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Minnesota

Miller Prairie

In this county alone, less than 1 percent of its lands contain intact natural plant communities.


Located in western Minnesota’s Traverse County, Miller Prairie preserves two remnants of native tallgrass prairie, which is considered by many scientists the most imperiled type of grassland in the world. In this county alone, less than 1 percent of its lands contain intact natural plant communities. Most of county now is used for agriculture.

Miller Prairie consists of two parcels of land that are about 1.5 miles apart. Both pieces of land were donated in 1999 to the Conservancy by the Miller family.

Location

From Wheaton, drive six miles east of town on highway 27. Turn right (south) on county road 13. Drive for two miles on county road 13 and then turn left (east) on an unmarked gravel road. Continue on the township road for one mile. You will now be at the northwest corner of the western unit of the preserve. To get to the eastern unit from here, go south 1 mile and then turn left (east). Continue for slightly more than two miles on this township road. The eastern unit is located one-fourth a mile east of County Road 15.

The eastern unit can also be accessed easily by driving 9 miles east of Wheaton and taking a right (south) on County Road 15 for 3 miles. Take a left (east) after 3 miles and proceed east for one-fourth mile. This will place you at the southwest corner of the eastern unit.

Use caution when driving on the gravel roads in the spring and after rain, as they can be extremely muddy and slippery.

(Located in Sections 33 & 35, Clifton Township, Traverse County, Minnesota)

Size

320 acres in the western unit and 60 acres in the eastern unit

Plants

This site is dominated by mesic and wet tallgrass prairie. Although Miller Prairie is an isolated prairie remnant, recent plant surveys indicated a minimum of 123 species.

There is a population of Sullivant’s milkweed at the Miller Prairie east unit. This is the northwestern-most Minnesota record for this state-threatened plant. Sullivant’s milkweed is a perennial wildflower that flowers in June and July. A member of the milkweed family, it produces a milky sap. This species has been studied for usefulness in rubber production due the high rubber content in its latex.

Animals

The wildflowers of Miller Prairie attract butterflies, including regal fritillary and powesheik skipper. Both are considered species of special concern by the state.

The distinctive "voo-hoo-hoo" of the male short-eared owl's territorial song can be heard in the late evening. This yellow-eyed owl with a dark bill is a species of concern living here. It is one of several grassland birds that live here. Others include upland sandpiper, marbled godwit, chestnut-collared longspur and greater prairie chicken.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site

Other than Malmberg Prairie in Polk County, these two tracts of land are the only other sizeable remnant prairies in the Agassiz Lucustrine Plain. Because there is not a beach-ridge zone here, however, they are more like true lake-plain prairies. Miller Prairie gave the Conservancy an opportunity to preserve this rare remnant.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

The Conservancy’s management plan encourages the diverse prairie plant and animal communities found here to thrive. This plan includes controlled fires and periodic haying, which help native plants flourish. The Millers — recognizing the important role fire plays in this ecosystem — conducted fires long before the Conservancy acquired this land.

A recent study of the plants that live here was used in a restoration plan. The study determined that because of the grazing practices that had occurred in previous years, the grazed portions of the preserve lacked some of the biodiversity that was found in the portions of the preserve that were ungrazed.

To increase the diversity of the grazed areas, Conservancy staff initiated a restoration plan that included a fall harvest of native seeds from the more diverse areas of Miller Prairie. The next spring, those seeds were planted into the former pasture area. Using occasional burning, haying and grazing, Conservancy stewards will continue to manage this diverse native prairie site using the best science available.

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