Sutton Avian Center

By Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

Lena C. Larsson, the executive director of the George Miksch Sutton Avian Center, spoke about the Center’s research and conservation projects at Arvest Bank’s Friday Forum in Bartlesville.


Lena C. Larsson, Sutton Avian Center Director

The nonprofit was established in Bartlesville 35 years ago. The main facility is on Circle Mountain in Bartlesville on Gap Road on 40 acres.

“Our mission is to use science and education to make conservation happen. …,” she said.

It has set a goal of breeding Attwater chickens, an endangered species.
However, the Center doesn’t have Attwater chickens presently. Instead, it is practicing in-captivity breeding techniques on Greater Prairie Chickens using eggs from Nebraska.

Greater Prairie Chicken breeding
“These past two years we’ve been returning prairie chickens to the area so right now we have a surrogate. We collected eggs in Nebraska and that’s our surrogate breeder stock that we’ve been testing with. We’ve now returned them up to Nebraska these past couple of years,” Larsson said.
Before the prairie chickens are released into the wild, they are placed in acclimation pens for a couple of weeks. The staff camps out in tents near the pens to protect the chickens from predators.
The birds have leg-band transmitters when they are released to track them, she said. The females move outside the area when they breed to prevent inbreeding.
“We had one female that moved 20 miles,” Larsson said.

Masked Bobwhite Quail breeding
Quail are another endangered species breed at the center.
“It’s a cousin of the quail that we have here in Oklahoma. … the males have this rusty red plumage, and they have this dark face,” Larsson said.

The population of the masked bobwhite quail, indigenous to the Sonora Desert in Arizona and Mexico, dwindled beginning with the cattle runs in the late 1800s.
At the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge “they’ve restored the habitat, and we’re releasing birds there again. We have about a quarter of the known population here in Bartlesville,” she said.

After a building renovation in 2016, the Center received breeder stock in 2017 and in 2018 started getting eggs. The eggs are marked to track parentage, placed in an incubator and in 22 days they hatch.

“In quail the males take care of the chicks, and they will adopt baby chicks,” she explained.

After the chicks hatch, they are introduced to adult males and families are formed.

The family groups with 10-18 chicks and an adult are transported to Arizona, and released into the wild when the chicks are three weeks old.

Other projects
Other projects at the Sutton Avian Center are bald eagle projects, lead education, white-tailed ptarmigan research, bird surveys/atlases and outreach/education.

One such outreach/education effort, which Audra Fogle, Sutton Avian Center director of development, is most proud, is the Sutton Art Award.

The competition, currently underway, is open to 10th- through 12th-graders. Up to $20,000 is given in cash prizes to students, and their teachers, for telling the conservation story through art and essays.

The work of the top 20 honorees is displayed at NatureWorks Wildlife Art Show in Tulsa, where the art of professionals is also displayed. The Wildlife Art Show reception, which is open to the public, is from 1-3 p.m. Feb. 2 at The Hive Gallery in Jenks.

“If we don’t teach kids to care about our environment and the natural world, it won’t matter what we do because there won’t be any one out there who cares about it enough to save it,” said Fogle.

To learn more about the Sutton Avian Center, visit their website at

Osage County Tourism Gains Momentum

Tourism Forum at Gilcrease Museum's Helmerich Research Center

Tourism Forum at Gilcrease Museum’s Helmerich Research Center

By: Roseanne McKee, Osage County Tourism Coordinator

The Osage County Tourism Forum was held from 10 – 2 p.m. on Jan. 27 at the Gilcrease Museum’s Helmerich Research Center, where stakeholders, tourist venue representatives and tourism specialists gathered to share and learn.

There was a full house at the forum, which included lunch provided by the Osage Casinos.

It goes without saying that Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman Mercantile Deli/Bakery/General Store, which opened Oct. 31, gave tourism a jumpstart in Osage County. P.W. Mercantile Events Coordinator Jourdan Foran, charged with planning special events at the Mercantile attended the forum.

