During the summer of 2013, staff at the Nachusa Grasslands preserve in Illinois began the preparatory work necessary for the return of bison to the preserve in the fall of 2014. Nachusa is located just two hours west of Chicago.
Science initiatives included extensive sampling of the prairie, which will help researchers understand bison's affect on plants, soil, insects, water quality, and animals. Here, Kirsta Kirkham (L) and Maria Lemke take water samples and measurements of Wade Creek.
Researchers from Northern Illinois University partnered with the Conservancy to collect samples of insects. The research will help staff understand how the insect community changes with the return of bison.
Preserve Manager Bill Kleiman and Nachusa team members surveyed rare fringed orchid this summer.
Jeff Walk, Director of Science in Illinois, holds an ornate box turtle that was tracked on the prairie via a radio transmitter.
The bison corral will be located at this Holland Farm site. In preparation for their arrival, some of these building were demolished. The driveway was also built up with 15 truckloads of gravel! This is the "Before" shot ...
... And here is the "After!" Much of the equipment needed for bison will be housed in this part of the preserve including a bison trailer, equipment trailer, a dozen round bales of prairie hay for bison roundup and emergencies, and other equipment.
Upgrades were also made to existing barns, sheds and other structures.
Almost all the barns at Holland were painted to an earth tone, which blends the buildings into the landscape much better than white.
The Nachusa team traveled to Dunn Ranch, a Conservancy preserve in Missouri where bison roam, with a fencing contactor to learn about fence styles, see how their corral was set up, and draft a plan for the Nachusa corral. Pipe was then shipped from Missisippi.
The pipe will replace traditional wooden posts and make the corral fire-proof, so the Nachusa team doesn’t have to spray down the corral during a prescribed fire.
Nachusa team members and volunteers spent several days cutting the pipe down to size.
A trackhoe digs a two-foot wide ditch that will allow for electricity and water lines at the new bison corral.
Once the ditch was complete, volunteers helped lay more than 600 feet of electric line and water pipe to the future bison corral site.
Volunteers and crew harvested northern dropseed, an important prairie grass species, from the seed propogation garden. This seed will be spread across the acres where bison will roam next fall. A sign of restoration success: in the past, volunteers were only able to fill a bucket with northern dropseed. Today, they fill entire barrels!
Help support The Nature Conservancy in its efforts to bring bison back to the Nachusa Preserve. Visit nature.org/bisonreturn to find out how you can get involved.