In the region of south central Kansas where the dirt turns red from the oxidation of the iron in the soil, known as the Gypsum Hills, short and tall native prairie grasses come together and thrive during the warm season. However, in many of the region's pastures, native grasses like Indiangrass, gamagrass and buffalo grass, are literally overshadowed by invasive eastern red cedars and Osage orange trees, causing problems during drought years.
Some ranches in the region, including Ted Turner's famous Z-Bar Ranch, are going through projects to remove these invasive species and restore the native prairie. One of the biggest success stories is another Ted – Ted Alexander, whose 7,000-acre Alexander Ranch, just west of Medicine Lodge, has seen a huge improvement since he gained control in 1984. "When I started this project in 1984, about 60% of the ranch had about 80% canopy on it," the college instructor turned custom grazer says. "I had to find out what I had – I knew I had a cedar forest that was under-grazed, under-utilized, and under-watered."
These trees are very detrimental to the native grass growth, reducing the amount of forage available for cattle. "A tree that's 5 to 6 inches in diameter could take 20 to 30 gallons of water a day," Alexander explains. "They take up a lot of water. Bovines don't graze them. The more cedars you have, the less grass you have and the less bovines you can graze."