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Recently Completed Reclamation Project is Excellent Example of Abandoned Mine Land Work in Oklahoma



Some believe you can’t go back in time.

However, that’s exactly what the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program does. In this case, they’ve returned nearly 24 acres to productive use that were surface mined for coal over 45 years ago.

Construction on the Owen-Cherokee West Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation project in the Muskogee County Conservation District reached completion on July 20 and two days later the Final Inspection of the Project in eastern Oklahoma was held. The concluding phases of the project included: the final grading stage of earth work, the installation of rip rap, rock check dams, and fencing. A dangerous highwall and a hazardous waterbody have been removed from the site. This project is in a highly visible location at an intersection with heavily traveled county roads. The property has been dramatically improved, and the landscape conforms to the natural environment with the elimination of significant health and safety hazards. Approximately 23.5 acres of land have been reshaped and reclaimed.

Robert Toole, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program Director, said this project is a good example of AML work in various ways.

From a technical standpoint, the Oklahoma AML Program secured the right-of-entry for the private property needed for the project.  They then designed the plans, coordinated the environmental clearances, contracted the second American Burying Beetle survey, contracted the construction, inspected construction, prepared the vegetative plan, coordinated the vegetative services and inspected the vegetative treatment application.

From a partnership standpoint, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) established a cooperative federalism approach to abandoned coal mine reclamation. 

Toole said, “This project is a prime example of how well that approach works to address abandoned mine land reclamation on any land in Oklahoma.”

The project was a partnership effort involving the Cherokee Nation, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the Muskogee County Conservation District and private landowners.

The work area involved Cherokee Nation abandoned mine land that needed maintenance for which the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) was providing technical assistance. 

“The maintenance treatment necessary to alleviate the problems required the involvement of adjacent private property abandoned mine land for which the Oklahoma AML Program had authority to reclaim,” Toole said. “Through a Cooperative Agreement, the OSMRE coordinated the involvement of the Cherokee Nation land and the Oklahoma AML Program coordinated the inclusion of the private property land.  Funding was jointly provided by OSMRE for the Cherokee Nation land acreage and by the Oklahoma AML Program for the private land acreage.”

Toole added, “In collaboration with OSMRE, the Oklahoma AML Program designed the Cherokee Nation land maintenance treatment in coordination with the abandoned mine land reclamation of the private land to create a contiguous work area that addressed the needs of all interests to the maximum extent possible.”

The Oklahoma AML Program then performed all project management including contracting, construction inspection and vegetative treatment oversight.  The Muskogee County Conservation District served as the vegetative contractor to secure the best vegetative services available.  This cooperative project involved the federal government, state government, local government, tribal government and private landowners.

“It doesn’t get much more partnership than that and yet it worked very efficiently and effectively with the Oklahoma AML Program coordinating communications, input and project management,” Toole said.

Those who participated in the final inspection at the site included: Butch Garner, Muskogee County Conservation District Chair; Pat Gwin, Cherokee Nation; LaChelle Harris, OSMRE Tulsa FO; Lee Owens, landowner;  Valerie Rogers, OCC-AML Engineer; Tracy Reeder, OCC-AML Construction Supervisor; Trampas Tripp, OCC-AML Program Assistant/Project Inspector, and Toole, OCC-AML Program Director.

Discussions between AML and OSMRE about this project began in 2017, and the Cooperative Agreement was executed the following year (2018). The notice to begin construction was given on January 5, 2021 and was completed in July.

This reclamation project was part private landowner and part Cherokee Nation land.

Such projects afford many opportunities for producers, sometimes it is business related, sometimes it is more quality of life. Owens, the private landowner, said a neighbor cuts the hay on her land and this will provide more land for that use. Plus, the reclamation opens the door for use by her grandchildren as they make memories.

“This was a wooded area before, but now this gives us easier access to my other acreage for the grandkids to go fishing,” she said, followed by a big smile.

