The Anderson Creek fire, the biggest wildfire in Kansas history, ripped through nearly 400,000 acres across two states in March.
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To combat the damage, the Comanche Pool Prairie Resource Foundation, which primarily covers the Red Hills, is spearheading the Anderson Creek Wildfire Cleanup Initiative. Through the project, the foundation is working to raise money to restore 200,000 acres destroyed by the fire.
“It has to happen sooner (rather) than later,” said Todd Kelly, the foundation’s senior fundraising coordinator.
The foundation, formed in 1999, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to regenerate Kansas and northern Oklahoma grazing land and promote the economic growth of the rural community, according to its website.
For the cleanup initiative, the initial focus will be on removing dead Eastern red cedar trees and restoring water resources and the native grass prairie, Kelly said. The trees are a heavy fuel source, so preventing their return is important in preventing future wildfires.
Their removal is also important in protecting the state’s water supply, because each tree can soak up to 40 gallons of water each day, Kelly said.
“At the end of the day, if we don’t get on this, the water supply is going to be affected tremendously, and the problem of controlling the habitat ... is just going to be uncontrollable,” Kelly said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that the initiative needs upwards of $56 million, Kelly said. However, the foundation’s initial efforts are focused on raising $1 million, which will allow for the restoration of about 33,000 acres, he said.
For the cleanup process, the Comanche Pool will contact Anderson Creek ranchers, Kelly said. The Fish and Wildlife Service will identify an area that needs cleared and recommend the area to the Comanche Pool. One of the two organizations will then approach the rancher, who will be responsible for completing the necessary work, he said.
The Comanche Pool will help the rancher get into contact with the necessary contractors, and once the work is complete, the rancher will be reimbursed, Kelly said.
The Comanche Pool is spearheading fundraising efforts to cover the costs; any money the foundation receives will be matched up to four times by multiple federal agencies, Kelly said. The foundation is looking to any company with an interest in ranching for donations, he said.
Kelly said the entire cleanup process can take between three months and six years, but the Comanche Pool hopes to have the habitat restored in two to three years. But the foundation will put in however much time it takes, he said.
“What we are committed to is the process, the time that it’s going to take,” Kelly said.
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For more information or to donate to the Anderson Creek Wildfire Cleanup Initiative, contact Todd Kelly at 620-213-0133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.