KAWS celebrates 20 years of wetland conservation in Kansas

Last month, Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams (KAWS) celebrated its 20th anniversary. Since its inception in 1996, KAWS has been collaborating with local communities, conservation organizations, wildlife agencies and local governments to promote conservation of the streams, riparian areas, playas and prairies of Kansas. They have brought together a broad range of partners—including Ducks Unlimited, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit, Kansas Water Office, The Nature Conservancy, University of Kansas, and Playa Lakes Joint Venture—to work on water and wildlife issues in Kansas.

“It is so gratifying to help via a capacity grant and then watch as groups like KAWS flourish into go-to partners on the landscape,” says PLJV Coordinator Mike Carter. “We wish KAWS another 20 years of successful wetland conservation!”

In 2002, KAWS received a six-year capacity grant from PLJV to help increase their ongoing ability to develop and deliver habitat conservation. The PLJV Capacity Grant Program is designed to remove roadblocks to habitat conservation— and can help new organizations get on their feet and move beyond current capabilities—rather than directly support any particular habitat project. During the grant period, KAWS influenced the conservation or restoration of about 5,000 wetland acres. A second six-year grant, which started in 2008, provided funding for a wetland coordinator who focused on playa conservation. Over the lifespan of the second agreement, nearly 2,500 acres of wetlands and buffer were restored or protected, and the number of acres have continued to increase in the years since the grant ended.

KAWS continues to build its playa conservation program under the leadership of Joe Kramer, who took on the wetland coordinator position in January 2015. Beginning next year, the organization will host an annual Playa Symposium, featuring tours of playas and demonstrations of innovative projects that integrate playas and native buffers into profitable yet ecological systems.

“Our priority is to set the stage with knowledge, innovation, entrepreneurship and local leadership,” says KAWS Executive Director Jeff Neel. “By working with our partners and local landowners, we hope to achieve ecological connectivity of playas that benefit migratory birds, wildlife ecology and recharge potential for the Ogallala while supporting the bottom lines and economies of farms and ranches.”