Kansas Prairie Primer

Prologue

The Mission of the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition is: “To regenerate Kansas grazing land resources through cooperative management, economics, ecology, production, education, and technical assistance programs.

The focus of the Prairie Primer and Current Grassland Conditions is to identify and provide information on factors affecting the regeneration and maintenance of native grasslands and other grazing lands that exist throughout the state of Kansas for its various uses and values such as livestock grazing, wildlife habitat, scenic beauty, recreation, tourism, and other cultural values.

Kansas is a “Prairie” state noted for its native grasslands, streams and wetlands, abundant blue skies and green grassland vistas. The native grasslands that exist throughout Kansas are one of the state’s most important renewable natural resources. These grasslands help maintain the landscape and its watersheds and aid in maintaining the water quality in our streams and lakes. Grassland habitats are home to many of the state’s rich diversity of native plants and wildlife species.

Kansas prairies are a product of the natural environment. Climate, geology, soils, grazing animals and man’s activity, now and in the past, have all contributed to the grasslands that we have inherited and choose to provide stewardship for.

The peoples of Kansas have had a rich, diverse cultural history closely associated with the prairies and grasslands of this state.  Nomadic "paleoindians" hunted on the high plains prehistorically.  The Kanza or Kaw Tribe, "The People of the South Wind",  gave this state its name.  Kansas has been host to many historical events.  Coronado and other early Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to "discover" Kansas' bountiful grasslands. They were quickly followed by the French and other early European explorers wanting to trade for furs.  Kansas was the door to Western expansion and settlement.   Kansas frontier forts became famous during the "Indian Wars" of the 1860's. The Santa Fe, Smoky Hill, and Oregon Trail hardened and honed settlers heading west.   The reputation of  the hardy pioneering spirit of early Kansas women continues today. There were the Exodusters and the settlement of Nicodemus after the Civil War.  Kansas cattle trails, cowboys, lawmen, and cowtowns are legendary .  Cowboys and cattle have been a part of the prairie fabric for over one hundred and fifty years in Kansas.  There was also the buffalo hunter, the railroads, barbed wire, and the plow.  The howl of the prairie wolf and the roar of the Plains grizzly bear are remembered no more....we can only hope that no one ever says the same about Kansas Prairies.

Kansas grasslands are of prime economic importance, too.   The state nationally ranks 12th in acres of pasture and rangeland. Kansas presently has about 15.8 million acres of native grasslands or rangelands, 2.5 million acres of pastureland, and at any given time, 3 to 6 million acres of annual forages. In 2009 cattle generated $5.55 billion in cash receipts for the state; and, at the start of this year, 2010, Kansas ranked third nationally with 6 million head of cattle on ranches and in feed yards throughout the state.

For now and the future, Kansas grasslands encompass a host of rich natural resource opportunities and provide an equal number of resource management challenges. The task is humbling and requires access to a vast, rapidly expanding knowledge base, and that is the purpose of this Prairie Primer.

This document is a “web-based” document.  It will initially follow the outline proposed below and will continue to expand and develop as new knowledge and technology becomes available.  A web source containing the appropriate information  will be  linked to each subject area.  Where needed, additional guidance will be provided to assist users in accessing the information available on a given site.



KANSAS PRAIRIE PRIMER

Kansas Grasslands, along with its water, are among the state's most important natural resources.  Their continued existence and regeneration is a critical factor to the future of the state's economic, environmental, and social well being. 



Kansas Grazing Lands

Ecological Sites and Forage Suitability Groups

The USDA-NRCS National Range and Pasture Handbook (NRPH), Chapter Three discusses ecological sites and forage suitability groups :
After clicking on this link, click on the state you want, Kansas, then click on the individual county that you want.  This will bring you to a page that has a box on the upper lefthand side that allows you to select a "FOTG Section". Select "Section II".  Then select "Ecological Site Descriptions".  Next select "range sites".  Then select the individual range site you are interested in.  This will bring up a copy of the older range site description for the selected site.
 Kansas Rangeland Ecological Site Descriptions (ESD's) that are available can be accessed on this link.  First, on the linked page, select the desired Major Land Resource Area (MLRA), in the lefthand box. (Those MLRA's available for Kansas are 072, 073, 074, 076, 079, and 112.)  Secondly, select "Kansas" for the state in the righthand box.  Then click on submit.  A page with the list of completed site names for that MLRA will then appear.  Finally, select the desired range site name from that listing.
  • Ecological Site State and Transition Models - The model for each Kansas ecological site is found within the rangeland Ecological Site Description (ESD) that has been developed for that site as found above.
  • Plant communities - A list of plants and description/discussion of plant communities is a part of each rangeland Ecological Site Description (ESD).

