Guardians of Oklahoma’s environment
“We know we belong to the land,
and the land we belong to is …OKLAHOMA!”
~ Rodgers and Hammerstein
Oklahoma offers unique biological diversity, a state with 11 distinct ecosystems and majestic landscapes such as the Tallgrass Prairie, Black Mesa, Arbuckle Plains, Ozark Mountains, Ouachita Mountains, Kiamichi River basin and the western canyon lands. Oklahomans who work to preserve and promote our state’s natural beauty include landowners, conservationists, industrial engineers, regulators, scientists, students, CEOs, consumers, birdwatchers and agency leaders, a collection as diverse as the Oklahoma landscape itself. This article identifies the actors on the Oklahoma environmental stage, a tool inspired by the OBA’s environmental law issue.
“The Environmental Mission of the State of Oklahoma, as adopted by the state’s environmental agencies, is to protect and enhance Oklahoma’s environment and natural resources through preservation, conservation, restoration, education and enforcement in order to maintain and improve the environmental quality and natural beauty of our state and better the standard of living for all Oklahomans.” See www.environment.ok.gov. The primary agencies involved in that effort are the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, the Oklahoma Department of Mines and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
The Oklahoma Secretary Of Environment
On Jan. 14, 2011, Gov. Mary Fallin appointed Gary Sherrer Oklahoma’s sixth secretary of environment, a cabinet level position. See OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-2-101. As secretary of environment, it is Mr. Sherrer’s duty to administer the: State Revolving Fund Program, coordinate pollution control and complaint management activities of state agencies, develop a common database for water quality information, and serve as state trustee for natural resources under the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, the federal Water Pollution Control Act, and any other federal law that requires designation of a state trustee. See OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-2-101(A). Additionally, it is the duty of the secretary of the environment to develop or modify public participation in developing the state’s federally required list of impaired waters (303(d) report), water quality assessment (305(b) report), nonpoint source assessment (319 report), and the continuing planning process document. See OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-2-101(B).
The Oklahoma Environmental Quality Act
The Oklahoma Environmental Quality Act is found at OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1 et seq. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) implements that act, under the direction of DEQ Director Steve Thompson. The DEQ Mission “is to enhance the quality of life in Oklahoma and protect the health of its citizens by protecting, preserving and restoring the water, land and air of the state, thus fostering a clean, attractive, healthy, prosperous and sustainable environment.” See www.deq.state.ok.us. The DEQ vision “is to eliminate the effects of unintended consequences of historic development, to prevent new adverse environmental impacts and to provide significant input into national decision making all the while enhancing both the environment and the economy of Oklahoma.” Id.
To propose the rules that implement the Oklahoma Environmental Quality Act, enabling legislation established five advisory councils for the following:
- Water quality,
- Hazardous waste,
- Solid waste,
- Radiation, and
- Laboratory services
OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §2-2-201. Council membership is appointed by the governor, the speaker of the House of Representatives, or the president pro tempore of the Senate, and includes representatives of the regulated industry, political subdivisions and the community. Id. The DEQ rulemaking body is the Oklahoma Environmental Quality Board, created to represent the interests of the State of Oklahoma and consisting of 13 members appointed by the Governor. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §2-2-101.
The Oklahoma Environmental Quality Act, and related legislation, assigns Oklahoma regulatory responsibility based on the media protected and by type of regulated activity, best described as follows.
While there are instances of statutory overlap, Oklahoma’s basic environmental regulatory structure developed out of historical agency control over regulated activity. In broad terms, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission regulates oil and gas production and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture regulates agriculturally based activity. The Oklahoma Department of Mines has authority over mine reclamation, and asbestos is the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Department of Labor. The DEQ regulates the remainder which includes industry and public water supplies, hazardous waste, solid waste, radiation and laboratory services.
Asbestos: The Oklahoma Department of Labor is the lead state agency for asbestos abatement regulation. OKLA. STAT. tit. 40, §§450-57.
Oil and Gas: All activities associated with oil and gas production and storage are the exclusive jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E). This responsibility includes all conservation, exploration, testing, wells, drilling, production and related operations. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(1)(a-d). The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has responsibility for identified reclaiming facilities related to its jurisdiction and underground injection control. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(1)(e-f).
