Happy news about animals
The new University of Oklahoma Press biography of George Miksch Sutton, Norman’s favorite birdman, mentions the help he got from the Cleveland County Bird Club.
It’s now the Cleveland County Audubon Society, but this column is about the earlier days.
In the early 1960s the State Highway Department (now Transportation Department) was about to let a contract to reroute State Highway 9 going east from Norman. Highway 9 was an extension of Alameda Avenue then, and its path would take it right into the lake the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was going to build — Lake Thunderbird.
For several years we would call the new stretch of road New Nine.
State engineers liked a path south of the university and apparently it was pretty well along with the planning before the Bird Club heard about it. Members learned the proposed paving would go right through Oliver’s Woods, a wildlife refuge belonging to OU.
The Woods was said to be the only land for miles around that was just the way nature laid it out. Neither farmer’s plow nor woodsman’s ax had altered its pristine presence.
The Bird Club had no more than 100 members, but they were fighters. They made their objections known in no uncertain terms.
The odds were long against them at first with plans already approved by both state and local officials. The Bird Club began a program to change the odds and made remarkable progress. Much of their support came from teachers and students who had used the Woods in their studies.
I believe the club’s president may have been Lovie Whitaker, wife of an OU journalism professor. At least she was a leading debater. Grace Ray, another journalism prof, used to bring fire-eating press releases to The Transcript.
Stories went out to newspapers all over the state and editors who had never heard of Oliver’s Woods before became among its strongest supporters.
The Bird Club eventually got enough backing to let New Nine touch only the northern tip of Oliver’s Woods.
The Bird Club, even after it became the local Audubon Society, did not limit its campaigns to Cleveland County or even the United States. A few years after the Oliver’s Woods debate Whitaker learned that the Quetzal bird, considered the most beautiful bird in the hemisphere, was in danger of extermination.
There was probably not one of those birds closer to Norman than southern Mexico, but that didn’t keep the society from taking action. Cloud forests the bird needed were being destroyed.
The Society passed a resolution and developed a plan of action that aroused the interest of ornithologists everywhere.