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Landowners Agree to Develop Endangered Species Habitat

Landowners Agree to Develop Endangered Species Habitat

HFRP Landowner Spotlight

 With the money from the lease agreement, the McCrarys were able to purchase this tractor. While they say it makes their life much easier, they feel that in order to pay forward the good thing that has happened for them, they will use the tractor to help others. They took it to Arkansas January 1, 2011, and helped clean up storm damage from a tornado.

With the money from the lease agreement, the McCrarys were able to purchase this tractor. While they say it makes their life much easier, they feel that in order to pay forward the good thing that has happened for them, they will use the tractor to help others. They took it to Arkansas January 1, 2011, and helped clean up storm damage from a tornado.

 

 

Free range turkeys

These two turkeys are Kathryn’s Bourbon Reds. She says she loves all of her turkeys but she is most proud of these. The easement has made it possible for the McCrary’s to expand their organic, free-range turkey business. They say the benefit to them is outweighed by the restoration the land will experience and the legacy they will be able to give to future generations.

She opens the gate to the temporary fencing that surrounds the organic, free-range turkeys she and her husband started raising; Kathryn McCrary yells over to the birds, “how you guys doin’ over there?” A chorus of 60 eager gobblers respond emphatically.

McCrary says, “We have all this fenced off here for them to stay in. (Don) moved them out from the houses. I said, ‘Did you fix that fence on the back side?’ He said, ‘No we just have an agreement, they don’t get out.’ I came home one Friday night and there was turkeys everywhere and I was freaking. He said, ‘calm down just watch this.’ He goes over, rounds them up and back in the pen they go.”

The 340 acres of wooded farmland the McCrary’s own in Delaware County was passed down through Don’s side of the family. Over time they have raised a few cattle but the land sat largely unused while the couple pursued business careers. The down turn in the economy and increasing health challenges left the couple with only one option, making a living off their land. Kathryn thought if she was good at raising chickens then she would do well raising turkeys. They purchased some poults but Kathryn soon found raising turkeys has unique challenges.

Right now, it can be said the McCrarys can’t see the forest for the trees, but that’s because they have far too many trees. District Conservationist Michael Ramming said the McCrarys have about twice as many trees as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists want in their given area.  Kathryn agreed saying, ”it’s more trees than the wife wants, too.”

Fortunately for two of three threatened and endangered species targeted for protection through the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP), the McCrarys can see the forest for what it could be. The McCrarys were the first in Oklahoma to close on a permanent easement enrolled in the program. HFRP is a voluntary program through which the Natural Resources Conservation Service partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oklahoma Forestry Service and private landowners to protect habitat for the Ozark big-eared bat, the gray bat and the Ozark cavefish.

Dotted along the landscape in eastern Oklahoma are small caves that are ideal resting places for bats. Many of the caves have been abandoned because the forest canopy is too crowded. A crowded forest canopy makes it hard for the bats to fly freely. The HFRP program covers all or part of five eastern Oklahoma counties and works to restore the habitat of the species through forestry management practices. Thinning and prescribed burning help to restore the woodland to a more open forest canopy that promotes the development of mature oaks with an herbaceous understory that resembles the historic plant community.

As for the Ozark cavefish, clearing up the understory with prescribed fire will help improve ground water quality within the recharge areas of caves used by the fish. The fish is an indicator species. The presence of the fish indicates high water quality. The McCrary property is in the known range for the cavefish and the area for the gray bat.

Kathryn said, “They gave us the (restoration plan) and we sat down and looked at it and we were amazed at how much work and how much research has gone into this plan. When it’s done it’s going to be awesome.”

Ramming said, “They are going to hack and squirt. (It is a thinning process where) they set a diameter, anything bigger than that, they cut it and squirt it (with a chemical). They’ll come in and set up fire breaks where they need to and set fires and they’ll open up the area with a prescribed burn and it will help the bat habitat immensely.”

After a three year pilot program, HFRP was opened nationally and 26 project proposals were submitted. Oklahoma’s project was one of seven projects funded. The program has several enrollment options. The McCrarys were on the fence between a 30 year easement and a permanent easement. Kathryn said it was the John Wayne movie Chisholm that tipped the scale. In the movie he leaves his land to the national park service so that generations to come can enjoy the beauty. Likewise, the McCrarys wanted to leave something lasting. Kathryn said, “We are trying to leave less fotprint on the earth. We told our kids, you know, we are leaving you a lot but we are leaving generations to come, more.”

It took 18 months of legal headaches and handwringing to work though the challenges with the program being so new. January 13, 2011, the NRCS celebrated the McCrarys and other landowners in the five county impact area who are also in the process of enrolling their land in the program. While she thinks it has been trying, Kathryn says they are happy to be the first. She said, “We’ve all probably thought at times that we were going to be bald before this got through, but it worked. And it’ll get easier every time.”

The McCrarys have enrolled 166 acres in the HFRP program. They say it leaves them with more than enough land to raise their turkeys and with the money from the easement they were able to purchase a new tractor. Because the McCrarys are able to accomplish things with their new tractor that they couldn’t before, they feel the HFRP has been sent from God. After a tornado touched down in Arkansas early in January, the McCrarys took their tractor over to the devastated community and helped begin cleaning up from the storm. They say they will continue to volunteer this way whenever they can as a way to pay it forward.

When it comes to becoming good stewards of the land, Kathryn has decided, “(Restoring the property is) not something that’s going to be accomplished over night. It didn’t grow over night and it shouldn’t just be bulldozed. Then you lose everything. There are protections, certain things will be done this year, certain things will be done next year and (we’ll) keep (up) the first part. It’s a long program that’s going to take time. Basically ten years, they’ll be here to supervise and make sure that we fulfill our part of the bargain and that we don’t turn around and misuse what they’re trying to set up for the bats.”

By Public Affairs Specialist Crystal Young
NRCS January 2011

Last Modified: 04/21/2011

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