Wichita The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it is considering a plan for voluntary conservation easements in 14 Kansas counties in an effort to save 1 million acres of tallgrass prairie.
Amy Thornburg, with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, said the plan is still being developed. If the program is enacted, land in the conservation easements could not be used for residential or commercial development. And it might govern the placement of wind-energy operations, she said.
“We want to end up with an intact tallgrass prairie. And although intact is a hard thing to describe, you know it when you see it,” Thornburg said. “The tallgrass region includes ranching, fire, grazing and prairie chickens. They are all dependent on each other. If it wasn’t for the ranching heritage of the area, we wouldn’t have a prairie.”
The project would encompass Butler, Chase, Chautauqua, Cowley, Geary, Greenwood, Elk, Lyon, Marion, Marshall, Morris, Pottawatomie, Riley and Wabaunsee counties.
Only 2 to 4 percent of the nation’s prairie remains, and much of it is in the Flint Hills.
The government is holding a series of meetings this week to gather comments about the proposal. The meetings — including one in Wichita on Tuesday — have drawn modest crowds, most of whom supported the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area Initiative.
The Secretary of the Interior would have to approve purchases of conservation easements, which would be funded by money collected from offshore oil and gas leases.