Sunday, January 17, 2010

Response to the OK Gazzette's Lesser Prairie Chicken Story

Last Wednesday, the Oklahoma Gazette ran a story by Carol Cole-Frowe on the Lesser Prairie Chicken and the issues concerning the species in Oklahoma. There really wasn't anything wrong with the story, all accept for the "cash for clunkers" comment, it should have been "cash for cluckers", get it Cluckers...chickens? I thought I would make a few comments, as well as discuss some general thoughts on this particular issue. To Ms. Cole-Frowe's credit, this is a story that needs more press; the article provided just that. I came up with a few questions of my own.

1) Why did it take so long to get this article published, considering the Wind Energy Conference took place during the first few days of December?

Wouldn't it be better to keep issues of particular importance and urgency flaming hot? I'm not pointing this out to berate author Carol Cole-Frowe; this is a general trend I see across the spectrum. The issue seems to be just dragging along. OG&E and ODWC, and a number of other agencies, are doing their best. But will it be enough? We need more public involvement; we need more people in the state that feel compassion for this species to send letters, talk to their representatives and in general create more turbulence. I can tell you that the powers that be do hear us when we express our interest. Look at the past actions of OG&E and how they have gone from making plans to buy public lands for wind development, to donating money for buying public lands for prairie chicken conservation. It works but we cannot expect these few agencies to carry all of the weight. I don't think the public is being loud enough on this topic.

2.) Where are the other large wind developers/planners, why is it that OG&E seems to be the only company willing to do the right thing, taking extra steps to make the best decisions they can?

I hope someone comments on this question and lets me know that this is not the case. I hope I am wrong. I haven't seen any of the other large players who are using NW Oklahoma as their gold mine stepping forward....One example, where is Florida Power and Light? I was not impressed with their presentation during the wind conference and I have yet to hear of any grand steps from them toward the fight for preserving the native prairies in the NW. Please someone tell me I'm wrong about this! I want to be wrong!

3) Will listing this species as threatened or endangered solve the problem?

This is the big question. The last I checked the USFWS's success rate for endangered species was not all that great, something like a 90% failure rate.....I'll have to dig around for a good number and citation to go with it.... I can think of only a handful of bird species that have been delisted recently, to include the Bald Eagle and Brown Pelican. Is it likely that this species could benefit from a listing?

Actually it depends on who you are asking. I asked JD. Strong, our Secretary of the Environment, this exact question, if listing the species as threatened or endangered in Oklahoma could help the issue. His answer? No! The issue is touchy because if the bird is listed there could be a negative response from landowners that actually have the birds present on their land. There is an issue about the government stepping in and tyring to tell landowners how to operate; nobody wants that.

So if we can't address the issue by listing them, what are we to do? ODWC has been purchasing land in key LPCH habitat and that will certainly help. But what we need to consider is whether these lands will actually allow this species population to expand or whether we are just creating outpost for the species which will only turn into a genetic sink. The population is critically low, wind development stands to carve up the NW region like Billy Bob at an all you can eat steak restaurant. The answer is both in acquiring new public lands, and in developing strategies with landowners who are willing to work for the good of wildlife. We need landowner incentives, a pool of money that can be given to landowners who are willing to keep transmission lines and wind turbines off their property for the betterment of all wildlife, especially prairie chickens.

I think I'll keep running with this topic for a few posts. There are many things that need to be said publicly that aren't. A lot of the conversations are happening at round table sessions, which is good, but the problem needs more public attention. I plan to do just that.


Anonymous said...

Eric, you can share this with OKBirds if you think it appropriate. You asked why OG&E is the only power company that is participating in Prairie Chicken conservation by buying land for the purpose. A good place to look is the "G" for gas in their name. The company is conflicted about whether wind power is to their advantage or not, because electricity is currently generated by gas. Bad publicity about their harm to a charismatic species confounds their situation. Don't ever think that OG&E is doing anything because they value conservation, and unless the land they are buying is donated and retitled, or placed in a permanent conservation easement, they may end up developing it anyway if they perceive that to be to their financial advantage, and LPC be hanged, so far as they are concerned.

David McNeely

Eric Beck said...


I do understand that point and thank you for making it a public comment. Honestly, I think we can only expect certain things from these large power companies. If it entails dumping money into conserving species like the prairie chicken then I'm behind them. They could choose to ignore our concerns, and many have, I'm just glad OG&E is trying do something good, even if they are not completely concerned with conservation.

Unknown said...


I fear you are fighting an uphill battle. You are dealing with three
forces here: the corporation, the "green" image, and Oklahoma landowners. Make that four: the State Legislature. Manufacturing companies get financial incentives in Oklahoma on a regular basis. Maybe you need to do some serious politicing with the powers that be to establish incentives for land-owners; but that would be a HUGE battle.