The Quick Response Fund for Nature helped make possible the expansion of the Southern Plains Land Trust’s (SPLT’s) Heartland Ranch Nature Preserve by 6,600 acres in February 2020. Heartland Ranch now covers nearly 25,000 acres, or nearly 40 square miles. All grant funds were used to purchase the property. All SPLT preserves are strictly protected to safeguard the native flora and fauna of the shortgrass prairie.
Heartland Ranch is a beautiful and varied place, with endless grassland valleys bordered by wooded canyons, dotted with rock-covered mesas, and crisscrossed by prairie streams. It is home to herds of American bison brought back by SPLT after 150 years of absence. The bison plays a powerful role in maintaining native grassland and is the US National Mammal. Also vital is the black-tailed prairie dog, an imperiled yet persecuted species. Under full protection by SPLT, this keystone rodent provides habitat and prey for hundreds of other types of wildlife.
The species most dependent on the prairie dog is the endangered black-footed ferret. This charismatic small carnivore lives in prairie dog burrows and dines almost entirely on prairie dogs. It cannot survive in the wild outside of prairie dog towns. SPLT is hoping to create the best black-footed ferret site in the southern Great Plains, where the ferret urgently needs help.
Heartland Ranch also contains over 31 miles of stream that flow to the Arkansas River. SPLT is working to restore the cottonwood and willow forests that used to border those streams, providing crucial cover and forage to a range of wildlife, including turkeys, bats, deer, songbirds, frogs, and fish. These efforts include planting trees, installing natural rock structures that slow down floods, and removing non-native tamarisk. A corps of volunteers helps to make this possible.
SPLT sources materials and labor from the local human communities, in order to help foster a restoration economy. The organization is also attracting visitors, who come to the preserves for service projects, such as stream restoration and removal of hazardous fence, and shop at local businesses along the way.
SPLT is grateful to the Quick Response Fund for Nature for supporting the expansion of Heartland in both 2018 and 2020. Other funders of these land acquisition projects are: NativeEnergy, Great Outdoors Colorado, Norcross Wildlife Foundation, an Anonymous Donor, and SPLT donors. The organization has plans to further expand Heartland Ranch by purchasing an adjacent 18,000 acres that is under contract. A preserve on this scale – 43,000 acres or nearly 70 square miles – would provide a glimmering showcase of shortgrass prairie preservation at a scale necessary to bring back the American Serengeti. SPLT is seeking funds to make this preserve expansion a reality.
Authored by Nicole Rosmarino.