Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Duck Stamp Success Story: Quivira NWR

Located near the geographical center of the lower 48 is Region 6's Quivira NWR in Stafford County, Kansas. The property's 22,135 acres lie about midway between Hutchinson and Great Bend. The refuge was established in 1955, as Great Salt Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, and was given its present name in 1958.

Quivira's central location is a contact zone between eastern and western species of birds, plants, and other wildlife. Both species of North American meadowlarks breed there, for instance. Located two degrees east of the 100th meridian, it's also an ecological crossroads between the wetter tallgrass prairie to the east and the drier shortgrass prairie to the west. But most unusually, due to groundwater percolating through subsurface salt deposits, Quivira offers rare inland saltmarsh habitat, where salt-tolerant plants like Alkali Sacaton (Sporobolus airoides) and Seepweed (Suaeda calceoliformis) thrive. The uplands consist of native sand prairie, another habitat at risk of disappearing from this part of the country.

There's a prairie-dog town within the confines of the NWR. The Breeding Bird Survey for June 2013 lists 74 species, and migrants expand the checklist to a count of 344 species. As Laura and William Riley wrote in their Guide to the National Wildlife Refuges, it's estimated that half the shorebirds in North America stop at Quivira or nearby Cheyenne Bottoms on their migrations along the Central Flyway.

The refuge provides critical habitat for migrating Whooping Cranes (Grus americana), listed as Federally Endangered. Quivira also supports a subspecies of Snowy Plover, and the Interior subspecies of Least Tern. In streams fed by Artesian springs can be found a small fish, the Arkansas Darter (Etheostoma cragini), endemic to the Arkansas River watershed and a candidate for Federal listing.

Quivira is far enough west that water rights are an important factor in its success. According to the draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan, water for the refuge's wetlands is taken from Rattlesnake Creek, which flows southwest to north through the property. Although the refuge holds senior rights to about 15,000 acre-feet of water per year (having filed in 1957), in general, water rights have been overappropriated within this agriculture-dominated management district. Declines in the water table, with concomitant reductions in water quality and availability, loom in the future.

Meanwhile, the prairie uplands are threatened by encroachment from native and non-native trees and shrubs. The native Sand Plum, or Chickasaw Plum (Prunus angustifolia), scarce elsewhere, is invasive on these grasslands, growing in thick, monotypic stands.

Quivira is fortunate to have an active Friends organization. An audio tour of the Wetlands & Wildlife National Scenic Byway offers a 10-minute visit to the refuge and a chat with staff. The next Wings N Wetlands Birding Festival, a biennial event, will take place in April, 2015.

As of September, 2012, 99.1% of Quivira NWR's acreage was acquired with MBCF money. Here's something even more revealing: most (21,820 acres) of this land was purchased by 1969 (when the Stamp price was $3); the total tab for all 22,135 acres has come to $2,059,238. That works out to $93.03 per acre, quite a bargain!

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