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission regulates activities associated with the construction and operation of pipelines and transportation of oil, gas and brine, and treatment during transportation at or related to refineries and petrochemical or mineral brine processing plants. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(1)(h). In addition, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has responsibility for the waste produced and spills associated with facilities for which it has jurisdiction, and for the subsurface storage of oil, natural gas and liquefied petroleum. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(1)(j-k).
Above-ground and below-ground tanks a regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(5). The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has responsibility for regulating discharges of pollutants and other deleterious substances to waters of the state from refineries, petrochemical manufacturing plants, natural gas liquid extraction plants, and the manufacturing of equipment and products related to oil gas. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(7).
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission also has responsibility for the tank farms storing crude oil and petroleum products located outside the boundaries of refineries, petrochemical manufacturing plants, natural gas liquid extraction plants or other facilities. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(1)(g).
Forestry, Feedlots and Feed: The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over food and forestry, pesticides, nurseries and fertilizer. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D). The Department of Agriculture also has jurisdiction over swine and poultry waste disposal activities and confined animal feeding operations. OKLA. STAT. tit. §20-1 et seq., §10-9.1 et seq., and §20-40 et seq., respectively.
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over facilities which store grain, feed, seed, fertilizer and agricultural chemicals. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(1)(e). With respect to milk production facilities, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over associated dairy waste and wastewater associated with milk production facilities. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(1)(f). The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture is also responsible for storm water discharges from the facilities that the department regulates. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(1)(j). The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality does not have responsibility for feedlots. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(2)(a)(2).
Emergency Disease Control in Livestock: The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over emergency procedures resulting from an outbreak of disease in livestock. OKLA. STAT. tit. 2, §6-400 et seq.
Mines: The Oklahoma Department of Mines has responsibility for mining regulation, reclamation at active mines, and groundwater protection at the mines it regulates. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(G). The Oklahoma Conservation Commission manages abandoned mine reclamation. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(F)(4).
Weather Modification: The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has responsibility for weather modification. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(2).
Pollution Cleanup at Federal Facilities: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa is a designated Design District charged with providing technical support in the identification and clean-up of pollution. See www.swt.usace.arrny.mil.
Dam Safety: Oklahoma Water Resources Board has responsibility for state dam safety. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(3).
Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste: The DEQ has jurisdiction over hazardous waste and solid waste, including industrial, commer¬cial and municipal waste. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(9).
Superfund Sites: The DEQ has responsibility for superfund sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(10).
Radioactive Waste: The DEQ has jurisdiction over radioactive waste and all regulatory activities concerning the use of atomic energy and sources of radiation. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3- 101(B)(11). However x-ray facilities are not included. Id.
Transportation of Hazardous Materials: The transportation of hazardous materials is regulated by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(I).
Emergency Management: The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management manages training, planning and coordination of state efforts to address any, emergency, including environmental disasters that threaten Oklahomans, their lives and property. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(K).
Public and private water supplies: The DEQ has responsibility for public and private water supplies. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(6).
Waterworks and wastewater works operator certification: The DEQ has responsibility for waterworks and wastewater works. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(5).
Broadly speaking, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board determines water quality standards for water bodies and addresses issues involving water quantity. The DEQ regulates point source discharges to water bodies, including the permitting system for industrial and municipal discharges. Nonpoint source discharges are regulated by the agency with oversight for the originating activity.
Water Quality: The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has jurisdiction over state water quality standards and accompanying use assessment protocols, anti-degradation policy and implementation. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(9). It also has responsibility for development and promulgation of a Water Quality Standards Implementation Plan, in coordination with other state environmental agencies and the U.S. Geological Survey for water quality assessment and monitoring. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(11 and 14). The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has the responsibility for developing a state water quality monitoring report.
It is the duty of the DEQ to develop the comprehensive programs directed to the prevention, control and abatement of new or existing pollution of the waters of this state. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §2-6-103(A). The DEQ has responsibility over surface water and groundwater quality and protection, including water quality certifications. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B). It also has responsibility for utilization and enforcement of Oklahoma Water Quality Standards and implementation documents, including responsibility for developing a Water Quality Standards Implementation Plan. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(18 and 21). Additionally, the DEQ has the duty to develop a water quality computer information system. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101 (B)(20).
