Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.
Volume 62, Number 1 - September 2017
ABOUT THIS ISSUE
Published by EMPORIA STATE UNIVERSITY
Issued by THE DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
Editor: JOHN RICHARD SCHROCK
Editorial Committee: R. Brent Thomas, William Jensen, Marshall Sundberg
Circulation and Mailing: ROGER FERGUSON
Circulation (this issue): 9,300 Press Run: 13,000
Press Composition: Ryan O’Meara
Online edition posted by: Terri Weast
Printed by: Mennonite Press Inc.
The Kansas School Naturalist is sent free of charge and upon request to teachers and anyone interested in natural history and nature education. In-print back issues are sent free as long as supply lasts. Out-of-print back issues are sent for one dollar photocopy and postage/handling charge per issue. The Kansas School Naturalist is sent free upon request by media mail to all U.S. zipcodes, first class to Mexico and Canada, and surface mail overseas. The Kansas School Naturalist is published by Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas. Postage paid at Emporia, Kansas. Address all correspondence to: Editor, Kansas School Naturalist, Department of Biological Sciences, Box 4050, Emporia State University, Emporia, KS 66801-5087. Opinions and perspectives expressed are those of the author-editor and do not reflect the official position or endorsement of E.S.U. or the U.S.D.A. Most issues can be viewed online at: www.emporia.edu/ksn/ The Kansas School Naturalist is listed in Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory, indexed in Wildlife Review/Fisheries Review, and appropriate issues are indexed in the Zoological Record. The KSN is an irregular publication issued from one to four times per year. This issue authored by John Richard Schrock. The KSN thanks one anonymous reviewer.
The Kansas School Naturalist is sent free of charge and upon request to teachers, school administrators, public and school librarians, youth leaders, conservationists, and others interested in natural history and nature education worldwide. Photocopies are sent for one dollar postage/handling charge per issue. In-print back issues are sent free. A back issue list is sent free upon request and is available online. The Kansas School Naturalist is sent by third class mail to all U.S. zipcodes, and first class air mail to all other countries. The Kansas School Naturalist is published by Emporia State University Department of Biological Sciences. Address all correspondence to Kansas School Naturalist, Department of Biological Sciences, 1 Kellogg Drive, Emporia State University, Emporia, KS 66801-5087. Opinions and perspectives expressed are those of the authors and/or editor and do not reflect the official position or endorsement of ESU. Most issues can also be viewed online at: www.emporia.edu/ksn/. The Kansas School Naturalist is listed
in Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory, indexed in Wildlife Review/Fisheries Review, and appropriate issues are indexed in the Zoological Record. The Kansas School Naturalist is issued from one to four times per year. Publication of this issue is partly underwritten by the Ted and Betty Andrews KSN Endowment. Publication and distribution of this issue of the Kansas School Naturalist is also partially underwritten by contributions from readers like you.
Front Cover: Wetlands poster by Lawrence C. Duke, used with permission, provided by the Oakland Museum of California. Centerfold map: Dana Peterson, Kansas Biological Survey/KDWPT.
Back Cover: Baker Wetlands by Blick’s Photography. Scott Co. Playas by William C. Johnson, University of Kansas, Dept. of Geography & Atmospheric Science. Farm Pond Cattails by Debra S. Baker, Kansas Biological Survey. Typical KDWPT Signage by Bob Rose.
Bob Rose, retired international biology teacher, received both his B.S.E. and M.S. degrees from Emporia State University. Bob authored earlier Kansas School Naturalist volumes: “Raptors in Your Classroom,” Vol. 34, Nos. 3-4; “Get Involved—Stay Informed,” Vol. 35, No. 3; and “Zoos in Kansas,” Vol. 37, No 3. Before retiring to Kansas, he lived and taught in several different countries (Germany, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal, Niger, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the USA). He was a prodigious workshop presenter for NABT, NSTA, DoDEA and other organizations in several states plus Ethiopia, Ghana, Italy, Japan, the Philippines, and Spain. Bob received both the OBTA and the PAESMT awards.
Wetlands occur on every continent and in every climatic zone from the tropics to the polar regions (even Antarctica, depending on your definition of a wetland). Plus, wetlands are the dominant vegetated ecosystem in the circumpolar Arctic. Defining a wetland is more difficult than describing one but even that is a complex undertaking. In general, wetlands are areas of hydric soils inundated in water at least part of the time. Wetlands support plants adapted to saturated soil types, which in turn support resident and seasonal animal populations. Basically, wetlands occur where water meets land, often in naturally flat terrain.
Worldwide, more than 160 countries have joined the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. This is the oldest global intergovernmental treaty to address the conservation and wise use of wetlands, first adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971. The Ramsar Strategic Plan for 2016-2024 targets wetlands conservation goals to address sustainable development around the world. Currently, there are more than 2,200 Ramsar wetland sites. The United Kingdom has designated the most wetlands of international importance with 170, and in our hemisphere Mexico leads the way with 140 sites. Our United States has committed to 38 Ramsar sites, covering nearly five million acres. Kansas boasts two Ramsar sites of international importance: Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
Wetlands International is a global nongovernmental organization dedicated to the conservation and restoration of wetlands worldwide. This organization with its dozens of international partners is proactive in educating people in the ways wetlands provide countless benefits, functions, and services to humanity. Wetlands provide people freshwater; food and building materials; inland flood control and coastal storm surge protection; groundwater recharge; nutrient and chemical cycling, filtering, and sequestering (e.g. as carbon sinks). And wetlands contribute to the biodiversity that is indispensably important to ecosystems and wildlife. Not only do we benefit materially and ecologically from wetlands, many of us find intrinsic value and solace in the beauty and esthetics of wetland experiences.
