Aerial view of streams that feed the Blue River.
Oka' East More than 4,800 linear feet of stream enhancement, 5,300 linear feet of stream restoration, and nearly 12 acres of wetlands restoration were part of the project. © Going West Productions

Stories in Oklahoma

A Future for People and Nature

See the conservation successes from the past year in the 2021 Oklahoma Impact Report.

Group photo of State Director Mike Fuhr and volunteers planting trees.
State Director Mike Fuhr and volunteers work in the cold, rainy weather to plant 4,001 trees and shrubs to restore riparian and wetland zones along the Blue River. © Mike Fuhr/TNC

From the Director

Yet another year has passed and I’m happy to share that thanks to your generosity and love of nature, we have made significant advances in conservation. We are excited to share some of these successes with you throughout this impact report about restoration.

Restoration is a hefty word and one that encompasses a lot of what we do at our preserves. It’s also one that always makes me think of the quote by Nelson Henderson: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” This sentiment will always remind me that despite my wishes otherwise in conservation, we are in it for the long haul. We will not be successful overnight or even over the course of a year. Conservation success is about building on one positive step at a time, working in tandem with the natural world.

Henderson’s quote is appropriate for this annual report where one of the conservation success stories we share is focused on the expansive restoration project along several tributaries of the Blue River at the Oka’ Yanahli Preserve. So much was accomplished across this restoration site, including the work of a mighty group of volunteers and staff who planted thousands of trees. Even so, we know that with each step forward, the reality is that we still have so much more to do at this preserve and others across the state. Onward and upward!

Our Work In Oklahoma

  • 107,425

    Total acres that we have protected across our great state.

  • 10,032

    Acres of conservation easements in Oklahoma that we monitor each year.

  • 530

    Miles of Oklahoma's freshwater resources that we prioritize for monitoring and protection.

  • 8

    Ecoregions in Oklahoma where we work to protect our state's native plant and wildlife diversity.

Sunset over a stream lined with newly planted trees.
Restoration Over 4,000 trees were planted along this stream to reduce harmful impacts to the Blue River. © Going West Productions

Conserving the Blue River Through Collaborative Conservation

At first glance, it appears thousands of great white egrets or maybe flocks of snow geese have dropped into the tall green meadows along the Blue River, but in the greenhouse-like humidity of a south-central Oklahoma summer, that’s not likely.

Instead, the view through binoculars shows unnatural white structures, standing erect, concentrated most heavily near the river with ranks that snake up to hillside stands of timber. Like sentinels in sinuous formation trailing through the tall grass, 4,001 white perforated tubes guard the river’s future, rooted inside.

At first glance, it appears thousands of great white egrets or maybe flocks of snow geese have dropped into the tall green meadows along the Blue River, but in the greenhouse-like humidity of a south-central Oklahoma summer, that’s not likely.

Instead, the view through binoculars shows unnatural white structures, standing erect, concentrated most heavily near the river with ranks that snake up to hillside stands of timber. Like sentinels in sinuous formation trailing through the tall grass, 4,001 white perforated tubes guard the river’s future, rooted inside.

The Blue River, one of only two in Oklahoma unimpeded by dams, is the water source for more than 150,000 people and contributes $928 million to $1.7 billion in ecosystem benefits each year.

Read more about this first-of-its-kind project at the Oka' Yanahli Preserve.

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Leveraging Lands For Science

  • Seaside alder on the Blue River.

    Vascular Plants Surveyed in Southeastern Oklahoma

    The Oklahoma Biological Survey conducted a vascular plant survey at the Oka’ Yanahli and Hottonia Bottoms Preserves. Oka’ Yanahli has 645 taxa in 109 families protecting rare vegetation types: seaside alder, false indigo and seep muhly-prairie tea. Discover the Oka' Yanahli Preserve

  • Tri-colored bat in cave.

    Bat Research at Four Canyon Preserve

    Researchers from the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History conducted surveys at Four Canyon Preserve which show 11 different species—the most bat diversity among Oklahoma preserves—and more than 400 calls of the tri-colored bat. Discover the Four Canyon Preserve

  • Ringed salamander

    OSU Researches Ringed Salamanders in the Ozarks

    In temperatures ranging from 100 degrees F during the blazing hot days of summer and 10 degrees F in the winter, researchers gathered data on the full range of the ringed salamander breeding season finding salamanders in each pond surveyed. Discover the J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve

Two men conducting a controlled burn.
Working Together Each controlled burn requires precise coordination, where an agile fire team can operate in tandem to conduct the burn safely and effectively. © Chris Hise/TNC

Respecting Fire: Where Conservation Science & Indigenous Wisdom Meet

As the sun rises over the thick Ozark forest early one spring morning, Jeremy Tubbs is eager to get to work. After designing the burn plan and waiting for the weather to cooperate, today is the day he can safely use his drip torch to implement one of the greatest conservation tools we have for restoration and resiliency: a controlled burn.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Chickasaw Nation and Bureau of Indian Affairs partnered with The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma to conduct controlled burns at the J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife and Pontotoc Ridge Preserves. With collaborative partnerships, land managers across the state are meeting conservation goals to ensure a healthy,...

