Mountain-Prairie Region

Science >>Surrogate Species

Banner for the Flint Hills Surrogate Species page.

The Flint Hills ecoregion is the largest remaining intact tallgrass prairie in the Great Plains. This region is characterized by rolling hills composed of shale and cherty limestone, rocky soils, and by humid, wet summers. Average annual precipitation ranges from 28 to 35 inches. The Flint Hills marks the western edge of the tallgrass prairie. Erosion of the softer Permian limestone has left the more resistant flint deposits, producing the hilly topography and coarse soils.

Flint Hills Surrogate Species Effort Team Members and Contact Information

Oversight Team »

Technical Team »

Kansas Department of Wildlife,
Parks and Tourism »


Flint Hills Presentation (PDF)

Flint Hills Schedule (PDF)

FlintHills Surrogacy Final Overview (2.5MB PDF)

Regional Director's Message 3/5/14

Greetings Mountain-Prairie Region and KDWPT colleagues,

March marks a moment in time when we start to see our landscapes change from brown and tan to a spring green. At least in some parts of our region, days begin to gradually lengthen, the prairie grasses thicken, and mountains' snowmelt starts recharging our streams and reservoirs.

As spring comes with change and growth, so does our goal to achieve the best conservation results for species and habitats. Embracing change and testing new concepts can lead us to discovery and knowledge. Kudos to Kansas state employees and Service employees who have taken up the "proof of concept" challenge for surrogate species in the Flint Hills. They have been hard at work; the Surrogate Species Technical Team has assembled a draft plan to move from concept to reality for potential surrogate species.

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The initial plan is broken into an aquatic and terrestrial section. Each area identifies potential lead surrogate species and the species it is assumed to represent. In the aquatics section, the team identified the Neosho madtom, shovelnose sturgeon, mapleleaf mussel and others as potential surrogate species. These species all represent varying aquatic habitats and can indicate habitat quality, availability, and diversity. In the assessment of these species as potential surrogates, the team identified current conservation measures, regulatory statutes, and recommended voluntary best management practices with the potential to minimize limiting factors. In my next monthly message, I will shed some light on the draft plan for the terrestrial species. Some of you saw Steve Torbit’s summary presentation yesterday and it is attached here as well. It provides a brief overview of the status of our efforts to date.

For Service employees in the Mountain-Prairie Region, I have placed this update on my Regional Director’s Blog. This blog is accessible to all Regional employees as it located on the internal Fishnet SharePoint. Please comment, ask questions, or post a topic you want to see addressed. Kansas employees, please feel free to email any questions or comments directly. I would value hearing from you!

As we venture down the surrogate species corridor and implement a new facet of Strategic Habitat Conservation, there will be unknowns and challenges...however, as a team we will look for ways to tackle them and move forward. Thanks for your interest and engagement.


Noreen Walsh
Regional Director
Mountain-Prairie Region

Regional Director's Message 2/3/14

Greetings Mountain-Prairie Region and KDWPT colleagues,

As January ended, we wrapped up two technical team meetings between the Service and the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) and outside experts. We worked side-by-side with our partners to propose a set of possible surrogate species for testing the applicability of this approach along with a possible set of species to be represented within the Flint Hills landscape.

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The Flint Hills are a special landscape, marking the western edge of the tallgrass prairie, one of the most altered landscapes in the Nation. There is less than 4 percent of the original native prairie remaining intact and approximately three-fourths of the remaining native tallgrass prairie lies within the Flint Hills. This ecoregion also supports many grassland birds, contains the largest concentration of pristine freshwater streams in Kansas, while supporting over 80 species of native fish and shellfish. All of these unique characteristics make this an appropriatec landscape to begin our work on this approach.

During the workshops, the Surrogate Species Technical Team evaluated a host of species and developed a preliminary list of surrogates for consideration by the Oversight Team. Over 25 people discussed and strategized on the proposal and provided input.

As the team worked through the deliverables, they began defining the gaps of knowledge that exist in relation to limiting factors, species population performance, and stressors. They took into account on-the-ground conservation actions, which can address some of the limiting factors. The team also assessed the status of species objectives and will provide a list of inventory and monitoring needs along with defining the financial and human resources it will take to accomplish these objectives. After finalizing the feedback received during the workshops, they will make revisions to the proposed surrogate report before submitting it to the regional surrogate species Oversight Team as soon as possible.

You may be wondering what happened to the Surrogate Species Technical Guidance. We received over 2,000 comments from employees and the public. Based on those comments, the drafting team has revised the guidance, and the Executive Oversight Team, of which I am a member, will review. Keith Sexson (Kansas) and Nick Wylie (Florida) have agreed to serve as state liaisons to the Executive Oversight Team and they will review it with us, prior to releasing it for external peer review. After any necessary changes are incorporated into the document, it will be undergo a peer review which will take up to 120 days. The final guidance document will likely be released in August of 2014.

Planning efforts in the Flint Hills will assist Kansas and the Service with identifying procedures and uncertainties in the surrogate approach so that as we grow this approach we have the benefit of lessons learned. This effort by Kansas and the Service provide an important feedback loop on the guidance, ultimately through the lens of implementation.