Types of Wetlands
Wetlands are basically either inland or coastal. Five common categories of wetlands include: marine, estuarine, riverine, lacustrine, and palustrine. These however, involve scientific definitions that may not be as familiar as wetlands with common names. Simply put, marine wetlands are exposed to the open ocean and are highly influenced by the tides and the shoreline. Estuaries are tidal wetlands at least sporadically exposed to the open ocean but are diluted by freshwater runoff from land or streams. We have marine and estuarine wetlands along our Atlantic, Pacific, Alaskan, Hawaiian, and Gulf coasts. Riverine wetlands are located near or adjacent to streams. Lacustrine wetlands are part of permanent bodies of open water (e.g. lakes). Their littoral habitats extend from the shoreline outward to a depth of approximately 2 meters, beyond which emergent vegetation like cattails do not normally grow. Palustrine wetlands are the more familiar vegetated wetlands generally bounded by upland habitats and lacking flowing water (e.g. farm ponds). A palustrine wetland can even exist as an “island” in a lake or on the shores of a river.
Following are some labels for wetlands in North America: marsh (dominated by grasses and floating-leaved plants); swamp (dominated by trees); bog (lots of mosses); playa (roundish, ephemeral hollows of the High Plains); prairie potholes (depressions left over from glacial retreats in the Upper Midwest region of the U.S. and parts of Canada). Bottomland and floodplain are terms related to wetlands but can include several different types of wetlands. Both terms refer to low-lying land along a stream. Usually the land is a few feet above the normal water level of the adjacent stream but is subject to periodic if not regular flooding. Because the flooding leaves fertile alluvial soils behind when it retreats, these areas are highly desirable for farming. Thus, many floodplain wetlands have been modified to accommodate farming. Innumerable wetland habitats are common on islands and the inside curve of creeks and rivers in Kansas. Human-made constructed wetlands have various functions and names: stock ponds, tanks, reservoirs, borrow pits, settling ponds, water reclamation cells, and rice paddies. Other wetlands include: spring/seep, fen, vernal pond, pocosin, oasis, mire, mudflat, tidal flat, oxbow, delta, bayou, mangrove forest, and thermokarst arctic lakes.
Deep Kansas History
The origin of many Kansas wetlands probably dates back a little farther than the retreat of the Pleistocene (Ice Age) glaciers around 11,700 years ago, not accounting for wetlands-related salt deposits from inland seas dating back millions of years. Cheyenne Bottoms, for example, may be related to sinkage of dissolved salt deposits dating back 100,000 years. Although glaciers did not cover the entire state of Kansas, meltwater did contribute to the formation of some Kansas streams, notably some of the Kansas River basin drainages. Numerous fluvial wetlands (i.e. wetlands associated with surface and/or subsurface water flowing downstream) are associated with meandering Kansas streams regardless of their geological origin. High Plains playa wetlands originated more than 9,000 years ago.
Recent Kansas History
Differing accounts estimate that we have lost 48% to 70% of our historical wetlands in Kansas. A specific percentage is difficult to cite since we don’t actually know how many wetlands we have remaining. Regardless, there must have been literally thousands of wetlands here before and after Kansas became a state. Archaeological evidence associates native peoples with Kansas wetlands as far back as 9,000 years ago. The Kansas Territory was not opened to settlers until 1854 and most early farming in Kansas was either dryland farming or ranching with grazing livestock. For the first 100 years of farming, wetlands were often perceived to be impediments and were systematically drained or otherwise modified for agriculture, urban development, highways, landscaping, and other uses.
Even today, some farmers risk planting crops in dry playas and drained wetlands. Following the dustbowl years in the 1930s wetlands began to appear more useful and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act, or the “Duck Stamp Act,” which was created specifically to halt the destruction of our national wetlands. Hundreds of national wildlife refuges have been created or expanded using Duck Stamp resources [more than $800 million dollars and nearly 6 million acres]. While waterfowl hunters are required to buy Duck Stamps, conservationists, birdwatchers, photographers, and stamp collectors also buy them. Indeed, more than 80% of the visitors to our National Wildlife Refuges are non-hunters.
Beginning around 1950 the value of wetlands was becoming more widely understood. Even so, significant wetland losses, especially to agriculture, continued into the 1980s. Today there is a viable movement to reclaim and restore wetlands as their functions are more widely appreciated. Literally dozens of agencies, organizations, and interested parties are joining the movement to regain lost wetland acres in Kansas.
