Kansas Alliance of Wetlands and Streams helps producers with land coming out of CRP
SALINA — Each year, the Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV) gives approximately $120,000 in Capacity Grants to extend habitat conservation projects throughout the playa lakes region. The grants are intended to help landowners develop habitat projects that benefit playas. Playas are natural, shallow, often round depression-like wetlands. They periodically fill with rainwater and rain runoff. More than 10,000 occur in Kansas, primarily in the western half of the state. They are also known as lagoons or buffalo wallows. They are vital resting, breeding, and nesting areas for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds.

The Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams (KAWS) is one partner awarded a 2010 Capacity Grant for $20,000. The grant will help fund a five-year project to contact landowners in western Kansas and educate them about playa conservation programs. In recent years, many privately-owned playas in western Kansas have been protected under the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), but more than a million of those contracted acres are scheduled to expire over the next three years. In addition, since 2008, there has been a decrease in the number of authorized CRP acres. Many of these areas have been enrolled in CRP for 25 years, and landowners often feel they have no option but to turn the land, including playas, back to crop production.

To compound the problem, a recent decrease in the number of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff makes communication with landowners about protecting and restoring playas difficult.

In order to fill this communication void, KAWS developed a contribution agreement with NRCS to promote playa restoration and protection in the western half of Kansas. In December 2008, KAWS hired a part-time wetland coordinator, funded in part by the PLJV grant, to contact landowners who have playas on CRP acres that are due to expire. As part of the agreement, NRCS provides office space, a vehicle, and a computer for the wetland coordinator.

The KAWS wetland coordinator, Art Gomez, calls landowners to discuss conservation programs — including the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Wetland Restoration Program CP23, Wetland Restoration Program CP23a, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Playa Lakes Incentive Program, and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act small grants program. If a landowner is interested, Gomez meets with them in person.

In 2009, the Kansas NRCS received 68 WRP applications from landowners, up from only 12 in 2008. Almost three-quarters of those applications came from western Kansas, and much of this increase is due to the KAWS program.

For more information on PLJV programs, write the PLJV Headquarters, 103 E. Simpson Street, Lafayette, CO 80026, or phone 303-926-0777.