The Cherokee Nation, working alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the first tribal nation to designate an area of land to protect an endangered species of beetle.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker signed an executive order designating a portion of the tribe’s 800-acre park on Sallisaw Creek in Sequoyah County as an American Burying Beetle Conservation and Mitigation Area for the next 10 years.
The National Cherokee Nation Park is already a natural habitat for the beetle, and the plan will limit development and preserve habitat so the beetle population will continue to thrive.
Chief Baker, Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director Amy Lueders and other leaders gathered Wednesday in Tahlequah to celebrate the designation.
“Cherokees have long understood that we must protect our natural resources for the cultural, spiritual and economic value they bring to the Cherokee Nation,” Baker said. “We are stewards of the land, so it is imperative that the Cherokee Nation take these actions to protect this beautiful national park and the endangered species that lives within it.”
The American Burying Beetle once lived in as many as 35 states and is considered invaluable to the ecosystem because of its role in returning nutrients to the soil. It was placed on the federal Endangered Species List in 1989, and natural populations are now known to occur in as few as four states including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska and Rhode Island, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Designating the park on Sallisaw Creek won’t interrupt recreational activities at the park and will help keep road and construction projects moving forward.
“The park is already being used for recreation and none of those uses are going to be curtailed or limited in any way. It’s helping protect an endangered species that once gone is irreplaceable, and it also saves the Cherokee Nation funding for road and construction projects,” Hill said. “Performing endangered species surveys can halt or delay work, but this conservation easement creates a way for work to continue without endangering the beetle.”
The Cherokee Nation worked for several years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish the endangered species conservation and mitigation program because no model existed with a tribal nation before.
“The Cherokee Nation is an invaluable partner in the effort to recover the American Burying Beetle in Oklahoma,” Lueders said. “By setting aside a portion of the National Cherokee Nation Park as a Conservation and Mitigation Area for the beetle, the Cherokee Nation has once again demonstrated their strong commitment to conservation and protection of their natural resources. Through the order being signed today, the service and the Cherokee Nation are helping to secure a brighter future for the American Burying Beetle."
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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