Salt Springs to School Marshes to Kansas Wetlands
Strictly speaking, there were no wetlands in Kansas before January 29, 1861, with the establishment of the state of Kansas. An official document from the Abraham Lincoln administration contains a provision for 12 “salt springs” to be deeded to Kansas. Subsequently, the state of Kansas donated the 12 “salt springs” to the Emporia Normal School for a “perpetual endowment.” These springs, also referred to as “salt lands” and eventually as the “school marshes,” were not yet sold by 1868. So, the state regents appointed a land commissioner to do so. He did sell some of the marshes but kept the proceeds for himself. Eventually, at least part of the monies may have been returned to the school’s endowment and the land commissioner was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. The actual locations of the 12 school marshes were recorded by hand in the state auditor’s book to include township and range designations and even the number of acres for each parcel. In all, 44,997.66 acres of school marshes were donated and sold for the endowment of what is today Emporia State University. The 12 marshes were in a generally south to north orientation between present day Salina and the Jamestown area. Today’s Jamestown Wildlife Area occupies parts of at least five of the former school marshes (Nos. 7, 8, 9, 10 & 12) and possibly No. 1. Saline State Fishing Lake, created from a highway borrow pit, sits one mile east of the school marsh No. 5 area. The remaining former school marshes are north of Interstate Highway 70 today.
Restoring Kansas Wetlands
Once wetlands are identified, they are somewhat protected by the original Clean Water Act of 1948 and its many amendments, notably 1972 and 1978 (which called for a National Wetlands Inventory). However, routine agriculture exemptions allowed plowing, seeding, and other cultivation practices associated with producing food. The Food Security Act of 1985, or Farm Bill, (subsequently amended) established (1) the “swampbuster” program to reduce the conversion of wetlands into agricultural uses, and (2) the Wetland Reserve Program to provide incentives and penalties that serve to protect wetlands. Through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP) qualified landowners can receive annual easement payments from the USDA for removing wetlands on their properties from agricultural uses. The Natural Resources Conservation Service also promotes the Farmable Wetlands Program to encourage landowners to return wetlands to their natural state. The Migratory Bird, Butterfly, and Pollinator Habitat SAFE (CP38B) program encourages landowners to protect and restore their wetlands. The Environmental Services section of our Kansas Department of Transportation has been instrumental in supporting wetlands. This includes landscape design and roadside vegetation associated with borrow pits and other road construction projects with wetland components. Indeed, KDOT involvement was a major constituent of land acquisition and support for the modern Baker Wetlands.
Farm Ponds to Wetlands
Members of the Kansas Biological Survey have initiated a multi-phase program to assess the viability of converting farm ponds to wetlands. Thousands of farm ponds have been constructed in Kansas. Many are evolving into wetlands through neglect, abandonment, or sedimentation with its accompanying plant and animal populations. Casual observations from driving through Kansas landscapes reveals ponds encircled by cattails or in some cases completely filled with cattails and other emergent vegetation. Phase 1 of this project seeks to identify ponds (in the Delaware River basin) with the potential for wetland conversion to provide or improve the functions associated with wetlands.
Playas may be the unsung heroes of Kansas wetlands. They are certainly the dominant water feature of the High Plains and represent keystone ecosystems. By their sheer numbers, these ecological islands are impressive. Thousands of playas are spread over the high plains from Nebraska and Colorado to New Mexico and Texas. Kansas may have more than 20,000 playas in 45 counties, most overlying portions of the High Plains aquifer.
A playa, or playa lake, is a shallow roundish depression that is seasonally filled with precipitation, meltwater, tailwater from agricultural runoff, or even stormwater runoff from urban areas. Each playa has its own watershed making it independent from surrounding playas. Because the playa is at the bottom of its watershed, it has no outflow drainage system. Characteristically, there is a gentle slope leading to a flattened bottom. They hold water longer than their surrounding landscape due to their clay-infused hydric soil but eventually dry up due to water loss via evapotranspiration and water infiltration into the ground. Thus, playas are dry part of the time. Most are relatively small, generally less than 5 acres and shallow, generally less than five feet deep. Playas may have originally formed by sinkage due to dissolution of underground salts or underlying gravel beds. Other hypotheses have suggested how playas originated, but when they originated is more difficult to ascertain. Some may be young, perhaps created by topsoil deflation during the 1930s dust bowl. One in Lane County appears to be at least 130,000 years old. The largest in Kansas is in Thomas County (645 acres).
Historically, when the playas were wet, short and tall prairie grasses on the margins minimized upland runoff, erosion, and sediment build up. When the playas were dry, winds were the primary cause of sediment deflation. With modern agricultural modifications playas can take on a reversed landscape in appearance and function. Tilled uplands allow for little water infiltration in the playa margins, increase wind erosion of surrounding soils, and increase sediment buildup on top of the naturally hydric playa soils. Invasive grasses and forbs can fill the playa basin which further accelerates sediment buildup reducing the water storage capacity of the playa. Accumulated water can then overflow the hydric soil boundary, and if left unmanaged woody vegetation can begin to encroach (e.g. willows and cottonwoods).
Biodiversity. Playas have a significant impact on the biodiversity of ecosystems that are traditionally grasslands in semi-arid conditions. Literally hundreds of plant and animal species utilize playas as a source of water. Many of our playas are surrounded by croplands with their concomitant fertilizer, herbicide, and pesticide residues, making playas extremely at-risk ecosystems. Additionally, overgrazing of livestock around and in playa basins decreases plant diversity which increases undesirable grazing species, plus increases turbidity and sedimentation in playas. Playas can act as repositories for native prairie plant species as well as refuges for other plant species. At least 346 plant species have been found in playa basins. Seeds buried in underground seed beds for years can sprout in a matter of days. With increased plant diversity comes increased animal diversity. More than 120 invertebrate species have been found in playas. The eggs of invertebrate fairy shrimp buried in playa seed beds for 20 years can hatch and complete their life cycle in as little as three weeks. More than 50 species of amphibians, reptiles, and mammals occur in playa ecosystems. Thousands of migrating waterfowl and other wetland and upland birds benefit from playas. Over 160 bird species were recorded for one Meade County playa basin alone. Because of their temporary nature, playas do not support fish populations.