Even before the opening of the Mercantile, thirty-three million impressions are made each year through Oklahoma Travel and Recreation Dept. (OTRD) marketing efforts, said Kimberly Noe-Lehenbauer, an Advertising Account Executive at OTRD.

“Tourism is an 8.6 billion dollar industry in Oklahoma. For every tax dollar spent by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Dept., there is a $7 return in tax revenue. You are impacting the state in a big, big way,” Noe-Lehenbauer said.

Susan McCalmont, President of Creative Oklahoma

Susan McCalmont, President of Creative Oklahoma

Susan McCalmont, President, Creative Oklahoma, spoke about developing creative ideas. To build tourism in the Osage a collaborative vision is needed with unselfish leadership. She commended the Pawhuska Merchant’s Association for its cooperative spirit, working on weekends to improve the business exteriors in downtown Pawhuska, develop imaginative ideas and test them!

“The best of these ideas survive,” McCalMont said. “Think big dreams, try them out and see what happens. Failure is part of the creative process.”

Charlotte Ashworth, Green Country Mktg. Dir. of Sales, Kimberly Noe-Lehebauer, Advertising Oklahoma Travel and Recreation Dept., Trisha Kerkstra, POSTOAK Lodge Mgr. and Osage County Tourism Board  President, Eddy Red Eagle, Jr., Osage Elder and OCTB member and Osage Industrial Authority Bd. member.

Charlotte Ashworth, Green Country Mktg. Dir. of Sales, Kimberly Noe-Lehebauer, Advertising Oklahoma Travel and Recreation Dept., Trisha Kerkstra, POSTOAK Lodge Mgr. and Osage County Tourism Board President, Eddy Red Eagle, Jr., Osage Elder and OCTB member and Osage Industrial Authority Bd. member.

Charlotte Ashworth, Green Country Marketing Association (GCMA) Director of Sales, described their 22 publications, each offering individual advertising or advertising in a cooperative arrangement, wherein several companies each contribute funds in order to have a presence collective presence in an ad.

Distribution Oklahoma is one of GCMA’s magazines being sent to Tour Bus Operators, Ashworth said. GCMA’s publications include a national magazine published quarterly, another featuring Wedding Ideas and the True West magazine. Ashworth said that staff at G.C. Mktg. can produce brochures, ads, maps, rack cards and banners. “Just tell me what you need and I’ll find it for you,” she said.

POSTOAK Lodge General Manager, Trisha Kerkstra, praised Green Country Marketing Association for helping to create trail maps for POSTOAK Lodge, describing their services as excellent and economical.

POSTOAK Lodge, which sits on 1,000 acres in the Osage hills, hosts retreats, conferences, weddings and reunions and special events such as their annual wine and jazz festival and a spring marathon for trail runners.

Kerkstra encouraged stakeholders to apply for grants. POSTOAK obtained a grant from the Oklahoma Wildlife Dept. to establish a monarch butterfly wait station – an enhancement to their nature trails sure to please lodge guests.

Kerkstra, who is also president of the Osage County Tourism Board, said that last year’s tourism budget, derived from the lodging tax, was about $42 ,000. Of that, one-third was used to pay staff, one-third was used for marketing and ads in publications and one-third went toward grants for Osage County events such as the Indian Taco Festival in Pawhuska. The current tourism budget is about $72,000.

Kerkstra thanked the Osage County Tourism Coordinator, Roseanne McKee, for her work with the board to develop four tour plans, which have been sent to motor coach companies in the region. McKee also updates the tourism website,, with text and photos, and produces a quarterly newsletter, which is e-mailed to contacts, and is available on the website home page.

Social media updates for Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram are handled by Digital Generator, and the Visit the Osage Facebook page has over 10,000 followers.

Osage elder, Eddy Red Eagle, Jr., who is retired from 34 years in management at Citgo, spoke to forum guests about the fact that tourism is an economic driver in Osage County, which increases the need for highspeed broadband internet infrastructure and housing to meet the needs of incoming businesses and residents.

