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Kansas ranch family wins environmental stewardship award

Kansas Ranch Family Wins Environmental Stewardship Award

Parson, Kansas — Sproul Ranch, owned by Bill and Peggy Sproul, Sedan, Kansas, is a 2010 regional Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) winner. Representing Region VII of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the Sprouls were recognized at a reception recently during the 2010 Cattle Industry Conference.

The ESAP award, now in its 20th year, is sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the National Cattlemen’s Foundation, and NCBA.

One of the seven regional nominees will receive the national award at the cattle industry’s winter convention in February 2011.

The Sprouls operate a cow-calf and stocker grazing operation on native tallgrass prairie rangeland in the Kansas Flint Hills. Brian Obermeyer, Flint Hills project director for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), called this prairie “the most major altered habitat type in North America” and praised agricultural use in operations like the Sprouls for helping preserve it for future generations.

“Thanks to a 150-year tradition of cattle ranching in the Flint Hills, this tallgrass region’s natural beauty and biodiversity have been largely preserved. Bill and Peggy transformed pastures beaten up from decades of neglect to a shining example of how the tallgrass can be managed to meet the needs of ranching, wildlife, and plant diversity,” Obermeyer explained.

According to Bill Sproul he is so attuned to his land that he uses the viability of rangeland birds and wildlife to measure grassland health and the ability of the ranch to generate income.

“Grassland birds have been making a living on this grass a lot longer than me, so they surely know what’s best for the land,” Sproul likes to say, in explaining his philosophy on grassland management.

The Kansas Livestock Association’s (KLA) Rangeland Trust of Kansas, which nominated Sproul Ranch for the award, cites these examples of how the family models “stewardship on the ground”:

  • By removing some 30,000 invasive trees, the Sprouls have opened hundreds of shaded acres to open prairie, which has encouraged the re-growth of nutrient-rich grass.
  • Ponds are fenced to restrict livestock access, while natural springs and small pit ponds provide water for livestock and wildlife. Some of the pit ponds feature cattle access points hardened with large gravel.
  • Leading the first such partnership in the area, the Sprouls have teamed with oil companies to plug unproductive wells and clean up and remediate pollution around well sites.
  • By partnering with the NRCS and other agencies, the Sprouls monitor grassland health, using the data to develop a grazing plan with appropriate stocking rates and rotational periods.
  • The Sprouls actively assist agencies in monitoring wildlife health on their property; for example, working with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to survey breeding prairie birds, with the goal of increasing populations of Bobwhites and prairie chickens.
  • Sproul, an active and vocal conservation advocate even when off the ranch. Sproul is mentoring a young man to take over a local, family-owned farm.

Bill Sproul is a charter board member and chairman of the Rangeland Trust of Kansas, which KLA created in 2003.

He is a board member of the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition and an active board member of the Partnership of Rangeland Trusts, which includes Oregon, California, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and Texas.

Sproul Ranch has received numerous state and national environmental awards, including the 2009 Excellence in Rangeland Management Award from the Society of Range Management.

The ranch’s ESAP nomination was supported by KLA and representatives from TNC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

For more information on ESAP and previous winners, visit www.environmentalstewardship.org.

The Sproul Ranch is located just southwest of Sedan, Kansas, in the rolling hills of Chautauqua County.

Sproul ranch

Bill Sproul has become a strong advocate for building partnerships and developing relationships with others who seek the harmony of managing rangelands and passing them on from one generation to another. Here Bill is sharing his passion of the prairie with Tim Christian, Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition Coordinator.

Tim Christian and Bill Sproul

Bill and Peggy Sproul have three children, Nancy, Ross, and Raymond. Here Raymond and Peggy talk about one of the young colts Raymond has been riding recently.

Raymond and Peggy Sproul
The Sproul Ranch implements cutting edge technology and management practices which provide the native tallgrass plant community every opportunity to respond in the direction of the ranch’s goals. However, one thing the family is very strongly committed to is traditional practices of handling cattle. This would include riding pastures frequently on horseback, as well as working cattle from horseback.

Raymond Sproul riding pastures on horeseback

Open viewscapes are now present on the Sproul Ranch due to many hours of persistent labor in battling invasive woody species and applying timely prescribed burns, recharging the health and vigor of the native plant community.

Raymond Sproul riding pastures on horeseback

The Sproul Ranch has initiated a “patch burn grazing system.” The first patch was burned in the spring of 2010. The goal of a patch burn grazing system is to burn 1/3 of the pasture each year, encouraging extensive grazing pressure to the burned area while providing extended rest to remaining portions of the pasture. By doing so, native plants are given extensive rest and upland bird species that prefer previous year’s grass residue to build nests in, thrive.

Differences in grass residue achieved by patch burning

One of the unique traits of the Sproul Ranch is being “forward thinking” while using the past and present conditions to chart a path into the future and towards their goal of being stewards of the land.

Sproul ranch

A view into the future always includes uncertainty, but the Sproul Ranch eagerly accepts the challenges, while searching for opportunities to improve upon stewardship.

Sproul ranch

Watch YouTube video of interview with Sproul family on their ranch.