Water Quality, Flood Control, and Aquifer Recharge. Playas, like other wetlands, filter water to remove suspended contaminants or recycle chemicals into plant matter, release molecules into the atmosphere via evapotranspiration, or sequester chemicals in biomass and soils. Collectively, these processes improve the overall water quality of playa lakes. Farmers and ranchers will sometimes dig deep pits in their playas to act as storage tanks for irrigation water or livestock watering. While playas are dry most of the time, their large basins serve to collect runoff water from heavy rainfall. They act as ephemeral catchment basins both in rural areas where croplands are susceptible to erosion and in municipal areas where flooding can be exacerbated due to hard surfaces such as streets and parking lots.
Perhaps the most important long-range benefit is the recharge of the Ogallala Aquifer. Since the later 19th century, crop irrigation by mining underground water from the Ogallala Aquifer has lowered the water table by tens of feet and even more than 100 feet in places. Ogallala water is a precious, yet vanishing, natural resource. Unlike the miniscule recharge rates from interplaya regions, playas act as water conduits adding water to the aquifer ten to a hundred times faster, up to 3 inches per year. As much as 95% of aquifer recharge may come from playas.
Virtually all playas in Kansas are on private property. Three playas are managed for public access by the KDWPT, all in Ford County. Fortunately, there are several partners taking active roles in protecting our playas and some offer landowners financial incentives to restore and protect their playas. Notable organizations and agencies include the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the USDA, the KDWPT, the Kansas Water Office, and more.
Wetlands in Kansas
Baker Wetlands is possibly the most accessible wetlands in Kansas and is the Learning and Research Site of Baker University. It sits on the southern border of Lawrence, east of the intersection of US Hwy 59 and the K-10 bypass (South Lawrence Trafficway). Pedestrians and bikers can access the wetlands from parking areas on the southeast, east, south, and from the Discovery Center parking lot in the northwest corner of the 927 acres. Plus, there are hard surface entry points from Haskell Ave., Louisiana St., and Michigan St. as the wetlands share access to the 19-mile Lawrence Loop Trail. The Wakarusa River forms the southern border.
I recommend beginning your first visit to the Baker Wetlands at the Discovery Center where interpretive signage, displays, hands-on activities, and volunteer greeters can orient you with maps and species checklists. The Baker Wetlands has a rich human history as well as natural history. In 1883, the Bureau of Indian Affairs began acquiring land here to establish what is now the Haskell Indian Nations University. The early Haskell Farm was used for agricultural training and to grow food for the students and staff until the 1930s. Portions of the Farm were drained for these agricultural purposes. In the 1950s part of the “Haskell Bottoms” area was declared surplus by the Dept. of the Interior and ownership changed hands. The final owner became Baker University and their restoration of the farmland and native prairie into the wetlands you see today began in 1991. Despite extensive earthworks, Baker Wetlands is more of a restored wetlands than a constructed area.
The modern and energy efficient Discovery Center has a large classroom, restrooms, water fountains, gift shop, and telescope for viewing wildlife from indoors. Outside there is a wildflower garden, and observatory with astronomical telescope. More than 10 miles of trails, paths, and boardwalks give you easy access to wetland cells, restored prairie, and riparian habitats along the Wakarusa River. Informational signage and observation/photography hides are strategically placed along the walkways. Plus, there are covered picnic tables, bird nesting boxes, pedestrian bridges, and a developing campground area. To date, 480 plant species and 376 vertebrate species, including 278 bird species have been found here.
Chisolm Creek Park in northeast Wichita is a good place for urban residents to have a wetlands experience. The Great Plains Nature Center is situated in the southeast corner of the park. Trail heads from the main entrance on Oliver Street and from the GPNC parking lot are the safest entry points to the park. You can enter the park from perimeter sidewalks as well. There are four well marked walking trails with interpretive signage and 3-D artwork, picnic tables, ponds, native grass areas, and some woodlands. Park trails that predate the nature center parallel both banks of the Chisholm Creek with its associated riparian and wetlands components. These are good walks to view common wetland plants and animals. The GPNC webpage indicates the relative numbers of wildflowers, trees, shrubs, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish in the park. Although there are 13 species of fish here, catch-and-release fishing with artificial bait is only allowed in Island Pond and in Chisholm Lake (on the north side of K-96 highway).
The park is easily accessed from KS Hwy 96, which has exits to the south at both N. Woodlawn St. and N. Oliver Ave. It is bordered on the south by E. 29th St. North. The entrance to the GPNC is just west of the intersection of E. 29th St. and Woodlawn St. The nature center opened in 2000 with a 200-seat Coleman auditorium and the large Koch Habitat Hall, with exhibits of typical Great Plains organisms, streams, wetlands, lakes, rivers, riparian and woodlands habitats. There is a 2,200 gallon aquarium and hands-on interactive stations. Plus, there is the Owl’s Nest gift shop. This is the original source of the popular “Pocket Guides” to Kansas plants and animals (available free here). For more information about the GPNC and Chisholm Creek Park go to: http://www.gpnc.org/index.htm. Great Plains Nature Center, 6232 E. 29th Street North, Wichita, KS 67220-2200. Tel: 316-683-5499.