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry has jurisdiction over utilization and enforcement of Oklahoma Water Quality Standards and implementation documents. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(1)(h). It also has responsibility for the development and promulgation of a Water Quality Standards Implementation Plan pursuant to Section 1-1-202 of this title for its jurisdictional areas of environmental responsibility. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(1)(i).
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission helps to enforce the Oklahoma Water Quality Standards, and has the duty to develop a water quality implementation plan for those activities within its jurisdictional area of responsibility, primarily oil and gas production, processing, storing and related activities. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(1)(n) and (m).
The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission: According to the Oklahoma Legislature, “some of the free-flowing streams and rivers of Oklahoma possess such unique natural scenic beauty, water conservation, fish, wildlife and outdoor recreational values of present and future benefit to the people of the state that it is the policy of the Legislature to preserve these areas for the benefit of the people of Oklahoma.” OKLA. STAT. tit. 82, §1452. Oklahoma’s designated scenic rivers are the Flint Creek and the Illinois River above the confluence of the Barren Fork Creek, the Barren Fork Creek in Adair and Cherokee Counties, the Upper Mountain Fork River above Broken Bow Reservoir, Big Lee’s Creek and Little Lee’s Creek. The Oklahoma Scenic River Commission, headquartered in Tahlequah, is directed by Ed Fite. The commission consists of seven to 15 members, for four-year terms, appointed by either the governor, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives, or elected by the registered voters in the scenic river region. OKLA. STAT. tit. 82, §1461(C). The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission works with the DEQ, the Corporation Commission, the Department of Agriculture, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Conservation Commission to develop coordinated watershed restoration and protection strategies for each watershed. OKLA. STAT. tit. 82, §1457.
Oklahoma Groundwater Protection: There are six agencies designated as groundwater protection agencies: the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the State Department of Agriculture, the DEQ, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the Oklahoma Department of Mines. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-1-201(5). The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has responsibility for groundwater protection for activities within its jurisdictional areas of responsibility OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(10). The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over groundwater protection for activities subject to the jurisdictional areas of environmental responsibility of the department. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(1)(g).
Eutrophic Lakes: The Office of the Secretary of the Environment is charged with identifying which lakes are eutrophic, as defined by Oklahoma Water Quality Standards as lakes containing an excess of nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, that can lead to increases in algae growth and depleted oxygen levels. No person or entity may discharge wastewater from a point source which will foreseeably enter a eutrophic lake. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-2-102(B).
Water Quantity: The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has jurisdiction over all water quantity issues, which would include water rights, and surface and underground water quality, such as interstate usage or water compacts. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(1).
The Oklahoma Water Science Center: The Oklahoma Water Science Center, established by the U.S. Geological Survey, a division of the U.S. Department of Interior, is located in Oklahoma City, and has as its mission the collection, analysis and dissemination of the impartial hydrologic data and information needed to wisely manage water resources for the people of the United States and the state of Oklahoma. See http://ok.water.usgs.gov.
Discharges into Water
Point Source Discharges: The DEQ regulates all point source discharges of pollutants and storm water to waters of this state which originate from municipal, industrial, commercial, mining, transportation and utilities, trade, real estate and finance. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(1). The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over point source discharges from agricultural crop production or services, livestock production, silviculture, feed yards, livestock markets and animal waste. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(1)(a).
When point source discharges from a facility regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission enters point source discharges regulated by the DEQ , the DEQ gains responsibility. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(3). Beyond that, discharges from a facility regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission which require a federal NPDES permit are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, and not an Oklahoma state agency. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(4).
Nonpoint Source Discharges: Oklahoma regulates nonpoint source discharges to water only to the extent of its delegated authority pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act. 33 U.S.C. §1251. The DEQ has responsibility over all nonpoint source discharges and pollutants, except for those regulated by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(2).
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture regulates commercial manufacturers of fertilizers, grain and feed products, and chemicals, manufacturing of food products, tobacco, paper, lumber, wood, textile mill and other agricultural products, slaughterhouses, aquaculture and fish hatcheries. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(2)(a). With respect to all of these types of facilities, the DEQ regulates associated discharges of pollutants and storm water to waters of the state, surface impoundments and land application of wastes and sludge, and other pollution. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(2)(b). The DEQ issues NPDES storm water discharge permits for grain, feed, seed, fertilizer, and agricultural chemical storage facilities. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(D)(2)(b).