Grazing Land Plants

Kansas Threatened and Endangered Plant Species

Kansas Woody Plants

Kansas Invasive Plant Species

 Kansas Department of Agriculture's " Noxious and Invasive Weed Update" - Spring 2012

Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA)

Kansas Wildflower and Grasses Pocket Guides

Kansas Herbariums

Kansas Arboretums

Inventory and Monitoring Grazing Land Resources

There are established sampling techniques to gather information on the impact of  management to rangelands.  For example, it is desirable to keep a record of annual forage production and also to determine if there is any shift in plant species composition.  On rangelands some plants are more palatable and nutritious. Under heavy grazing pressure they can decrease and other less palatable and less nutritious plants replace them.  In some severe  instances there can even be a predominance of plants with toxins that are poisonous to livestock.

Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Office for Rangeland Management Specialist technical assistance.

  • Inventory
  • Evaluating and Rating Ecological Sites
  • Vegetation Sampling Techniques
  • Rangeland Health

Grazing  Systems (Cattle)

  • A Summary of Livestock Grazing Systems Used in Western U.S. and Canada - click here
  • Continuous Grazing
  • Intensive-Early Stocking
  • Deferred Grazing
  • Rotation Grazing
  • Deferred Rotation
  • Late-Season Rest Rotation
  • High Intensity Low Frequency
  • Management Intensive Grazing
  • Complementary or Sequence Grazing
  • Reclaiming the Range - Grazing Management  This is part of a presentation made at the KGLC West Range School this past July 2010 by Dr. Walt Fick, Department of Agronomy, KSU Research & Extension. We greatly appreciate his permission to use this information.

Grazing Other Domestic Livestock

Grazing Distribution Practices ( Tools)

KSU Research and Extension

Other Information & Education

Native Prairie Hay Meadows

Native Prairie Hay Meadows - This is an excellent  publication of the Kansas Biological Survey and is written as a landowner's management guide to native prairie hay meadows in the Tallgrass Prairie.

Fire - Prescribed Burning

 
Wildfires

Wildlife

Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT)
  • Nongame

Grassland Wildlife Habitat Issues

Water Quality/Quantity 

Monitoring Climate Change in Kansas

 Grasslands are characterized by climates with periodic drought. Grassland managers, to be successful, are encouraged to monitor and record precipitation on their own grazing lands and to develop a drought management plan as a part of their overall grassland management plan. The following sites provide information and resources to address these management concerns.
  • GreenReport - Current vegetation greenness and relative condition maps for US
  • The National Drought Mitigation Center provides information to users on current drought conditions and drought management planning
  • Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS)
  • Kansas CoCoRaHS - Daily Precipitation Map - VIEW MAP

Urban Growth

We talk about "urban sprawl"  and the conversion of agricultural lands to other uses all the time.  The link that follows is a stunning visual representation of that sprawl.  Kansas National Resource Inventory (NRI) data shows that in the last 25 years (from 1982 to 2007) Kansas has lost 1.2 million acres of rangeland.  In the same period, there were 348,300 acres of land in various uses converted to urban/built-up lands.  That is almost 14,000 acres per year in Kansas being converted to urban/built-up lands.

Environmental Considerations

Certain activities on private lands require compliance with state and federal laws.  Individual state and federal agencies are given responsibility for the rules and regulations in administering these laws.  Both state and federal agency employees are available locally to assist landowners in providing technical and sometimes financial assistance in complying with existing laws and their rules and regulations. 

Energy Development  

The Kansas Natural Resource Planner  is a handy new interactive web-based mapping tool designed to help site development projects so that Kansas can benefit from the development of its natural resources such as wind energy while protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat.
  • oil/gas
  •  wind
  •  solar
  •  coal

Economics

The Livestock Industry contributes significantly to the Kansas Economy. Some recent economic facts gathered by the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) point to Kansas as being among the national leaders.

Kansas Travel and Tourism

The Kansas Travel and Tourism Division of the Kansas Department of Commerce is located in Topeka, KS.
They assist individuals, communities, economic development groups, regional travel and tourism groups,
and even state and federal agencies in promoting travel and tourism in the state of Kansas.

Preserving Kansas Prairies

Conservation Programs Providing Technical and/or Financial Assistance to Landowners

There are many State and Federal agencies with numerous technical assistance and cost-sharing programs.  Lots of  agency (DOC, NRCS, KDWP, KDHE....) and program (CRP,EQIP, SWG, WHIP...) acronyms to confuse the issue.  Your local county conservation district office can help you sort it all out....Kansas Conservation Districts


Rangelands in Other States
  • Rangelands West   This link provides access to rangeland information in all states within the                          western US.  

Emerging Issues – Looking to the Future

This speaks to similar topical areas from above, plus the additional of any new areas such as viability of passing the ranch on to heirs, etc. This should project out at least 20 years.

Glossary  - USDA-NRCS National Range and Pasture Handbook

Kansas Prairie Primer Teaching Aide

From time to time lesson plans that have been developed using the Kansas Prairie Primer will be posted and made available to those who might be interested in providing information to students on Kansas grassland resources.