NOBLE, Okla. (KFOR) – Environment is at the center of still more concerns surrounding Oklahoma’s plans to increase its highway infrastructure using turnpikes.

In an email to KFOR, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority said it would “conduct comprehensive studies on the impacts ACCESS Oklahoma will have on the environment, the community and individuals. Such studies are used during the planning and design process to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts. This process is just beginning and not far enough along to provide specifics except to assure you and the public the OTA will do its due diligence in this area.”

However, with the information available about what increased auto traffic in particular does to the environment, advocates believe that one extension currently mapped out across the street from where the WildCare Oklahoma Foundation currently resides in Noble could be detrimental.

“We are the place that provides people a place to bring wildlife that’s struggling to survive, whether they find orphaned wildlife, injured wildlife or they’re trying to resolve some sort of conflict they have with wildlife,” said Executive Director Inger Giuffrida. “People would have nowhere to turn.”

The Golden Family Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center at WildCare

The oldest and largest wildlife rehabilitation center utilized a team of more than a hundred full-time staff and volunteers in 2021 to provide 5,000 hours of service to the region.

Giuffrida told KFOR the disruption could lead to reverberating ecological effects, including noise, pollution and a possible displacement for thousands of endangered and threatened species of animals.  

“It is a no-win situation (for wildlife) because it will destroy the wildlife corridor that is a part of Cleveland County and one of the most important wildlife corridors in Central Oklahoma,” she said, adding that the plans for the turnpike’s location would also cut off access to Lake Thunderbird, a vital water source for the region’s inhabitants.

“And it’s thousands of animals, hundreds of different species,” she added. “There are nesting sites for bald eagles at Lake Thunderbird, as well as endangered and threatened species that live there. It’s part of one of the major migratory flyways in the United States where birds come and rest while they’re making the trip, either north or south, depending on the time of the year.”

Giuffrida said that while the center was hoping to expand beyond its current locale, the pending construction plans may ultimately force the center to close or move, and it could be devastating to the expansion of an organization she said Oklahomans have built up over a nearly 40-year period.

“People want to help wildlife…and we provide a place where they can do that responsibly,” she added. “And for a road to destroy that seems like an incredible waste and disrespect to the work that has been done by so many people.”