Underground Injection: The DEQ has responsibility for underground injection controls, except for those wells governed by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(7).
Dredge and Fill: The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has responsibility for issuing permits for dredge or fill activities in navigable waters of the United States. 33 U.S.C.A. §1344. The Corps’ Oklahoma headquarters is in Tulsa.
Flood Plains: The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has responsibility for flood plain management. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(4).
Lakes: The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has responsibility for assessing, monitoring and restoring Oklahoma lakes. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(8). The board receives funding, whether public or private, for lake restoration and implements a volunteer program (“Oklahoma Water Watch”) to monitor and assess state waters. Id.
Well and Pump Licensing: Water well drillers and pump installers are licensed by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(7).
Water Treatment Systems: The DEQ has jurisdiction over water, waste and wastewater treatment systems, including septic, public and private systems. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(12).
Financial Aid for Water
The Oklahoma Water Resources Board oversees state water and wastewater loans and grants. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(5). The board also administers the State Revolving Fund Program. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(6).
The Oklahoma Water Resources Board is lead agency for clean lakes eligible for funding under Section 314 of the Clean Water Act. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(8).
The Oklahoma Secretary of Environment administers and disburses funds from Federal Clean Water Act sources. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(C)(8).
The Oklahoma Clean Air Act: The DEQ is the designated administrative agency for the Oklahoma Clean Air Act for the state. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §2-5-105, and has exclusive jurisdiction for air quality under the Clean Air Act and applicable state law. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(8). The DEQ has the responsibility for Air Quality under the Clean Air Act, and applicable state law, except for indoor air quality for workplace safety and asbestos. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(B)(8). It has sole responsibility to regulate air emissions from all facilities and sources subject to federal operating permit requirements. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(E)(8).
The DEQ is charged with the responsibility of establishing a permitting program for the state which will contain the flexible source operation provisions required by the Federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and for preparing a proper air quality management plan. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §2-5-105(2) and (3). Cities, towns and municipalities retain authority to abate air quality, and to enact ordinances or codes with respect to air pollution which will not conflict with the Oklahoma Clean Air Act and which contain provisions more stringent than those fixed by that Act. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §2-5-103(A).
The Oklahoma Clean Air Act shall not be construed to affect in any way the powers, duties or functions of the State Board of Agriculture except to the extent necessary to comply with the Federal Clean Air Act. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §2-5-103(C).
The Oklahoma Air Quality Council is charged to recommend to the board rules or amendments addressed to the prevention, control and prohibition of air pollution, and to develop safety tolerances for the discharge of contaminants as may be consistent with the Oklahoma Clean Air Act. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §2-5-107. Prior to recommending rules, the council conducts thorough public rulemaking hearings. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §2-5-107(3).
OSHA and Indoor Air Quality: Indoor air quality regulated under the Oklahoma Occupational Health and Safety Standards Act is the responsibility of The Oklahoma Department of Labor. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(J)(3).
Rocks and Land
The Oklahoma Constitution established a State Geologic and Economic Survey. Oklahoma Constitution, Article 5, §38. According to its website, enabling legislation signed by Gov. Charles Haskell in 1908 mandated that the survey “[i]nvestigate the state’s land, water, mineral, and energy resources and disseminate the results of those investigations to promote the wise use consistent with sound environmental practices.” See www.ogs.ou.edu. The survey monitors earthquakes in Oklahoma and around the world, has a geologic mapping program, conducts basic geologic research and makes the findings available in workshops, as publications, maps and online material offered to the public at no charge. It also operates the Oklahoma Petroleum Information Center in Norman and a geophysical observatory near Leonard. The OGS is affiliated with the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
The U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) is a division of the U.S. Department of Interior and describes, itself as a science organization that “provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant and useful information.” See www.usgs.gov.
The Oklahoma Climatological Survey, the Climate Office of the State of Oklahoma, is located in. Norman. OKLA. STAT. tit. 74, §245. The Climatological Survey operates under the direction of the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma. Id.
Oklahoma’s conservation organizations define their work and this state in terms of interrelated landscapes. Oklahoma lands are 97 percent privately owned, and thus, Oklahoma landowners and land managers partner with these organizations to map our state’s future.
The Oklahoma Nature Conservancy: The Oklahoma Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, a private, non-profit conservation organization, manages preserves across the state. Led by Oklahoma community and business leaders, The Nature Conservancy uses privately funded initiatives to conserve the best of Oklahoma’s ecological landscapes. The Nature Conservancy mission is to insure the health of diverse ecological communities, such as the Tallgrass Prairie, by protecting the lands and waters that are home to native plants, animals and natural bio-systems. The Nature Conservancy sets itself apart by the way it operates, using a non-confrontational, collaborative approach to on-the-ground conservation. Chief among its core values are honesty, accountability and trust earned by competence and consistency.
The Oklahoma chapter manages impressive landscapes, such as the J.T. Nickel Family Ranch on the Illinois River near Tahlequah – 17,000 acres of Oklahoma Ozark foothills populated by wild elk. The Four Canyon. Preserve along the Canadian River protects 4,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie. Moreover, The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, covering nearly 40,000 acres outside of Pawhuska and home to 2,500 free-roaming bison, is the largest preserved remnant of tall grass prairie left on Earth. The Nature Conservancy’s work in these spectacular landscapes is a great gift to Oklahoma, attracting visitors from around the world.
Currently, The Nature Conservancy partners with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in the use of Voluntary Offset Program funding to purchase conservation easements in sensitive Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat regions. The Voluntary Offset Program funds are generated by energy companies that desire to “offset” any impact of wind farms to the habitat of the Lesser Prairie Chicken by making a donation to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation program.
The Nature Conservancy also purchases with private funding or is gifted conservation easements in areas of ecological significance, such as real estate holdings surrounding its Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. To learn more about The Nature Conservancy, led by its state director, Mike Fuhr, and board chairman, John Groendyke, check out its website: www.nature.org.
George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center: The Sutton Center is a private, non-profit organization that conducts research to find conservation solutions for birds and the natural world through science and education. The Sutton Center has conducted intensive research on declining grassland birds and developed and applied techniques for the reintroduction of Southern Bald Eagles. See www.suttoncenter.org.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation: In 1895, the Oklahoma territorial government passed our first game laws. See www.wildlifedepartment.com. Fourteen years later, a new Oklahoma Legislature established a Game and Fish Department in 1909. Id. In 1956, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation was established constitutionally, governed by a Wildlife Conservation director and an eight-member commission, each gubernatorial appointments for eight-year terms. OK. CONST. art. 26, §1. Additionally, the department is authorized to acquire land to carry out its conservation directives. OK. CONST. art. 26, §2. More recently, in 2008 the Oklahoma Bill of Rights was expanded to endow Oklahomans with a constitutional right to hunt, fish, trap and harvest game and fish, subject only to the Oklahoma Legislature and the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission. OK. CONST. art. 2, §36.
Richard Hatcher is the director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the mission of which “is the management, protection, and enhancement of wildlife resources and habitat for the scientific, educational, recreational, aesthetic, and economic benefits to present and future generations of citizens and visitors to Oklahoma.” The department is responsible for the day-to-day wildlife conservation work directed by the commission, including the issuance of Oklahoma hunting and fishing licenses that generate the department’s funding. See the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Code, OKLA. STAT. tit. 29, §1-101, et seq.According to its website, the department owns and manages thousands of acres of land managed as natural areas for hunting and other compatible uses, and partners with private landowners to help manage their wildlife resources.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service: Title 16 of the U.S. Code Annotated, bound in 12 volumes, provides the federal conservation structure. With respect to Oklahoma, most prominent is the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, which works to implement the Endangered Species Act. See 16 U.S.C.A §§1531-1544. The Endangered Species Act was established to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend, to provide a program for conservation and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the goals necessary to conserve species facing extinction. 16 U.S.C.A §1531. The service mission is “working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for continuing benefit of the American people.” See www.fws.gov/mission.html. Federal agencies work to ensure that acts taken, or which are federally funded, do not threaten species identified. as endangered. 16 U.S.C.A §1536. To accomplish this objective, federal agencies will request an opinion from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to examine whether proposed acts would impact identified species. Id.
