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.

tgreybirds.com

This raptor migrates from its winter home in Argentina into western North America and breeds as far north as Canada. It's fate is tied to the amount of open rangeland left in the western prairie, and lots of habitat has been lost in the 20th Century after range land was broken out and farmed. The bird helps producers by eating insects, mammals and reptiles considered by producers to be pests. Conservation Reserve Program-enrolled land provides the type of habitat the bird can thrive in.

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. Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory offers financial incentives to farmers of the southwest Nebraska panhandle to till around their nests - which often are in crop fields.

smithsonianmag.com

The Burrowing Owl is North America's only raptor that nests below ground. This bird's fate is tied to that of the prairie dog, and dog populations are in sharp decline.

www.nm.nrcs.usda.gov

The sprawling Weaver Ranch near Causey, NM, is located in important Lesser Prairie-Chicken habitat. Ranch manager Willard Heck talks about removing 400-500 acres of mesquite plant that had encroached onto prairie land, fragmenting the bird's habitat.

Texas Wildlife and Parks / Gary Kramer

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has partnered with hundreds of groups to restore and link back together the Lesser Prairie-Chicken's eastern New Mexico habitat. Crews are removing petroleum welljack pads and service roads, reseeding with native grasses, and removing other vertical objects like mesquite, trees and old windmills in effort to restore a habitat more friendly to the needs of the bird.

okmag.com

Scientists researching the population declines of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken say the bird's habitat has been damaged by vertical structures and human activity like road-building and oil and gas mining. Vertical structures include mesquite and other woody invasives, which the bird is averse to nesting near.

As of early-2013, much of the High Plains region is under extreme or exceptional drought. Ungerer, Crouch and Hagen discuss the significance of enrolling grassland in the NRCS Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative.

photofeather.wordpress.com

Land manager Tom Turner of St. John, KS, manages grazing land in west-central Kansas in the sandhills south of Kinsley. Owing to sandy soil composition the grassland is fragile.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Parts of the 2013 Farm Bill remained unresolved, but sections concerning conservation programs - like the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative - were funded through FY2013 at the end of 2012.

usnews.com

Playa Lakes Joint Venture's Policy Director Barth Crouch updates status of the 2013 Farm Bill. He says most ections of the legislation pertaining to conservation were funded through fiscal year 2013 in the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations at the end of 2012.

wildfowlmag.com

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. Modern ag-production imperatives have reduced the number of basins.

Chris Helzer / The Nature Conservancy

Laurel Badura, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, found incentive funding allowing ag producer Bart Jacobson to renovate and conserve a rainwater basin on grassland that's grazed by cattle and sheep under aggressive management.

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

A 21-county area of south central Nebraska is home to thousands of rainwater basins. These basins are identical in function to the wetlands of the southern plains known as playas, but different forces formed rainwater basins and playas.

ks-mo-hunt.org

Chester Peterson, Jr., of Lindsborg, Kansas, owns grass and cropland on the western margin of the Flinthills, a rolling landscape of tall- and shortgrass prairie largely unchanged since settlers crossed it in the 1860s.

colorado open lands

When Denver physician and sportsman Kent Heyborne bought land in northeast Colorado, his intent was to leave it undeveloped as bird habitat. But working with Ducks Unlimited along the South Platte River, he created a water-conservation project resulting in neighboring farms gaining additional irrigation credits.

forbes.com

Over its 80-year history, the federal government's Farm Bill program refined soil, water and habitat conservation programs. Along the way, its strategy changed from "let's see how many we can sign up" to a more focused  "best bang for the buck" approach to conservation, spending funds on projects to conserve fragile landscapes. This episode examines programs available from the Natural Rescources Conservation Service offering landowners monetary incentives to place qualified land under long-term or permanent conservation easements. This story is the third of a four-part series on easements. It originally aired April 30, 2013.

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. The federal government, through USDA programs, negotiate easements on land meeting conservation requirements. Other organizations - Land Trusts - have been created specifically for contracting with landowners to quell future development rights to the land. This episode the functions of land trusts and what they're able to accomplish. This story is part one of a four-part series on Conservation Easements. It originally aired on HPPR April 16, 2013

NASA images by Robert Simmon, using Landsat data from the USGS Global Visualization Viewer

Kansas' water-rights laws had encouraged consumption rather than conservation of Ogallala Aquifer groundwater used by irrigators in the western part of the state. Gov. Sam Brownback talks about his initiative to change laws in the 2012 legislative session to encourage conservation and self-regulation among ag producers. This story is part two of a four-part series on Ogallala aquifer conservation which originally aired on HPPR 01/22/13.