Gilcrease Museum Executive Director, James Pepper Henry, described the Gilcrease Museum as “Tulsa’s most valuable asset.”

The Gilcrease has a signed copy of the Declaration of Independence and the only copies of the Articles of the Emancipation Proclamation, which became the basis for the U.S. Constitution. The Gilcrease Museum has one of the top five American art and colonial art collections in the U.S., the most Charles Russell art in the world and the second largest collection of Remington art in the U.S. The writings of Bob Dylan, who just won a Nobel Prize for writing, are also at the Gilcrease.

Only a fraction of the art collection is on display due to limited gallery space, Henry said. Soon, the museum will undergo renovation and expansion to expand gallery space and add needed amenities.

Dr. Joe Conner, owner of the Fairfax Chief Newspaper, spoke about tourism efforts in Fairfax including upcoming Saturday art markets at the Tallchief Theatre in downtown Fairfax where local artists will sell their work.

Executive Director of Strategic Planning at Woolaroc, Kaci Fouts, spoke about current exhibits, the wildlife preserve, and upcoming events at Woolaroc, including their Christmas Festival of Lights, which welcomed 13,000 visitors in 2016. Other events are the Mountain Man Camp, summer day camp for kids and the Cow thieves and Outlaws Reunion celebrating its ninetieth year in 2017.

L-R: Harvey Payne from Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Dr. Joe Conner owner of Fairfax Chief, James Pepper Henry, Exec. Director of Gilcrease Museum and Kaci Fouts, Director of Strategic Planning at Woolaroc

L-R: Harvey Payne from Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Dr. Joe Conner owner of Fairfax Chief, James Pepper Henry, Exec. Director of Gilcrease Museum and Kaci Fouts, Director of Strategic Planning at Woolaroc

No Osage County Tourism forum would be complete without mentioning the Osage landscape. Harvey Payne, Community Relations Coordinator and Preserve Director Emeritus of the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, spoke about the prairie, which was once “a utopia for bison, elk and deer.”

Describing its ecology, Payne said: “The prairie has to have fire or it will die. Without fire it was a spruce and blackjack tree forest. We do the burning which mimics the seasons…Ninety percent of what bison eat is grass. Called the great American desert by early explorers, when the steel plow was discovered it became endangered. Nowhere else was there a tallgrass prairie. It was coveted by settlers and farmers. The bread basket we have today probably came from the Tallgrass Prairie.

“The Nature Conservancy began purchasing the land in 1988. Then in 1993 bison were re-introduced to the Tallgrass Prairie with funded donations,” Payne said.

The preserve, free to the public, is privately owned by the Nature Conservancy, which does accept donations. Current Tallgrass Prairie Director is Robert G. Hamilton.

Bruce Carter, Tallgrass Art Gallery and Tallgrass Tours owner. Carter is also a member of the OC Indus. Auth. Bd. and OC Tourism Bd.

Bruce Carter, Tallgrass Art Gallery and Tallgrass Tours owner. Carter is also a member of the OC Indus. Auth. Bd. and OC Tourism Bd.

Bruce Carter, owner of the Tallgrass Art Gallery in Pawhuska spoke about ways to market your business and build a service culture. He emphasized the use of social media for marketing your business. He described his new business bringing motor coach tours to the Osage and described taking a tour group to the Tallgrass Prairie for wine and hors d’oeuvres at sunset, and how this added experience resulted in happy tourists.

Osage Nation Museum Collections Manager Cali Martin spoke about the changes at the museum since the new curator Hallie Winter began in May 2016, and described an upcoming exhibit: Enduring Images, featuring photos of the Osage taken in the last century. A section of the gallery is also set aside for the work of today’s Osage artists. Another permanent exhibit called “Wahzhazhe Spirit” tells the Osage story.