The AML mission

The mission of Oklahoma’s Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program is to protect lives, repair scarred land and improve the environment. Twenty-six (26) known deaths have occurred in the state on abandoned coal mines.  Oklahoma has over $120 million in reclamation that needs to be addressed and receives only $3 million per year. The authority provided by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 as amended to collect fees to fund AML reclamation expires in September 2021. If the Act is not reauthorized, Oklahoma will have millions of dollars of hazardous abandoned coal mine sites left unreclaimed. 

AML achievements to date includes: 187 completed projects; 5,520.7 acres reclaimed; 320,048 linear feet of dangerous highwall reclaimed; 258 hazardous water bodies reclaimed; 223 subsidence sites reclaimed; 22 hazardous structures removed; 397 mine openings closed; 16 miles of clean streams restored.

Looking back

Coal mining started in Oklahoma in 1872, taking place primarily in a 16-county area on the eastern side of the state. Early production came almost entirely from underground mines, but with the development of larger power equipment, surface mining became the preferred approach and continues to be the primary mining method used in the state. Over 32,000 acres of land have been used for surface mining and another 40,000 acres have been used for underground mining, resulting in many abandoned mining sites that threaten the environment as well as Oklahomans’ health and safety.

For years, conservation district directors in eastern Oklahoma voiced their concerns about these unclaimed mined areas and spoke to local lawmakers about legislation to address the issue. This advocacy led to the passage of the Open Cut Land Reclamation Act in 1968, which required leveling only the tops of spoil ridges to a width of 10 feet, a requirement that many deemed inadequate. In 1971 these reclamation guidelines were strengthened to require “a rolling topography traversable by machines or equipment commonly used with the land after reclamation.” Still dissatisfied by this requirement, conservation district directors and other environmental advocates turned to Congress for assistance in passing more robust mine reclamation legislation.

On August 3, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed Public Law 95-87, known as the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. This legislation created a national system for controlling the surface effects of active coal mining and established a trust fund dedicated to reclaiming hazardous orphan coal mine land. The trust is funded by fees on active coal mining that are set to end in 2021.

Within months of Public Law 95-87 passing, Governor David Boren designated the Oklahoma Conservation Commission as the state agency responsible for reclaiming abandoned coal mine land in Oklahoma. On May 19, 1981, Governor George Nigh signed Senate Bill 217 implementing the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Program in Oklahoma, which was subsequently approved by Cecil Andrus, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior at the time. Oklahoma is one of the few states where conservation districts are integrally involved with AML reclamation efforts. These efforts are 100 percent federally funded from fees on active coal mine production.

Take for example, projects of the past…

There have been many other successes through the years. Here are a couple of those:

The Lindsay AML Project is located near Claremore, Oklahoma, close to the Oologah Reservoir in Rogers County. A 50-foot final-cut highwall and pit paralleled the road to the reservoir. With considerable residential development in the area, there was a strong potential for an accident. The pit was backfilled using the on-site spoil piles, eliminating 2,700 linear feet of highwall. A total of 37 acres was reclaimed at a cost of $227,114. The project was completed August 12, 1992.

The Bill Tipple Civil Penalty Project is adjacent to Highway 10 near Welch, Oklahoma, in Craig County. The site was an abandoned coal-processing facility with many dilapidated structures and equipment creating safety hazards. The presence of approximately 15,000 cubic yards of acid-forming surface coal refuse posed a major threat to the underlying groundwater aquifer as well as a public health hazard. The site was eligible for funding under the federally administered civil penalty program. Hazardous structures and equipment were either salvaged or buried. The coal refuse was buried with a minimum 2-foot clay cover. A total of 55 acres was reclaimed at a cost of $201,285.70. It was completed August 26, 1993.

Of the Owen-Cherokee West Reclamation project, Toole said, “This project is a model for performing abandoned coal mine land reclamation on any land in Oklahoma through the Oklahoma Conservation Commission Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program.”

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Farm & Ranch

Inventions of Agriculture: The Reaper



Agriculture has been a staple of human society since around 9000 BCE during the Neolithic Era, when humans began developing and cultivating their own food.

For centuries, food production was a slow, tedious process until the invention of agricultural machinery. One such invention was the reaper. Until its time, small grains were harvested by hand, cut with sickles or scythes, hand-raked and tied into sheaves.

