Kansas Partners for Fish and Wildlife
Project Profile: Prairie Restoration in the Smoky Hills of Kansas
Contact: Mike Disney, 785-539-3474, ext. 107
This prairie enhancement project is comprised of five individual, yet adjoining private properties, totaling 1,870 acres. These sites were fragmented native prairie within a larger portion of grassland in the mixed grass prairie region of north central Kansas. This cluster of projects effectively addresses the fragmentation issue of encroaching eastern red cedar trees (Juniperus virginiana), not only for this site but on a larger scale, by connecting intact grasslands that border the projects to help improve the overall grassland ecosystem.
By restoring this prairie, habitat is not only enhanced for grassland obligate birds, such as greater prairie chicken (Tympanicus cupido) and grasshopper sparrow (Ammadromus savamnarum) but a suite of species found within the large intact grassland habitats required by these umbrella species. The greater prairie-chicken, or pinnated grouse, was once abundant across the oak savanna and tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Today they are extremely rare or extinct across most of their range, due to habitat loss. The greater prairie-chicken prefers undisturbed, tallgrass prairie like that found in the Smoky Hills of Kansas. The grasshopper sparrow, known by the “tik tuk zee” sound of its call, similar to a grasshopper, was once also abundant in tallgrass prairie across North America, but has become rare due to habitat loss.
In accomplishing this restoration, landowners agreed to mechanically remove eastern red cedar trees by clipping or sawing, followed by maintenance removal and prescribed burning. Maintenance removal and prescribed burns were part of the landowner’s in-kind contribution to the projects and will be performed during the life of the agreements. Landowner cost-share for the projects averaged 28% of the total project.
Over time, the remaining trees and the bare soil under the trees will gradually be replaced with a native herbaceous prairie plant community which will aid in helping reduce soil erosion, improve water cycling, increase forage availability to livestock, and further restore habitat for grassland species.
The photos below depict project sites before (left) and after (right) invasive tree clearing followed by prescribed fire to enhance prairies within the Smoky Hills focus area.