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

The Osage Prairie National Preserve Proposal: 1980s Interlude

For the duration of the Reagan administration, a national prairie park in the Kansas Flint Hills remained a dormant issue. In the meantime, unforeseen developments opened up the possibility of creating a national prairie preserve in Osage County, Oklahoma. The prospect for a prairie preserve in Oklahoma sustained the momentum of conservation groups supporting a prairie park in the Flint Hills. It also presented an opportunity to rethink the planning process.

The locus of activity shifted to Osage County when trustees of the Barnard Ranch announced in the fall of 1983 that they would be willing to sell the 29,000-acre ranch to create a preserve. The Audubon Society, Save the Tallgrass Prairie, and The Nature Conservancy immediately supported the prospect. The Audubon Society went so far as to draft legislation, which Rep. Mickey Edwards [R], in whose district the ranch lay, was willing to introduce provided certain conditions were met, such as a 50,000-acre limit and no condemnation of private lands, and provided there was enough local support for it. Senator Don Nickles [R] expressed the same caveat and organized a local task force to help him figure out just what local residents and landowners might agree upon. The task force was led by rancher Lee Holcombe and comprised representatives of the Osage County Cattlemen's Association, the Osage County Commissioners, the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce, the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation, and the Osage Indians.[106] The NPS, which had long favored the Osage area as a national prairie park, provided information gathered from previous studies. The task force also toured Chickasaw National Recreation Area, a 10,000-acre NPS unit in Oklahoma formerly called Platt National Park, and found that the nearby community of Sulphur was benefiting from tourist dollars.[107]

The combination of bringing diverse interests to the table in the early planning stages and the availability of a second ranch, owned by a willing seller, smoothed the way for the task force. By mid- 1985, the task force recommended that legislation be drafted for a 50,000-acre "working park" as Lee Holcombe described it. What Holcombe meant by this is that the compromise worked out by the task force would allow the Osage Indian Tribe, which owned oil and gas rights on part of the site, to continue collecting royalties, and that about 75 percent of the proposed acreage could still be leased for grazing.[108] The NPS recommended designation as a "preserve" which would allow oil and gas production to continue on lands that were being actively managed to maintain a viable tallgrass ecosystem.[109]

Despite a promising start, the Osage prairie preserve proposal dissolved in controversy after legislation was introduced in 1987. [110] At best, the bill represented a fragile compromise. One side consisted of the Osage Tribal Council, dominated by individuals who held mineral rights to the proposed park area, joined by cattlemen, farmers, and oil drillers. The other included the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve Association, based in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, which was backed by the Audubon Society, the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation, and other national conservation organizations. [111] When the Sierra Club launched a nationwide letter-writing campaign in 1988 seeking to increase the size of the proposed reserve, Rep. Edwards immediately withdrew his support. Other members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation, who were not subject to the same degree of local pressure as was Edwards, did not throw in the towel as quickly. Without Edwards's support, however, the proposal stalled. [112]


Last Modified: Sun, October 28, 2001 5:00 pm PDT
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