While a few had unsuccessfully attempted to create a similar machine, it was Cyrus McCormick who would ultimately be credited with the invention of the first commercially successful reaper in 1831.

McCormick’s invention was a horse-drawn machine used to harvest wheat, a combination between a chariot and a wheelbarrow. He had joined together the earlier harvesting machines into a single, timesaving one. His reaper allowed producers to double their crop size, capable of cutting six acres of oats in just one afternoon. In contrast, it would have taken 12 workers with scythes to do the equivalent in the same amount of time.

McCormick had simply followed in his father’s footsteps. Growing up in Rockbridge County, Virginia, his father had also created several farming implements and even worked to invent a mechanical reaper of his own.

McCormick would patent his invention in July 1834, a year after Obed Hussey had announced the making of a reaper of his own. In 1837, McCormick began manufacturing his machine on his family’s estate.  

In 1847, McCormick recognized Chicago as the future of the agricultural machinery industry. The railroad to Galena was nearing completion, the Illinois and Michigan Canal would soon be open, and a telegraph link to the east was coming. So, in 1847, McCormick, together with his partner and future Chicago mayor Charles M. Gray, purchased three lots on the Chicago River and built a factory where they would produce the reaper. It was the first of many industrial companies that would make their way to the area, making Chicago an industrial leader.

McCormick wasn’t done yet. He purchased an additional 130 acres in Chicago in 1871, but the Great Fire of 1871 threatened to destroy his company when the factory burned. It was his young wife, Nettie Fowler McCormick, who pushed the company forward when she went to the site just days after the fire and ordered the rebuilding of the factory. By 1880, McCormick was the largest machinery producer in Chicago and employment reached 7,000, a whopping fifth of the nation’s total.

McCormick joined the companies of Deering and Plano to form the International Harvester Company in 1902. At its height, the company controlled more than 80 percent of grain harvesting equipment in the world. While the Great Depression would hit Chicago’s agricultural industry hard, McCormick’s invention of the reaper forever changed the face of agriculture.


Carstensen, Fred. (2005) Agricultural Machinery Industry. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved from

Cycrus McCormick, Mechanical Reaper. (2022) The National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved from

Although the author has made every effort to ensure the informa­tion in this article is accurate, this story is meant for informational purposes only and is not a substi­tute for historical documents.

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Farm & Ranch




Barry Whitworth, DVM
Senior Extension Specialist Department of Animal & Food Science Ferguson College of Agriculture

Scrapie is a chronic, progressive disease of the central nervous system that affects sheep and goats. Scrapie is the oldest of the group of neurodegenerative diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE). Some of the other TSE are Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy known as mad cow disease, Chronic Wasting Disease which is found in deer, and Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease which is found in humans. TSE are protein-misfolding diseases that lead to brain damage and are always fatal.

The cause of Scrapie is not completely understood, but evidence indicates that an infectious protein referred to as a prion is responsible for the disease. These infectious prions cause damage to the normal prion proteins found in the brain. The mis-folding of the proteins lead to brain damage and the presentation of clinical signs of the disease. Prions are very resistant to destruction, so once in the environment, they are difficult to remove.

Scrapie is believed to primarily be transmitted by the oral route. Typically, lambs and kids might ingest the prion when they come in contact with the infectious agent through placentas and birthing fluids from infected ewes and does. Older animals may be exposed to the prions this way as well. Colostrum and milk are also sources of prions. Other secretions such as urine, feces, saliva, and nasal secretions may contain infectious prions as well. Once ingested, the prions cross into the lymphoid system. The prions will incubate for a long time usually two to five years before entering the nervous system.

Genetics plays a part in Scrapie infections. Certain breeds are more susceptible to the disease due to genetic composition. Genetic testing is available for producers to help them select breeding stock with resistant genes.

Clinical signs most commonly associated with Scrapie are intense pruritis, ataxia, and wasting. Early in the disease, small ruminant producers may notice slight changes in behavior with sheep and goats infected with Scrapie. Initially, animals may have a staring or fixed gaze, may not respond to herding, and may be aggressive towards objects. As the disease progresses, other clinical signs noticed are progressive weight loss with normal appetite, incoordination, head tremors, and intense pruritis. In the terminal stages, sheep are recumbent and may have blindness, seizures, and an inability to swallow. Once initial clinical signs are notice, death usually occurs in one to six months.

