Standing amid Pankratz Memorial Prairie it's easy to imagine what early pioneers saw as they made their way west. Acre upon acre of tallgrass prairie spreads out on the vista, which once was the beachfront of ancient Lake Agassiz. Herds of buffalo roamed this sandy soil, polishing smooth a large glacial boulder with the weight of their bodies. This boulder stands as a testament to pre-settlement times.
This land now is part of an expansive effort to connect Pankratz with the 1,624-acre Chicog State Wildlife Management Area, thereby creating more habitat for plants and animals to thrive. The Nature Conservancy, together with Trust for Public Land, the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently preserved a high quality 2,800-acre tallgrass prairie, called Thorson Prairie.
Pankratz is made of two tracts of land - a 468-acre north unit and a 452-acre south unit. It is five miles from the Conservancy's largest prairie-wetland restoration project in U.S. history - Glacial Ridge.
To visit the north unit: From Crookston, drive east on U.S. Highway 2 for six miles to the intersection with County Road 46. Turn south and travel one-and-a-half miles to reach the west corner of the unit. To park, turn east onto the gravel road by the preserve sign. Please do not block the township road. The boulder rubbed smooth by buffalo is located here, near the center.
To visit the south unit: Drive south from the preserve sign for one-and-a-half miles and turn east. Travel a one-half mile to the west side of this part of the preserve.
Among the plants inhabiting the preserve are tall blazing star, poison hemlock, prairie gentian and the rare small white lady's slipper. Two rare sedges also are found on the site: Hall's sedge and Canadian single-spike sedge.
More than 100 bird species have been identified on the preserve. In addition to the greater prairie chicken, some of the most unique are Wilson's phalarope, upland sandpiper, marbled godwit, sharp-tailed sparrow, yellow rail and red-tailed hawk. Several mammals live on or visit the preserve, including white-tailed deer and moose.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Pankratz Memorial Prairie - one of the largest fens in the area -features a unique assemblage of plant communities. Dry prairie knolls containing dryland porcupine grass are found only yards away from low prairie swales, dominated by sedges and prairie cordgrass. This mosaic allows diverse plant and animal families to thrive.
The Conservancy chose this site because of its location within one of the main cores of the larger Agassiz Beach Ridges landscape. Its proximity to other private and public prairies makes it a viable and diverse site, where many of Minnesota's rarest plants and animals are found.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
Open prairies are essential for grassland birds to thrive. Therefore, it's important for the Conservancy to open up the prairie landscape. Periodic, prescribed fire, aspen girdling and brush mowing are some of the tools used to manage this land, making it a better habitat for these imperiled birds.
Native plant communities throughout the world are threatened by invasive species. Leafy spurge, an invasive plant found on this preserve, is extremely difficult to control. Its large root system burrows 20 feet down, making it resilient to spraying, and seeds can spring up 15 feet from the mother plant. The plant also contains a milky latex than can produce blisters and inflammation in humans, cattle and horses and may cause permanent blindness if rubbed into the eye.
To control it, land managers use fire - which plays a natural role in prairies, clearing brush and encouraging the growth of native plants - and special root-boring flea beetles.
An old gravel pit located on a newly acquired piece of land was reshaped and reseeded with native prairie seeds that were collected onsite. By restoring this area, grassland birds have more habitat, and invasive species will have a harder time getting a foothold.