Grassland restoration projects, educational efforts garner national attention PRATT — The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) — the organization that represents North America’s fish and wildlife agencies — has honored the Alexander Ranch of Barber County with the 2011 National Private Lands Fish and Wildlife Stewardship Award. The award recognizes an individual- or family-run farm, ranch, or forest operation that has incorporated proactive conservation and environmental protection measures into its operation. The Alexander Ranch is owned and operated by Ted, Brian, and Mona Alexander.
The Alexander Ranch became eligible for the national award by winning the 2011 Kansas Wildlife Habitat Conservation Award. The national award program receives one nomination from each of the 56 states and territories represented by AFWA.
“The Alexanders’ decades of dedication to the improvement of native grasslands in an area once over-grazed and degraded by the encroachment of eastern redcedar deserves statewide recognition,” said Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) wildlife biologist Chris Berens, who nominated the Alexander Ranch for the award. “Their management efforts created a diverse grassland that benefits livestock and a wide variety of wildlife species.”
The ranch covers more than 7,000 acres and has flourished as a custom grazing operation for the past 27 years. Partnering with several agencies, the Alexanders have leveraged resources to optimize the land’s environmental capabilities. Through these partnerships, the ranch operated on a rotational grazing system with three grazing cells, each split into many smaller paddocks, allowing 40-45 days post-grazing recovery time for the grass in each paddock. However, in the past two years, the Alexander Ranch experimented with a higher stocking rate, higher stock density, and herd impact along with a shorter grazing seasons — resulting in longer periods of grass recovery — which seems to be a success.
Additionally, a cooperative effort with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and KDWPT was key to many of the accomplishments on the ranch, which is home to several wildlife and aquatic species considered at-risk or in need of conservation. This partnership helped the Alexanders interseed forbs on old cropland acres previously converted to native grass, enhance water developments, restore riparian areas, and expand the grazing system.
The ranch has also entered into a “Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. This voluntary agreement guarantees to address the conservation needs of a species before they become listed as endangered or threatened by specifying actions that will remove or reduce threats to the species.
“Any number of landowners could have won the National Private Lands Fish and Wildlife Stewardship Award based solely on habitat enhancements and other stewardship accomplishments on their ranches,” said Berens. “However, it’s the off-the-ranch activities that make the Alexanders stand out.”
One of the most notable is their willingness to share what they have learned throughout the years with other ranchers, either through one-on-one mentoring or through one of the many conservation organizations to which Ted and Brian belong or serve on the boards. Additionally, they have opened their ranch to training opportunities for public, state, and federal agency staff and have allowed many university students to conduct wildlife research, including the interaction of wildlife and grazing practices.
“The Alexander Ranch is a great example of how excellent ecosystem management can benefit both the producer and Kansas wildlife,” Berens added. “Congratulations and many thanks to the Alexander Ranch for their contributions to promoting wise working-land practices in Kansas.”