The gold standard for postmortem (dead animals) diagnosing of Scrapie is the use of immunohistochemistry test on brain tissues as well as microscopic examination of brain tissue for characteristic TGE lesions. Live animal diagnosis is possible by testing lymphoid tissues from the third eyelid and rectal mucosa scrapings.

There is no treatment available for Scrapie, so prevention is key to controlling the disease. Following biosecurity protocols is a good starting point for preventing Scrapie. Part of the biosecurity plan is to maintain a closed flock and only buy replacement animals from certified Scrapie free flocks. Producers should limit visitors’ contact with their animals. Sanitation is important in lambing and kidding areas. Manure and bedding contaminated with birthing fluids and placentas should be disposed of properly. Genetically resistant animals should be used for breeding to produce genetically resistant offspring.

It should be noted that there is a novel or atypical form of Scrapie. This disease may also be referred to as Nor98 variant. This atypical version of Scrapie was initially found in Norway. It has been diagnosed in the United States as well. The disease is usually only found in a single old animal in the flock or herd. The brain lesions in atypical Scrapie are different from classical Scrapie. Currently, experts believe that natural transmission of atypical Scrapie is not likely.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been battling Scrapie for decades. According to recent information from the USDA, the United States (US) is close to accomplishing eradication of the disease. In order for the United States to achieve Scrapie free status, no sheep or goats can test positive for classical scrapie for seven years and a certain level of testing needs to be done each year that represents the sheep and goat populations within the country. Small ruminant producers can assist the USDA eradication efforts by contacting the USDA when they have an adult sheep or goat exhibiting clinical signs of Scrapie or an adult animal dies or is euthanized. Producers should contact the Oklahoma State Veterinarian, Dr. Rod Hall at 405-522-6141 or the USDA Veterinary Services at 405-254-1797. This will aid the USDA in reaching sampling testing goals. There is no charge for the collection or testing of the samples for scrapie. 

Scrapie is a disease that needs to be eliminated from the US. Once eliminated, the US will have additional export markets for sheep and goat products. Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service has an informative fact sheet on Scrapie. Please visit the Local County Extension Office and asked for fact sheet VTMD-9135 or producers may view the fact sheet online at Also, the USDA National Scrapie Eradication Program website has valuable information as well at

References Cassmann, E. D., & Greenlee, J. J. (2020). Pathogenesis, detection, and control of scrapie in sheep. American journal of veterinary research81(7), 600–614.

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Avian Influenza Update



Barry Whitworth, DVM

Area Food/Animal Quality and Health

Specialist for Eastern Oklahoma

High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) continues to be a problem in commercial and backyard poultry in the Unites States (US) with over 60 million birds affected. Since the start of the outbreak in 2022, 879 flocks (347 commercial and 532 backyard flocks) have been confirmed with HPAI in the US. Many wild birds and mammals have been affected as well. Five backyard flocks and one commercial flock have been confirmed with HPAI during this outbreak in Oklahoma. The latest was detected in a backyard flock in Carter County on October 16, 2023. For a complete listing of domestic birds, wild birds, and mammals affected by HPAI visit 2022-2023 Detection of High Path Avian Influenza website at

Avian influenza (AI) is a highly contagious viral disease. The virus is classified as either Low Path Avian Influenza (LPAI) or HPAI depending on the virulence. This virus infects many food producing birds such as chickens and turkeys while it commonly resides in migratory waterfowl and many other wild birds. Most often ducks, geese, and wild birds harbor the virus in the intestinal tract without having any clinical signs of the disease. The virus is shed in the feces and respiratory secretions from infected birds. Poultry can be infected with the virus when they come in direct contact with infected birds or consume feed that is contaminated with the virus. The virus can be spread indirectly through objects like shoes, clothes, or equipment contaminated with the virus.

