During their weekly meeting Monday, Woodward County Commissioners approved a resolution asking that the American Burying Beetle be taken off of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Endangered Species List.
The action would ostensibly save the state money on environmental credits it must purchase when approving projects that could cause harm to the beetle, according to District 1 Commissioner Tommy Roedell.
The credit money is handled through a funding mechanism and goes toward reestablishing the beetle in other areas where work has already begun in recovering their numbers, said Oklahoma Department of Transportation Wildlife and Natural Resources Biologist Julianne Whitaker.
"There are many problems that may have caused the beetle to begin to suffer in the past, but it is thought that wide spread use of pesticides was a part of it," Whitaker said.
Add that other stress factors, such as annually tilled soil or crops that are "monoculture" crops, instead of native vegetation also tipped the scales for the tiny species.
"It is possible to get animals off the endangered list," Whitaker said. "The Bald Eagle is a good example. It came off in 2007."
The cost of those credits and the impact to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation are what is prompting counties to ask the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Services to provide an update to the beetle's actual condition and possibly remove it from the list, Roedell said.
Credits cost on average about $10,000 per acre. They only need to be purchased for beetle habitats that would be disturbed by road and bridge reconstruction, according to Whitaker.
The request for counties to sign the resolution Monday comes out of the 8th Circuit Engineering District's (CED), said District 3 Commissioner Randy Johnson.
"Even though the beetle doesn't live here, it is in Eastern Oklahoma, it does affect us because we are a part of the 8th CED and there are two counties that are in the region where the beetle is and the money to buy those credits for those projects comes out of our CED's overall budget," Johnson said.
Johnson added that recent research indicates the American Burying Beetle has been recovering over the years and may now be closer to its recovery numbers and at least be able to be downgraded.
That could mean that work done in areas where the beetle is likely to be disturbed don't require credits before approving road and bridge projects, he said.
But to understand the beetle and its impact on road and bridge construction as well as the impact some road construction has on it, one must first get to know the little feller.
Meet the American Burying Beetle.
According to Leslie Gray, public affairs for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the Beetle provides clean up services for the eco-system through its habit of taking small chunks of carrion (dead animals) burying it and then laying its eggs in it.
Dirty job, but someone has to do it.
It first found its way onto the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species in 1989, according to the agency's website.
According to Gray, when a proposal to take the beetle off of the list is received, the agency will gather all the data from the other states including Oklahoma biologists working through the agency and the actual condition of the species will be studied.
"We have to make a decision to down-list based on science that we have," Gray said. "We are working with our partners to make sure we have the best information available."
In other business commissioners signed financing documents with the Stock Exchange Bank for a 140M3 Cat motor grader. The grader was purchased on state contract. The interest rate was 1.95 percent, according to Woodward County Clerk, Charolett Waggoner. The total cost of the grader was $277,733.00 including bank fees. Monthly payments will run $1,793.84.
Commissioners also approved a move forward for the Woodward County Health Department to apply for Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Healthy Living Grant. The grant provides $250,000 per year for five years to counties that would like to set up and administer an anti-smoking program. The funds are through the large Tobacco Settlement of the late 1990s.
According to Woodward County Health Department Director, Terri Salisbury, the money would provide for one person to run a program in Woodward County and would provide funds to create promotions throughout the year to get the word out about smoking and assist people and point them to resources for quitting.
Commissioners also approved the County Cash Fund, estimate of needs and request for appropriations for January in the amount of $316,642.38. That amount is split three ways to be used for each highway district in Woodward County.