The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth. Originally spanning portions of 14 states from Texas to Minnesota, urban sprawl and conversion to cropland have left less than 10% of this magnificent American landscape. Since 1989, the Conservancy has proven successful at restoring this fully-functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of about 2500 free-roaming bison and a "patch-burn" model approach to prescribed burning.
Biodiversity Threats in the area include habitat fragmentation and loss, current grazing and fire practices, invasive plant species such as sericea lespedeza and eastern red cedar, and stream degradation due to land management practices and soil erosion. One way to measure the success of efforts to restore biodiversity is to track species. Learn about the species found at Oklahoma's preserves.
What the Conservancy is doing now will offer conservation-minded ranchers an alternative to traditional grazing practices. Conservancy staff have already conducted several "patch-burn" workshops with area cattle ranchers to illustrate the potential rewards of embracing this wildlife-friendly method of land management, while continuing to meet the bottom line for their cattle production operations. In addition to alternative grazing practices, The Nature Conservancy is offering to hold conservation easements for land owners who would like to ensure the preservation of their property.
Our "Patch Burn" approach utilizes prescribed burning on roughly 1/3rd of productive rangeland each year, leaving the remaining portions undisturbed by fire. Early research by Oklahoma State University indicates that the complex and mosaic plant communities produced by this "patchy" approach offers huge rewards for biodiversity. Approximately three dozen prescribed burns are conducted each year totaling 15,000 - 20,000 acres. Since 1991, over 350 prescribed burns have been conducted totaling 210,000 acres. In addition we have assisted neighboring ranches burn 170,000 acres and helped them suppress 50 wildfires.
The Tallgrass Prairie Ecological Research Station was completed in 2004. This state-of-the-art facility will offer field researchers the opportunity to conduct extended studies and initiate laboratory analysis for rangeland research. The research station will also be utilized as a workshop destination for university students, researchers and conservation professionals from across the United States.
More than three dozen research projects are active on the preserve, and 78 publications in scientific journals have been produced. An exciting "patch-burn" was initiated with Oklahoma State University in 2001 on 7,300 acres. This study is testing the wildlife, plant community and cattle gains in patch-burn versus completely burned cattle pastures. The objective is to achieve similar conservation benefits as those documented in the fire-bison unit while retaining profit margin for cattle ranchers.
Click on icon to enlarge image.
Click on icon to enlarge image.
The preserve is open every day from dawn to dusk with no charge for admittance and can be accessed via county roads. There are free ranging bison herds, scenic turnouts, hiking trails, picnic tables, breezeway information and public restrooms at the Historic Bunkhouse. The gift shop / visitor center is open from March through mid-November from 10:00am to 4:00pm. It is operated by docents, and is typically open every day.
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve offers some excellent bird watching opportunities due to the variety of natural habitats. Driving to the Preserve Headquarters you will primarily be in open prairie, but there will also be patches of crosstimbers (upland native oak woodlands). At the Headquarters area you might want to hike our trail system which will take you through bottomland forest, crosstimbers, and prairie.
SEASONS ON THE PRAIRIE
The prairie puts on a different show for every season and each has its own unique beauty: Mid‑May through mid‑June, wildflowers cover the fields with blankets of color. Though wildflowers bloom throughout the warm months, they peak in spring, with another fine showing late summer.
Signature grasses appear in April, begin producing seed in late July, and continue to, grow through September. By September the big bluestem and switchgrass reach heights of 6 to 8 feet with a few patches stretching to 10 feet. When trees turn to their rich autumn colors, so do the grasses.
In addition to the more than 700 plant species on the Preserve, more than 300 bird and 80 mammal species make the prairie their home. Prairie chickens boom at sunrise from late March through early May. During the warm months, migrating neotropical species, such as the Dickcissel and Scissor‑tailed flycatcher, are seen frequently. Rough‑legged and Red‑tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, and Bald and Golden Eagles are common sights during the fall and winter. You also may see deer, coyotes, or bobcats roaming the prairie.
Click here for a map of the preserve.