Weston Bend Bottomlands on Fort Leavenworth Military Reservation (FLMR) is managed by the U.S. Army’s forestry department. These 200 year-old bottomlands contain mature riparian habitat with huge sycamore and cottonwood trees as well as more than two dozen woodland species including pecan, hackberry, walnut, elm, ash, box elder, and various shrubs. Indeed, the Kansas state champions of pawpaw, pecan, and Norway spruce trees are in these bottomlands. An extensive report by the Kansas Biological Survey identified this floodplain forest as “globally significant” and noted it is one of the largest old-growth floodplain forests in the lower Missouri River system. You can gain permission to enter the military base through the Visitor Control Center (east of the main gate). Enter from the intersection of Metropolitan Avenue and N. 4th Street in Leavenworth. Ask for directions to the Chief Joseph Loop road. This is a one-way drive that provides access to hiking trails (i.e. River Trail, Sawmill Trail, Cottonwood Trail, Riatto Trail, and Pecan Alley). Extensive checklists of vertebrate animals and plants compiled by the Kansas Biological Survey are available online at https://kars.ku.edu/media/uploads/work/2003FtLeavenworthReport.pdf.
The famous Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition of 1804 paddled through this stretch of river. However Clark’s accurate mapmaking skills do not show this bend in the river at that time. Forty years later, John James Audubon visited the area and collected a specimen of the common then but extinct now Carolina parakeet. Hin-mah-too-yahlat-kekt, better known to us as Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe and famous for his surrendering utterance of “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever,” was temporarily imprisoned here during the winter 1877-1878 along with around 400 remaining members of his tribe before they were moved on to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.
Wetlands Managed by the KDWPT
The most up-to-date contact information for the following sampling of Kansas wetlands is available at the KDWPT website http://ksoutdoors.com/KDWPT-Info/Locations/Wildlife-Areas/ or by entering the wetland name into an internet search engine.
Benedictine Bottoms Wildlife Area consists of more than 2,000 acres northeast of the city of Atchison. This “big river” wetlands was essentially designed and constructed from scratch by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a consortium of agencies. It is easily accessed from the south by going east on Commercial Street in Atchison to the Missouri River. The street turns north and becomes the River Road. Continue north paralleling the river about 1.5 miles to the end of the pavement. Do not continue straight ahead onto the private graveled road. Instead, turn right and cross the bridge over Independence Creek and you are on the Benedictine Bottoms. Alternatively, a gravel road from the town of Doniphan to the north leads into the Bottoms.
More than 100 years ago the river coursed down the western edge of its miles-wide floodplain against the bluffs where Independence Creek flows today. From 1912 to 1980 bank stabilization and navigation projects narrowed the channel and the meander belt of the river. Landowners removed bottomland timber and modified the floodplain for farming, which resulted in a loss of habitat for wildlife and fish, including habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon. Benedictine Bottoms may be helpful in their recovery.
Award winning management of the Benedictine Bottoms WA has created three flourishing habitat types of timber, native grasses, and wetlands. Seasonal wetlands make up nearly 25% of the total acreage. A variety of nearly 200,000 trees and shrubs were planted to compliment the abundant native cottonwoods. Grassland was recreated with plantings of big bluestem, Indian grass, eastern gamagrass and switchgrass. The three seasonal wetland cells support naturally occurring emergent and aquatic vegetation. Groundwater wells flood the west, middle, and (eastern) refuge wetland cells during the spring and fall making surface water available to migrating waterfowl. The wetland cells are drawn down during summer months to facilitate growth of desirable vegetation. Thus, the wetlands are dry about half of the year.
Birdwatching, hiking, biking, and fishing areas are all accessible to the public from April 1st through September 30th. Deer, waterfowl, and pheasant hunting are popular here and area access is limited to permit holders from October 1st through March 31st.
The Bottoms present outdoor research opportunities for nearby Benedictine College. Students engage in hands-on field research ranging from setting up arrays of nest boxes for tree swallows, bluebirds, and Carolina wrens to mist netting and color banding yellowthroats and dickcissels, as well as long-term research projects related to bird biodiversity and demography.
Cheyenne Bottoms. At roughly 60 miles squared, Cheyenne Bottoms is the largest inland wetlands in the central United States. It was designated a natural region of international importance by the Ramsar Convention, primarily due to its enormous importance to wildlife. The first written reference to “Cheyenne Bottoms” comes from an 1895 description of the much earlier visit by Zebulon Pike. The basin is at least 100,000 years old and much has been written about its origin and evolution. The most accepted theory of its origin is that underlying salt beds were dissolved by groundwater resulting in a huge sinkhole. The original sources of fluvial water to the Bottoms were Blood Creek and Deception Creek flowing from the west. Because there was no natural outlet, during times of heavy rains the Bottoms would overflow with flood water for miles around.
Modern water management in the wildlife area makes extraordinary use of dikes, dams, canals, massive pumps and water diversions via gravity to move water between pools. There is no comparable movement of water in the area managed by The Nature Conservancy. When called for, additional water can be brought into the Bottoms from Walnut Creek and the Arkansas River.
