Using historic land management techniques with a modern twist in Kansas

The National Wild Turkey Federation provided funds to construct barbed-wire fencing and establish reliable water sources within a 250-acre native-grass tract at the Wilson Wildlife Area in Russell County, Kansas.

The fencing and water sources allow livestock to utilize the area for grazing in a managed setting. Historically, native grasslands in the Great Plains evolved with the combination of wild fire and bison grazing. The wildlife area will use controlled livestock grazing and prescribed burning to mimic those historic disturbances, which will improve the vegetation structure for ground-nesting birds, including turkeys. 

“In the eastern portion of the Great Plains, the vegetation will regularly become too tall and thick to provide good nesting and brood rearing habitat in the absence of grazing,” said Jim Pitman, NWTF district biologist for Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Grazing also allows the manager of the wildlife area to control fuel loads so prescribed burns will be more efficient.

The lease also will bring in additional revenue for future conservation projects in the wildlife area. The manager of the wildlife area intends to lease out the available grazing rights and expects an annual payment of approximately $15-$20 an acre. 

“In my opinion, you cannot properly manage any native grasslands in the Great Plains without the presence of grazing and fire,” said Pitman. “However, the grazing has to be carefully managed to ensure plant health and provide sufficient cover for wildlife. Unmanaged grazing can be worse than no grazing at all.”

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