Clinical signs of the disease vary depending on the severity of the virus and the organ system affected. LPAI usually results in no clinical signs or only mild problems. However, HPAI has many different clinical signs. Death with no symptoms is a common finding. Respiratory problems such as coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal discharges may be seen. Depression resulting in loss of appetite and decrease consumption of water may occur. Egg production may be impacted with a decrease in production and/or softshell or misshapen eggs. A bird’s comb, wattle, head, eyelids, and hocks may swell. Combs and wattles may turn purple. Nervous system disorders including tremors, incoordination, and unusual positions of the head may be seen. Diarrhea has been reported in some cases. For more information about clinical signs visit Defend the Flock-Signs of Illness at

For commercial and backyard poultry flocks, the best defense against HPAI is a sound biosecurity program. Biosecurity is the development and implementation of management procedures intended to reduce or prevent unwanted threats from entering a flock. The protocol is designed to reduce or prevent the spread of unwanted threats through the flock and eliminate any unwanted pathogens that may enter the flock. Lastly, a biosecurity plan is designed to prevent threats from infecting neighboring poultry operations. Biosecurity can be broken down into four basic areas which include traffic, isolation, sanitation, and husbandry.

The first line of defense should be limiting the traffic that enters the area. Poultry operations should have a perimeter buffer area (PBA). For backyard poultry operations, this could be a fence. In commercial operations this may be a fence or road that surrounds the facility. All entry points need to be clearly marked with “Do Not Enter” signs. In a study by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) evaluating factors associated with introduction of HPAI in layer farms in the US, the presence of a gate was found to be protective against the introduction of the virus. Gates with signage may encourage people to follow biosecurity protocols.

Inside the PBA, a line of separation (LOS) needs to be established. The LOS isolates the birds from possible sources of infections. The LOS is usually the walls of the poultry building plus the entry point.  No person should cross this line without following proper biosecurity protocols. Producers should provide visitors with clean coveralls and disposable shoe covers. Visitors should wash their hands before and after visiting the facility. All visitors should dip their shoes in a disinfectant solution when entering and exiting the facility. Also, no other animals, wild or domestic should cross the LOS.

Sanitation is one of the most important parts of a biosecurity plan. All equipment, feeders, waterers, and buildings need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. First, all fecal material and dirt should be physically removed. Next, disinfectants must be applied and allowed sufficient contact time to work properly. Foot baths need to be properly maintained. The property outside the poultry house should be kept mowed and cleaned. Failure to keep the grass cut and/or to promptly clean up feed spills is associated with HPAI.

Poultry producers must also practice good animal husbandry. Flocks need to be observed several times per day. Producers need to collect and dispose of dead birds frequently. Producer should know the clinical signs of a sick bird. Any unusual increases in sick or dead birds should be reported to proper authorities. Backyard producers have several options. They can contact their veterinarian or Oklahoma State University County Extension office. They can also contact the Oklahoma State Veterinarian at 405-522-6141.

The National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) has guidelines for a biosecurity protocol. Commercial and backyard poultry producers should examine the NPIP 14 standards of the biosecurity protocol. Any areas that do not meet the standards need to be addressed. The NPIP biosecurity audit form can be found at Additional sources for backyard poultry producers can be found at the USDA Defend the Flock website at, Protect Your Poultry From Avian Influenza at or Oklahoma State University fact sheet Small Flock Biosecurity for Prevention of Avian Influenza ANSI-8301.

Avian Influenza is a major threat to the US and Oklahoma poultry industry. It is the responsibility of all commercial and backyard poultry producers to do everything in their power to protect this industry.


Swayne, D.E. and Halvorson, D.A. 2003 Influenza. In Y. M. Saif (ed.). Diseases of Poultry, 11th ed. Iowa State Press: Ames, Iowa, 135-160.

Green, A. L., Branan, M., Fields, V. L., Patyk, K., Kolar, S. K., Beam, A., Marshall, K., McGuigan, R., Vuolo, M., Freifeld, A., Torchetti, M. K., Lantz, K., & Delgado, A. H. (2023). Investigation of risk factors for introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus onto table egg farms in the United States,

2022: a case-control study. Frontiers in veterinary science10, 1229008.

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