I am so grateful to the Kansas state employees and the Service employees leading us in this effort. A strong partnership approach will continue to be vital to our success. We are fortunate not only to have an existing base of research but also a common interest with our state partner in this effort, making the Flint Hills an appropriate geography to begin the process for utilizing surrogate species to design our future conservation work on the landscape.


Noreen Walsh
Regional Director
Mountain-Prairie Region

Regional Director's Message 1/6/14


As winter continues, so does our effort to bring the Flint Hills surrogate species project to life. The Flint Hills project will be the first "proof of concept" for the Region because it is a priority grassland area in need of conservation. Many grassland birds are at issue in the Flint Hills, and we are fortunate not only to have an existing base of research but also a common interest with the state of Kansas. Our partner in this effort, Kansas Department of Wildlife-Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), agree it would be an appropriate geography to begin the process for utilizing surrogate species to design our conservation in this landscape.

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On November 14, we met with KDWPT to assemble a technical team, with members from Kansas and USFWS. The team developed a first set of priority species lists as we prove-up the surrogate species concept. We also succeeded in identifying the geographic boundary of the Flint Hills surrogate species landscape.

Over the next three months, the technical team will focus on the tallgrass prairie geography through a rigorous set of two face-to-face workshops in Kansas, one beginning this week, and two or more working teleconference calls throughout the planning phase. The technical team has nine Service members on it and you can reach out to them at any point for information on surrogate species or the Flint Hills project.

I'm inspired to see the motivation and commitment our employees and partners are contributing to a new Service model to help sustain species' populations as part of whole communities and systems. I know you may not be directly involved in this initial effort; however, as we continue to expand this new Service model, you will have the opportunity to engage. I want to hear your ideas for the landscapes you work in and could envision as a suitable area for surrogate species.

I plan to communicate with you on a monthly basis about the progress of surrogate species, the Flint Hill's project, and engage with you to answer your questions or concerns. If you have questions as you are brainstorming, feel free to reach out to the contacts of the Flint Hills surrogate species project. I will leave you with that thought in mind and although I welcome hearing from you at any time, in next month's message, I will offer up a setting for all to participate and share their ideas!


Noreen Walsh
Regional Director
Mountain-Prairie Region

Regional Director's Message 11/4/13


I’m excited to announce our first selection of a surrogate species landscape in the Flint Hills of Kansas!  This geography is going to serve as the initial “proof of concept” for a surrogate species approach in our region. Throughout the planning and development processes we expect to learn much and, thereby, improve the surrogate approach as we prepare to implement it in additional areas in the future. 

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As we develop this landscape approach for the tallgrass prairie and the species that depend on it, we know that success can only be achieved with the dedication and partnership of Service employees and Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) employees.  This strong partnership and the expertise and engagement of our partners at the KDWPT will be vital to a successful approach.  I’m confident that by working together we can achieve more than either agency could alone in these important native grasslands, and I appreciate Keith Sexson’s willingness to explore this approach with us.

We will be navigating this effort at the Regional level through the Office and Science Applications, under the leadership of Steve Torbit, ARD – SA, which is overseeing three separate teams. Each team requires commitment, interaction and input of all regional programs to ensure the success of our regional surrogate species effort.  The three teams under development (or already in place) are:

Regional Oversight Team

• Composed of each program ARD or their designee and KDWPT leaders to oversee this surrogate species effort.

Regional Technical Team

• Composed of the technical experts from the region and our partners necessary to provide expertise in ecology for the surrogate effort.

Region 6 Science Team

• This existing team is composed of regional program representatives with scientific expertise. This team will support the effort by reviewing and commenting on technical team products, assisting with engagement of outside reviewers or experts, and serve as an arbiter in finalizing the work products of the technical team.

Before the end of calendar year 2013, these teams and many other individuals will be working to deliver the following objectives:


1.      Define the geographic boundary for the Flint Hills surrogate species landscape.
2.      Create a list of potential or preliminary surrogate species for this landscape.
3.      Identify desired population objectives.
4.      Develop and define the deliverable conservation actions.
5.      Discuss any necessary alignment of organizational infrastructures to achieve
those conservation objectives.
6.      Lay a foundation that will be further refined for the surrogate species approach.

Given that our first foray into surrogate species is in this defined landscape, there will be many FWS Region 6 employees not involved in this initial “proof of concept” stage.  However, we will be learning many things about developing and implementing this effort and we want to keep you up to date with status reports, information requests or other learning opportunities.

Keep in mind, the entire Region will be implementing a surrogate approach in the future and it will be helpful for us all to learn from this expedition into the Flint Hills. That’s why we will want to keep you all involved and informed, all of us learning as we go, to improve and build upon our initial effort.  In addition, we will undertake the beginnings of an effort to identify federal trust species that could serve as surrogates on an additional larger landscape during the last few months of 2013. Stay tuned and look for more information to follow as it becomes available.


Noreen Walsh
Regional Director
Mountain-Prairie Region

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with
Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and
their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
March 6, 2014
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