Weaver Ranch Grazing Conservation

Apr 9, 2013
Max Licher

When Jim Weaver purchased his ranch in southeast New Mexico in the 1980s, some decades of mismanagement had left grassland overrun by shinnery, short shin-oak plants that impede grass growth by sequestering water in the root system. Weaver Ranch manager Willard Heck discusses benefits of limiting shin-oak to let the tall grasses return.

This Episode of Playa Country originally aired as part of the Grazing Management series on November 6, 2012. I was repeated April 9, 2013 as part of the Landowner Stories series.

Oklahoma Conservation Commission

We examine Jan Minton's ranch, the family operation she took over in Floyd Co., Texas. It had been "farmed to death," she said, and two playa lakes were in poor condition. Bill Johnson, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist, developed a restoration plan that involved silt removal, playa repair, and a native grass and forbs plant buffer around the playas' margins. This story is part two of a four-part series on playa health and originally aired on HPPR on February 19, 2013. The story was repeated April 2, 2013 as part of the Landowner Stories series.

Playa Lakes Joint Venture

Southeast Colorado rancher Grady Grissom and Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory manager Seth Gallagher discuss renovation of a playa on the Grissom Ranch. The wetland had been "pitted," and a flat playa bottom was restored, which normalized plant-life, then birdlife, around the playa.

Landowner Restores Playa in New Mexico

Mar 18, 2013
Darryl Birkenfeld / Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

Eastern New Mexico rancher John Wood has playa-rehab success story.  John owns a 2,800-acre cow-calf operation about 40 miles north of Clovis. The land has a a 250-acre playa that was rehabbed with the help of The Nature Conservancy. Wood says he's now witnessing larger numbers of migrating birds, and thinks other wildlife have returned. This story originally aired on HPPR 12/25/12 as part of Playa Country's series on Playas. It repeated 3/19/13 as part two of the Landowner series.

audubon.org

The approach of Christmas foretells the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Biologists term the event "citizen science." It's an activity that allows laypeople to develop an interest in bird watching, and their efforts helping scientists conduct the census is invaluable - scientific organizations couldn't afford to pay for the vital data-collection performed by thousands of citizen scientists across the nation. This is the first in a four-part series on Land Owner stories. It originally aired on HPPR on Tuesday, March 12, 2013.

Holyoke, CO, farmer Larry Haynes talks about putting land "to its best use." For decades he attempted to farm playas in his fields but said he "rarely" was able to harvest crops grown in those wetlands. He decided to forget attempting to farm the playas and instead renovate them and plant large plant buffers around them, thus putting the playas "to their best use" as wildlife habitat. Biologist Jerry Miller drew up plans to renovate the playas and create plant buffers. As expensive as farming is today, Haynes says it makes no sense to pour expensive ag inputs into a mud hole. This the final episode in a four-part series on playa health. It originally aired on HPPR Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory

Research indicates that a buffer surrounding a playa lake, consisting typically of native grasses and forbs, prevents migration of upland topsoil and farm chemicals into lowland wetlands such as playa lakes and rainwater basins. The buffers are important to rangeland playas, but are vital when playas are situated in fields under crop production. This story is part three of a four-part series on playa health. It originally aired on HPPR Tuesday, February 26, 2013.

U.S. EPA

Playa lakes are effective vectors for groundwater recharge and water filtration, but that assumes they're in a healthy state.

Ogallala Aquifer Conservation

Jan 8, 2013
sitename.com

The USDA promotes Ogallala Aquifer conservation with NRCS money for cost-share projects, and a significant report published by the National Academy of Sciences stresses the need to conserve groundwater, and the state of Kansas changes water-rights laws to foster a culture of conservation rather than consumption.

Providing Biodiversity in the Plains

Dec 31, 2012
Texas Cooperative Extension

Scientists are increasing their understanding of how playas contribute to the landscape. They’ve learned these temporary lakes are a major source of aquifer recharge, but there's another aspect - the abundant bio-diversity playas create.

Recharging the Ogallala Aquifer

Dec 18, 2012
Texas Parks and Wildlife

We grew up on the High Plains thinking of those occasionally muddy pasture depressions as "buffalo wallows," "rainwater basins" or "mud holes."

Prescribed Burning: success stories

Dec 10, 2012
Kansas Pheasants & Quail Forever

Burning is a cost-effective method of controlling invasions of Eastern Red Cedar, but there's more to burning than simply touching torch to ground. Prescribed burns follow a precise, multi-page "prescription" to ensure efficacy and safety.

Pages