As the sun rises over the thick Ozark forest early one spring morning, Jeremy Tubbs is eager to get to work. After designing the burn plan and waiting for the weather to cooperate, today is the day he can safely use his drip torch to implement one of the greatest conservation tools we have for restoration and resiliency: a controlled burn.

The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Chickasaw Nation and Bureau of Indian Affairs partnered with The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma to conduct controlled burns at the J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife and Pontotoc Ridge Preserves. With collaborative partnerships, land managers across the state are meeting conservation goals to ensure a healthy, resilient land for generations to come.

Read more about this collaborative partnership.

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Natural Climate Solutions

  • Landscape view of Pontotoc Ridge Preserve after removing invasive species.

    Clearing Invasive Species in the Cross Timbers

    Many of Oklahoma’s prairies and forests are out of balance. Across the cross timbers and the Pontotoc Ridge Preserve, infrequent fire has created conditions that create a severe lack in species diversity which puts the entire ecoregion at risk. Discover the Pontotoc Ridge Preserve

  • Aerial view of bison being herded into corrals.

    Bison at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve Help Battle Climate Change

    Acting as a carbon storage container, grasslands are a vital component in the fight against climate change. Tallgrass ecosystems can capture up to 1.7 metric tons of carbon per acre each year and bison play an critical role in conserving grasslands. Discover the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

  • Eastern tiger swallowtail on prairie blazing star

    Talking With Oklahomans About Climate Change

    TNC supported collaborative climate change legislation and presented research findings to state and national leaders establishing the organization as a leading voice with our Congressional delegation advocating for solutions that work for Oklahoma. Read More About the Public Lands Resolution

Encroachment of invasive species like eastern redcedar, winged elm and honey locust before treatment.
Before Fire suppression and encroachment of invasive species have altered more than the plant life. Carbon storage, river flows and wildlife populations have also changed. © Jeanine Lackey/TNC
View after removal of woody invasive species.
After Crews removed eastern redcedar trees, winged elm and honey locust. Thus far, 160 acres of woody encroachment has been removed at the Pontotoc Ridge Preserve this year. © Jeanine Lackey/TNC
Before Fire suppression and encroachment of invasive species have altered more than the plant life. Carbon storage, river flows and wildlife populations have also changed. © Jeanine Lackey/TNC
After Crews removed eastern redcedar trees, winged elm and honey locust. Thus far, 160 acres of woody encroachment has been removed at the Pontotoc Ridge Preserve this year. © Jeanine Lackey/TNC

Honoring Our Conservation Champions

In 2021, TNC staff organized our first-ever Conservation Champions program to recognize the various ways individuals and entities have gone above and beyond to help us reach our goals. Staff submitted thoughtful submissions to the program committee made up of State Director Mike Fuhr, Board Chairman Brian Bourgeois, Great Plains Division Director Rebecca Smith, and one TNC local staff member from each department. With several stellar nominations, the following individuals were selected as our 2021 Conservation Champions!

Two people standing together with monarch butterflies.
Gary & Debbie Houlette Longtime volunteers of The Nature Conservancy who can do just about anything on and off the preserve. © Courtesy of Gary Houlette

Gary & Debbie Houlette

From stewardship tasks like invasive species removal, mowing and native seed collection, to outreach events for pollinator education and advocacy, we appreciate Gary and Debbie Houlette’s voluntary contributions to our mission. They are trusted and dependable members of our conservation team and unconditionally give of themselves and their personal resources to further our goals and mission to benefit Oklahoma’s land and waters. 

Sen. Stanley and Rep. Talley pictured with Lt. Governor Pinnell.
OK Public Lands Resolution Senator Brenda Stanley, Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell, and Representative John Talley with supporters of Oklahoma Public Lands at the State Capitol. © Going West Productions

Senator Brenda Stanley & Representative John Talley

Because of their leadership, the 2021 Public Lands Resolution was a success! Thank you to Senator Brenda Stanley and Representative John Talley for their help to communicate the importance of our state’s public lands and sharing their personal connections with these places. Their efforts generated much-needed support for our public wild places and built a foundation for future collaborative conservation policy in Oklahoma. 

During the past year these conservation champions and more than 300 other volunteers have donated 1,060 hours, the equivalent dollar value of $27,500, to our conservation work in Oklahoma. It is because of these individuals and entities that we are able to achieve our mission to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

2021 Oklahoma Impact Report

Download the full report to see conservation successes from the past year.

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