“We look at a prairie and we see a great emptiness, a void that staggers the psyche and leaves much too much room for a mind to wander.”
~ Randy Winter in Nature Notes.
When the first European/American settlers crossed out of the Eastern forests and arrived at the vast mid-continent, teeming with bison prairie, many stayed. There was a near universal fear of so much open land that one of the first acts the newcomers performed was planting trees. The second activity was to plow up the deep, rich soil resulting in prairies and wetlands becoming America’s rarest ecosystems.
For the past half century, stewards around the country have attempted to bring back patches of historical prairie. Prairie reconstruction or planting refers to re-establishing native plants such as prairie grasses or flowers on a site that probably grew there before being replaced by lawns, crops or other development. Prairie restoration refers to working with an existing native prairie remnant.
Protecting prairie topsoil is a key practice. Soil is oftene xposed to erosion from wind and rain when prairies are plowed under. Many native prairie plants are highly resistant to drought, temperature extremes, disease and insect pests. These plants are frequently used for xeicscaping projects in arid regions of the American West.
Prairie flowers are attractive to native butterflies and other polliators. Communities and corporations are creating areas of restored prairies which in turn will store organic carbon and help maintain biodiversity of the 3,000 species that count on the grasslands for food and shelter.
Fire — is a big component to the success of prairies. Stewards recommend burning every four to eight years to remove dead plants, prevent certain plants from encroaching such as trees and release nutrients into the ground to encourage new growth. Native Americans lit the prairies on fire for many reasons including as a control for ticks. If prescribed burning is impossible, rotational mowing or livestock grazing can become a substitute.
A first step for prairie landowners or stewards is conduct a Plant Survey. If you discover native plants, they can be returned to a condition close to its original state by nurturing surviving plants. A great resource that can be adapted for local conditions is: Minnesota Prairie Restoration Handbook for landowners with up to 20 acres.
“We begin not with what was, but with what is. And like the wind in the grasses, sometimes the next pass we make is one that mends.” ~ Laura Allmann from “Far from Tame.