A roothold for prairie is not achieved by wishing it.
— Aldo Leopold
The Nature Conservancy is working to establish a roothold for prairie conservation in Kansas through the Flint Hills Initiative. Our goal is to ensure the long-term survival of all viable native species and community types.
The tallgrass prairie is the most altered ecological community in North America. Of the 142 million acres that once covered the American heartland, less than 2%–4% is left. The greater Flint Hills area is by far the largest tallgrass prairie landscape on the continent, with more acres remaining than in all the other prairie states and provinces combined. Even so, a sizable portion of the Flint Hills has been degraded by invasive plants, urban sprawl, urban-to-rural migration, woody encroachment, and continued prairie and ranch fragmentation.
This new community-based initiative will employ multiple strategies to abate the degradation of the Flint Hills prairie.
The Nature Conservancy is promoting ranching practices that protect the biological integrity of the tallgrass prairie but do not threaten the cultural or economic foundations of the region. For example, the Conservancy advocates environmentally responsible ways to control sericea lespedeza — a highly invasive weed in the tallgrass prairie — through educational outreach and partnerships with government and non-government organizations.
To prevent the conversion of the prairie to other uses, the Conservancy will explore the use of conservation easements in the Flint Hills. Landowners will retain private ownership of their land and the right to continue ranching, but further development on their property will be legally limited. Easements can provide significant tax benefits to the landowner and enable families to keep their lands intact for future generations.
Through the Flint Hills Initiative, the Kansas Chapter is working with ranchers to preserve the threatened prairie chicken while still maintaining livestock profitability. The initiative will also protect Flint Hills' 88 native grass species, including big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, switchgrass, and sideoats grama. The 500 native broadleaf plants (forbs) on the land are also important because they help maintain the ecological health of the prairie. Deep-rooted forbs recycle minerals back to the surface where they can be used by grasses.
The Nature Conservancy is a founding member and supporter of the Tallgrass Legacy Alliance (TLA), a diverse alliance of ranchers, agricultural and environmental organizations, and public agencies. Member organizations of the Tallgrass Legacy Alliance include the Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Wildlife Management Institute, and The Nature Conservancy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State Conservation Commission, and Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks are examples of agency members.