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Discover Kansas's Biggest Forest. (And the Creatures Lurking Within It)

2023-03-24  Maliyah Mah

There aren't many forests in Kansas. In actuality, just about 10% of the state is covered by trees, and the majority of them are on private property. Kansas, on the other hand, is renowned for having a flat, open grassland where the land goes on forever. The sunflower state offers some incredibly distinctive landscapes, but woods are not its strongest suit.

This article will go through the major forests that were once present in Kansas and the fauna that may be found there.

Does Kansas Have Any Forests?

Forest in Kansas

Although it may be difficult to imagine, Kansas' greatest forest was lost long ago, in 1915. In an effort to identify the best tree species that might endure in the severe southwestern environment, the Kansas National Forest project was started in 1905. More than 250,000 trees of various varieties, including scotch pine, black locust, jack pine, Osage orange trees, hackberry, and yellow pine, were planted. Unfortunately, severe droughts and forest fires destroyed the majority of these trees, and the project was abandoned in 1915.

Huge marshes, meadows, and wildlife reserves can be found in Kansas. But now, Kansas still has a sizable amount of natural forests.

Kansas's largest forest

Extremely frigid winters and sweltering summers characterize Kansas's moderate continental climate. Aside from its turbulent weather, the state is well-known for its tornadoes, blizzards, and droughts. Flat areas, undulating hills, and deep gorges are some of Kansas' geographical characteristics. Kansas is covered in grasslands that are better adapted to the regional climate, and woods are difficult to establish there.

Large herds of bison, which graze on anything that emerges from the earth, have historically resided in Kansas. Therefore, any trees that started to grow before they were mature were probably eaten by bison.

Despite the absence of lush, green trees, Kansas does boast a vast grassland known as Cimarron National Grassland. This grassland is 108,175 acres in size and sits at an elevation of 3,389 feet in Morton County. With a few slight elevations, Cimarron National Grassland is generally level. Shortgrass prairie grassland predominates in this area's flora, with sand sagebrush thriving in the saltier soils. Near the Cirramon River, which traverses the region, are cottonwood and other trees.

The Cimarron National Grassland is a well-known destination for leisure activities and is home to a variety of species. It also has a long history.

The history of the Cimarron National Grassland, Kansas' largest forest

The region was formerly occupied by the Comanche Native American tribe and their allies, but farmers and prospectors who were claiming the land for their ranches gradually took control of it. Their wheat crops remained prosperous for many years before being completely destroyed in the 1930s by a severe drought known historically as the "dust bowl." At the time, large dust clouds covered most of the southwestern United States due to drought and overworking the soil.

The original prairie was reinstated after the federal government bought the property from the bankrupt farmers. The Cimarron National Grassland was established in 1960.

In the Cimarron National Grassland, hiking and camping

One popular hiking route that goes across Cimarron National Grassland is the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. This track, which is 23 miles long and ideal for those looking for a longer trip, is located in grassland. The Turkey Trail is another trekking route. It is a 10.5-mile walk that is excellent for observing wildlife and birds. The Conestoga, Murphy, and Santa Fe Companion paths are a few other noteworthy paths.

In Cimarron National Grassland, camping is a popular activity. There are 12 campsites accessible for campground camping. The Cimarron Recreation Area's campground is situated there, and it's really picturesque and offers great chances to see wildlife. Both the Cimarron Campground and the Cimarron Recreation Area allow RV camping. The Cimarron Group site and the Cimarron Recreation Area both provide group camping options. Finally, the Santa Fe National Historic Trail and the Santa Fe Companion Trail each provide a few isolated camping sites.

Biggest Forest in Kansas: Cimarron National Grassland Wildlife

The fauna listed here is some of what you might observe when visiting Cimarron National Grassland.



Large mammals known as pronghorns are native to western and central North America. Since these animals prefer wide-open spaces, Cimarron National Grassland is a perfect habitat for them. Pronghorns have distinctive white fur across their throats, across their chests, and on their abdomens. The name "pronghorn" refers to the two horns that pronghorns have, one of which points forward on each branch. Male adults typically measure over 4 feet long and weigh 88 to 143 pounds. Female adults typically weigh between 75 and 106 pounds.

Pronghorns consume a variety of plants, including grasses, cactus, shrubs, and forbs. Pronghorns are a valuable prey species for many predatory creatures despite their beauty. Among the pronghorn's predators are cougars, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and others. However, because of their speed, pronghorns are excellent at escaping predators. The pronghorn can gallop up to 55 miles per hour, making it the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere.

