Osage City man also garners nomination for national award
PRATT -- Bob Harmon, Osage City, received the 2007 Wildlife Habitat Conservation Award representing Osage County at the Osage County Conservation District's Annual Conservation Meeting and Banquet on Feb. 11. This award is sponsored by the Kansas Bankers Association, Quail Unlimited, and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP). KDWP and the Kansas Wildlife Commission presented Harmon with a plaque and framed wildlife art print at its March meeting in Topeka.

Harmon has been implementing wildlife habitat and conservation practices on his land for the last 13 years. Approximately 55 acres is planted to crops each year, and the stubble is left standing through the month of March.

“If you want to judge wildlife habitat, look at my land in January and February, especially if there is some snow on the ground,” Harmon says. “This is the time when you can really see how much cover we have and how well rabbits and birds will survive the winter.”

Rabbits are important to Harmon and his farming operation. “I wanted a place to train beagles for rabbit hunting, so providing habitat for these little mammals is a consideration in how I manage the property,” he explains. “I try to manage the property to produce some income from crops and haying, but I do some things very specific for rabbits, quail, and other wildlife also.”

One of Harmon’s first projects was to convert the mainly fescue pasture to native rangeland. The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) was used to help pay for the cost of killed the fescue, then seeding a mix of native grasses and forbs (beneficial weeds). The grass took a couple years to establish, but the rabbit population improved almost overnight as they took advantage of the annual weeds and grasses. In July, much of the restored prairie site is now hayed.

Some of the grasslands were returned to native grasses just by burning and rest. In these areas, the grasses are not as dominant as where they were reseeded, but other native forbs and legumes, along with the grasses, have reclaimed the land. Erosion is not a problem, and these areas provide excellent nesting and brood rearing habitat for quail.

Harmon burns on a regular rotating basis to maintain and improve the grassland. Rabbits and quail both like a lot of grasses and weeds with some shrubs, and fire is the best way to maintain this habitat in grassland. Fire is also useful for keeping out trees and killing any fescue that tries to reestablish.

Harmon planted some cover for rabbits and quail using a variety of shrubs along the edge of the hay meadow. These were planted as bare root seedlings and included a mixture of plums, cotoneaster, and golden currant that today are 5 to 6 feet tall. This project was also cost-shared through the WHIP program.

Rabbits love brushpiles, so another project has involved half-cutting trees to build living brush piles. Harmon cut numerous hedge trees that have encroached into the grassland area. He left them attached to the trunk just enough that they stay alive. This creates a hiding place for rabbits and eventually gets rid of a tree that is not good wildlife habitat in its upright form.

A windbreak along the road and near the house was established several years ago to help protect the homestead and moderate the winter wind. A mix of red cedar, plum, and cotoneaster were planted and now provide protection and cover for numerous birds and wildlife.

“We really don’t own the land, we just borrow it for a time, and we have a responsibility to take care of it,” Harmon says.

For his efforts, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has also nominated Harmon for the National Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' Stewardship Award.