Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

WHSRNews Update

USA: The Flint Hills Receives WHSRN Landscape Designation


Flint Hills WHSRN Landscape of Hemispheric Importance, Kansas-Oklahoma, USA. /
© Ryan Donnell

The WHSRN Hemispheric Council voted unanimously to approve the nomination of the Flint Hills, a 3.7-million-acre (1.5-million-hectare) tallgrass prairie landscape spanning the U.S. states of Kansas and Oklahoma, as a WHSRN Landscape of Hemispheric Importance.

The Council had created the “Landscape” category to accommodate vast areas, or a complex of areas, of importance to shorebirds where designating any one "site" therein is not feasible. Such areas often comprise a multitude of landowners that are represented by one or more partner organizations submitting the WHSRN nomination. The Flint Hills is the second such WHSRN landscape designation; the first was the 3.9-million-acre (1.6-million-hectare) Rainwater Basin in Nebraska (USA) in 2009.

Privately owned lands comprise the great majority of the Flint Hills area (98%), with many enrolled in the various land conservation and restoration programs managed by the Federal, State, and nongovernmental partners actively supporting the WHSRN designation. The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Kansas Chapter was the lead partner in submitting the nomination and will take responsibility for working with private landowners to make shorebirds and their habitats a priority within the WHSRN Landscape. This stewardship commitment is central to being part of the Network, in addition to meeting biological criteria.

The Flint Hills support more than 30% of the world’s population of Buff-breasted Sandpipers (Calidris subruficollis). / © Brian M. Collins

“Tallgrass ecosystems’ habitats are the most altered in North America. The Flint Hills landscape presents a unique opportunity to preserve the continent’s last expression of an ecologically intact, functioning tallgrass prairie. We know from years of shorebird surveys that migrants such as Buff-breasted Sandpipers, American Golden-Plovers, Upland Sandpipers, and Killdeer are using this north-south corridor extensively,” explains Dr. Robert Penner II, Cheyenne Bottoms and Avian Programs Manager for TNC in Kansas.

In fact, the Flint Hills annually supports more than 134,800 shorebirds, including more than 30% of the global population of Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis)—qualifying the area at the “Hemispheric” importance level. This species is considered “highly imperiled” in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan. It also supports nearly 10% of the global population of American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica). The Flint Hills is also a globally Important Bird Area (per BirdLife International) for supporting grassland-nesting birds and migratory shorebirds, and was rated the #1 landscape-conservation priority by the Kansas Natural Heritage Inventory.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills, near Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. / © Ryan Donnell

For the past 15 years TNC has been steadily advancing the goals of its Flint Hills Initiative, a long-term, community-based, multi-strategy conservation project designed to help preserve the biological integrity of this unique region. Other partners committed to this project, and to shorebird conservation on this new WHSRN Landscape, are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism; Kansas Land Trust; Ranchland Trust of Kansas; and the Tallgrass Legacy Alliance (TLA). The TLA is an organization comprised of ranchers, landowners, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations concerned with the preservation of the Flint Hills.

Please join the WHSRN Hemispheric Council and the WHSRN Executive Office in welcoming all of the partners and communities of the Flint Hills WHSRN Landscape of Hemispheric Importance into the Network! To date, there are now 96 WHSRN Sites (two of which are Landscape designations) in 15 countries comprising more than 36.7 million acres (14.8 million hectares) of shorebird habitat across the Americas.

For more information, please contact Dr. Robert Penner II (rpenner@tnc.org), Cheyenne Bottoms and Avian Programs Manager, The Nature Conservancy, Ellinwood, Kansas.