Guest blog submission: Protecting our natural resources must be a priority

From time to time, we will use the OK Policy blog to post submissions we receive from Oklahomans who have interesting perspectives on important policy issues for the state. This submission is from Clay Pope, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts and a former member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Isn’t it time we start paying more attention to natural resource issues in Oklahoma?

I know, I know—Many of you are saying, “Why? We pay plenty of attention to natural resources in this state. After all, we are primarily a rural state and agriculture and oil are the two bedrock industries of Oklahoma, so of course we are focused on natural resources.”

Are we really?

Consider this:  In 2007 we had the wettest year on record in Oklahoma history with multiple floods and a freak in-land hurricane that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The year before that, 2006, was the driest year EVER in Oklahoma history, drier even than the dust bowl years of the 1930’s. Before that, in 2005, we were facing record wildfires, again causing millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses.

In addition, it wasn’t that long ago when you couldn’t pick up a newspaper without reading about the crisis we were facing in transportation fuels and the need for alternative energy sources like wind, solar, and bio-fuels. Some, including T-Boone Pickens, are saying that as soon as the economy picks up, demand for oil and natural gas will follow with fuel hitting prices even higher than those witnessed last year.

Even if we don’t see this spike in the near future, we need to remember that oil and gas aren’t renewable. That being said, how do we reach our energy needs? Can we take advantage of new energy sources like bio-fuels in a way that helps the Oklahoma economy and ensures dollars for Oklahoma agriculture without hurting wildlife habitat? And none of this touches on possible challenges our state will face from climate change. We already have the wildest weather on earth. If the experts are right, it will only get wilder.

The bottom line is we need to refocus our efforts on natural resources. Case in point; the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor Henry have just approved a budget for education of nearly $4 billion. At the same time, the combined appropriations for natural resources conservation, protection and management in our state are not even 1/25th of this. Total combined appropriations for natural resource work in Oklahoma is just a little over $150 million.

Don’t get me wrong; education is extremely important. I’m not saying don’t fund it. I simply say we should have a balanced view of where we are as a society. What good is it to be well educated if you have no water to drink or food to eat?

In Oklahoma we have numerous challenges. Over 1,000 of our flood control dams must be fixed in the next ten years if we’re to avoid a dam breach. We also have over 300 Oklahoma dams that have been planned but never built to reduce flooding around towns like Kingfisher. We have water quality issues like those in the Illinois River that can be addressed through voluntary conservation efforts that protect water in ways that minimizes economic harm to farmers. We have numerous wild species that are threatened. We currently have no wildfire training schools for our volunteer firefighters. Lake levels in 2006 showed the susceptibility of our water supply to drought. Each day we lose over 700 acres to the Eastern Red Cedar costing millions, increasing fire danger, destroying habitat and sucking up even more water. Our towns have sewer and water pipes dating from the early 20th century that have rarely been replaced or repaired. Increasing fuel and fertilizer costs are hitting agriculture while we struggle to find ways that we can provide for more bio-fuels without crippling the livestock industry and hurting wildlife habitat. We also need to build on the work started by the Conservation Commission, local conservation districts and others to find ways to sequester carbon through practices like no-till agriculture, grass plantings, tree plantings and underground co2 injection.

What all this means is that natural resources must become more important to policy makers at all levels of government. We have to remember that everything in society rests on our natural resources and the food, water and energy they provide. We have been blessed with abundant resources in the past. We have a lot of work to do if we are to ensure this abundance is there in the future.

If you have thoughts on this topic, please leave a comment on the website. If there are topics you’d like to weigh in on with a guest blog entry, e-mail David ( and we’ll talk!


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

2 thoughts on “Guest blog submission: Protecting our natural resources must be a priority

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.