Wildlife habitat, aquifer recharge primary benefits
LAFAYETTE, CO -- A new survey commissioned by the Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV) reveals that most landowners with playas (High Plains seasonal wetlands) on their properties are willing to conserve them, and many say the wetlands are a positive presence on the land, primarily because they attract wildlife.

The data suggest that playa landowners are open to wetland and wildlife conservation programs, such as those offered through the U.S. Farm Bill, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, state Landowner Incentive Programs, and private lands conservation programs.

"The results are encouraging for wildlife and wetlands conservation, especially going into the next Farm Bill reauthorization process," said PLJV Coordinator Mike Carter. "I think PLJV and our partners need to ensure that wetlands and playa conservation programs are given greater attention in the next Farm Bill."

Based on the results of the High Plains Landowner Survey 2006: Farmers, Ranchers and Conservation, a majority of playa landowners (74 percent) were open to planting native grass buffers around playas if given an incentive, which is what Farm Bill programs like the Farmable Wetlands Program and Wetlands Conservation Non-Floodplain Initiative (otherwise known as CP23a) do. Grass buffers protect playas by filtering out eroded soils from surrounding cropland that can wash into and bury playa basins. Grass buffers also filter contaminants from irrigation and storm water runoff.

The survey data also reveal that landowners enjoy the wildlife playas attract. Sixty-eight percent of playa landowners say that the wetlands are an "overall positive" feature on the landscape, with wildlife being the top benefit. In addition, landowners (playa and non-playa owners) are fairly open to many other conservation practices, such as removing invasive plant species (52 percent willing) and implementing grazing management plans (48 percent willing).

However, survey data reveal that although landowners are concerned about the future of the Ogallala Aquifer, not all understand the crucial role of playas in groundwater recharge. Of 13 possible resources that might warrant additional conservation effort, landowners said they supported "more conservation than now" for only one -- the Ogallala Aquifer. However, about 50 percent of landowners did not know whether or not playas recharged groundwater, when in fact playas are the primary source of recharge for the aquifer.

"We certainly have our work cut out for us in educating landowners about how playas link to the aquifer, and that by protecting playas, landowners are protecting their bottom line," Carter said. "We expect that as more landowners understand this link, we might see a change in how they perceive playas. And perhaps we'll see even greater landowner willingness to conserve playas."

Bill Smithton, a farmer who manages land in Harper County, Oklahoma, needs no convincing about the benefits of playa conservation to his operation. Smithton enrolled his 160-acre playa into the CP23a program last year.

"Setting the playa aside makes good business sense," Smithton said in a recent interview on Playa Country Radio. "You certainly can't count on it [for production] from one year to the next, and the past four years in a row it's been un-farmable and still is. Setting it aside and enrolling it into a conservation program allows me to better manage my operation."

The High Plains Landowner Survey was conducted from March through May by DJ Case and Associates on behalf of the PLJV. The 21-question survey was mailed to 1,800 landowners randomly selected from a Farm Service Agency list of agricultural producers in a six-state region that includes portions of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Final response was 26 percent (429 respondents). Complete survey results and an executive summary are available on the PLJV's web site,