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Natural Systems

Life in the Flint Hills depends on a healthy prairie. The tallgrass ecosystem has formed rich soil that holds moisture and protects against drought, filters and stores groundwater, provides food, and creates the conditions for a vibrant local economy.

prairieWhat can we all do to keep the Flint Hills alive?

Prairie grass produces a sod so thickly interwoven with roots that early settlers could cut bricks out of it to build their homes. Even in a good year, while sitting on a horse, the grasses of the Flint Hills can reach the brim of your hat. Of this unique prairie system that once stretched all the way to Canada, only 4% remains. The rich soil was quickly transformed into agricultural lands to feed our nation. Now, the spread of invasive species, climate change, an increasing and shifting population, economic decline, and fragmentation of the prairie is resulting in loss of biodiversity for both the Flint Hills and the people that cherish these lands.
The tallgrass prairie provides ecosystem services of capturing carbon, holding moisture, and providing food and sustenance. These natural goods and services are the foundation of life and health, even though they are poorly recognized. Governments and businesses around the world are beginning to understand how their decisions impact biodiversity and ecosystem services. People are an integral part of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Understanding how economic and social development contributes to biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation is essential in order to design responses that are ecologically sustainable and also build vitality into our communities. .

 

Goals for the Future

In order to protect the endangered tallgrass prairie ecosystem, a group of planning agencies, local and regional governments, business owners, conservation organizations, private landowners, agricultural groups and community members have joined together to conserve the remaining undeveloped tallgrass prairie. These stakeholders have identified the following goals related to the conservation of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem in the Flint Hills Region:

  1. Education: Inform people/population about importance of the integrated tallgrass prairie ecosystem.
  2. Conservation: Minimize impact on natural systems through responsible growth and land management.
  3. Quality of Life: Collaborate to create a region where people live, work, and enjoy the integrated tallgrass prairie ecosystem.
  4. Stewardship: Develop partnerships to enhance the vitality of the integrated tallgrass prairie ecosystem.

 

Achieving Our Goals

Our diverse and context sensitive list of strategies developed by our devoted planning staff and committed citizens will help the Flint Hills Region be a sustainable and prosperous place to live, work, play, do business and raise families.

Key Strategies

 

Community Easements / Land Trusts:Community Covenants and easements are ways to create a perpetual protection of land and  other forms of property. They are legal devices that create shared ownership into a part held by the community and a part held by individuals.

 

Control Invasive Plants in the Prairie and other Locations: Control Invasive plants in the prairie and other locations where they could potentially cause harm to native vegetation. The type of invasive will likely determine the control  method. Some control tools include  chemical applications, mechanical removal, fire or a mix of approaches. Education and partnerships are key to this strategy. Work with state and local government and stakeholders to manage invasive species effectively without spraying at the wrong time, spraying native     plants, using chemicals that kill game species such as game birds.

Planning for Smart Energy Development: Create model regulations / guidelines for counties and other local governments to use in developing renewable energy assets and ensuring that energy related development has the lowest possible impact on the scenic beauty of the Flint Hills.

 

Flint Hills Land Management Consortium: K-State Extension and conservation organizations provide up to date research and information on land management practices. Could there be a "Flint Hills Land Consortium" which would focus on how to preserve the Tallgrass ecosystem while enhancing agricultural production. The eradication of Sericea Lespedeza and other invasive species should be a top priority. Another priority should be the education of absentee landowners, who do not have an agricultural background.

Zoning Consortium: Zoning is one way to deal with prairie fragmentation and inappropriate siting of industrial development such as industrial wind energy complexes. But the counties that don't have it don't seem to want it because they see it as intruding on on the landowner's right to manage his or her land. Perhaps a consortium of commissioners and administrators from zoned Flint Hills counties could organize a seminar about the advantages and disadvantages of being zoned and invite the commissioners and administrators from all Flint Hills counties.

Absentee Landowner Leasing Info Packet: Develop an educational tool for absentee landowners to use upon purchasing land if they are considering leasing to ensure best tenant for managing land. This could be implemented by realtors, extension agents and conservation organizations.

 

Other Strategies

 

Planning for Growth and Preservation: Adopt development and building approaches/ policies that work with nature and do not consume as much land and natural resources. Examples are Low Impact Development, Smart Growth, Conservation Site Design, Sustainable Stormwater Management, New Urbanism, Light Imprint Design and Green Infrastructure.

Where Am I Program for Schools: Provide maps for all public and private schools in the Flint Hills Region showing an outline of the Flint Hills, location of the school within that outline and age appropriate descriptors of the region and what makes the Flint Hills special. Once maps are distributed  we would follow up with lesson plans that tie in to educational standards for science and geography.

Flint Hills Speaker's Bureau: Preservation of our Tallgrass natural system depends on educating people about the importance of the prairie. Unless people understand prairie ecosystems , they will not preserve them. I suggest the creation of a Flint Hills Speakers Bureau. A speakers bureau clearing house could be established at the Discovery Center or at one of our colleges or universities. Organizations interested in booking a speaker or a prairie education program could make arrangements through the clearing house. The clearing house could also be an electronic repository of Flint Hills Information. A web site with links to organizations and individuals offering Flint Hills learning opportunities should be available and easily accessible.

Increase Agroforestry Practices: where appropriate on rural lands:Shelterbelts and winterbreaks can reduce soil erosion, conserve soil moisture and reduce energy costs when trees are strategically planted around rural home and buildings. Cattle and livestock can also benefit from properly placed trees and plantings. Education and resources around agroforestry practices would be a great first step in increasing appropriate agroforestry practices.

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