WSU to study Kansas prairie on new Kingman Co. property
Wichita State University has acquired 157 acres of land near Kingman, Kan., for the Gerber Reserve, a new addition to the WSU Field Station that will be used by the Department of Biological Sciences for research, preservation and maintenance of the Kansas prairie.
WSU’s existing Ninnescah Reserve along the Ninnescah River will be the headquarters for the Gerber Reserve’s research. At the 320-acre Ninnescah Reserve, which Wichita State acquired in 1983, biology students and faculty study grassland restoration, river ecology and general wildlife biology.
Greg Houseman, assistant professor of biological sciences, hopes to do the same type of research on the new property.
“Our primary research interest is to better understand how to restore and manage native plant and animal biodiversity in Kansas prairie ecosystems,” Houseman said. “The Gerber property will provide new opportunities for faculty and students to study the ecological processes that control the assembly and maintenance of biodiversity.”
As researchers’ understanding of ecological processes increases, he said, they will be better able to provide recommendations for land managers across the state. The property has unique features that will allow them to study low-productivity grasslands that are found throughout central Kansas.
Along with the Ninnescah and Gerber reserves, the Wichita State Field Station also includes the Sellers Reserve—a 20-acre, site also along the Ninnescah River. All three locations fill an important ecological gap in Kansas by representing habitats found west of the Flint Hills, Houseman said.
In addition to research, the Gerber Reserve will provide unique teaching opportunities for classes offered in the biology department and outreach activities for citizen groups.
The acquisition of the property is a good example of turning a negative situation into something positive, Houseman said. After Magellan Ammonia Pipeline unintentionally spilled anhydrous ammonia into Smoots Creek in 2004, the company worked with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of the Interior to locate a mitigation site that would provide the highest conservation benefit in the affected area.
The property was owned by the Joan A. Gerber Trust, which agreed to convey the land to the state of Kansas with the understanding that the site would be preserved as native grassland.
There will be a monument in the area to honor the Gerber family.
WSU will work with Leo Henning of the Assessment and Restoration section of the KDHE to manage the property and use the land as an opportunity to study the grassland ecosystem.