Some pools are deep, some shallow, some have large stands of cattails and other emergent vegetation, and some provide vast stretches of mudflats. The average depth of the pools is about one foot. Constructed blinds accommodate waterfowl hunters in season, while a network of roadways give birders access year around. Of the 471 bird species in Kansas, 333 have been observed in the Cheyenne Bottoms area.
The KDWPT manages more than 19,000 acres. The Nature Conservancy preserves another 8,000 acres. The remainder of the basin is privately owned. Roads and dikes make access to the pools easy whether driving or walking, although the dikes separating the three #1 pools and parts of pool #5 are closed to all activities. A thirteen-stop, self-guided driving tour pamphlet is available. It takes 45 to 60 minutes to casually complete the tour. This pamphlet and a lot more can be picked up at the state-of-the-art Kansas Wetlands Education Center on the east side of the Bottoms (on Hwy 156). The KWEC is a branch of Fort Hays State University and has graduate assistants on staff to help orient you to the Bottoms, as well as observation stations and a covered outdoor “classroom” area. The site manager has two full-time educators on staff, one for elementary age visitors and one for older learners. Informative displays with mounted specimens and artistic life-size displays hanging from the ceilings will inform you as well as entertain you with human history and natural history of the area. There are clean restrooms, water fountains, a bevy of informational pamphlets, and a large book/gift shop. Because it is in the center of Kansas near Great Bend, Cheyenne Bottoms is easily accessed from all directions.
Jamestown Wildlife Area spreads into Jewell, Republic, and Cloud counties in north central Kansas, northwest of Concordia. Partially, due to its size, abundance of water and sizable wetland habitat, this area has been considered one of the three most notable wetlands in Kansas.
Marsh Creek bisects the area, flowing in from the northwest and exiting to the southeast. Marsh Trail road leads to the Game Keeper Marsh Dam that separates the two largest marshes with Game Keeper Marsh to the north and Gun Club Marsh to the south. A camping/picnic area is on the west side of the dam and vault toilets are across the road to the south. A stone monument with brass placard indicates a dam was built here in 1932 creating Republic County State Lake. That dam is currently being enlarged, which will increase the overall surface water and wetland acreage.
Another dam was created at the south end of Marsh Creek Marsh and when filled with water, this marsh is sometimes referred to as Sportsman Lake. Sedimentation removal and renovations underway will increase the surface water area and improve water management practices.
McPherson Valley Wetlands are a collection of 51 independently managed marsh units spread out over a 50 mile swath from northwest of McPherson to the south. Historically, the area may have been as important to wildlife as Cheyenne Bottoms, covering thousands of acres. The marshy areas were heavily modified for agriculture, completely draining some areas, but the largest natural lake in Kansas, Lake Inman, was left intact. These wetlands are open to the public and are managed primarily for waterfowl hunting. Camping is not allowed, but when the hunting seasons are closed and especially during spring migrations there are excellent birdwatching opportunities. The KDWPT hopes to restore 5,000 acres of McPherson wetlands.
Wild Turkey Playa Wetland with 50 acres of wetland and 107 acres of native grass and cereal grains is southwest of Dodge City. Travel west from Dodge City on Hwy. 50 for about seven miles to Howell with its grain elevator on the south side of the road. Turn south onto paved Road 102, cross the railroad tracks, then the Arkansas River and continue for four miles. The wetland is on the southeast corner of the intersection of Road 102 and unpaved Nickel Road. The area is clearly marked. Portions of the wetland can be flooded to provide undisturbed rest and food for migrating waterfowl. Thus, the wetland is closed to all activity during the spring and fall migration seasons. Still, the area is always viewable from the north and the west roads. Herron Lake Playa Wildlife Area with 160 wetland acres and Stein Playa Wetlands with 73 wetland acres are also nearby in Ford County, closer to Spearville. Isabel WA and Texas Lakes WA, though not playas, are wetlands east of Dodge in Pratt County.
The Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area is a wetland paradise located in east-central Kansas, straddling US Highway 69 about 30 miles north of Fort Scott and about an hour drive south of Kansas City. This Wildlife Area shares a border with the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge on its east. Both are bisected by the Marais des Cygnes River, which with its riparian/bottomland habitat is the dominant feature of both areas.
This is a very biologically diverse area where the tallgrass prairie grasses extend from the west to blend with oak-hickory forests from the east. The Wildlife Area is managed primarily for waterfowl by seasonally pumping water from the river into several large, but shallow marsh units for migrating waterfowl and emptying the pools for spring and summer vegetation regrowth. Naturally occurring ponds and oxbows exist on both areas, but the NWR does not pump water to sustain large pools. Even so, the nearly annual flooding of the Marais des Cygnes River provides several acres of inundated floodplain. A few tracts of privately owned lands are still intertwined with both areas. Approximately 40-50 privately owned duck hunting clubs are supported in the surrounding areas and account for sizeable economic impacts on the local communities. Portions of the WA are closed as sanctuary areas for wildlife.
