I made my first ever visit to The Nature Conservancy’s Smoky Valley Ranch in western Kansas this week. It won’t be my last. Situated along the boundary between mixed-grass and shortgrass prairie, the Smoky Valley Ranch contains 16,800 acres of grassland – including a wide variety of prairie types – along with bison, lesser prairie chickens, prairie dogs, and even black-footed ferrets. It’s quite a place…
I was at the ranch as part of a small group invited to help the Conservancy’s Kansas staff think about their conservation strategies at the ranch, including fire and grazing management, restoration work, neighbor relations, and their research and monitoring approach. The peer review team included Conservancy staff from Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma, as well as several local landowners and partners from the local area.
The thoughtful work being done by the staff at the ranch was really impressive. They have been reconsidering their objectives and making some significant adjustments to their management approach. Our job was to give them some feedback on the changes they’re already making and help them think about some additional possibilities. It was two days of thought-provoking and stimulating conversation – mostly while standing in the middle of impressive grassland scenery.
I need to learn more about shortgrass prairie and the drier end of mixed-grass prairie. Plant and animal communities respond very differently to management and restoration treatments with less annual rainfall and under more frequent/longer droughts. However, I don’t feel like I have a good grasp of those differences. Looks like I’ll have to start making some trips to western Kansas….