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Conservation Credit Program Aims To Protect Endangered American Burying Beetle

Apr 25, 2018

Today on the Business Intelligence Report, Journal Record senior reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo talks discusses conservation credit programs that are designed to protect the American burying beetle. She also talks about the Choctaw Nation’s recycling efforts.

Jacob McCleland: It's the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Jacob McCleland and I'm joined today by General record senior reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo. Sarah, what's up?

Sarah Terry-Cobo: Hey Jacob, thank you for having me. It's great to be here.

McCleland: So your newspaper recently devoted a day to conservation and environmental issues. I want to talk about a couple of these stories. One story that you wrote is about Wildwood Credits. They buy and sell American burying beetle conservation credits. It's a pretty complicated story, actually. Before we get into the business model, tell us a little bit about the American burying beetle. Where do they live and why are they a protected species?

Terry-Cobo: So the American burying beetle is an endangered species. That means it's protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is this insect that used to have a really wide habitat through the central plains of the U.S. like a century ago but it has been greatly reduced its habitat has been greatly reduced. And so that is one of a few species that's pretty contentious when it comes to whether or not that beetle should have the same protection as others that we might be familiar with, like the whooping crane.

McCleland: How does this conservation credit system work then as a business and towards helping preserve it?

Terry-Cobo: Right so the credit system works like this. The conservation program called Common Ground Capitol they have to take care of they have to conserve and improve the land first.

So they buy these private tracts of land from landowners and then they restrict it from any kind of development and by putting all these blocks of land together they can restore corridors where animals can travel. That helps improve the habitat for burying beetles. Then if somebody wants to dig up some dirt, whether that's for a swimming pool, drilling rig, wherever, you can pay for these conservation credits in different spots. So you might be destroying beetle habitat where you put your pool or where you have the well site but you have paid to conserve more beetle habitat in a different place. And you can buy a credit through this credit program. But it's a risky business for those doing the conservation because they have to guess upfront how much land they will need to preserve based on what they think the market's going to look like.

McCleland: So from a conservation perspective, does this type of setup work? Are they seeing more American burying beetles or other wildlife in these areas?

Terry-Cobo: Right well so there are ongoing studies to document how many American burying beetles there were before the conservation began and then how many there are now. And what I hear from conservation folks outside of these businesses is that this conservation bank is more well documented than any other types of banks, like wetland banking for example. There are some abuses in the wetland banking system. But another thing here that the beetle people are really proud of is that they have seen more black bears in Pittsburgh and Hughes Counties. Now several counties over from where they are most commonly sighted in far southeastern Oklahoma. So having large predators in the ecosystem it's a good sign. That's a sign of a healthy forest.

McCleland: Now let's talk briefly about another story. This one is about the Choctaw Nation and their recycling efforts. Their recycling program covers 10-and-a-half counties across southeastern Oklahoma. What niche is that is the Choctaw Nation filling with their recycling efforts?

Terry-Cobo: So they are able to provide this scale for the infrastructure that a lot of other small towns and municipalities just don't have as an individual entity. So that helps the tribe recoup more cost to run the program.

McCleland: The Choctaws recently hosted representatives from the Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals and they were showcasing the recycling program. While other tribes taking a look at what the Choctaws are doing with recycling?

Terry-Cobo: So a lot of tribes nationwide are focusing on sustainability efforts in their own businesses and in their own government operations and their services that they offer to tribal citizens. So when there is a model of what is working well, other tribes want to emulate that so they can learn from another sovereign nation's experience.

McCleland: The Choctaw recycling program is collecting a lot of recyclable materials. But why aren't they turning a profit just yet right?

Terry-Cobo: Well that's because the recycling business at its core is a commodities business. So those things like aluminum, paper, tin, glass, those are often priced and bought and sold on the global market. But global demand for U.S. recycled products has fallen. So that leads to more supply in the U.S. which pushes down prices and that's part of the reason why it's hard for the Choctaws to turn a profit so far.

McCleland: Sarah Terry-Cobo is the Journal Record newspaper's senior reporter. Sara thank you so much for joining us.

Terry-Cobo: Absolutely. It's great to be here Jacob.

McCleland: KGOU in the Journal Record collaborate each week on The Business Intelligence Report. You can find this conversation at kgou.org and you can follow us on social media. We're on Facebook and Twitter @journalrecord and @kgounews.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

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