Learn more about the 2023 Western Working Lands for Wildlife workshop.
A geographically diverse group from across the American West gathered July 12 and 13 in Manhattan, Kansas for the 2023 Western Working Lands for Wildlife Workshop. With a focus on conserving Great Plains grasslands, the workshop brought together ranchers, field staff, national and state leadership and conservation practitioners and partners to collaborate around the workshop’s theme: “Defending America’s Grasslands.”
“Conserving America’s last Great Plains grasslands is critical for ranchers, wildlife, and a wide array of ecosystem services,” said Tim Griffiths, western WLFW lead. “This is the first workshop we’ve held in the Great Plains, and it was entirely focused on grassland conservation. We couldn’t have found a more perfect location and a better group of professionals to bring together.”
The two-day workshop kicked off with a keynote address from Robert Bonnie, USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, who highlighted the critical role voluntary conservation by private landowners plays in landscape-scale conservation efforts. As more than 90 percent of the Great Plains is privately owned, Bonnie’s message resonated with the packed room.
Other presentations debuted new technologies and products developed by WLFW and partners, like the Landscape Explorer and a new field-ready resource for addressing woody encroachment in grasslands called the “Reducing Woody Encroachment in Grasslands: A Pocket Guide for Planning & Design.”
The Landscape Explorer is a website and mapping application that lets users swipe between historical aerial imagery from the 1950s and modern aerial imagery to see how our western landscapes have changed in the past 70 years. The visual resource was co-developed by WLFW and the University of Montana with support from the Intermountain West Joint Venture, NRCS-Montana, and Nvidia.
The “Pocket Guide” was co-produced with the Great Plains Grasslands Extension Partnership, a collaboration of all ten Great Plains University Extension Groups (Kansas State University, Montana State University, University of Nebraska, New Mexico State University, North Dakota State University, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M, South Dakota State University, University of Wyoming, and Colorado State University). The field-ready, water-resistant manual provides an improved planning process to design grassland ecosystems that are less vulnerable to the threat of woody encroachment and integrates new guidelines for reducing woody encroachment with a formal planning process used to deliver conservation investments on grasslands.
Breakout sessions and landowner panels featured ranchers on the front lines of grassland conservation in the Great Plains alongside state field staff that help guide USDA’s conservation program delivery.
Additional presentations covered Working Lands for Wildlife’s history and future, the expansion of USDA’s migratory big game pilot program into neighboring states and how both NRCS and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) plan to work together to help keep grasslands “green side up.”
The second day of the workshop included a three-stop field tour in the southern Flint Hills of Kansas. Participants explored the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Spring Creek Ranch, and Mushrush Red Angus Ranch. At each stop, participants learned more about the state of grasslands in the Great Plains and conservation practices like woody plant removal and prescribed fire.
“From the conference facilities and the field tour to the number of landowners in attendance, it was a fantastic workshop,” Griffiths said. “This was our first workshop since 2019 and our first in the Great Plains. We’re looking forward to coming back and continuing our work defending America’s grasslands.”
Support for the 2023 Western Working Lands for Wildlife Workshop was generously provided by USDA-NRCS, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, Partnerscapes, the Intermountain West Joint Venture, Conoco Phillips, the Kansas Departments of Agriculture and Commerce, the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition, the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts, and the state Pheasants Forever chapters in Kansas, Colorado, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming.