Endangered ecosystem: Kansas prairie

Konza Prairie. Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Konza Prairie. Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Along with individual species, ecosystems themselves can be at risk. One of the rarest is the prairie in Kansas.

Once it spread over 170 million acres from north into present day Canada and south into Texas and east of the Mississippi to the Rockies. 1% of that prairie is left, much of the tallgrass prairie is in the Flint Hills, since it was too rocky to plow under, it was protected.

It’s a uniquely North American ecosystem, and from the shortgrass prairie closer to the western edge of the state to the tallgrass prairie in the eastern edge, the prairie is home to dozens of types of grasses, hundreds of types of flowers, and these grasses once fed hundreds upon hundreds of bison, antelope, and deer.

Fire helps form the prairie by burning out the woodier vegetation, and burns were started naturally by lightning or by Native Americans. Today, conservationists still work to preserve the prairie by burning it.

One of the success stories of prairie conservation is the Kansas tallgrass prairie. 80% of the world’s remaining tallgrass prairie land is in Kansas, and the Tallgrass Legacy Alliance brings together private landowners, government agencies, and conservationists to help learn more about, protect, and expand the resource that is the prairie ecosystem.

For more information on the tallgrass prairie, visit the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan. To check out the shortgrass prairie, visit Smoky Valley Ranch or Cimarron National Grassland in western Kansas.

Or consider making your yard into a prairie. It takes less water and it provides the natural beauty of swaying grasses and wildflowers.

Threatened and Endangered Species Series: Who Cares?

Our task must be to free ourselves, by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole of nature…and its beauty.

Albert Einstein

As I started reading a link from a friend’s Facebook post about how there’s a bill that passed the Kansas Senate last month that would repeal the nearly 40 year oldĀ  Kansas Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act, I choked on my coffee. Having walked mile after mile through the parks and wilderness areas of Kansas and researching for the book, I couldn’t fathom that it would become OK to not care for the threatened and endangered species that live here.

A conservation dependent species - not currently threatened, but could be without care

A conservation dependent species – not currently threatened, but could be without care

After I recovered from my choking fit, I realized that while, yes, there are economic issues at play and that farmers, ranchers, and developers have rights, there’s really no going back after a species has gone extinct. And while this current bill has thankfully been shut down in the Senate, we need to remember to care for what wilderness and wildlife we have left.

Our tallgrass prairie is 4% of what it used to be. Our herds of bison have been reduced to dozens instead of thousands. Wetlands have been drained to make farmland or paved over for roads and cities.

Balance is key. Yes, people need to make livings. Farmers, ranchers, and developers have rights, but not that trump the rights of the wild world, which doesn’t have a voice to speak for itself, and species that, without our interference, would likely be thriving instead of threatened, like the lesser prairie chicken, the whooping crane, or the black-footed ferret. With the removal of one species from an ecosystem, a disastrous domino effect may occur, and what once was, will never be regained.

The needs and wants of today should not be considered more important than the literal survival of an entire species of creature. So at KansasTrailGuide.com, we’re going to start a series of articles on some of the threatened and endangered species that make their homes in Kansas, including information on where you can see them in the wild, why you should care about their survival, and what you can do to help ensure their safety.

Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.

Aldo Leopold