Osage Nation Properties Manager, Bruce Cass, spoke about the nation’s support for tourism, and progress on an eco-park with community vegetable gardens, hydroponics and walking trails in Pawhuska.

Tallgrass Praire Preserve announces Renaming to Honor Joseph Williams

TallgrassPrairieRenamingPhotoPress Release by Tallgrass Prairie Communications Director Katie Hawk

PAWHUSKA, OK – More than a quarter century ago, through the leadership of Joseph H. Williams, the dream of many Oklahomans to see a significant piece of the iconic tallgrass prairie in Osage County permanently conserved finally became a reality. Known as the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, The Nature Conservancy renamed the preserve in honor of Mr. Williams today at a dedication ceremony.

“We owe Joe a debt of gratitude for having the courage to forge ahead to make the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve a reality and a legacy for future generations to enjoy,” said Mike Fuhr, State Director of The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma. “It is his daring that we are honoring. And what an appropriate way to do so – honoring Joe by renaming the preserve in which he played such an important role in creating. This wonderful place will now be forever known as the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.”

Mr. Williams’ efforts began because he was an avid bird hunter but found game populations were being depleted by changes in rural land use. In the late 1980s, he and other hunters began to explore ways to conserve these native habitats.

“During this time we approached The Nature Conservancy for help,” said Joeseph H. Williams, former chairman of both the Oklahoma Board of Trustees and National Board of Governors for The Nature Conservancy. “They urged me to gather a group of prominent citizens from all across the state to become a Board of Trustees for a new Oklahoma chapter of The Nature Conservancy.”

The effort took an entire organization and a group of visionary Oklahomans to do what others had been unable to do. Chief among them was Mr. Williams who galvanized this amazing group at a time when the local economy was anything but favorable to finding millions of dollars in donations, even for a project that would create a long overdue prairie preserve for the world to embrace.

It was a short but consequential meeting in an airplane hangar in Oklahoma City where the Oklahoma trustees through Mr. Williams’ urging and leadership made the decision that forever changed the world of prairie conservation, a decision that asked us all to think bigger than we had in the past.

“The Conservancy recognized how vital a large expanse of tallgrass prairie under its protection would be as a symbol to others trying to establish conservation of scale sufficient to make a difference,” said Williams.

The initial Oklahoma Board of Trustees led a $15 million campaign and pulled together public sentiment for the project from all over the state and nation.

Today the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve – now at 40,000 acres – is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie in the world and home to 2,500 free-range bison.

“We thank Joe for his hard work to create something so special. The ideas, inspiration and collaboration that the preserve has exported over the decades is living proof of his legacy,” said Fuhr.

In retirement, Mr. Williams lives in South Carolina, remains an avid outdoorsman and naturalist, and continues to support numerous conservation projects in Oklahoma and the Carolinas.

Bison Roundup at the Tallgrass Prairie

IMG_2733At this year’s bison roundup at the Tallgrass Prairie, the bison were counted, vaccinated, tagged (if needed), weighed and de-wormed.

During a closed bidding process, a buyer was chosen for some bison that would be sold. A buyer from Idaho won the bid, said Director Bob Hamilton. The buyer will ship some of the bison to Idaho and others will go to a feedlot for slaughter and sale.

Video of bison in squeeze chute.

In the video, the bison receives de-worming medication orally through a feeding tube.

Since the 2014 bison roundup, problems with a virus have reduced the herd’s size. However, a vaccination has been developed and given to the bison during the current roundup to stop the virus from spreading further.
The final numbers of the herd will be provided in two weeks. During our visit on Sat., Nov. 7, the largest bison weighed was 1,500 lbs., but according to Hamilton, this is likely not the heaviest bison in the herd.IMG_2534

The roundup is closed to the public except for invited media because the bison herd is wild and the roundup is stressful for the animals, Communications Director Katie Hawk explained. The goal is for the herd to remain in the wild as much as possible.

Below is a 360 degree view of the scene at the bison roundup. Bison Roundup 360 degree view.