing camera equipment for a Zoom webinar.
Man presents in front of a laptop camera balanced on a box inside of a truck bed canopy.

Achieving Ambitious Goals

Celebrating 30 Years of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

More than a quarter century ago, the dream of so manyto see a significant piece of the iconic tallgrass prairie permanently conserved finally became a reality. In 1989, a fledgling chapter of The Nature Conservancy took a gigantic leap of faith. It was a short, but consequential meeting in an airplane hangar in Oklahoma City where the Oklahoma trustees—through Joe William’s urging and leadership—made the decision to acquire the 29,000 acres that was the historic Barnard Ranch.

The effort took an entire organization and a group of visionary Oklahomans to do what others had been unable to do. Today, the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve—now at 40,000 acres—is renowned for not only land conservation and restoration, but also for the ideas and inspiration it has exported over the decades.

Man holding a sacred feather gives a prayer over the bison herd and land at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.
© Leisa Payne
Sunset at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve Visitor Center.
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