Protecting the Permian: Meet Three Land Stewards Devoted to Restoring, Improving Wildlife Habitat

Jesse Wood, Jason Brooks, and Ryan Jonnes are making a positive impact on the Permian Basin ecosystem, enabling ConocoPhillips to successfully balance responsible oil and gas development with land stewardship.

Stakeholders examine a pipeline right-of-way reclaimed with native grasses during a field day at Quail Ranch.
Source: ConocoPhillips

As Permian Basin director of ecology and sustainable Development, Jesse Wood oversees stewardship activities and management of natural resources on over 195,000 acres in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico. He also serves as a liaison to state and federal agencies addressing threatened and endangered species concerns and facilitating implementation of corporate sustainable development and biodiversity initiatives.

Jason Brooks and Ryan Jonnes are wildlife biologists and field coordinators on Wood’s team, helping him implement ConocoPhillips’ land stewardship initiatives in the Permian.

Why is it important for ConocoPhillips to be a leader in land stewardship in the Permian Basin?

Wood: Due to our position in the Permian, we’ve been given the opportunity to demonstrate strong land ethics as an exploration and production company. We’ve shown that we can promote rangeland and ecosystem health across the board and have a positive impact across the landscape. It's important that we set the standard for our industry when it comes to stewardship of natural resources where we live and work. I consider it part of our social license to operate.

What do you consider your biggest success story at Quail Ranch?

\Wood: Perhaps our biggest success is the recognition we received from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as a Lone Star Land Steward Award winner in 2022. These prestigious awards are presented to landowners for their contributions to land, water, and wildlife stewardship. We are the first exploration and production company to receive this award, and it is a testament to our commitment to manage our assets in a responsible and sustainable manner.

What are ConocoPhillips’ restoration and wildlife management priorities for 2024 in the Permian Basin?

Brooks: One of our top goals is always to work with our internal and third-party development teams to site new projects in the most ecologically responsible manner possible. Beyond that, we will continue to restore all right-of-way and decommissioned infrastructure on surface interests; enhance degraded habitats consistent with our long-term plans; and maintain areas that we have previously restored. In addition, we have some exciting community events planned this year, including the 2024 Trail Run at Quail Ranch; a Girls in Science Program hosted by Sibley Nature Center (presenting to fourth–sixth grade girls on wildlife biology); and a Quail Masters event hosted by the Rolling Plains Research Ranch that demonstrates how new technologies, such as drones, are being used to manage wildlife habitat.

Why is collaboration important in land stewardship?

Brooks: Habitat fragmentation is probably our biggest challenge, so collaboration allows managers to multiply the impacts of their efforts by creating larger swaths of suitable habitat across property boundaries.

What’s the most challenging aspect of restoring native grassland in a desert environment? 

Jonnes: There are many challenges to restoring native grassland in a desert environment. Precipitation is the driver for all life in the desert. After years of drought, you can see a negative shift in the desirable plant community. Invasive plants like Lehman’s lovegrass and African rue are adapted to dry environments and spread quickly, out-competing preferred native grasses. More information is needed on reducing Lehman’s lovegrass density in order to give native plant communities a chance.

Are you seeing an increase in blue quail numbers where habitat has been restored?

Jonnes: Winter precipitation is paramount for blue quail populations. Quail populations can rebound quickly given the right conditions. It is our goal to provide quail with favorable habitat to have large rebounds on the favorable years and maintain populations during the dry periods.

Brooks: In fully restored areas, we do see an uptick in quail numbers relative to adjacent properties due to an increase primarily in nesting habitat but also cover and in some cases food. Enhancing nest success and survival via sound management allows us to maximize the natural “boom” cycles that Ryan mentioned, while mitigating the “busts.”

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