Million acre! wildlife refuge to be established in the Flint Hills of Kansas

Private land refuge to be tried to conserve much of the remnants of the tall grass prairie-

As everyone knows, very little prairie has been conserved or restored.  This is an effort said to be the model for the 21st century. This might be true in the sense that it seems like the kind of thing that would appeal to some kinds of conservatives. Most what was done came during the Great Depression and was short grass prairie.

New wildlife refuge set in Flint Hills of Kansas. By Roxana Hegeman. The Associated Press. It will be named the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area and a part of the National Wildlife Refuge System

There is a Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve of about 10,000 acres. It was established in 1996. This was the culmination of  about 70 years of efforts to create a tallgrass prairie national park, monument, preserve, conservation area or whatever. Most of this national preserve is, oddly enough, the result of purchases by the Nature Conservancy and remains in their hands.

James Nedresky. Photographs of the Flint Hills.





  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I wish Salazar would take off that damned cowboy hat. He looks like a parody.

    1. WM Avatar

      The hat certainly adds nothing, and with this one being black there may be a subliminal message there for some.

      Another grassland, not very well known except in Jame’s Michener’s Centennial (which is called Chalk Cliffs in the book), is Pawnee National Grasslands about thirty miles east of Fort Collins, CO, in NE Weld County, very near the WY state line. It is almost 200,000 acres of, mostly untouched by farming, grasslands north of the South Platte River, and is under the administration of the US Forest Service. I have not visited the Grasslands in nearly thirty years, but even then had a vision of what it would have been like with bison in great numbers on the landscape, as far as the eye could see.

      1. WM Avatar

        It appears the US Forest Service administers alot of grassland habitat, but with the usual suspects -cattle grazing allotments and off road vehicles- causing negative impact under a multiple use mandate.

        ++ The Forest Service currently administers twenty National Grasslands consisting of 3.8 million acres of public land. These grasslands are managed for a variety of purposes including forage, fish and wildlife, timber, water, and recreation resources. While National Grasslands are valued for these basic goods, they also deliver other important services that are often perceived to be free and limitless++

        A (1997) national primer on the Grasslands under USFS “stewardship”:

      2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


        I’m not very familiar with the national grasslands. Thanks for the pdf on the National Grasslands and the Bankhead-Jones Act under which most of the land was reacquired.

        I do know that these lands are managed by the Forest Service, and to my knowledge are used very much like the BLM lands. However, most of them are in the great plains. I have not visited them except for Idaho’s one small national grassland, the Curlew NG, in SE Idaho.

        The Curlew is managed by the Caribou National Forest and is about 25 miles south of Pocatello, where I live. I visit it several times a year. It is a mixture of reacquired public lands in Curlew and Arbon Valley bottoms which were abandoned for taxes in the Great Depression.

        The Curlew is a mixture of reacquired lands and private lands. All of it is grazed by livestock. Oddly enough, it sits between two mountain ranges which are both composed of BLM lands. In other words it is just the reverse of the usual situation where the Forest Service manages public lands in the mountains and the BLM the lower elevation public lands. If you look at the Caribou National Forest’s web page, it doesn’t say much about the Curlew.

        The Curlew National Grasslands are scenic, but this is largely due to the shape and colors of the adjacent mountains and the big sky of the area. I have taken many photographs. It is not because it is in any great kind of ecological shape.

        Having been reacquired lands (due to economic distress and dust bowl degradation), my assumption is that they have few spots of native prairie.

        However, if anyone in this forum is acquainted with those larger grasslands in eastern Colorado, eastern Wyoming, the Dakotas, and New Mexico, tell us about them.

        Forest Service. National Grasslands Page.

  2. David Avatar

    When is a “wildlife refuge” not a wildlife refuge? When the designated purpose sees wildlife usurped by livestock? It should have a different name.

  3. Jeff Avatar

    Are they still going to have cattle? I grew up close to the Flint Hills in eastern Kansas—they are beautiful, I’d really like to see bison, elk and pronghorn all returned. They are in places, but it would be amazing to see a contiguous wild piece of land in the tallgrass prairie.

    1. ProWolf in WY Avatar
      ProWolf in WY

      I agree, bring the buffalo, elk, and antelope back. Does anyone know if this area was originally inhabited by Audobon’s bighorn sheep? If so bring them back too.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Since this is going to be almost all private land, the refuge being mostly based on conservation easements, I’d say cattle are assured, although some land owners might remove them if they decide they personally like idea of wildlife instead of livestock or if some entity gives them a monetary or other valuable incentive.

    1. Jeff Avatar

      So is Wildlife Refuge a misnomer—sounds more like a million acres conservation easment, more so than a refuge per se.

      1. Elk275 Avatar

        It is better than a million new homes with Wal Marts, MacDonalds and Taco Bells. At least it is a start.

