Photo: Playas

Playas dot the landscape throughout the PLJV region. Photo courtesy of Brian Slobe.

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Playa Post - April 2013


Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory Takes the Silver
Celebrating 25 Years of Bird and Habitat Conservation

RMBO 25th CelebrationOn March 14, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (RMBO) celebrated its 25th anniversary with long-time friends and supporters, including PLJV Coordinator Mike Carter who founded the Observatory and served as its director for the first 14 years. The event — attended by 175 current and former staff, volunteers, and board members — was held at Barr Lake State Park where the organization began.

Party guests enjoyed reminiscing with old friends, visiting a Bald Eagle nest with RMBO biologists and Nelda Gamble, one of the original eagle nest monitoring coordinators, and participating in silent and live auctions to raise funds toward RMBO's campaign to support research projects, education programs and scholarships, citizen science, and habitat conservation. In addition to presentations by founding and current directors, American Birding Association President Jeff Gordon presented RMBO Executive Director Tammy VerCauteren with the Chandler Robbins award for significant contributions to birder education and bird conservation.

"Most people don't realize that I was 12 years old when I started RMBO 25 years ago," said MIke Carter when he spoke about the early days during the event. "Seriously, it is nice to see RMBO get the Chandler Robbins award as it was his bird population trend work that was one of the motivators in developing the Observatory in 1988."

For 25 years, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory has fulfilled its mission of bird and habitat conservation by advancing science and engaging people to conserve birds and western landscapes. The organization has furthered our understanding of more than 500 bird species through innovative monitoring and research programs. It has connected more than 250,000 people with nature — including youth, educators and landowners — through school programs, workshops, field trips, citizen science programs, bird banding stations and more, and enhanced the management of 300,000-plus acres of public and private land.

For more information about RMBO's milestones and impacts, visit their website at or download their 25th Anniversary brochure. View more photos of the 25th Anniversary celebration on the RMBO Facebook page.

Grant Supports Two Regional Fire Coordinators in Kansas
Prescribed Fire Improves Grassland Habitat for Lesser Prairie-Chickens

With help from a $250,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, two regional fire coordinators have been hired to increase prescribed fire use in Lesser Prairie-Chicken areas of Kansas. The coordinators will work with existing prescribed burning associations and help develop new groups resulting in an additional 30,000 acres being burned over the two-year grant period to provide improved grassland habitat for the chickens.

Prescribed fire benefits the Lesser Prairie-Chicken by maintaining and improving nesting cover, brood rearing habitat and loafing areas, as well as providing more lek sites. The use of fire can allow the local chicken population to expand into areas where cedars are removed adjacent to their existing range. For ranchers, fire can benefit their bottom line by helping to reduce invasive cool season grasses, promote nutrient cycling, improve forage quality, and by focusing the distribution of grazing animals.

"Natural resource managers agree that fire is the most underused tool on this landscape; however, there aren't enough boots on the ground, or positions dedicated to providing complete delivery on the use of prescribed fire," says Jason Hartman, a fire protection specialist for the Kansas Forest Service and the Kansas Prescribed Fire Council state fire coordinator. "Many positions within the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other federal and state agencies focus on rangeland condition and livestock management, as well as wildlife habitat development, but not fire."

Widespread eastern red cedar invasion within the Lesser Prairie-Chicken area in Kansas has caused numerous negative impacts to both natural resources and ranchers. Over the past 45 years, range specialists have estimated a 92,000 percent increase in eastern red cedar cover within Kansas. This invasion has caused decreased forage production for livestock, lowered availability of water, reduced wildlife habitat, and increased the frequency and intensity of catastrophic wildfires. States have estimated the negative economic impacts of eastern red cedar invasion to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The invasion of eastern red cedar is synonymous with grassland bird habitat loss," says Tim Christian, state coordinator of the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition. "In the past it was controlled naturally through periodic fire, but in the time period since this portion of Kansas has been grazed by domestic livestock, fire has not been seen as a beneficial practice."

"Landowners within the region are not familiar with the use of prescribed fire, lack training to conduct safe burns, and are negatively influenced by the potential liability that fire brings," says Ted Alexander, a founding member of the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition and the Red Hills Prescribed Burning Association and a local rancher who has been using prescribed fire for years. "The fire coordinators will work to increase landowner confidence in the use of fire, thereby helping ranchers and the chicken."

The two regional fire coordinator positions are supported by the Comanche Pool Prairie Resource Foundation, Kansas Prescribed Fire Council, and the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at 785-532-3316.

CRP General Sign-up Offers Conservation Opportunities
Landowners Can Decide Acres Best Suited to Farming and to Conservation

Beginning on May 20, the US Department of Agriculture will hold a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up. According to PLJV Conservation Policy Director Barth Crouch, this is a good opportunity to enroll expiring or new acres of marginal, highly erodible land into the Conservation Reserve; however, like all opportunities, the details are important. The program currently has around 27 million acres enrolled with 3.3 million acres due to expire on October 1 of this year. This means there is the opportunity for approximately 7 million acres of highly erodible cropland to be protected during this sign-up.

"With droughts plaguing the western Great Plains, this gives landowners a chance to decide which of their acres are best suited for farming and conserve the acres least suited for agricultural production," says Crouch. "When that land is enrolled and converted to a grass and forb cover, it will provide homes for grassland birds for the next ten years, and hopefully beyond."

To prepare for the general sign-up, the Farm Service Agency is conducting a review of the soil rental rates, which is the amount paid to the contract landowners based on the soils in their fields. The new rates will be based on the National Agricultural Statistics Service's cash rental data, plus ten percent. Although this method works well in areas where cash rent is the dominant way agreements between landowners and agricultural tenants are handled, it falls far short in areas where shared cropping — the landowner and the tenant split expenses and profits — is the dominant method of renting farm ground. To show the problem this can cause, in the five states that cover the range of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken — Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas — there were substantial numbers of counties where soil rental rates went down from $1 to $4 per acre after the initial review.

"Lowering the rental rates may influence landowners, even in the face of drought conditions, to try to put expiring CRP acres back into cropping of wheat, corn or soybeans," says Crouch, "and it is critical that we retain these acres, especially in areas that are serving as valuable habitat for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. One alternative is to enroll expiring or new acres into Continuous CRP practices that pay sign-up incentive payments of $150 per acre."

Practices that offer higher payments are CP42 for pollinators, State Acres for Wildlife for Lesser Prairie-Chickens and CP23A for playas. For more information about Continuous CRP practices or the CRP general sign-up, contact your local USDA Service Center.

Playas Film Screened at Texas Film Festival
Attendees Discuss Possible Solutions to Water Crisis

Prairie Water Film FestivalPLJV's film, Playas: Reflections of Life on the Plains, was featured at the Prairie Water Film Festival in Amarillo, Texas on March 23. The festival, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was aimed at raising awareness about the looming water crisis in Texas and stimulating discussion on possible solutions.

"It is vital that all Texans become aware of and educated about the situation and learn how each of us can affect water supplies for future generations," says Joy Shadid, festival chair.

Approximately 86 people attended the festival and about 30 viewed the screening of the Playas film. In the discussion following the film, the topic turned to the difficulty in bringing interest and awareness to playas in light of how important and vital they are to the landscape.

"Even though I grew up here, I never knew much about playas," says Donna Raef, one of the festival volunteers, "and certainly didn't know how important and unique they are in this region. The film was great in giving more information on the threats to playas and how to preserve them."

To learn more about playas and playa conservation, view Playas: Reflections of Life on the Plains or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to request a copy of the DVD.