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Conservation History

During the Dust Bowl of the 1930's and 40's, huge dust storms called "Black Rollers" would envelope towns in darkness in the middle of the day.  People sought refuge from the suffocating dust.  Many would suffer from dust pneumonia.  Livestock died and crops withered in the heat and drought. Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS


Farming practices, the severe drought, and governmental policies are probable causes of these massive dust storms that stripped the land of its precious topsoil and piled it 4-5 feet deep in fence rows.

The Soil Conservation Service was formed in 1935 to encourage farmers to adopt new farming practices such as contour farming, crop rotation, and pasture management. ​

The first conservation district in the U.S. was formed in 1937.  These districts would serve as the local unit of government, headed by a board of farmers and ranchers who would set conservation priorities in their counties. Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS

The Arkansas River-Kay County Conservation District was organized in August of 1939, located in Newkirk, OK.  The Western-Kay Conservation District was organized in November of 1945, with the office located in Blackwell, OK.  In May 1995, directors from both districts began discussions on consolidation of the districts with the Kay County Conservation District formed in July of 1995 with the office co-located with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency in Newkirk.    ​

Mission of the Kay County Conservation District

​To promote an appreciation for the value of Kay County’s natural resources through conservation practices, services, partnerships, and education.


​Top 5 Natural Resource Concerns

  1. Declining soil health with loss of topsoil and organic matter due to sheet, rill, and gully erosion and farming practices which contribute to breakdown of soil structure and productivity

  2. Damage to land, crops, improvements, and stream banks caused by flooding

  3. Excessive nutrients, siltation and pollution impairing surface and groundwater quality due to cropland runoff

  4. Encroachment of invasive plant species in rangeland

  5. Declining fish, wildlife, and pollinator habitat (shelter, food, cover, water, and connectivity)

Natural Resource Data/Inventory ​

Kay County is comprised of two major land resource areas; Bluestem Hills-Tallgrass Prairie (Eastern one-third) and the Central Rolling Red Prairies (Western two-thirds) 

Bluestem Hills-Tallgrass Prairie

Nearly all of the land is in farms and ranches with about three-fifths in native grasses grazed by beef cattle and one-fifth of the area, mainly the deeper soils in valleys and on some of the uplands, is croplands.  Although some winter wheat is grown as a cash crop, other small grains, grain sorghum, alfalfa, and other hay crops are the major crops. 

​Central Rolling Red Prairie

Nearly all of the land is in farms and ranches.  About 60% of the area is cropland and areas being irrigated are increasing.  Winter wheat is the main cash crop.  Other crops are small grains, grain sorghum, corn, cotton, alfalfa, and hay.  Acres planted to corn have increased by 70% within the last 5 years.  A little more than two-fifths of the area is in range or pasture of native grasses and forbs.  Beef cattle are the principal livestock.   ​

The county is drained by the Arkansas River and its tributaries, mainly the Salt Fork of the Arkansas and the Chikaskia Rivers, and Beaver, Bois d’ Arc, Duck, Lost, Doe, Bluff, Bitter, and Deer Creeks

FLOODCONTROL - Through the enactment of the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1944, Congress authorized the establishment of flood retarding dams to temporarily store storm runoff and slowly release the floodwaters through a pipe in the dam.   Duck Creek Conservancy District installed nine watershed dams and 10 miles of channel to reduce the impacts of heavy rain events.  The conservation district works with the conservancy district in conducting annual inspections of these flood control dams and providing maintenance work on the dams and channel.

Tallgrass Prairie of Eastern Kay County

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