White-tailed Deer, Kansas's largest deer species

In North America and the Cimarron National Grassland, white-tailed deer are widespread. When fully mature, it is a medium-sized deer that weighs between 100 and 200 pounds. They typically stand between two and four feet tall. In the summer, the deer's coat is reddish-brown; in the winter, it turns greyish-brown. They have a unique white underside throughout the year.

Because they are herbivores, white-tailed deer eat a variety of grassland plants and shrubs. They eat grasses, leaves, and woody plants as part of their diet. While they spend the majority of the day resting in the greenery, these deer are most active in the early mornings and late evenings. They are well recognized for having exceptional agility and running and jumping quickly to avoid predators. White-tailed deer have a top speed of 35 mph!



The temperate regions of North and South America, as well as other areas, are where the porcupine prefers to reside. These versatile spiky critters may thrive in hillsides, woodlands, deserts, and even rocky outcrops. Porcupines can be identified by their sharp quills or spines that they utilize to ward off predators. The majority of porcupines measure between 25 and 36 inches in length, with an 8 to 10-inch tail. They range in weight from 12 to 35 pounds. Due to their size and slowness, a defense mechanism is definitely necessary. They cannot, unlike popular perception, shoot their quills. However, their sharp quills can separate from their bodies and cause their attackers excruciating agony. Keep your distance if you see a porcupine in the wild.

Being herbivores, porcupines may even climb trees to reach food. They consume fruit, twigs, bark, leaves, herbs, and more. Some animals, including coyotes, great horned owls, and bobcats, use them as major prey species. Porcupines have an excellent defense mechanism, and they will use their quills to frighten off and repel predators.

Cattle Dogs

Small herbivorous burrowing ground squirrels known as prairie dogs are indigenous to the grasslands of North America. They enjoy grasslands since they do well there, and Cimarron National Grasslands is the perfect place for them to live. The adult prairie dog will reach a maximum length of 12 to 16 inches and a maximum weight of 1 to 3 lbs. Compared to the female prairie dogs, the male prairie dogs are noticeably bigger. Their bodies are thick, and they have short ears and big noses.

Prairie dogs use their burrows to survive in the arid conditions. They create their burrows, which offer safety, and they reside there. These tunnels typically range in length from 16 to 33 feet and are located 6.6 to 9.8 feet below the surface. Despite being primarily herbivorous, they can also consume insects. However, the majority of their food consists of grasses and tiny seeds. Numerous creatures, such as eagles, coyotes, foxes, and weasels, hunt on prairie dogs. Detecting predators at a great distance and warning other prairie dogs with their distinctive sound are two protective mechanisms.



The Cimarron National Grasslands are home to a large number of these little, non-migratory birds. They have a long tail, a short, stubby beak, and are gray or brown in hue. Bushtits are incredibly small birds, just 3 to 4 inches long, and they only weigh around a quarter of an ounce. They reside in huge flocks of up to 40 birds since they are social birds. Both parents will assist in constructing their new home as they build their nests in the trees or high shrubs of the grasslands.

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As insectivores, bushtits will eat every small insect, spider, and other small bug they can locate. They forage frequently, eating berries and seeds in addition to other foods. On the other side, Cimarron National Grasslands' predatory animals enjoy bushtits as a delectable meal. Predatory birds, reptiles, and other small mammals like weasels or raccoons are some of these.

Quail Scales

The scaled quail, also referred to as the blue quail, is another typical species in the Cimarron National Grasslands. The number of birds in a covey, which is the term for a group of ground-dwelling birds, can range from a handful to more than a dozen. Scaled quails feature a pattern of scales on their breast and belly, living up to its name. They have a distinctive crest on their heads and mostly grayish-brown feathers. They are tiny birds that can reach heights of 10 inches and weigh 5 to 8 ounces. Scaled quails have an odd habit of roosting on the ground in a circle with the other covey members. This behavior is assumed to be done to conserve heat.

Being herbivores, scaled quails eat whatever is available to them at any given time of year. They often consume plant materials, berries, and seeds and grains that grow on grasses and weeds in grasslands. Additionally, cacti are a crucial component of their food, which they can digest and eat because to a unique digestive mechanism that protects them from the cactus' sharp spines.

Spanner Toads

Spadefoot Toads

The amphibian spadefoot toad lives underground for the most of its existence. These animals typically inhabit deserts, grasslands, and marshes in arid conditions. Spadefoot toads are named for the tough, keratinous projections on their feet that aid in digging. They have large, outward-facing eyes and round, short legs. They might be gray, brown, or dull green, and are often dull in color to fit in with their surroundings. Spadefoot toads have a length of 2-3 inches and a weight range of 1.7–3.5 ounces.

As opportunistic hunters, spadefoot toads consume any tiny creature that is there. Flies, moths, earthworms, termites, spiders, and centipedes are among the food items they consume. Unfortunately, coyotes, snakes, and birds like the tasty meal that the spadefoot toad provides for them. When underground, the spadefoot toad is usually secure, but when it comes to the surface to hunt and reproduce, it is susceptible. A few ways to defend yourself include making loud noises, emitting chemicals that taste bad, and puffing yourself up to look bigger.

Common Leopard Frogs

The Cimarron National Grasslands' ponds and wetlands are home to these creatures. They are medium-sized frogs with recognizable leopard-like patches on their backs. The females are larger than the males and range in size from 2 to 4 inches long and 0.2 to 1.5 ounces in weight. Aquatic in nature, Plain's leopard frogs spend the most of their time in the water. They are opportunistic eaters and will consume a wide range of prey, including insects, small fish, and even other frogs, whenever it is possible.

The presence of plains leopard frogs is a crucial sign of the overall health of the wetland. As a result of habitat loss and population decrease, it is regarded as a species of particular concern in some places. At Cimarron National Grassland, efforts are being made to preserve and safeguard their natural habitat.

Beautiful Box Turtle

Ornate Box Turtle

The American Great Plains are home to the ornate box turtle. This turtle prefers the land over the sea and is typically seen in meadows. When fully mature, the ornate box turtle is quite little, measuring about 4-6 inches. The shell of the turtle can be gray, reddish-brown, or black, with yellow lines extending from the center to the margins. They are joined around the animal's head and limbs by an upper and lower shell. Ornate box turtle males tend to be smaller than females and have thicker tails and longer inner claws on their rear foot. While the females have brown eyes, the males also have beautiful red eyes.

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The ornate box turtles are omnivores and consume a variety of foods, including grass, bushes, vegetables, insects, and invertebrates. These creatures are preyed upon by various animals, including snakes and raccoons. These turtles defend themselves from predators by withdrawing into their protective shells and dodging them with their quick reflexes. These turtles have a wonderful home in the Cimarron National Grassland, where they can burrow and eat as much grass as they choose.

Snake of the Prairie

The Cimarron National Grassland is home to the prairie rattlesnake, also referred to as the western rattlesnake, which is a native of North America's grasslands, prairies, and deserts. Although the colors of these snakes might vary, their bodies typically contain brown stripes or blotches. They have characteristic rattles at the tips of their tails, which they use to produce noise to warn against dangers, and they may get up to 4 feet long. The warmer months of the year are when these prairie rattlesnakes are most active, and the colder months are when they hibernate.

Opportunistic feeders, prairie rattlesnakes prey on small animals like rabbits or mice, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They will wait and lie down close to animal passageways such as trails or burrows in order to grab their next prey. When a target comes within striking distance, they will strike with rapid speed thanks to their keen sense of smell and heat detection abilities. When traveling through the grassland, wear heavy boots and long pants because these snakes are highly venomous and may pose a hazard to humans. If you hear a quick rattling sound, you should also get away from the area.

Horned lizard of Texas

A spiky species of reptile native to North America is the Texas horned lizard. Additionally, despite its name, it is not only found in Texas but is a national phenomenon. The name of the species refers to the distinctive horns that span its body. Its head is capped with the two largest horns, and it also has horns on its brows and jawline. The lateral regions of the body and the back of the animal are covered in spikes. The Texas horned lizard's coloring changes depending on the setting it is trying to integrate into. It may be yellow, reddish-brown, or tannish brown in color. The typical length of these lizards is between 3.7 and 5 inches, making them quite small.

The Texas horned lizard is a carnivore that mostly eats insects and worms, with harvester ants being the most common insect it consumes. Termites, beetles, and grasshoppers are a few more insects they might eat. For these reptiles to be healthy, they must be exposed to the sun. The Texas horned lizard can therefore be found frequently in open, rocky regions where they can sunbathe. These animals will burrow into the sand at night. At Cimarron National Grassland, keep an eye out for these unusual lizards!

2023-03-24  Maliyah Mah