OK Senate, House Recognize Importance of Public Lands
By Kelly Bostian with the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation
A resolution expressing support for and recognizing the value of public lands for the people of Oklahoma and the state’s economy passed the Oklahoma Senate with unanimous consent and the House on a 57-13 vote Thursday, March 25, 2021.
Sen. Brenda Stanley, R-Midwest City, sponsored SR8 in the Senate and Rep. John Talley, R-Stillwater, authored House Resolution 1002.
“These lands are essential to the quality of life in Oklahoma, as evidenced by the increase of their use during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stanley said as she introduced the measure on the Senate Floor. “These lands offered our citizens the opportunity to spend time outdoors and enjoy the beauty of our great state safely during this unprecedented time in our history. These lands are a huge economic driver in our state, employing hundreds of people and bringing thousands of tax dollars to the state of Oklahoma.”
Talley noted that a 100 percent increase in use of public lands during the pandemic reinforces how essential public lands are for Oklahomans’ mental and physical health.
“Oklahoma’s public lands have long been a valuable part of the lives of Oklahomans,” Talley said in a public statement. “Our public lands not only provide an avenue for recreational activities, but also make up a good chunk of our economy. It’s important that we preserve these lands for future generations to enjoy.”
A diverse coalition of more than 30 Oklahoma supporting groups, from Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited, to the Oklahoma Aquarium and Oilton Chamber of Commerce gave early support to the effort, coordinated by The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma.
“This is a great day for nature and conservation in Oklahoma,” said Mike Fuhr, State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “It was wonderful to experience the collaboration among all our coalition partners and legislators. This bodes well for working together on conservation in the future.”
While the vast majority of Oklahoma lands are privately owned, the resolution emphasizes the impact of the 6% that is under the management of the Oklahoma departments of Tourism and Recreation, Wildlife Conservation, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other state and federal agencies.
The resolution notes that agencies employ hundreds of Oklahomans who pay taxes and contribute to their local communities and that outdoor recreation is a major economic driver in Oklahoma.
The outdoors industry generates an estimated $10.6 billion in consumer spending and supports more than 97,000 jobs for Oklahomans, according to a study conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association. Part of that includes the timber industry as well as at least 50 different ranching operations that rely on public lands for grazing.
Beyond economic benefits, Oklahoma’s public lands provide recreational opportunities for hunting, fishing, kayaking, riding all-terrain vehicles, wildlife viewing, photography, backpacking, cycling, sightseeing, and numerous other outdoor activities that ensure mental and physical health for every Oklahoman, The Nature Conservancy noted.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.