Playa Country

Tuesday's at 6:44 pm CT during All Things Considered

Playa Country, a project of the Playa Lakes Joint Venture (www.pljv.org),  is a weekly radio show focusing on the wildlife, wetlands and prairies of the western Great Plains, and the people who manage them. On the show, we talk to conservation and wildlife experts, as well as farmers, ranchers and land managers, about topics such as removing invasive shrubs to provide more water and forage, grazing management, the impact of fire on the landscape, and the important role playa wetlands have in recharging the Ogallala aquifer.

Ducks Unlimited

    More than half of western Great Plains farmers are near retirement age. Many are considering conservation easements as a way of protecting the land from development and subdivision long after they're gone.

USDA / NRCS

The Thompson Farm and Ranch straddles the Kansas-Nebraska line. Drought in this region is entering its fourth year. The Thompson family uses no-till practices to grow dryland wheat and corn and also run cows.

Harvest Public Media

Nebraska farmer Bill Volkmer describes himself as an "old farmer." But this old farmer is willing to learn some new tricks. He started planting cover crops in 2011.

Jason Baker / Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo

Playas benefit from practices that result in good soil health.

Improving the health and quality of the soil is one of the easiest and most effective ways producers can increase crop productivity, hence profitability, while benefitting wildlife and improving the environment. No-till practices, plus the planting of cover crops, mean less soil moves as runoff into playas during rain events.

Playa wetlands benefit from practices that result in good soil health.

planetofbirds.com

The Mountain Plover is a shorebird that spends little time on the beach and lives on the open Plains and nowhere near mountains.

Citizen Science: eBird

Jul 2, 2014
The Internet Bird Collection

eBird was launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. It helps bird-watchers keep records of observations.

Wikimedia Commons

When America adopted the bald eagle as the national symbol in 1782, there may have been 100,000 nesting eagles. But the eagle population declined, in part due to pesticides.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The North American Breeding Bird Survey is a cooperative effort between the United States and Canada.

Powdermill Nature Reserve

How do scientists get the data they need to study birds? A lot of data is collected by volunteers, "citizen scientists," through bird surveys and bird banding.

Scott Bauer / USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Western Kansas is a semi-arid region, with yearly precipitation at 17-19 inches. Progressive farmers understand their biggest challenge is capturing and holding every drop of moisture they can.

Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

Mark Hilliard of Hale County, Texas, says, "This is cotton country. It's rare to find a pristine playa lake."

Michael Pearce / kansas.com

McPherson County landowner Dale Schmidt bought ground he intended to farm, but often it was too wet to plant, or to harvest.

Chris Helzer / The Nature Conservancy

Nebraska's rainwater basin region is beneath the Central Flyway, used by tens of millions of birds migrating to the prairie pothole regions of the Dakotas, Canada and beyond to nest and mate.

Farm Foundation

Southwest Kansas producer Steve Arnold had been a big irrigator. Ten wells, numerous pivot irrigation systems and 4-wheel-drive tractors on a farm near Johnson City.

USGS

South-central Nebraska producer John Kinley has a three-acre rainwater basin in a crop field. He talks about progressive practices such as no-till production and cover cropping.

Scott Bauer / USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Playa wetlands benefit from practices that result in good soil health. The Natural Resources Conservation Service says there are four principles to improving soil health:

Grazing Management: Patch Burning Research

Mar 10, 2014
Oklahoma Grazing Lands Conservation Association

This week on Playa Country, prescribed burning. Oklahoma State University's Dept. of Natural Resource Ecology & Management is researching effects of limited prescribed burning or "patch burning" to create a mosaic of patches across the landscape.

Jeff Vanuga / USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Deborah Clark and her husband Emory apply the principles of holistic ranch management, and they use managed intensive grazing on their stocker cattle operation on 14,000 acres in north-central Texas.

Scott Bauer / USDA, NRCS

Rancher Grady Grissom discusses the lessons he's learned from deploying a deferred-rotation system of managed grazing on his 14,000-acre ranch. But he doesn't like the term "grazing system.

Scott Bauer / USDA, NRCS

Good grazing management is good for the livestock producer and for wildlife.  When grazing-land is healthy, cattle put on the weight, and birds benefit from healthy grassland.

Ranchers Rediscover Burning

Jan 14, 2014
Texas Panhandle Prescribed Burn Association

Biologist Peter Berthelson of Pheasants Forever took action to educate land managers how to burn and created burn trailers stocked with all the hardware required to safely conduct prescribed burns.

Oklahoma Grazing Lands Conservation Association

Native Americans used fire to manage rangeland for thousands of years, but a 100-year burning hiatus followed settlement by Europeans of the North American heartland. Those decades of fire suppression allowed invasive plants to negatively alter the landscape. But rangeland researchers and managers are awakening to the benefits of burning.

Dave Powell / USDA, Forest Service

This episode of Playa Country is a report on woody shrub invasions and control efforts in Nebraska. Biologist Kirk Schroeder of Grand Island enumerates particular weeds invading Nebraska: phragmites is a growing problem in waterways and riparian land, Russian Olive and Eastern Red Cedar are invading uplands. Tom Hartman of Grand Island manages the family ranch at Scotia, NE, and faced an onslaught of ERC.

What Are Invasives?

Dec 23, 2013
Hillebrand Steve / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Biologists and rangeland conservationists discuss problems caused by the aggressive invasions of native and exotic shrubs such as Tamarisk, Russian Olive, Eastern Red Cedar and reeds on western Great Plains rangelands. These pests adversely impact ag economics, the ecology and native wildlife on the Plains.

Lori Potter / Kearney Hub

Jerry Stevens enrolled in the Rainwater-Basin Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program, which restores and protects wetlands in fields under production by allowing center pivots to cross the rainwater basins. It's win-win. The program protects a wetland, and allows the producer to farm the circle around it.

Kansas Ground Water Management

New legislation in Kansas makes it possible for producers to work within water conservation districts to create Locally Enhanced Management Areas (LEMAs) and agree among themselves how much groundwater use they can curtail. Brad Oelke talks about the first LEMA, which began in January 2013, and how NRCS may be able to help irrigators reduce consumption.

oklahomafarmreport.com

Realizing the vital importance of the Ogallala Aquifer to the High Plains, The Natural Resources Conservation Service launched the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative. Playa lakes recharge the aquifer, and because of that, NRCS provides ways, through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, for producers to rehabilitate playas in cropland. NRCS Conservationists can help landowners develop a conservation plan that meets their goals, using this and other USDA conservation programs.

Wikimedia Commons

A grouse of the open grassland, the Greater Prairie-Chicken is known for its mating dance, performed by males on flat display sites on shortgrass prairie called leks. Their range extends from northern Oklahoma through the Flinthills and northern Kansas, and on north through the centers of Nebraska and the Dakotas. Sarah Sortum and her brother found their way back to the family ranch in the central Nebraska sandhills by starting an eco-tourism business, allowing bird watchers to see the chicken in its mixed-grass home.

Wikimedia Commons

The Ferruginous is North America's largest hawk. Its habitat includes grasslands, deserts, and other open areas with isolated shrubs or trees where less than 50 percent of the land is under cultivation. The raptor preys on small mammals, many of which would be considered pests to ranchers. Its favorite meal is the prairie dog; a depopulation of the prairie dog on the High Plains has negatively impacted this hawk's numbers.

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