Opinion Columns & Blogs

Protecting the prairie is the right thing to do

We are encouraged by and in agreement with Gov. Sam Brownback's recent announcement of an expanded area in the Flint Hills region he believes should be off-limits for large-scale wind-energy developments.

The Flint Hills in Kansas and northern Oklahoma are the largest remaining contiguous tallgrass prairie left in North America. Barely 4 percent remains of the tallgrass and wildflowers that once carpeted a vast swath of the continent's midsection from Mexico to Canada. What little remains of this treasure is now entrusted to the care of our generation.

The governor has said, and we agree, that "the tallgrass prairie is our Grand Canyon."

We are fortunate that our long ranching history has evolved a sustainable use of these grasslands. The economic and cultural viability of this relationship is time-tested and successful. And now, new and growing ecotourism initiatives in this region seek to bring added value to its economic stability.

That the Flint Hills have value as a destination should be no surprise; it's the only place where you can truly experience a tallgrass prairie on a grand scale, much as it was seen through the eyes of the pioneers and Native Americans. If you've never made a visit to see for yourself, we encourage you to go out this May and June, two of the Flint Hills' most beautiful months.

Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light Co. are charged with developing renewable energy resources. In Kansas, this principally means wind power. We have worked with the Nature Conservancy to make responsible siting choices, believing that not all of the many Kansas locations with excellent wind resources could host major wind facilities without significant environmental or aesthetic impact.

We believe that the Flint Hills are one such location, and as a matter of corporate responsibility, we have intentionally avoided this unique landscape.

A recently published study by Nature Conservancy scientists documents vast areas of Kansas and other states that already have been converted from their original habitat conditions and where wind development can proceed with minimal disruption to the natural landscape and its dependent wildlife.

With America's growing desire for renewable energy in its many different forms, Nature Conservancy chapters across the nation are partnering with developers and potential power purchasers to help the wind industry make the best informed decisions.

We believe that to be "truly green," renewable power must be thoughtfully sited to avoid the diminishment of other valued environmental and cultural assets. This is just a commonsense approach that should be apparent to all.

We are pleased that the governor has affirmed our long-held convictions, and we wholeheartedly endorse his expanded protection of the Flint Hills and tallgrass prairie.