The Nature Conservancy is celebrating its 20th anniversary of conservation in Kansas. The Chapter opened in 1989 in Topeka, Kansas. The Nature Conservancy is one of the leading not-for-profit conservation organization working around the world and in Kansas to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy has nearly a million members worldwide and works in all 50 states and over 30 countries.
The Conservancy had a presence in Kansas before 1989, assisting with various land protection projects in Clark, Douglas and Riley counties. By the late 1980s, the Conservancy was ready to expand their program in Kansas. Opening the Kansas Chapter became the next natural step. Alan Pollom was named State Director and was responsible for building the Chapter’s conservation initiatives throughout the state. Starting out as an office of one, Pollom steadily built programs, hired staff and increased the membership base. Today, the Chapter has protected over 83,000 acres and has 19 employees located across Kansas including Pollom, who is still State Director. The Chapter works in three major areas – the wetlands at Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend, the tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills, and a large working shortgrass prairie ranch in Logan County in western Kansas. These three regions represent a cross section of Kansas’ natural landscapes.
In 1989, the earliest major undertaking of the Chapter was the acquisition of 731 acres at Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve, one of the top shorebird migration points in North America. The primary goal at the Bottoms is to protect this valuable habitat through land management and restoration beneficial to plant and animal communities. Today, the Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve covers over 7,700 acres.
The Flint Hills had long been a primary conservation target for the Conservancy. They are one of the last landscape-scale expressions of tallgrass prairie in North America. In fact, only four percent of tallgrass prairie remains in North America with nearly three-quarters of that located in the Flint Hills of Kansas. By the early 2000s, the Kansas Chapter began the Flint Hills Initiative, a community-based conservation project. The project addresses the threats to the greater Flint Hills region and works on strategies to abate them by promoting conservation easements and wildlife-friendly range management.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is the Kansas Chapter’s most recent acquisition and was the flagship project in the recently completed capital campaign.The nearly 11,000-acre preserve is a wonderful example of the tallgrass prairie culture. This preserve is operated in a joint effort with the National Park Service, which runs the day-to-day operations. The Conservancy acquired the preserve in 2005, when financial pressures were bearing down on the preserve. Remarkable improvements have been made including increasing visitation opportunities to the preserve and allowing for greater plant and wildlife variety. As a result, the preserve has garnered a great deal of attention from national media outlets.
More conservation efforts continue all across Kansas, most notably in 1999 with acquisition of the Chapter’s largest Kansas preserve, the nearly 17,000-acre Smoky Valley Ranch. In 2007, a long-time conservation goal came to fruition. The federally endangered black-footed ferret was reintroduced to the ranch by officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The reintroduction marked the return of an original shortgrass prairie species that had been absent for nearly 50 years. Since then, black-footed ferret kits have been found on the ranch.
“We are very proud of the work that has been done to protect Kansas’ critical natural areas.We also encourage visitors to go out and enjoy these areas and discover for themselves how conservation impacts not only nature, but their quality of life as well,” said Alan Pollom, Kansas State Director. “We want ensure nothing less than the long-term protection of these important lands for nature and man.”
Got a special nature memory? We are collecting memories for our 20th anniversary. If you have spent time at one of preserves or just have a memory from an outdoor trip, let us know. Email us here.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.