Places We Protect

Red Hills Initiative

Kansas

The oxidated iron in the soil gives the Red Hills their name. Also known as the Gypsum or Gyp Hills, the mixed-grass native prairie of the region extends into Oklahoma.
Red Hills landscape The oxidated iron in the soil gives the Red Hills their name. Also known as the Gypsum or Gyp Hills, the mixed-grass native prairie of the region extends into Oklahoma. © Laura Rose Clawson/TNC

Pristine streams and millions of bats course through the rolling mixed-grass prairie.

Overview

Description

The Red Hills is a vast, rugged region of south-central Kansas. Steep buttes and red-walled canyons overlook the mixed grass prairie landscape and host a diverse plant and animal community. Pristine, spring-fed streams course through the prairie and sustain a wide variety of aquatic life. The majority of Kansas’ 700 caves are found in the Red Hills and they house several bat species. Numerous grassland birds as well as amphibian and reptilian species also depend on the health of this area.

Invasive species, such as Eastern red cedar, are taking over the grassland and changing the dynamics of the environment including flow patterns for small-order streams. Oil and gas development, existing or future mining operations, ranchette subdivision, and roads also have negative impacts on the area. Wind farm facilities and energy transmission lines can fragment and shrink crucial habitat for lesser prairie-chickens.

Conservation and ranching go hand-in-hand

Like many other western rangelands, ranching is deeply ingrained in the culture and economy of the Red Hills, and the majority of land area is comprised of privately-owned ranches. The landowners and managers are rooted in a strong land stewardship ethic, and this ethic is largely responsible for the persistence of species like the lesser prairie-chicken.

Here, The Nature Conservancy helps landowners fight the “green glacier” of invasive cedar trees, safeguard against destructive mining operations, and improve the condition of their rangelands. We also support local burn co-ops so neighbors can help neighbors bring back  controlled fire on their land, transforming the landscape  for the better.

Red Hills or Gyp Hills?

The Red Hills are also known as the Gypsum Hills because of their exposed Permian ‘red beds’, the prehistoric combination of brick-red shales, siltstones, sandstones, dolomite and gypsum. They are located primarily in the Kansas counties of Clark, Comanche and Barber and spill into northwestern Oklahoma. In recent history, the Red Hills were known as the Medicine Hills because Plains Indians believed the region’s streams hastened the healing of wounds. They were not far off the mark as the waters contained calcium and magnesium sulfates which can have a therapeutic and healing effect.

Access

CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC

This community conservation effort focuses on private ranches within the Red Hills.

Location

South-central Kansas

Map with marker: The 42-mile Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway between Coldwater and Medicine Lodge.

Highlights

Steep buttes and red-walled canyons.

The majority of Kansas' 700 caves are in the Red Hills.

Species of concern including the lesser prairie-chicken, pallid bat and Arkansas darter.

Size

2 million acres of mixed-grass prairie

Explore our work in this region

If you manage land in the Red Hills and would like information about conservation easements, prescribed burning or financial assistance through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, please contact Ken Brunson at kbrunson@tnc.org.