Have you ‘Herd’ about the Tallgrass Prairie’s Birthday Party?

By Jim Roth | Phillips Murrah P.C. | The Journal Record

[ OCTOBER 26, 2009 – OKLAHOMA CITY, OK ] – The Oklahoma Chapter of The Nature Conservancy is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the spectacular Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. And that thunderous applause you hear is actually the hooves of more than 2,700 bison that freely roam the beautiful preserve, except during the once-a-year round-up that brings them all in for health maintenance and herd inspections. This year, the first week of November is that time.

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve originally spanned portions of 14 states from Texas to Minnesota. Today it is still the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie on earth, and has headquarters just north of Pawhuska. That’s right: largest on earth. And you can tour the preserve and personally enjoy the majestic setting for yourself.

But there’s more. The Nature Conservancy is not just celebrating the preserve’s 20th birthday, or the Oklahoma chapter’s 25th anniversary in 2010. They are working hard, true to their mission to preserve plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

In energy rich Oklahoma, that means working with energy companies and producers on a new conservation program called Energy for Conservation, designed to prevent the spread of invasive plant species across Oklahoma. Thanks to Larry Nichols and the folks at Devon and Chesapeake Energy, as well as staff at Oklahoma Energy Reserves Board and Oklahoma Independent Producers Association, the project is up and running. As a voluntary, collaborative project, it can help energy companies avoid spreading these problem, invasive plants on the landscape where they work, at little or no cost to their bottom line.

Here’s why it matters: Invasive non-native species introduced, whether intentionally or accidentally, into a new landscape, can devastate their surroundings. They spread unchecked, crowd out native plants and can drastically disrupt natural cycles in sometimes delicate eco-systems.

According to The Nature Conservancy, invasive species contribute directly to the decline of 49 percent of the threatened and endangered species in the United States, second only to habitat loss.

It’s also estimated invasive weeds cost America’s ranchers more than $5 billion per year in lost productivity. They are bad news all the way around.

Here’s how it works: A landowner undergoing any oil and/or gas exploration on their property can request the oil and gas operator to replace all ground cover with native species. The landowner will benefit from having any disturbed sites reseeded with a temporary cover crop and/or native plant, such as big and little blue stem, switchgrass and buffalo grass.

The Nature Conservancy has done a great job in partnership with the Oil and Gas industry to address this little known, but large impact subject. These ideas can be found on the Web site at: 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.