MEDICINE LODGE There's hope that the booming mating call of the prairie chicken will resound across Kansas grasslands for generations to come, thanks to a partnership between Kansas and Oklahoma ranchers.
The Comanche Pool Prairie Resource Foundation, formed five years ago by the ranchers, sponsors conservation projects on private lands to benefit at-risk, threatened and endangered species, including the prairie chicken.
The foundation is saving the range and a way of life, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Steve Williams said Thursday while in Kansas to present the foundation with a $100,000 grant.
At risk, Williams said, are the lesser prairie chicken, the black-tailed prairie dog, the burrowing owl, the plains minnow and the red spotted toad -- all residing in Kansas.
"I'm glad Kansas is getting federal help," Williams said. "Kansas is the last stronghold for the prairie chicken. Its numbers are slowly starting to come back."
Nearly 70 people attended the presentation, including Kansas Wildlife and Parks Secretary Mike Hayden, area ranchers and local conservation and wildlife officials.
Because there is less public land in Kansas than in any other state, Hayden said, there is more incentive for private landowners to work together.
Hayden added that as native grasslands disappeared with various farming practices such as circle irrigation in western Kansas, so did the wildlife associated with those lands.
In the fall of 1998, a handful of ranchers formed the foundation to benefit the wildlife and range lands of the Red Hills region of south-central Kansas and north-central Oklahoma. The money awarded last week will be used to continue to enhance the mixed-grass and prairie stream habitat.
Ted Alexander, whose Barber County land was used for the ceremony, said that ranch land could be dramatically improved with grazing management, prescribed burning and cutting the wild cedars that sometimes dominate the land.
"Nineteen years ago, I started burning and cutting the cedar trees -- nearly a million trees have been cleared from 7,000 acres," Alexander said.
Now, he said, prairie chickens and other wildlife have come back.
The grant money was awarded under the Private Stewardship Grants Program by the Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service.