The program works on a simple premise to reduce ecological damage: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, buy passes.
Each $5 pass sponsors one acre of agricultural land for a year, giving the farmers funding to switch to conservation practices such as no-till farming, tree planting, and riparian restoration. When implemented, these measures have an enduring effect well beyond what either the farmer or the sponsor could have accomplished alone.
Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, said ECOpass helps Oklahomans who want to contribute to conservation efforts, but feel that they can not do much individually.
“It’s a way to bring people who want to reduce their environmental impact together with landowners [who] undertake practices on the land that have a huge environmental benefit,” said Pope.
A farmer and rancher, he understands well the need for conservation, as well as the tremendous benefits ECOpass-sponsored practices offer. No-till farming is one such practice. It’s exactly what it sounds like — just stop tilling the fields where crops are planted — yet no-till reaps big bonuses for Oklahoma’s environment.
“That practice by itself sequesters roughly a half a metric ton of carbon dioxide per acre per year,” Pope said.
He highlights the success ECOpass has already had in cleaning up Oklahoma’s rivers and streams, pointing out that Oklahoma is first in the nation for removing harmful nutrients from surface water.
He said the most important aspect of ECOpass is its ability to unite Oklahomans in protecting a mutually cherished resource.
“If we can work together to solve these problems,” Pope said, “we can get a lot of work done on the land.”
Steve House can attest to that. He runs a 1,300-acre farm in Watonga, where he grows alfalfa and beans, and raises cattle. Like Pope, he is a longtime proponent of ecological measures.
Before ECOpass was created, House was involved in the North Canadian River Watershed Project to clean up riparian areas.
Today, he continues to repair and maintain those areas. House uses irrigation, practices no-till, and with regard to ECOpass measures, does “a little bit of everything.”
“[The program] gives everyone the chance to be a team player,” House said. For more information, visit ecopassok. com.