Nature Conservancy Acquires 240 Acres at Center of Smoky Valley Ranch
The land will be restored to shortgrass prairie and provide habitat for lesser prairie-chickens.
Logan County, Kansas | July 09, 2018
The Nature Conservancy has purchased 240 acres of cropland that has long interrupted the native grass landscape of the organization's Smoky Valley Ranch in Logan County, Kansas. The 17,530-acre cattle and bison ranch is the centerpiece of the Conservancy's work in northwest Kansas, where 80 percent of the native prairie has been converted to some other use.
Ever since the Conservancy purchased Smoky Valley Ranch in 1999, the global conservation group has had it's eye on adding the donut-hole of cropland that disrupted the protected area.
"The in-holdings have created logistical and operational inefficiencies for the ranch," says Conservancy director Rob Manes. "Owning this property and incorporating it into Smoky Valley Ranch will maximize the impact of limited funding for conservation."
The new acres will also remain in agricultural production once restored to shortgrass prairie. After seeing the land with grasses and other native plants, the Conservancy says it will continue restoration through cattle and bison grazing.
"Like on the rest of Smoky Valley Ranch, our fundamental conservation strategy will be moderately-stocking cattle and using 'rest and rotation' grazing," explains Matt Bain, western Kansas conservation manager for the Conservancy. "If we want to save the 20 percent of native prairie that's left out here, it is critical that we can demonstrate healthy wildlife populations and successful ranching operations can go hand-in-hand."
He expects livestock won't be the only animals that take up residence on the newly-acquired land. The area has the highest known density of lesser prairie-chicken of anywhere in their five-state range. In 2013, Smoky Valley Ranch was identified as the region's only partial stronghold for the threatened grouse by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
"Improving forage for cattle also creates ideal habitat for upland nesting birds like the lesser prairie-chicken," says Bain. "The overall goal is to conserve what's left of the native prairie here for the native wildlife that depend on it and also for the ranchers who depend on it for their livelihood. The reality is, ranchers are caring for the last wild places in Kansas."
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.