OklahomaHorses Magazine July 2022

12 OklahomaHorses • July / August 2022 O n February 22, 2022, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) an- nounced plans to build turnpikes throughout Cleveland County. A surprise to city, county, and state government officials, this plan is destructive to people, property, wildlife, habitats, water, and the environ- ment. Although this article focuses on the specific impacts a toll road would have in Cleveland County, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has announced future plans to build toll roads throughout the state. The impacts described in this article will be felt by many communities if checks and balances are not established and citizen and lawmaker opinion and insight continue to be ignored. Impacts onWildlife and Habitat The impacts of the proposed plan for building the turnpike in Cleveland County and more toll roads in other locations are catastrophic for wildlife. In particular, the positioning of the turnpike in east Norman will destroy one of the most important wildlife corridors in central Oklahoma, cutting off wildlife’s access to Lake Thun- derbird. It will negatively affect bald eagles’ nesting sites and those of other resident and migratory birds and an important stop for tens of thousands of migratory birds that travel the central north-south flyway in the spring and fall each year. It will kill thou- sands of animals that seek the area around Lake Thunderbird, consisting of wetlands, forested areas, and freshwater. This plan will cause habitat destruction where the toll road will be built, habitat degradation on either side of the toll road, and habitat fragmentation — wildlife will eventually be trapped inside a desert bounded by I-35 to the west, 1-240 to the north, Highway 9 to the south, and of course the new proposed toll road to the east, with no access to the lake or the cover and resources it provides. The wildlife habitat that would be destroyed is unique and is disappearing — cross timbers, grasslands, and wetlands. No matter where the route is “tweaked,” if it runs along the west side of Lake Thun- derbird, it will be disastrous for wildlife. some of which we know to be threatened or endangered. Whooping cranes, which are endangered, have been recorded in that area. No environmental or wildlife studies have been done despite the obvious and cata- strophic effects of these proposed toll roads. Impacts onWater The OTA’s plan for creating toll roads Turnpike Expansions in Oklahoma Devastating for Wildlife, People, Water, and WildCare by Inger Giuffrida, executive director of WildCare Oklahoma Photos courtesy of WildCare Oklahoma A bald eagle soars through the Oklahoma sky. Box turtles and other reptiles rely on the habitat provided around streams, rivers, and LakeThunderbird, which will be affected adversely by the planned turnpike. Deer travel throughout central Oklahoma and seek rivers, streams, and lakes for the cover and resources they provide while raising their young. The new toll road will cut them off from Lake Thunderbird.