Archive for Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Conservation efforts can extend to almost all rural homeowners

Native prairie grasses, wildflower mixtures and shrubs eliminate need for weekly mowing, benefit wildlife

January 26, 2005

Moving to a 10-acre site in the country may have its charm.

But after a summer or two of mowing that much grass, it's possible rural homeowners may look for a more carefree alternative.

Native grasses and legumes, once established, could provide that -- as well as other benefits.

Gary Rader, district conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service, said it's possible that rural homeowners might be able to qualify for cost-share in establishing native grasses, and in some cases, they might qualify for payment for keeping the land in native grasses.

"They could sign up for the conservation reserve program," Rader said. "There's not a minimum acreage, but it has to meet certain guidelines."

The guidelines relate to the need for erosion control, which plants are best suited for the area, and whether forbes, or wildflowers, are included, which would further benefit wildlife.

Rader said CRP is based on a competitive bid and he doesn't yet know when the next bids will be accepted.

If a parcel of land would qualify for CRP, the owners would receive an annual payment from the federal government, and would sign a contract agreeing to keep the land in the native grasses for 10 years, and maintain the land as required.

Another program, Rader said, is the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, also known as WHIP.

This is a cost share program in which landowners are reimbursed for part of their cost of planting native grasses and shrubs, and up to $1,500 for building a pond if it's installed for conservation purposes.

Natural Resources Conservation Program administers the WHIP funds, and other agencies, such as Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, help with the actual planning of the plantings. The purpose of WHIP is to provide protection and food for wildlife.

While WHIP can be applied to large pieces of land, it can also be used on smaller parcels, for instance, five acres.

"For the person who moves to the country who wants the wildlife and so forth, that's a pretty good program to get some cost share for seeding native grass," Rader said.

Conservation subdivision

One area development, Bear Lake, located in southeast Leavenworth County, is conservation-minded.

Bear Lake developer, Frank Theis who lives in Estes Park, Colo., is proud of the conservation work taking place at Bear Lake.

Originally, the land, which includes about 330 acres around a 60-acre lake, was platted for 300 homes. But when Theis bought the property, it's future changed.

Theis, who has a background as a landscape architect, calls Bear Lake a "conservation subdivision."

"It's a low-density residential subdivision, with over a third of the property set aside for a conservation easement," Theis said. "It's aimed at creating a wildlife preserve ... they're attracting birds that are rare for the area."

When establishing Bear Lake, Theis put 120 acres in a permanent conservation easement.

And, he recommended that buyers of the lots, which run from two acres to five acres, overseed their soil with native grasses and wildflowers.

"Then some people have also pursued using buffalo grass as a lawn area, and others have pursued trying to recreate a full native prairie," Theis said.

An easy way to start, Theis said, is to overseed with aggressive plants.

For instance, black-eyed susan, also known as Rudbeckia hirta, can be overseeded on pastures.

"It's a very hardy native plant," Theis said.

There are plenty of native grasses and wildflowers that can be planted -- and the results are worth it, Theis said.

"You don't end up with just this big raggedy mess that you can't mow at all, but you do get sort of a wild meadow look," Theis said.

The result is also low-maintenance, with maybe two or three mowings required each year.

Establishing ground

Marcia and Stephen Nicely, who live on a 4.5-acre lot at Bear Lake, are sold on Theis's plan.

Marcia, president of the homeowners' association, said they've been trying to put their land back into prairie grasses.

"It is well-established," Nicely said. "We were just kind of marveling about it the other day."

The couple, who have lived at Bear Lake for three years, have done the work in phases.

The first year, they disked the ground to break up the soil and get the plants started, and they've also overseeded.

The result, once the initial work was done, is that the nearly retired couple now has more time on their hands.

"We don't mow it or anything," Nicely said. "Every couple of years, we burn it -- basically that was our idea that it would be better for the land and certainly less maintenance."

She noted that not all the homeowners are planting native grasses.

"But there are quite a few people growing prairie grass or letting it go natural," Nicely added.

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