      2. JB Avatar

        And what was the chance of a million new homes being built in Nowheresville, Kansas?

        I’m always happy to see a new Refuge designated, but per usual, they’ve gone for the low-hanging fruit.

  5. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    Are not men, by tradition, to remove their hats indoors, cowboys included? Perhaps it was not indoors.

    I have visited the Pawnee National Grassland twice in the past ten years and was disappointed both times because of the lack of native biota and the impact of cattle on the landscape. I had hoped to see at least one of the short grass prairie birds of the area. I did see a fawn antelope with a broken leg struggling to keep up with a small herd.

  6. Larry Zuckerman Avatar

    Barb – the Great Plains Nature Center is in Wichita and yes, Salazar is speaking inside a building with his black hat on.

    The existing Tall Grass Prairie Reserve in the Chase County Flint Hills was a real mess last time I visited – loads of cattle effects on Topeka shiner habitat -wrecked, plus I viewed and photographed some prairie fringed orchids, which the National Park Service poo-pooed and ignored, claiming those rare plants don’t exist.

    The existing NPS site was dominated by the Hunt Brothers (remember them from Texas and the scams on the price of silver) and their cattle – and they had an iron-clad guarantee for grazing – poor land management! Not even longhorn cattle and cowboys on horses, which was the Flint Hills tradition until recently with the Hunt Brothers cattle and leases. Many of the local cowboys lost out to Texans on ATVs – quite scenic and historic.

    I remember seeing head cuts that ran for miles up the streams of the Flint Hills, many due to cows in the riparian.

    The only place you might see bison in the Tall Grass Prairie of Kansas is on the Konza Prairie to the north which is co-managed by Kansas State University and The Nature Conservancy.

    Fort Riley to the west has free-ranging elk in their tall grass prairies, that compete with maneuvering tanks and other armored vehicles. Funny, Army uses similar techniques to protect riparian and woody vegetation from tanks that we try to employ for cattle damage.

    On the Short Grass Prairie to the West, there is a free-ranging bison herd at St. Jacob’s Well – very scenic, something to behold. Further west, in Kansas’ southwest corner in the Cimarron National Grasslands (managed by the Pike/San Isabel National Forest), there are free-ranging elk, including some trophy bulls. Of course, they compete with cattle and oil/gas wells. If the elk happen to wander into Oklahoma or Colorado. they are killed off – livestock interests get their way again.

    South into Oklahoma, some of the Tall Grass Prairie in the Ouachita Mountains, sports a free-ranging bison herd, that might just stomp your tent, if camping there – talk about wild. The Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge not only has bison, but also herds of longhorn cattle.

    Maybe the grizzly bears and wolves will make it back into the Plains with the bison, elk, antelope, deer, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets… but not if the cattlemen get their way.

    Larry Zuckerman, an ex-Jayhawker

  7. Evan Avatar

    I haven’t been to the Flint Hills, or Pawnee, so I don’t know what shape they are in with regards to historic tallgrass prairie biodiversity. But I do know that grazing cattle on it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ruined or will be degraded by allowing such. After all, that ecosystem is what fed those millions of bison. The grasslands are more resilient than most Great Basin/Rockies regions when it comes to grazing pressure. Prairies need frequent disturbance (grazing, fire, etc) to thrive and warm-season grasses can be excellent forage as well as wildlife habitat… IF (big, fingers crossed if) the effort is put forth to keep invasives down and encourage the tallgrass species’ reconstitution/preservation, it could be a win-win situation. I think encouraging and involving private land owners is the only way tallgrass prairieland will ever survive, and this looks like a great step towards that end. Here’s hoping the momentum continues…

  8. william huard Avatar
    william huard

    What’s the point of calling it a Wildlife preserve if there will be cattle grazing. I hope there are plans for prairie dog restoration, as well as pronghorn and bison reintroduction as well.

  9. Petticoat Rebellion Avatar
    Petticoat Rebellion

    Sounds like a great place for the buffalo to roam!

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    william huard,

    There are cattle and other livestock on many National Wildlife Refuges, including those that are 100% publicly owned.

    I don’t like it, but it is often better than no refuge at all.

  11. Maska Avatar

    Well, I lived in the Flint Hills in Manhattan, KS, and on Ft. Riley for about five years in the late 1970’s. Konza Prairie is a little gem, and much of the area on Ft. Riley isn’t in all that bad shape–or at least wasn’t in those days. I haven’t been back in at least twenty years.

    Our quarters backed up to a ravine that ran several miles down to a small pond. There was quite a bit of wildlife, including coyotes and badgers, great horned owls, and a variety of avian raptors. Deer frequented the less populated parts of post, and there was a resident bison herd.

    I agree with most of the comments above. The bottom line is that some private parcels will be well-managed, and others undoubtedly won’t. It is, however, a place to start, and gives the public some standing in trying to influence overall management, I suppose.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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