First New Refuge Unit Created Under Obama Administration
WICHITA, KS — Today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar joined conservation leadership, elected officials and other partners to announce the creation of the more than 1 million-acre Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area (FHLCA), a new unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area is the product of efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, private landowners, and other agencies and partners to protect a unique and highly diverse area in eastern Kansas known as the Flint Hills Tallgrass Region.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of private landowners, stakeholders, state agencies, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the tallgrass prairies of the Flint Hills will forever be protected as a crown jewel of America's Great Outdoors,” said Secretary Salazar. “I am especially proud that the first new unit created under this Administration conserves working lands and recognizes the vital role farmers and ranchers play as stewards of our nation's fish and wildlife resources. The Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area will protect land, water, and wildlife while creating new opportunities for economic prosperity in the region.”
Today, less than 4 percent of the once-vast tallgrass prairie remains, of which nearly 80 percent lies within the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma. The purpose of the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area is to help maintain the integrity of tallgrass prairie wildlife habitat, stream water quality, and the rich agricultural heritage of the Flint Hills by acquiring and protecting up to 1.1 million acres of habitat through voluntary, perpetual conservation easements. These conservation easements will protect habitat for more than 100 species of grassland birds and 500 plant species, and ensure the region's sustainable ranching culture - which directly supports conservation of the tallgrass prairie – will continue.
Service conservation easements are binding legal agreements that typically prohibit subdivision and commercial development activities, but allow for continued agricultural uses such as livestock grazing and haying. Under conservation easements, land ownership and property rights, including control of public access, remain with participating landowners. In addition, participating properties would remain on local tax rolls.
"The Flint Hills has a strong and rich history of preserving the ranching heritage and the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's conservation easement program would provide a voluntary opportunity to preserve this heritage for future generations," said Mike Collinge, a Flint Hills Rancher.
The project boundary includes almost 45,000 acres of existing conservation areas managed by The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ranchland Trust of Kansas, (an affiliate of the Kansas Livestock Association), and Kansas Land Trust.