The Nature Conservancy announces record harvests of native seed for restoration planting in native prairie projects. This accelerates prairie restoration in two priority sites for the Conservancy, Dunn Ranch and Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie.
More than 10,000 pounds of seed with more than 80 species of prairie grasses and wildflowers was harvested recently in remnant and restored prairies throughout northwest Missouri. Much of this will be used to seed 480 acres at Dunn Ranch within the Grand River Grasslands, a 70,000-acre grassland landscape, straddling the Missouri-Iowa border. The Conservancy’s 4,000-acre Dunn Ranch anchors this prairie restoration landscape, where the Conservancy works closely with private ranchers, as well as the Missouri Department of Conservation, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other partners to restore a functional tallgrass prairie.
In addition, 465 acres at Dunn were cleared of trees this winter.
“Prairies thrive as treeless landscapes. Native prairie wildlife, including prairie chickens, is hurt by the presence of trees. Prairie chickens are killed by predators like raccoons, opossums and hawks that perch and live in trees. Missouri is down to an estimated 500 prairie chickens, so we need to act quickly to provide the best habitat to try to save these birds as well as the remaining native prairie,” said Randy Arndt, Grand River Grassland site manager. “It may seem odd a conservationist would be anti-tree, but when restoring native prairies, trees are bad.”
The Grand River Grasslands is large enough to support grassland bird species, such as the greater prairie chicken that requires large open area. Several breeding areas for prairie chickens, called leks or “booming” grounds, are located on Dunn Ranch. From the high-quality cores of Dunn Ranch and nearby Pawnee Prairie in the south to Ringgold Wildlife Area in the north, this landscape is a critical conservation corridor for prairie chickens and other grassland birds. Keeping this area in grasslands with the help of area ranchers and other landowners is vital to the continuation of grassland dependent species.
At Wah’kon-Tah prairie in southwestern Missouri, site of an ongoing prairie chicken reintroduction effort by the Missouri Department of Conservation, more than 75 acres will be seeded using part of the 6,800 pounds of seed harvested from Wah’Kon-Tah and other native prairies and in southwest Missouri’s Osage Plains. The seed collected last fall contained a mixture of more than 170 species of native prairie plants. Tree clearing efforts are also underway at Wah’Kon-Tah, with 90 acres to be cleared of trees by spring. “There is a sense of urgency to accelerate our efforts in both our grassland priority areas in Missouri,
Dunn Ranch and Wah’Kon-Tah, especially with the rapid decline of the prairie chicken, a signature species of the tallgrass prairie. Tree clearing, frequent fire and the harvesting and planting of native seed will revitalize and expand our remnants and native prairies, providing critical habitat to revive our ailing prairie chicken population,” said Stacia Whitaker, the Conservancy’s Wah’Kon-Tah site manager. Dunn Ranch and Wah’Kon-Tah prairie have been designated as two of the best prairie chicken habitats in the state. Missouri Department of Conservation is currently conducting telemetry studies on prairie chickens at both sites to determine the best actions to ensure the species survival in Missouri.
The Conservancy’s goal in these grasslands is to restore and protect functioning tallgrass prairies and provide critical habitat for grassland species. Working closely with private landowners and partners, like MDC, the Conservancy is using a myriad of management techniques, including prescribed fire, conservation grazing, tree removal and invasive species control to mimic the land’s natural cycles and bring back the original habitat for the benefit of prairie chickens and the other grassland species. Today, less than one percent remains of the original tallgrass prairie that once covered a third of Missouri.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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