Two Johnson County families establish nearly 2,000-acre conservation easement
TOPEKA -- The Kansas Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) recently signed an agreement on a nearly 2,000-acre conservation easement in the Flint Hills of Chase County. TNC acquired the easement from the C.E. and Lonah Birch and the Robert and Linda Mooney families, both of Shawnee.

“This easement is special because it borders almost 3 miles of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve,” says Brian Obermeyer, the Kansas Chapter’s Flint Hills initiative director. "Securing this easement adds a buffer of protection for the preserve."

A conservation easement is a voluntary contract between a landowner and a land trust, such as TNC, to preserve land in perpetuity from development that is incompatible with wildlife conservation. Because the land remains in private ownership, with the remainder of the rights intact, a property protected by a conservation easement continues to provide jobs, property taxes, and other economic benefits to the area. A conservation easement remains in force regardless of future changes in ownership.

Many landowners find this method the most practical way to safeguard the prairie from development that is incompatible with their desires. TNC now oversees 22,357 acres of conservation easements in the Kansas Flint Hills.

The land has been in the Birch Family for 100 years. C.E. Birch and Linda Mooney are siblings. While the Birches retain the majority of the land, the Mooneys share a half interest on a smaller portion. However, this easement was a family affair from beginning to end.

“My family has a history with this land that dates back more than 100 years,” C.E. Birch recalls. "My grandfather and my great-uncle were both ranchers in the Flint Hills. I can remember working the land with my grandfather. We had many exciting experiences, riding fences and looking for cattle. We even had a cattle drive through Strong City in the 1950s. The property was originally a part of the ranch that would become the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve."

The connection the Birches have to the land was one of the main reasons they sought to protect it. Of all the land-based habitats in the world, grasslands are among the most imperiled. Urban development, invasive species, and incompatible development continually threaten grassland habitat.

“This conservation easement will help us preserve our ranch while keeping the land in our family," says Birch. "We believe in the principles that led us to the easement, and we appreciate the support TNC offers us when ensuring long-term preservation. Our family’s history is steeped in this land. Even today, we have relatives who live and work there.”

For more information, email Shelby Stacy at or phone 785-233-4400.