As part of the Southern Great Plains ecosystem, the Panhandle of Texas once teemed with herds of bison, pronghorn and elk foraging alongside lesser prairie chickens, black-tailed prairie dogs, swift foxes and other wildlife. Songbirds and raptors graced the skies, nesting in the shortgrass and mixed grass prairies. The Indigenous Comanche and Kiowa people flourished across this “ocean of grass” before they were moved out of Texas in the 1870s as the Indian Wars drew to a close.
Recognizing the ecological and cultural significance of this landscape, the Great Plains Restoration Council is coordinating public and private stakeholders, including local residents, to plan a publicly-accessible shortgrass prairie conservation and recreation area in the Panhandle that will support wildlife, provide a Texas High Plains experience for visitors and ensure ancestral connections for Indigenous people.
With support from the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation and The Confluence Fund of The Conservation Alliance, GPRC has convened leaders from such groups as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Conservation Fund and the Southern Plains Land Trust to coordinate with willing landowners and community leaders to create a landscape-scale conservation area that will benefit people, the prairie and native wildlife, particularly rare Texas bison.
Importantly, GPRC is working to engage the Oklahoma-based Comanche and Kiowa peoples and other Southern Plains Indigenous people in this planning effort, and to center their leadership in stewarding and interpreting the site.
According to Jarid Manos, GPRC’s Founder and CEO, “Sorrow and loss from the past can feel bottomless, but history is not over. We’re all in this together now. Through the audacity of hard work and loving more, we are bringing people together of all colors, cultures and communities to create the nation’s first-ever Southern Great Plains Conservation & Recreation Area in the Texas Panhandle and combine human wellness with biodiversity protection. This landscape-scale grassland conservation area out in America’s “Flyover Country” will breathe life back into the Texas High Plains, provide an extraordinary public refuge of sun, wind, grass and blue sky for wildlife and people that has to be experienced to be believed, and show what we can do when we tangibly work together.”