The Kansas Prairie
Cheyenne Bottoms is a 41,000 acre natural land sink located in central Kansas. This is within the mixed grass portion of the Great Plains. Approximately 15,500 acres are classified as wetland acres with the remaining 25,500 acres being upland areas.
Approximately 20,000 acres are owned by the people of Kansas and managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. An additional 7,300 acres of the basin is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. The 13,700 acres remaining in private ownership is managed for livestock grazing and the production of alfalfa, wheat and grain sorghum. The State owned portion of the basin has been highly developed to improve management and supplementation of water levels. Initial acquisition, development and management are funded by the hunting public. Principle management goals of The Nature Conservancy are to restore natural hydrology to the area and provide short grass areas favorable for foraging shorebirds. Both properties endeavor to maintain the hemi-marsh condition of the wetland acres using burning, mechanical and chemical techniques. Likewise, woody encroachment into the adjacent grasslands is controlled using fire and/or mechanical and chemical treatments.
Cheyenne Bottoms- Heart of the Central Flyway
For some species of migratory birds, the Central Flyway reduces in width to a very narrow path, much like an hourglass. This narrow portion of the Flyway is over Cheyenne Bottoms in the central United States. When habitat conditions are good, millions of migrating birds pass through the Bottoms annually. Hawks, songbirds, ducks, geese and shorebirds all can be seen as they move to or from the nesting areas to the north.
Cheyenne Bottoms has long been recognized as a critical stopping/resting point for migrating shorebirds. Thirty-nine species of shorebirds have been identified at the Bottoms. Most are stopping to rest and re-build body fat for the next leg of their journey. Some will remain to nest, such as the killdeer, American avocet, Snowy plovers, Upland and Spotted sandpiper’s and Wilson’s phalarope.
It has been estimated that 45% of the shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere can stop at the Bottoms during the spring migration if adequate habitat is present. This includes about 90% of the white-rumped, Baird’s and stilt sandpipers; long-billed dowitchers and Wilson’s phalaropes. However, given the great variability of Great Plains weather, shorebird use can vary tremendously from year to year.
Conservation and Ecology
Cheyenne Bottoms is a 41,000 acre natural land sink. The non-farmed, upland portions of the basin are dominated by the western wheatgrass/inland saltgrass community. The approximately 15,000 wetland acres are predominantly classified as palustrine emergent vegetation wetlands. For the most part, agricultural use within the basin includes livestock grazing, wheat, alfalfa and sorghum production.
Depending upon the year, hundreds to thousands of acres of mudflats can be available for shorebird foraging. The primary food resource utilized by these birds is the larvae of Chironomids.
|Species that Use this Site||Relative spring abundance|
Approximately 20,000 of the 41,000 acre basin is managed by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks as a wildlife management area. The Nature Conservancy owns an additional 7,300 acres and similarly manages for wildlife.
Exotic and invasive species pose threats to the maintenance of the native habitats of Cheyenne Bottoms. Musk thistle, Phragmites, salt cedar, Eastern red cedar, cottonwood, honey locust and Russian olive are the principle plants that require intensive management to control. Trees, both native and non-native are encroaching into the grasslands adjacent to the marshes. Cattail expansion in the wetland areas is a continuous threat to the hemi-marsh management goals.
The state owned wildlife area has an extensive inlet system to divert surface water from two nearby streams. This water was intended to supplement natural flows into the basin in an effort to provide annual waterfowl hunting opportunity. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the state over appropriated ground water withdrawals and as a result base flows in the streams has been all but eliminated. With no base flows, supplemental water for the wildlife area is available primarily only after significant rain events when silt laden water finds its way into the streams. Diverting this water into the basin through the inlet system has accelerated the siltation rate of the basin and leads to increasingly favorable conditions for the spread of emergent vegetation such as cattail.
Both properties are being required to do more with less as budgets get stretched more and more. Increased fuel costs, diverting resources from wildlife conservation efforts to human demands are two examples of how management efforts are being diluted.
Both the Kansas Wildlife and Parks and The Nature Conservancy direct management efforts to controlling tree encroachment into the grasslands and the spread of emergent vegetation in the wetland acres of their respective properties.
Water level management on both properties is directed at maximizing wetland habitat diversity. This allows for a wide variety of water bird species to make use of the Cheyenne Bottoms basin. Efforts are made to provide mudflats and shallow water areas for shorebird foraging, especially in the spring. Wildlife and Parks also manages for moist soil plant establishment to enhance waterfowl food production for the fall migration.
Status of Conservation Efforts
The Nature Conservancy funding is membership/donation driven, with additional funding coming from livestock grazing fees. Efforts to monitor for further private land being available for acquisition are ongoing. Land acquisition within the Bottoms basin focuses on habitats with a high potential to be returned to the natural hydrology of the basin and be managed to maximize use by migrating shorebirds.
Funding for the acquisition, initial development and continued operations and maintenance work of the State owned property is generated from hunting license sales and Federal Aid monies generated from an excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition. Public educational programs are provided upon request and currently a wetland education center is being designed for construction on the State property. Completion date is estimated to be late 2007.
Shorebird and Related Research
Baird, K.E. II, 1974. A field study of the king, sora and Virginia rails at Cheyenne Bottoms in west-central Kansas. M.S. Thesis, Ft. Hays State Col., 38pp.
Bellrose, F. 1959. Cheyenne Bottoms use and management as a waterfowl and public shooting area. Unpubl. Report, Univ. of Kansas, Report to Kans. Fish and Game Comm., Pratt. 78pp.
Helmers, D.L. 1991. Habitat use by migrant shorebirds and invertebrate availability in a managed wetland complex. M.S. Thesis, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia. 135pp.
Kostecke, R.M. 2002. Effects of cattail management on invertebrate production and migratory bird use of Cheyenne Bottoms, KS. Ph.D. Diss., Texas Tech. Univ., Lubbock. 321pp.
Satomi, I.M. 1997. Water regimen in vegetated and unvegetated pools in relation to chironomid occurrence and abundance. M.S. Thesis, Emporia State Univ., Emporia, Kansas. 51pp.
Skagen, S.K., R.G. Sharpe, R.G. Waltermire and M.B. Dillon. 1999. Biogeographical profiles of shorebird migration in mid-continental North America. U.S. Geological Survey, USGS/BRD/BSR-2000-0003, U.S. Govt. Print Off., Denver
Tacha, R.W. 1975. A survey of rail populations in Kansas, with emphasis on Cheyenne Bottoms. M.S. Thesis, Ft. Hays State Col., Hays, 54pp.
Tommanek, G.W. and F.E. Kinsinger. 1961. Ecological studies at Cheyenne Bottoms Waterfowl Refuge. Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Comm., Pratt. 153pp.
Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks
56 NE 40 Rd.
Great Bend, Kansas 67530-9277
Land Steward for the Kansas Chapter of TNC
The Nature Conservency
1490 East Hwy 56
Ellinwood, Kansas 67526