The Slate Creek Wetlands are approximately 7 miles south and 1.5 miles west of Oxford in Sumner County. From Oxford, head south out of town on South Sumner Avenue, which immediately becomes South Oxford Road. Continue to E. 70th Street and turn west onto the gravel (sandy) road, which terminates at Greenwich Road. At this point, there is a parking area with pedestrian access to the wetlands and a 10-foot tall, steel framed observation tower with an excellent overview of the wetlands to the west and south. Slate Creek, with its riparian habitat, bisects the area entering from the west and exiting to the southeast on its way to join the Arkansas River near Geuda Springs. While only a fourth of the 947 acres are considered marshes, the seven pools are scattered through a lot of open grassland giving an overall impression of a larger wetland area. Three other pedestrian access areas, all identified with signage and parking spaces, are along the south border via East 80th street. This area is primarily managed for waterfowl, but its rural/agricultural landscape provides excellent habitat for pheasants, quail, dove, deer, rabbits, squirrels and other furbearers. This is an excellent area for quiet bird watching, photography, and wandering.
The El Dorado Wetlands and Water Reclamation Facility in Butler County is the first water treatment plant in Kansas to build and utilize wetlands to help treat wastewater.
El Dorado city’s water reclamation facility now has four wetland cells of which one is intentionally kept dry, in reserve. The wetlands cover 12.5 acres with a 17,000,000 gallon holding capacity and room to expand further on the plant’s 200 acres if necessary. There is a rich buffer of native grasses around the cells. The El Dorado community saved millions of dollars by not constructing traditional cement lined collection pools. The savings accrue as they do not have to spend further monies on mechanically treating what the wetlands can do naturally. Like all wetlands, these constructed wetlands can perform chemical filtration of wastewater, mitigate excessive water loads, and at the same time provide feeding, nesting, and resting habitat for waterfowl, other migrating birds, and native wildlife. A covered outdoor classroom area and a boardwalk provide recreational as well as educational features. It was particularly insightful to create an aesthetically pleasing 4-acre effluent pond with a landscaped island near the plant headquarters. This pond is stocked with sport fish where catch and release fishing is encouraged. Even this artfully maintained pond contains a filter and polisher for the effluent before its water is drained to the Walnut River cleaner than the river itself.
The KCP&L Prairie Wetland opened around 1995. About half of the 55 acres is open water distributed between three cells. Emergent wetland vegetation along with upland forbs and grasses are prevalent. A few trees exist in the central region. These wetlands attract a lot of birdwatchers [because it reportedly provides the best shorebird habitat in Johnson County]. A boardwalk leads from the graveled parking area to a large viewing blind. The city of Gardner, KDWPT, and KCP&L share management chores including mowing grassed trails.
This wetland is south of the intersection of US Highway 56 and Waverly Street on the west side of Gardner, wedged between railroad tracks that converge east of the wetlands. Waverly Road is not signposted, but it is the first road west of the Catholic church on the extreme west edge of town.
The Jeffrey Energy Center Wildlife Area is part of the coal-fired facility owned by Westar Energy but the KDWPT manages the three wetland cells. Ponds in Unit #1 are open to the public year-round. Unit #2 requires written permission to access [available at the main gate guard house; call ahead. Tel: 785.456.6149]. Hunting and fishing are regulated seasonally, with only angling boating allowed. Unit #3 is a refuge area closed to the public. Take KS Highway 63 (6th street) north out of St. Marys for about five miles. Turn left onto Jeffrey Road to the energy center. Tel: 785.539.9999.
Kansas Wetlands in the National Wildlife Refuge System
Kirwin NWR was the first NWR established in Kansas (1954). It is in north-central Kansas along the upper reaches of Kirwin Reservoir and the North Fork of the Solomon River. Kirwin NWR is southeast of Phillipsburg where US Highways 36 and 183 intersect. Here are more than 10,000 acres of tall grass prairie mixing with short grasses from the high plains, plus around 5,000 acres of open water. The wetlands and open water here add to the food, shelter, and nesting areas for migratory and resident birds.
Thousands of Canada geese and other waterfowl pass through during migration seasons. Bald eagles nest here. Campgrounds, lodging, gas, and food options are available in nearby Kirwin east of the reservoir dam and Phillipsburg northwest of the refuge.
Contact Info: Kirwin NWR, 702 E Xavier Rd., Kirwin, KS 67644. Tel: 785.543.6673. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/kirwin/. Coordinates: 39.64166, -99.1833
Quivira NWR was created in 1955 in southcentral Kansas, southeast of Great Bend and northwest of Hutchinson. It is one of only 38 locations in the US on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. This is a huge area of 22,135 acres with 34 distinct wetlands ranging in size from a few to hundreds of acres. Its two prominent shallow lakes are appropriately named Little Salt Marsh and Big Salt Marsh because all the wetlands here have high salt levels. Besides naturally occurring Rattlesnake Creek that courses between the two lakes, an additional 21 miles of canals have been constructed.
The staffed refuge headquarters and interpretative museum (with indoor restrooms and interpretive exhibits) is at the south entrance along with the Kid’s Fishing Pond, a nearby observation tower, and a photo blind. Along the north-south auto tour route, about halfway between the Little Salt Marsh and Big Salt Marsh, is the Environmental Education Classroom with its nearby 1.2 mile accessible nature trail, including a 3/4 mile elevated boardwalk. While the marshes dominate the landscape, there are 13,000 acres of sand dunes with prairie grasses, 1,500 acres of woodland, and 1,200 acres of cropland partially managed for wildlife.
