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Least tern nesting sites have been protected
(2012.201.B0091.0107, photo by P. Southerland, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).


By the early twentieth century Oklahoma had already lost several of its wildlife species, including grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), gray wolf (Canis lupus), passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), elk (Cervus elaphus), and American bison (Bison bison). The last two have been reintroduced to the state at refuges or ranches. By the 1970s the red wolf (Canis rufus) and the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) had also disappeared.

In 1973 the U.S. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act to provide for the conservation of endangered and threatened species of fish, wildlife, and plants. The law charged the secretary of the interior with determining an official list of endangered and threatened animals, devising recovery plans for various species, and implementing plans to preserve habitats and to restrict illegal trade in protected species. In 1985 the Oklahoma Legislature authorized the Oklahoma Wildlife Commission to prepare its own list of endangered and threatened species living within the state. The 1973 federal law defined "endangered" to mean species that are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range and defined "threatened" to include animals that are likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.

In 1992 the federal list of Oklahoma's endangered species included the gray bat (Myotis grisescens), Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), Ozark big-eared bat (Plecotus townsendii ingens), American peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum), Arctic peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus tundrius), black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapillus), whooping crane (Grus americana), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), interior least tern (Sterna antillarum), red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), Ouachita rock pocketbook (Arkansia wheeleri, a freshwater clam), and American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus). The federal list of threatened species included the piping plover (Chadradrius melodus), American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), Neosho madtom (Noturus placidus, a flatheaded catfish), Ozark cavefish (Amblyopsis rosae), and leopard darter (Percina pantherina). The state's endangered list included all of the Oklahoma species federally designated and added longnose darter (Percina nasuta), cave crayfish (Cambarus tartarus), and Neosho mucket (Lampsilis rafinesqueana, a freshwater mussel). To the threatened category Oklahoma also added blackside darter (Percina maculata) and Arkansas River shiner (Notropis girardi). By the twenty-first century the bald eagle had been reclassified as threatened. The scaleshale mussel (Leptodea leptodon) and the Eskimo curlew (Numenius borealis) were added to the federal endangered list. In addition, a number of animals are "species of special concern," which state and federal agencies watch closely and may soon be declared to be threatened. Oklahoma also had one plant, the Western prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara), in the federal threatened category.

In 1981 the state legislature passed an act that allowed Oklahomans to donate money through their state income tax form to be used in nongame wildlife management. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation administered the programs aimed at protecting endangered species. Oklahoma penalties for hunting, harassing, or capturing the animals was a fine up to one thousand dollars and/or up to thirty days in prison. The federal government set the maximum criminal fine at fifty thousand dollars and/or one year in prison. It also provided a civil fine as high as twenty-five thousand dollars. In 1992 the funding expired for Endangered Species Act of 1973. The act has remained in force, and Congress has continued to appropriate money. Reauthorization bills have been introduced but, as of 2004, none had been passed.

Larry O'Dell



F. M. Baumgartner and A. M. Baumgartner, Oklahoma Bird Life (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992).

Jeffrey H. Black and Gregory Sievert, A Field Guide to Amphibians of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, 1989).

William J. Caire, Jack D. Tyler, Bryan P. Glass, and Michael A. Mares, The Mammals of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989).

Oklahoma Biodiversity Task Force, Oklahoma's Biodiversity Plan: A Shared Vision for Conserving Our Natural Heritage, ed. Norman L. Murray (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, 1996).

Oklahoma's Endangered Species (Oklahoma City: Department of Wildlife Conservation, 1992). George M. Sutton, Oklahoma Birds: Their Ecology and Distribution (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967).

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