Voluntary conservation plans are talked about in coffee shops, schools, after church, in meeting rooms and just about every place else in Kansas. Landowners, farmers, ranchers, home owners and builders see such measures as a way to protect land, wildlife and valuable water resources but also as a way to keep them in business.
Talk to western Kansas ag producers and some will tell you they’re the ones who should be listed on the threatened or endangered species list. Many believe the federal government is already too close to mandating how cattlemen raise livestock; how, where and when farmers plant, nurture and harvest crops; and whether or not they’ll be able to pass their family farms to the next generation.
Many Kansans believe the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species is unnecessary and unwarranted, especially during a tough drought that lasted three to five years in the western part of the state.
Western Kansas farmers and stockmen believe this endangered listing could stop some agricultural production practices including irrigation and pesticide use.
They believe forcing them to take drastic measures now to aid the lesser prairie chicken doesn’t make sense. It will only make farmers’ and ranchers’ current financial distress due to the drought even worse.
Crop farmer Jarvis Garetson believes the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as endangered would have a devastating effect on his family farm and his ability to provide for his family, employees and Main Street.
Main Streets in Copeland, Manter, Ulysses and Minneola rely on farms and ranches surrounding these small communities. Agriculture remains the economic lifeblood for these communities and others in this region of Kansas. Without the ability to continue farming successfully these small towns will cease to exist.
“If we cannot operate our farm in the manner we’ve been doing and the lesser prairie chicken is listed as ‘endangered,’ this will be game over for a lot of folks,” Garetson says.
Jarvis farms with his brother, Jay, and parents, Jesse and Jerra, on nearly 7,000 acres in Haskell, Gray and Finney counties. He’s the fourth generation to farm the land homesteaded by his great-grandfather in 1902.
The farm includes irrigated corn, milo, wheat, triticale, soybeans, cotton, and dry land wheat, milo, and cotton on owned, cash rent and crop share acres involving 17 landlords.
Garetson and wife, Amber, have five boys and live in rural Haskell County. This family farm is committed to agriculture and to rural America.
“We’re raising our sons and running our farm with an eye to the future generations of our family who will feed the world from our lands,” he says.
Already the “threatened” listing of the lesser prairie chicken species has impacted his community and the region where his family farms.
The pursuit and development of oil and gas has dropped and several wind farms are slowing down, Garetson says. In some cases new development of wind farms has stopped altogether.
Continued growth and expansion in the oil, gas and wind energy industries has been instrumental in the growth of this region of Kansas for decades. Further expansion in these industries has helped offset hard economic times.
“We need all the income streams available to us,” the Haskell County crop producer says. “We can’t afford to have the lesser prairie chicken listed as an endangered species.”
Inhabitants of these southwestern Kansas communities and the farmers and ranchers surrounding them do not care for the far-reaching hand of the federal government telling them how to use their land and make a living.
“Whether it’s my grandparents, my parents or my own blood, sweat and tears, being told what to do with my farming vocation and lifestyle is not the American dream I grew up with,” Garetson says. “It feels like my freedoms are not only being taken away, but jerked away.”
During the short 40 years he’s been on this land, Garetson has experienced more than his share of droughts. He believes the lack of moisture has contributed to the once declining lesser prairie chicken populations.
He also believes with increased moisture, populations of all species will begin to increase again; however, this takes time.
“Living out here is part of an ever changing cycle,” Garetson says. “It’s the nature of this environment. I’m just thankful to be living in western Kansas.”
And while he understands that creatures like pheasants, coyotes, rabbits, and yes, the lesser prairie chicken will return with continued life giving moisture, Garetson would like to see an increase in the population of humans in this region of Kansas as well.
“Droughts are tough on animals, crops and the humans who live here as well,” Garetson says. “I’m convinced we can do a better job of weathering these cycles than intervention by the federal government.”
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion