In 2019, Ranchland Trust of Kansas (RTK) was awarded a $100,000 PLJV ConocoPhillips capacity grant to support the launch of a four-year project that will protect grassland habitat in western Kansas through conservation easements. Below is an interview with the executive director, Lynn Gentine, who discusses the organization’s project goals, what she hopes will come from the work, and her thoughts on capacity grants.
What made you think RTK would be a good fit for PLJV’s capacity grant program?
RTK is a good fit because we are an agricultural land trust, so we’re able to use our industry-specific connections to converse with and educate the public on the great need for conservation easements on working landscapes and how they work.
What does it mean for RTK to receive this grant?
It takes RTK to the next level. We’ve been able to operate throughout the state but primarily have been focused on the central part of Kansas. This allows RTK to expand its footprint — and expand conservation easement footprints, which is more important than the organization. Because the grant is for multiple years, it allows us to have a year to explore how well easements will fit and with whom, to make a true collaboration between the organization, partners, and landowners.
The grant will support the launch of a four-year project. What will the project look like?
The first year is what we call the discovery period. It’s about forming a strategic plan, identifying partner resources, securing funding, increasing capacity, and scheduling forums to introduce conservation easement facts with regional residents. During year two, we’ll identify priority areas and begin accepting applications. In years three and four, we will continue to work on capacity, processing those applications and identifying new applicants. The plan is by the end of four years, thanks to the grant, the project will be sustainable through the easements. The grant is assisting RTK by supporting that discovery and administration up front. Once those things are established, the conservation easements should be sustainable.
What are you most looking forward to in terms of this project?
What I’m looking forward to most is the discovery, the unknown. Learning where we can help ranchers and farmers and see what we can do to address the issue of conservation threats — and make an impact. Several decades back, Kansas lost three acres of agricultural land an hour to some sort of development. This is allowing us to combat the loss in a very mutual and advantageous way for everybody.
How do you see the project being able to enhance grassland habitat?
"Capacity grants are a game changer for organizations. It helps remove barriers, and it helps take them to the next level." Lynn Gentine, Ranchland Trust of Kansas
Right now we don’t know exactly because of that first year discovery period. We’ll identify priority areas. Grasslands are very important to the wildlife and to migrating birds. It looks like a very subtle mechanism, the grasslands, but it has a great amount of biodiversity that supports so many different aspects. So I see the grasslands as an avenue to protect not only the interests of Kansas but also our neighboring states with migratory birds.
The grasslands are key and the ranchers and farmers — good ranchers and good farmers — are inherently excellent conservationists. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. For many of the ranchers, it’s important to them that the land continues to be in agriculture, so the grassland is the mechanism to focus on the priorities of the rancher and the wildlife habitat.
How will the project help grow public confidence?
There’s a lot of myths about conservation easements and that’s justifiable. Information is often heard second or third or fourth hand, so the reliability of that information is tough. Also, the guidelines around easements have routinely changed because the Farm Bill is updated every five years. Having that dialogue gets the facts out there on easements, on how they’re good for some ranchers — it’s a very personal decision, it’s not for everybody. When we get the facts out there, usually when most people hear about it and they learn about it, they’re interested in learning more. I think that’s where the confidence will grow; the myth busting and the updated information on the new Farm Bill will cultivate that confidence. Ultimately, the landowner is priority one throughout the process.
You’ve said before that the grant will help RTK transform into a state-wide organization. How so?
"Ultimately, the landowner is priority one throughout the process."
We don’t necessarily want to focus on one area. There are conservation issues throughout the state and there are so many people who are interested in conservation, but we just couldn’t reach them, we just didn’t have the capacity. This grant has allowed RTK to address that issue, pick it up in a very strategic and thoughtful way, start addressing those issues, and approach them in a very specific and productive manner.
In four years, what are you looking forward to seeing come from the project and the grant?
I think it would be that exit statement, the conclusion of the initial grant: look what this collaboration envisioned, look at the success, look at the partners that have come together and the future conservation values that have been put in place. I’m looking forward to that summary of executing the things we set out to do.
After the initial four years of the project, are there plans in place for how the continuation will work or look?
No, because we’re going to learn from these four years; so we’re not going to determine that far out. What’s great about this project and about our collaboration is that we can adapt to what we learn and continue to grow. Every day we can ask about capacity, look at the needs, look at how we can grow to meet those needs, and adapt to those things.
Why are capacity grants important for organizations like RTK?
Capacity grants are a game changer for organizations. It helps remove barriers, and it helps take them to the next level. Capacity grants help you do what you do, better. It is more of a global perspective of success for your organization. It allows an organization to go to the next level; it allows them to evaluate what they’re doing and to assess and do it better.