online book
Book Cover to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Cover Page


Table of Contents


A Grassland
Preservation Ethic

The Pottawatomie County Park

Reconsidering the
Flint Hills Options

Kansas Flint Hills
v. Cherokee Strip

Kansans Divide:
The Winn Bills

The Osage Prairie
National Preserve

The Spring Hill
Z Bar Ranch

H.R. 2369

The "Kassebaum Commission"



Note on Sources


Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Legislative History, 1920-1996

A Grassland Preservation Ethic Emerges: 1920-1956

By 1920, natural scientists located in the Midwest?especially at the University of Nebraska, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University (then College), and the University of Illinois?were seriously studying prairie flora, identifying prairie types, and increasingly alarmed at how little was left undisturbed. Sometime during the decade, Victor E. Shelford, of the University of Illinois, and the National Research Council's Committee of the Ecology of North American Grasslands began studying the prospects for a large grassland preserve in the Great Plains. They studied eleven sites and found four with sufficient floristic integrity to be considered true prairie. In 1930, Shelford, supported by the Ecological Society of America, proposed that one of these sites, a large area straddling Nebraska and South Dakota, be incorporated into the national park system.[5] This proposal marked the beginning of continual efforts to establish a national prairie park in the United States.

The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl diverted attention from a national prairie park during the 1930s. Instead, New Deal land-use planners and agricultural economists tackled the more immediate, and interrelated, problems of soil erosion, soil exhaustion, agricultural overproduction, depressed agricultural market prices, and increasingly degraded farm life. Under the 1934 Bankhead- Jones Farm Tenant Act, the federal government acquired 11.3 million acres of submarginal farmland. Of this, 2.64 million acres in the Great Plains were eventually designated as national grasslands and placed mostly under U.S. Forest Service management. [6] The National Park Service, meantime, rejected a proposed grassland park in Texas and remained more focused on acquiring parks with awe- inspiring topography, spectacular natural scenery, or unequivocal national historical importance. Only two Great Plains landscapes met the traditional test for parks during the 1930s and 1940s: Badlands National Monument in South Dakota, designated in 1939, and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in North Dakota (1947), the latter of which comprises two island units surrounded by the Little Missouri National Grasslands in North Dakota.[7]

National grasslands, however, were intended to be land reclamation and demonstration areas, not substitutes for an authentic prairie park as first proposed in 1930. In cooperation with the NPS, the Ecological Society of America and the National Research Council's Committee on the Ecology of North American Grasslands continued to examine short-grass prairie sites for a grassland national park. Dr. John E. Weaver, an ecologist at the University of Nebraska, and other scientists investigated and reported on a variety of areas in Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Kansas, and the Dakotas. By 1940, these studies resulted in a new proposal for a Great Plains national monument located west of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and a smaller area in extreme northwest Nebraska.[8] World War II, however, intervened before this proposal could lead to any legislative action.

Following the war there was renewed interest in preserving grasslands. In a 1950 report to the National Resources Council, the Department of Agriculture, which had initiated acquisition of national grasslands in the 1930s, recommended the preservation of large expanses of six different types of grasslands in the West. In 1956, the Secretary of the Interior's Advisory Board formally recommended additional studies for the purpose of identifying and acquiring grasslands for inclusion in the national park system. This recommendation correlated with ongoing grassland studies commissioned by NPS and, more generally, with MISSION 66, an intensive ten-year development program (1956-1966) initiated during the administration of NPS Director Conrad Wirth.[9]


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