Groups ask that residents tell legislators ‘stand up for public lands’

Kayakers float the Kiamichi River in Southeast Oklahoma (Going West Productions photo)

Resolution lauds recreational, economic values of public areas

By KELLY BOSTIAN
For the CCOF

Eight state senators and 20 representatives have signed on as co-authors of a resolution supporting public lands this legislative session and organizers behind the resolution say they’re just getting started.

Sen. Brenda Stanley, R-Midwest City, sponsored SR3 in the Senate, and Rep. John Talley, R-Stillwater is sponsoring the House version, HR1002. Thirty statewide entities, including chambers of commerce, local breweries, tribal nations and conservation organizations, are backing the resolution with an active statewide campaign encouraging constituents to let their legislators know how they feel about public lands.

The groups intend to recruit as many legislators as possible to sign on as co-sponsors before the resolution is set for introduction on March 25.

Organizing the effort is The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma, which manages more than 100,000 acres, including the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

“Mesas, wetlands, forests, rivers, and prairies—you name it! Oklahoma’s got it. And we all depend upon it. In addition to providing food and shelter for wildlife, public lands also enhance the quality of life for Oklahomans, support our economy and protect our heritage,” Mike Fuhr, State Director for The Nature Conservancy offered in a statement.

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, and other state and federal agencies.

The groups note that agencies that manage these lands employ hundreds of Oklahomans who pay taxes and contribute to their local communities and that outdoor recreation is a major economic driver in Oklahoma, generating an estimated $10.6 billion in consumer spending and supporting more than 97,000 jobs for Oklahomans, according to a study conducted by the Outdoor Industry Association.

“These state and federally owned 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 in a prepared statement. “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 in tax dollars to Oklahoma. I am asking my fellow senators to please join me in supporting this Senate Resolution.”

Groups involved in the effort note that public lands may sometimes be taken for granted by residents or overlooked by some given the relatively small acreage of public lands compared to privately held properties.

“Unlike many western states, the vast majority of Oklahoma’s lands are privately owned so recognition by state leadership of the incredible value of public lands is vital,” said Krystina Phillips, board chairwoman for the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma. “The value of these public lands goes far beyond conservation.  The state relies heavily on economic benefits derived from recreation on our public lands.”

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.

“I’ve hunted public lands all my life, and now I have the pleasure of seeing my son and grandson enjoying access to Oklahoma’s great outdoors,” Rep. Talley noted in his prepared statement. “We love to ride horses and hunt game on public lands across the state, including deer, ducks, pheasants, quail, and dove. I’m running House Resolution 1002 to draw attention to our public lands so we don’t risk losing them. As we grow and develop as a state, it’s important to preserve these tremendous natural assets for the enjoyment of future Oklahoma generations.”

People can learn more about the resolution and the legislative effort at nature.org/okpubliclands.”

Kelly Bostian is a conservation communications professional working with the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to education and outreach on conservation issues facing Oklahomans. To support Kelly’s work please consider making a tax deductible donation at https://oklahomaconservation.org

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The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma, a 501(c)4 non-profit, is built to amplify the voice for conservation throughout Oklahoma. Created to bring together many of this state's great conservation organizations, we are creating a pivotal space for this state's wildlife, outdoors, and natural resource interests. Learn more about the CCO and how ...
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