Field day focuses on wildlife needs
By MIKE CORN
WaKEENEY -- The topic was Kansas forests, but in the relatively treeless plains of northwest Kansas, the focus was the prairie and making it more attractive to wildlife.
The crew of about 40 people who clambered aboard a pair of trailers with straw bales for seats were treated to 40 years worth of work at the Dave and Mary Henricks farm west of WaKeeney.
There, they saw grassed terraces and waterways, aging shelterbelts and habitat designed to attract mule deer. Lesser prairie chickens, the right way to burn the prairie and clean water didn't get left out of the mix either.
While the Kansas Forest Service's agroforestry field day is an annual event, it's not always in northwest Kansas.
It was a last hurrah for Jim Strine, the Hays-based district forester who will retire in July. While he talked about the need to renovate windbreaks, he said it's a task he'll have to hand off to whoever replaces him.
The Hendrickses got the chance to show off all the conservation efforts they've made on their 800-acre farm west of WaKeeney.
During the course of the day-long event, the husband-wife, wildlife biologist team of Randy Rodgers and Helen Hands talked about their conversion of Rush County farmland into a wildlife mecca.
They were able to keep more than half of the land in agricultural production, Randy Rodgers said.
"I'm more of a grassland-agricultural wildlife kind of guy," Rodgers said as he introduced himself, adding it's been a lifetime dream to purchase land and create a wildlife mecca.
He's done that now, after retiring as pheasant biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. He's focused much of his attention on four parcels of land he and Hands own in Rush County.
Aided by full color maps of two parcels of land, Rodgers talked about the design, developed with wildlife in mind, but still capable of being farmed. Every farmable strip on both parcels was set up to be the width of a sprayer.
"There are habitat islands," he said of the strips of land between farmable areas. "That's something I like to call them anyway."
Rodgers said both he and Hands are hunters, especially pheasant hunters, and last year they -- along with a few guests -- were able to shoot anywhere from 40 to 50 birds.
"And that's just hunting once a week," he said.
He doubts they've hurt the population.
"Bottom line, we left a lot of roosters out there," he said.
Rodgers said last year's bag was about half what they got in 2010, considered one of the last really good years before the drought settled in.
Other places, he said, had population collapses of as much as 90 percent.