Wildlife species are abundant here. Hunting of upland animals is allowed, as is fishing, but no boats are permitted. Seasonally, this is another Kansas birdwatching paradise. More than 300 species of birds have been observed on Quivira NWR, including more than 100 endangered whooping cranes during the 2016 fall migration. Thousands of waterfowl stop over here during migrations. Some other birds rarely seen in Kansas but observed here include the Great flamingo, Greater roadrunner, and Roseate spoonbill.
Contact Info: Quivira NWR, 1434 NE 80th Street, Stafford, KS 67578-8818. Tel: 620.486.2393. Email: Quivira@fws.gov. Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/quivira/. Coordinates: 38 degrees 11’00”N 98 degrees 30’31”W.
Flint Hills NWR was established in Lynn and Coffey Counties (central Kansas) in 1966. It is easily accessed via Interstate Highway 35 traveling east from Emporia to exit 141. Turn south onto K130 toward Neosho Rapids. After five miles there is the Burgess Marsh trailhead with parking and information kiosk on the west side of the highway. Three miles farther K130 ends in Hartford (but continues as Commercial Street). Turn westward onto Maple Avenue. After about 1/4 mile turn right (north) to the NWR headquarters. The Cottonwood River converges with the Neosho River east of Emporia and forms the
headwaters of John Redmond Reservoir (9,400 acres) which was constructed in 1959 and now borders the Flint Hills NWR.
Historically, the Neosho River floodplain contained hundreds of wet/dry seasonal marshes and wetlands. Most of these wetlands were lost to agricultural modifications of the land and other developments. Refuge staff restored and now manages over 2,500 acres of wetlands. The refuge lies just east of the Flint Hills and boasts remnants of native tall grass prairie and other upland grasses. Woodlands are restricted to the riparian areas along the Neosho River and its tributaries.
More than 290 bird species have been sighted on the refuge, with 103 species nesting on the refuge. Like most large bodies of water in the central flyway, the reservoir attracts thousands of waterfowl during their seasonal migrations.
Contact Info: Flint Hills NWR, 530 W Maple Ave, Hartford, KS 66854. Phone: 620.392.5553. Email: email@example.com. Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/flint_hills/. Coordinates (GPS): 38 degrees 13’30”N 95 degrees 46’36”W (38.2250209, -95.7766537).
Marais des Cygnes NWR in south-central Kansas was established in 1992. The refuge is about 40 miles south of Kansas City on the east side of US Highway 69 or about 30 miles north of Fort Scott. Exit at Trading Post to Kansas Highway 52 and travel east (past the highway rest area on the hill to the right) for approximately 1 1/4 mile to the NWR headquarters. The small headquarters building is staffed and provides interpretative exhibits, literature, and indoor restrooms. The refuge is bordered on the east by the Kansas-Missouri state line. The Marais des Cygnes River forms the west boundary. The lower portion of the river is accessible via paddling or trolling boats and the remainder of the river upstream is motorized. Although most of the area is accessible on foot, there are only three established hiking trails.
This national wildlife refuge and the Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area, managed by the KDWPT are separated by the Marais des Cygnes River and, logistically, by Hwy 69. Both are accessible at this same highway exit.
Of the 7,500 acres on the Marais des Cygnes NWR, 2,500 acres comprise a wildlife sanctuary off-limits to visitors. The remaining refuge area consists of bottomland riparian forests (pin oak, pecan, sycamore, cottonwood), upland forest (oak-hickory stands), remnants of native prairie (200+ plant species), and seasonal wetlands. Much of the woodlands and grasslands are in early to mid-succession stages following logging and farming practices prior to refuge status. About one-third of the refuge is in the floodplain of the Marais des Cygnes River, accounting for seasonal wetland conditions due to flooding in the spring, early summer, and fall. These wetland areas can remain flooded up to three weeks. Only about 300 acres of the refuge are managed as moist soil impoundments intended to support migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. Unlike the state-managed wildlife area to the west, the NWR does not pump water from the Marais des Cygnes River to maintain wetlands.
Because it is a relatively new refuge area not all of its holdings are contiguous. There are privately held acres in and around some of the refuge areas that have not become available to the USFWS for purchase, yet. The refuge bird checklist contains 321 species, with 117 nesting on the refuge. There are 30 species of warblers on the checklist. Six species of birds are identified as federally endangered or threatened. There are 58 amphibian and reptile species, several furbearers, game, and fish species, plus 31 species of mussels. Look for the mussel/clam shell display in the headquarters building along with pelts you can handle of local furbearing animals. Contact Info: Marais des Cygnes NWR, 24141 KS Hwy 52, Pleasanton, KS 66075. Tel: 913.352.8956. Email: MaraisdesCygnes@fws.gov. Website: https://www.fws.gov/Refuge/Marais_des_Cygnes/. Coordinates: 38 degrees 13’30”N 94 degrees 39’00”W.
Our Neighbors’ Wetlands
National Wildlife Refuges, with wetland components, near to Kansans include the Ozark Cavefish NWR in southwest Missouri, the Weston Bend State Park and Loess Bluffs NWR (formerly Squaw Creek NWR) in northwest Missouri; Salt Plains NWR in northcentral Oklahoma and Optima NWR in northwest Oklahoma; the Rainwater Basin WMD in southcentral Nebraska, and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR 8 miles northeast of Denver, Colorado.
|The Kansas School Naturalist||Department of Biology|
|College of Liberal Arts & Sciences|
|Send questions / comments to
Kansas School Naturalist.
|Emporia State University|