Dixie Bounds is field supervisor for the Oklahoma Ecological Services Field Office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, headquartered in Tulsa. See www.fws.gov/southwest/es/oklahoma. This office works to recover imperiled species through voluntary conservation. Service biologists identify Oklahoma plant, animal and bird species, and the best way to manage them on a landscape level, involving potential stakeholders such as land owners, tribal members and university scientists. According to Ms. Bounds, 97 percent of Oklahoma land is privately owned, and thus, the bulk of their work involves assisting and partnering with local land owners. Oklahoma projects include habitat preservation for the Lesser Prairie Chicken, assisting in the development of the Oklahoma State Water Plan, and implementing Partners for Fish and Wildlife, a habitat funding program that offers a 50/50 funding match to provide landowners resources to pay for habitat restoration at a local level.
The United States Forest Service: The U.S. Forest Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture, manages 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. See www.fs.usda.gov. In Oklahoma, the Ouachita National Forest extends from southeastern Oklahoma into Arkansas, covering a total of 1.9 million acres, and is managed from the service headquarters in Little Rock, Ark. The Ozark National Forest is found predominately in northwest Arkansas, with foothills in northeastern Oklahoma. The local Forest Service headquarters is in Russellville, Ark. Finally, the Cibola National Grasslands cover 263,954 acres including a portion in western Oklahoma, as well as northeastern New Mexico and northern Texas.
The Oklahoma Conservation Commission: The Oklahoma Conservation Commission, created as result of the 1930s dust bowl, promotes soil conservation, erosion control and nonpoint source management. See www.conservation.ok.gov; see also OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(F). The Conservation District Act established conservation districts as governmental subdivisions of the state to carry out this mission. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §3-1-103. Oklahoma has 87 such districts, usually mirroring county borders, which work within their assigned communities to conserve renewable resources, control and prevent soil erosion and floods, and to develop water resources and improve water quality. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §3-1-102. The Conservation Commission assists the work of the conservation districts, with responsibility for monitoring, evaluating and assessing streams impacted by nonpoint source pollution (except impacts that relate to industrial or municipal storm water). OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(F)(2). The commission also manages Oklahoma conservation programs related to wetlands, clean lakes watersheds, conservation education, flood control, groundwater protection for these activities and abandoned mine reclamation. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-3-101(F). Mike Thralls is the director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service: This federal agency also has its roots in the dust bowl era. The Natural Resource Conservation Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is the historical product of the 1937 federal initiative to conserve soil and water resources.
Kyoto Protocol: Neither the legislative or executive branch of the state of Oklahoma shall implement the Kyoto Protocol until such time as it has been ratified by the U.S. Senate or otherwise entered into law. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-1-207. This shall not impede state or private participation in voluntary initiatives to reduce greenhouse gasses. Id. This also shall not impair compliance with the federal or Oklahoma Clean Air Acts. OKLA. STAT. tit. 27A, §1-1-207(B)(1) and (2).
Oklahoma State Water Plan: Pursuant to OKLA. STAT. tit. 82, §1086.2(1), the Oklahoma Water Resources Board is directed to develop a strategic guide, for managing Oklahoma’s water resources over the next 50 years. The original plan was produced in 1980, updated in 1995, and is scheduled for an additional update in 2012. Seeokwaterplan.info.
Earthquake Hazards Program: On average, there are 50 earthquakes per year in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma U.S. Geological Survey is the lead agency for monitoring, reporting, and researching earthquakes and earthquake hazards in our state. Seeearthquake.usgs.gov. The USGS provides Oklahoma’s earthquake data, which includes seismic hazard assessments, geoscience research and post-earthquake investigations. See www.nehrp.gov. The governor has general direction and control over all emergency management within the state. OKLA. STAT. tit. 63, §683.8. The Oklahoma Geologic Survey studies Oklahoma earthquakes, and operates a Geophysical Observatory in Leonard to capture seismic activity. Seewww.ogs.ou.edu/leve12-earthquakes.php.
Perhaps of necessity, as a result of the footprints left by mankind on this planet we welcome the efforts of the men and women dedicated to conserving Oklahoma’s natural resources as we strive to make Oklahoma a better place for our children. One of our most revered conservationist presidents said it best:
To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed. ~ Theodore Roosevelt, Dec. 3, 1907