The Flint Hills are special because they represent the last functional landscape expression of tallgrass prairie, the most altered major habitat type in North America in terms of acres lost. Tallgrass prairie once stretched across approximately 170 million acres, but today less than four percent of the original tallgrass prairie remains. The Flint Hills encompasses the single largest tallgrass prairie landscape remaining in North America, with more tallgrass prairie remaining here than in all the other prairie states combined.
Approximately ninety native grass species are found in the Flint Hills, with big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, switchgrass, eastern gama, and sideoats grama being some of the more dominant species. But the Flint Hills are much more than grass. Over 500 native broadleaf prairie plant species (herbaceous forbs) have been documented in the Flint Hills. This rich floristic diversity is important for maintaining the ecological health of the prairie?s natural communities. The region is especially important for grassland nesting birds, such as Greater Prairie-Chicken, Eastern Meadowlark, and Upland Sandpiper. The Flint Hills also serve as a staging area for numerous raptors, and comprise North America's only north-south tallgrass prairie corridor used extensively by migrant birds.
Climate, grazing, and fire were the primary ecological processes that shaped the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Weather patterns influenced the growth of vegetation, which in turn affected the availability of fuels for burning and forage for grazing. Historic herbivores, such as bison and elk, preferentially grazed in recently burned patches of prairie, which in turn helped maintain the vegetation mosaic.
As the last functioning landscape expression of tallgrass prairie, the Flint Hill present a unique opportunity to preserve an ecologically intact tallgrass ecosystem, which is the most altered major habitat type in North America. The Flint Hills are particularly important for grassland birds, including the Greater Prairie-Chicken. The Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks estimated a density of 4.67 prairie chickens per square mile in the twelve counties of the Flint Hills being nominated as a globally important bird area during the 2011 survey season, while in 2010 they estimated 5.20 Greater Prairie-Chickens per square mile. Other key species that rely on the Flint Hills include the Henslow's Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissel, Eastern Meadowlark and Upland Sandpiper. The Flint Hills also serve as a staging area for numerous raptors and comprises North America's only north-south tallgrass prairie corridor used extensively by such migrants as: American Golden-Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Sprague's Pipit, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow and Smith's Longspur. These represent merely a partial listing of species which rely on the Flint Hills for either breeding or as a migration corridor. The Flint Hills region hosts global and Kansas species of conservation concern and the Upland Sandpiper is a continental species of conservation concern. The American Golden-Plover and Bufff-breasted Sandpiper migrate through the region at a rate of greater than one percent of the population North American population.
The majority of the Flint Hills region is under private ownership. Mainly in the form of large cattle ranches, with some crop ground and hay ground. There are a large number of small towns scattered throughout the region and a few fairly large cities. The Nature Conservancy owns three preserves within the region and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism also owns a number of wildlife areas