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Conservation on the Ground ... Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) in Kansas 

Conservation on the Ground ... Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) in Kansas

Kansas has the finest, most productive native grassland in the world.

Kansas may also have the most conservation-conscious ranchers in the world, too. In the last few years, those ranchers have signed 40 USDA NRCS conservation easements that will protect 25,953 acres of the state's native grassland (see chart below). The easements are under the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), a 2002/2008 Farm Bill program.

Land enrolled in the Grassland Reserve Program allows ranchers to graze cattle for economical gain while protecting, restoring, and enhancing their grassland.GRP and Kansas have been a perfect fit. Administered jointly by USDA's NRCS and Farm Service Agency, GRP is a voluntary program that offers landowners an opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance grassland on their property. Its primary purposes include preservation of native and naturalized grassland, support for grazing operations, protection from threat of conversion, and maintaining or improving plant and animal biodiversity. Landowners are required to follow a conservation plan, which allows for common grazing practices. Those plans are also designed to stop the spread of unwelcome invasive species, such as sericea lespedeza and cedar trees.

Maintaining healthy, productive native grassland is vital to Kansas. The state's $6 billion per year cattle industry depends, in part, on high quality forage. Scores of small, rural towns rely on profitable ranches for commerce. Native grasses also serve as critical habitat to the Greater Prairie Chicken, a species with a declining population. Moreover, Kansas ranchers are the sole stewards of the last vestige of America's rapidly declining tallgrass prairie.

The tallgrass prairie, and its rich diversity of plant and animal species, once cut a wide, 150-million acre swath across North America's midsection. Today, however, more than 90 percent has been converted to non-rangeland uses. Two-thirds of what remains of the prairie is in Kansas. And what remains of the Kansas tallgrass prairie is in jeopardy. Commuters from nearby urban areas (Wichita, Topeka, Manhattan, and Emporia), attracted to low land prices and scenic vistas, are eagerly staking 10- to 40-acre home plots. Industrial wind farm developers are also eyeing the rolling, wind swept prairie. Additionally, invasive species have been rapidly establishing their own niche where native grasses once thrived.

GRP conservation easements are one way to prevent the destruction of the Kansas prairie. And because Kansas ranchers have demonstrated a keen interest in the program, the prairie will forever remain a vital part of the state's economical and ecological heritage.

Chart of GRP acres by state for 2005-2010

(Tabular chart information)