STORY BY NATIONAL CATTLEMEN’S FOUNDATION
Sproul Ranch, owned by Bill and Peggy Sproul, Sedan, Kan., is a 2010 regional Environmental Stewardship Award winner. Representing Region VII * of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Sprouls were recognized at a reception here last night during the 2010 Cattle Industry Conference.
The ESAP award, now in its 20th year, is sponsored by Dow AgroSciences; USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); the National Cattlemen’s Foundation; and NCBA. One of the seven regional nominees will receive the national award at the cattle industry’s winter convention in February 2011.
The Sprouls operate a cow-calf and stocker grazing operation on native tallgrass prairie rangeland in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Brian Obermeyer, Flint Hills project director for the Nature Conservancy, called this prairie “the most major altered habitat type in North America” and praised agricultural use in operations like the Sprouls for helping preserve it for future generations.
“Thanks to a 150-year tradition of cattle ranching in the Flint Hills, this tallgrass region’s natural beauty and biodiversity have been largely preserved. Bill and Peggy transformed pastures beaten up from decades of neglect to a shining example of how the tallgrass can be managed to meet the needs of ranching, wildlife and plant diversity,” Obermeyer explained.
Bill Sproul is so attuned to his land that he uses the viability of rangeland birds and wildlife to measure grassland health and the ability of the ranch to generate income.
“Grassland birds have been making a living on this grass a lot longer than me, so they surely know what’s best for the land,” Bill Sproul likes to say, in explaining his philosophy on grassland management.
The Kansas Livestock Association’s Rangeland Trust of Kansas, which nominated Sproul Ranch for the award, cites these examples of how the family models “stewardship on the ground:”
* By removing some 30,000 invasive trees, the Sprouls have opened hundreds of shaded acres to open prairie, which has encouraged the re-growth of nutrient-rich grass.
* Ponds are fenced to restrict livestock access, while natural springs and small pit ponds provide water for livestock and wildlife. Some of the pit ponds feature cattle access points hardened with large gravel.
* Leading the first such partnership in the area, the Sprouls have teamed with oil companies to plug unproductive wells and clean up and remediate pollution around well sites.
* By partnering with the NRCS and other agencies, the Sprouls monitor grassland health, using the data to develop a grazing plan with appropriate stocking rates and rotational periods.
* The Sprouls actively assist agencies in monitoring wildlife health on their property; for example, working with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks to survey breeding prairie birds, with the goal of increasing populations of Bobwhites and prairie chickens.
young rancher for the next five * Sproul, an active and vocal conservation advocate even when off the ranch, is mentoring a years in conservation practices and ethics, to prepare the young man to take over a local, family-owned farm.
Bill Sproul is a charter board member and chairman of the Rangeland Trust of Kansas, which KLA created in 2003. He is a board member of the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition and an active board member of the Partnership of Rangeland Trusts, which includes Oregon, California, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and Texas.
Sproul Ranch has received numerous state and national environmental awards, including the 2009 Excellence in Rangeland Management Award from the Society of Range Management. The ranch’s ESAP nomination was supported by KLA and representatives from The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The National Wild Turkey Federation.