The special bison license plates that are so popular in Oklahoma, but cost more than the state's new scissortail plates, benefit The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma.
The Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit organization whose work is critical to protecting Oklahoma's greatest resources: the land, air and water.
It's a global organization with more than 5,000 employees and chapters in every state and 72 countries.
In Oklahoma, The Nature Conservancy has more than 5,000 members who spend their money and time to protect almost 100,000 acres, working to restore and keep the land in its natural state.
The Nature Conservancy manages 13 preserves in the state, most notably the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska and the J.T. Nickle Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve along the Illinois River near Tahlequah.
Both are open to the public and the largest of the preserves. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve has almost 40,000 acres and is home to a bison herd of about 2,600 animals.
It is by far the most visited of The Nature Conservancy's properties. And since The Pioneer Woman opened the Mercantile Store in Pawhuska, the number of people visiting the preserve has nearly tripled, said Mike Fuhr, The Nature Conservancy's state director.
“So many people are going to Pawhuska to visit (the store) and then they learn, if they didn't know already, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is there,” he said. “It is a bit of a time-portal to see what Oklahoma used to be like.”
- Related to this story
- Article: Some of the Oklahoma Nature Conservancy preserves are open to the public while others are only open during special events
The J.T. Nickel Preserve near Tahlequah is the second largest of The Nature Conservancy properties at nearly 17,000 acres. Elk were reintroduced there in 2004, and it is a sight to behold to see one swimming across the river.
The Nature Conservancy usually buys the properties to preserve them, but the Nickel family donated the first 14,000 acres for the Nickel Preserve and The Nature Conservancy has bought 3,000 more acres around it.
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and the Nickel Preserve are considered two of the five flagship preserves of The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma. The others are the Oka'Yanahli Preserve along the Blue River, the Pontotoc Ridge Preserve and the Four Canyon Preserve near Arnett.
“We want to conserve all these places and on top of that, probably more importantly, we want to use those places to try and influence conservation beyond our boundaries,” Fuhr said. “Even a place like our Tallgrass Prairie, which is 40,000 acres and is big, in the whole grand scheme of things it's not even a postage stamp to what used to be there in terms of tallgrass prairie.
“We can't buy it all, and that means we need to find ways to do conservation with our neighbors.”
The Nature Conservancy preserves in Oklahoma range from caves and canyons to prairies and forests. Some of the preserves are only open to the public for special events, like the Four Canyon Preserve. On some areas, critical restoration work is being done and no foot traffic is allowed.
Fuhr said the bison state license plate has raised awareness about The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma.
“That is kind of one of those universally loved animals,” he said. “That helped us get introduced to a lot of people who went to our web page to learn more and hopefully left, not only with the license plate application, but with a little bit of knowledge about The Nature Conservancy and what we do.”
To learn more about The Nature Conservancy and its preserves, visit www.nature.org/oklahoma. Virtual tours of the five flagships can be seen on the website.