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 and swift foxes. 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 to plan a publicly-accessible shortgrass prairie preserve in the Panhandle that will nurture 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, the organization 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 and recreation 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 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 are bringing people of all colors, cultures and communities together to breathe life back into the Texas High Plains and provide an extraordinary public refuge of sun, wind, grass and blue sky that supports biodiversity and human wellness.”
Photos courtesy of Le’Ann Pigg, Caprock Canyons State Park