I am very fortunate to be a member of the Oklahoma Conservation Leadership Academy (OCLA) this year. OCLA was created by The Nature Conservancy’s Oklahoma Chapter (TNC-OK) to bring engaged, creative and active people from around the state together to learn about science-based conservation and how they can become conservation stewards in their community and beyond. OCLA is a yearlong program consisting of workshops, field trips, meetings and socials. The 2017-2018 program kicked off on April 20, 2017, and will conclude in March 2018.
I am a fairly new resident of Oklahoma and most of my knowledge and experience centers on international wildlife conservation. To better lead OKC Zoo’s local conservation efforts, it’s important for me to learn more about conservation issues specific to Oklahoma that reach beyond wildlife. OCLA is designed to do that. Additionally, it connects stakeholders from across the state to tackle conservation challenges. I’m really excited about that, because this experience is giving me a network of like-minded, motivated colleagues with which I can work to advance conservation on a large scale.
At my first OCLA meeting, I met an OCLA classmate who works for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and talked with her about how the Zoo can improve its green practices. As a result, she has come to Zoo with her colleagues to discuss transitioning the Zoo’s events and food services to zero waste. This means that all food and beverage containers, straws, utensils, and leftover food would be recycled or composted, significantly reducing the amount of waste the Zoo sends to the landfill. Additionally, this program will help the Zoo educate guests about the importance of composting and recycling and steps they can take to reduce their own landfill contribution.
Another benefit of OCLA is that we take field trips to the TNC-OK preserves around the state. During the field trips we meet with the preserve managers and learn how they conduct landscape conservation to restore and maintain native plant and animal communities. We also see first-hand the many challenges they face, including gaining the trust and cooperation of neighboring land owners, containing and removing invasive species, and identifying vital land parcels for future acquisition.
In June, we visited the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska. This is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie on Earth and it is spectacular. We learned how the combination of bison grazing and prescribed burning is used to restore and maintain complex and mosaic plant communities that are essential for biodiversity. This preserve provides crucial habitat for an array of species ranging from American burying beetles to greater prairie chickens to American bison. It’s also open to the public year-round and it’s free! I strongly encourage you to visit this Oklahoma treasure.
I look forward to sharing more about my OCLA experience in upcoming posts!
– Dr. Rebecca Snyder, Zoo curator of conservation and science