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Flint Hills, a 3.7-million-acre (1.5-million-hectare) tallgrass prairie landscape spanning the U.S. states of Kansas and Oklahoma, is a WHSRN Landscape of Hemispheric Importance. The “Landscape” category was created to accommodate a vast 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.
“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.
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.
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The Flint Hills support more than 30% of the world’s population of Buff-breasted Sandpipers (Calidris subruficollis). / © Brian M. Collins
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills, near Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. / © Ryan Donnell
Robert L. Penner II
Cheyenne Bottoms & Avian Programs Manager
The Nature Conservancy