The Nature Conservancy and a suite of partners have teamed up to conserve an additional 3,100 acres of native prairie along the Blue River at Oka’ Yanahli Preserve in Johnston County. This property protects springs and aquifer recharge that is critical to sustaining the Blue River, which plays a vital role in the well-being of Oklahoma communities who depend on it for drinking water, food, jobs and recreation.

 “Thanks to the support of our partners, this effort will not only conserve an important piece of Oklahoma’s disappearing native landscape, but it will also secure water quantity and enhance water quality for regional users of the Blue River,” said Mike Fuhr, State Director for The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma. “Over time, we will restore this land’s prairie species using nature’s own tools – rest, fire and grazing via cattle and hopefully native bison.”

The preserve now protects almost 3,600 acres along two miles of the Blue River. The original 490 acres was purchased in December of 2011. The expansion of the preserve through this recent land acquisition was made possible with support from The Chickasaw Nation, The Conservation Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Inasmuch Foundation, and The Pauline Dwyer Macklanburg and Robert A. Macklanburg, Jr. Foundation.

 “It is a pleasure to work alongside the Nature Conservancy to help protect and preserve our water resources for future generations,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. “Seeing the passion they bring to their work, it is obvious they have a great appreciation for the beauty and significance of the Blue River.”

The Blue River is the major stream flowing from the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer and is the only river in Oklahoma that is still free flowing. It accounts for more than half of the discharge from the eastern portion of the aquifer and is a critical source of water for human needs. In addition to providing for agricultural needs, the river sustains the city of Durant and its watershed encompasses a variety of ecosystems, from rolling limestone prairies to oak woodlands in granite canyons to bottomland hardwood forests. Seaside alder, found only in three widely disjunct parts of the United States—and arguably the rarest tree in North America—is more abundant on this river than anywhere else in Oklahoma.

“Great herds of bison once roamed the prairies of our nation, including the Arbuckle Plains in Oklahoma, and were an integral part of our grassland ecosystems, along with fire. Because of their important role in maintaining native prairies, we plan to reintroduce bison to this new preserve. We still have a ways to go to fund a bison herd and successfully complete feasibility research and infrastructure that are needed. However, during this time of celebrating bison as our newly-designated national mammal, we are delighted to share our plans to eventually return these iconic mammals to the Arbuckle Plains at Oka’ Yanahli Preserve as part of our long-term grasslands restoration process,” said Fuhr.

 Visit nature.org/okbison to learn how you can support the return of bison to the Arbuckle Plains.