Grassland Notebook

Randy at the Dunn Ranch field office with the office cat, Kitty

Randy Arndt lives and breathes prairie restoration. For more than 28 years he was the owner and operator of Arndt Family Farm, a wholesale producer of Missouri native grass and forb seed, and he has been a certified wildlife biologist for over 30 years.  Randy is now the Conservancy's Grand River Grasslands site manager, based at the 3,200-acre Dunn Ranch Prairie.

Randy works with private ranchers, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other partners to accomplish the Conservancy’s ambitious goals of restoring this functional tallgrass prairie.

You've been preparing to bring bison to Dunn Ranch Prairie for years - how does it feel now that they're finally here?
It's so exciting now that the bison are finally out on the prairie.  I love to look out over the rolling hills at Dunn Ranch, seeing bison grazing in the golden grasses, and trying to visualize what it must have been like at the time of Lewis and Clark.

What preparations were made to get ready for the herd's arrival?
Dirt work to level a site for the bison corral was completed, and the corral itself was designed and installed.  Arrangements were made to lay the water and electrical lines to the corral site.  A contractor was engaged to construct the fence around our 40-acre “catch pasture,” which is the area that we will confine the bison in prior to our annual roundup.  Perimeter fences around two bison pastures (one 1,200-acre, one 1,250-acre) were completed.  We also worked to reach out to and inform our neighbors about the reintroduction of bison and answer any questions or concerns they may have had. 

What type of restoration work did  you complete this past winter?
Our seed harvest crew had another record year of collecting seed for our prairie restoration work at Dunn Ranch and Pawnee Prairies.  Our three-person crew hand-collected more than 600 pounds of clean seed which was made up of more than 150 species of native forbs and grasses.  They used our combine to harvest an additional 14,500 pounds of native seed.  This seed was used to restore 160 acres at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Pawnee Prairie and 460 acres at Dunn Ranch Prairie.  With the completion of this winter’s restoration seeding the initial restoration seedings at Dunn Ranch will be more than 90% complete. 

The restoration and seed crews have been working hard to diversify the prairie.  Have you discovered any new species recently?
While collecting seed this past summer, the seed crew discovered two new species to Dunn Ranch.  They discovered about 50 stems of Sensitive Briar scattered over an area of about an acre.  They also discovered several scattered populations of Prairie Milkweed.

The past two years we’ve seen some very wet springs.  How has the weather affected the prairie chickens?
The weather has had a negative impact on not only the prairie chickens at Dunn Ranch Prairie, but all ground nesting birds.  Any eggs that come in contact for any length of time with the cold, wet ground often become infertile.  The chicks from those eggs that do hatch also have a very rough time surviving the heavy rains that we’ve experienced the last several years.  Chicks that become soaked during torrential rains often die of exposure.  Because of these problems, recruitment of new birds into the flock has been marginal at best.  We did see several small broods of prairie chickens early last summer.  When deep snows concentrated the birds on a local soybean field this past January, the greatest number of birds we saw at one time was fourteen - a slight improvement over the ten birds seen last winter. We're now relocating birds from other areas where they're more plentiful.

What do you like most about working to restore the Grand River Grasslands?
I’ve been doing prairie restoration for over 30 years now.  What I enjoy most about my work is knowing that I will leave those lands that I have managed and restored over the years in better condition than I found them for future generations to enjoy.  I like the feeling I get when I return to a piece of land that I restored years before that was once a fescue pasture to see a carpet of native grasses and wildflowers.  It gives me great satisfaction to see someone walk through one of my restorations and hear them comment how beautiful it looks.  I also enjoy the quiet solitude and beauty found on the prairie at dawn and dusk.  I enjoy listening to the haunting booming of prairie chickens and the high-pitched twitter of the upland sandpiper.  And I love seeing majestic bison once again grazing in the golden native grasses at Dunn Ranch Prairie. 

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Hoar Frost at Dunn Ranch Prairie


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