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Buffalo once roamed the prairies around the current Smoky Valley Ranch by the thousands. A token herd has been re-introduced, though managers use cattle to help keep the prairie healthy.
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Michael Pearce / The Wichita Eagle
A buffalo rolls in dust at Smoky Valley Ranch. About 100 head are on the 17,000 acres, though cattle do most of the grazing to keep the prairie healthy.
Buffalo, like this bull, once kept the prairie healthy, and other wildlife thriving by grazing grass down then moving on to let it grow back.
Ranch managers now use cattle to graze the prairies, like buffalo once did, at Smoky Valley Ranch.
Matt Bain, Smoky Valley Ranch manager, identifies a species of grass considered beneficial to ranching and wildlife.
The original ranch headquarters were built, by hand, more than 100 years ago from local stone.
Sage, part of pasture of sand-sage prairie at Smoky Valley Ranch. The 17,000 acres contains a variety of habitats and eco-systems.
A bull buffalo at Smoky Valley Ranch.
A portion of the Smoky Hill River that's never been known to go dry helps attract and hold wildlife at the ranch.
Matt Bain, Smoky Valley Ranch manager, checks for little bluestem grasses, a preferred plant for livestock and wildlife. The ranch stretches for about as far as the eye can see in this photo.
Matt Bain walks across a healthy spot of prairie at Smoky Valley Ranch.
Matt Bain, Smoky Valley Ranch manager, walks across a stretch of prairie that's been managed for great grazing for cattle and habitat for wildlife.
Matt Bain with a handful of little bluestem grass.
Matt Bain checks a box turtle at Smoky Valley Ranch.
Matt Bain checks a wire enclosure that allows him to monitor how grazing impacts the prairie at Smoky Valley Ranch.
Cattle now do most of the grazing at Smoky Valley Ranch.
The Nature Conservancy is managing the 17,000 acre Smoky Valley Ranch to demonstrate that wildlife and successful agriculture can both thrive together.
Ranch manager Matt Bain at Smoky Valley Ranch.
Buffalo at Smoky Valley Ranch.
A box turtle, one of several species of wildlife that thrives amid prairie dog towns on Smoky Valley Ranch.
A handful of little bluestem grass, a prairie plant that's very beneficial to livestock and wildlife.
A box turtle, one of several species of wildlife that depend on Smoky Valley Ranch's prairie dog towns.
Matt Bain checks a box turtle on a prairie dog mound in Smoky Valley Ranch.
A prairie dog at Smoky Valley Ranch.
Cholla cactus at Smoky Valley Ranch can offer cover from predators for some species of wildlife.
Related story: Smoky Valley Ranch strives to blend ranching and wildlife