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May 08

The Grasslands of Kansas

Posted on May 8, 2020 at 12:16 PM by Bill Sowers

The 2018 documentary film, "Ocean of Grass," covering life on a ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills, is a fitting title describing much of the Great Plains. Wind blown grasses bend to and fro over rolling hills like undulating waves across the landscape for as far as the eye can see. No wonder the covered wagons which traversed this region years ago were called "prairie schooners."

But beyond the beauty of prairie grasses stretching out forever is the role that these grasslands have played in the settlement and economic development of our state. In an article found in the 32nd Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture [1941-1942] the author, Kling Anderson, gives the reader a short history of human development in Kansas and its relationship and dependence on the grasslands. He also points out the need for stabilization of grass ecosystems, the dangers of overgrazing, and the effects of introduced species of plant life on the Great Plains grasslands.

The article, "The Grasslands of Kansas," has been extracted from the State Board of Agriculture's 32nd Biennial Report and is available online at the State Library of Kansas' KGI Online Library. The author give us a look into the effect we humans can have on our environment with a plea for conservation and common sense.

From the article:
"Before the days of continuous heavy use, the whole of western Kansas had been covered by a dense growth of buffalo grass and blue grama together with many other lesser grasses. The western portion of the state was the center of distribution of these two important species and here they were found at their best, a vast carpet of grass, unbroken save along the streams where there often appeared small areas of tall grass and on the steeper slopes where such species as little bluestem and side-oats grama were abundant. With the rapid expansion of grazing came overstocking and eventually overgrazing of the short-grass ranges. The great cattle boom which began early in the 1880’s was partly responsible for this overgrazing, because it encouraged the pasturing of more cattle than the land could safely carry. Furthermore, the range was free, or largely so, although it was beginning to be taken’ up by settlers, and the temptation to get it ahead of the other fellow was great."

You can read this article online within the KGI Online Library, surrounded of course by virtual fields of buffalo grass and tall cottonwood trees, everything bending to and fro in a soft spring Kansas wind at:

The Grasslands of Kansas
by Kling L. Anderson
33rd Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture,
1941-1942 (published in 1943)
pages 144-160