Field of wildflowers
Tallgrass prairie restoration Flower bloom during a summer month on prairie at Dunn Ranch near Eagleville, MO. © Hilary Haley/TNC

Places We Protect

Dunn Ranch Prairie

Missouri

Dunn Ranch Prairie boasts breathtaking views of expansive grasslands, a thriving bison herd, hundreds of vibrant wildflower species and over 100 species of birds.

Temperate grasslands are the least protected major habitat type on earth. Efforts to restore a tallgrass prairie landscape and provide critical corridors for wildlife are taking place at Dunn Ranch Prairie, which is part of the larger Grand River Grasslands region – incorporating more than 70,000 acres and spanning parts of Missouri and Iowa.

On the wide-open expanses of Dunn Ranch Prairie, prairie chickens still perform their colorful spring "booming", the upland sandpiper's ghostly call carries in the wind, regal fritillary butterflies alight on gorgeous coneflowers and bison roam across rolling hills. Grasslands are important not only for native species, but also for people. They clean our water, protect us from flooding, and store carbon in their roots.

In the entire Central Tallgrass Prairie Ecoregion, an area spanning 110,000 square miles and parts of six states, Dunn Ranch Prairie represents possibly the last chance to conserve a living landscape of tallgrass prairie on deep soil. Of the original 2,281-acre plot purchased by The Nature Conservancy, more than 1,000 acres have never been plowed.

History of Dunn Ranch Prairie

When the Dunn family homesteaded in northern Missouri 150 years ago, the land was miles of virgin bluestem and switchgrass — a sea of grass as far as the eye could see.

Through the years, the countryside changed. Most of the land was used for grazing cattle or turned into corn or wheat fields. The prairie grasslands diminished. By the mid-1900s, of the original 15 million acres of grassland in Missouri, only remnants of the original tallgrass remained.

In 1999, The Nature Conservancy purchased 2,281 acres from descendants of the Dunn family – and in 2019, Dunn Ranch Prairie celebrated its 20th year of restoration. 

Now at 3,258 acres, the prairie buzzes with activity as staff and volunteers re-seed native species, remove non-native plants, share insights with local farmers and teach area school children about the value of the land.

Throughout the years, TNC has collaborated with other conservation teams such as the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bison were introduced in 2011; the federally endangered Topeka shiner population has been re-established; and state endangered greater prairie-chicken’s breeding grounds have been restored.

Read more about the history of Dunn Ranch Prairie here.

ABOUT THE RESTORATION

In 1999, work to convert fields of fescue back to native tallgrass prairie began. Successful prairie plantings require regular prescribed burns and decades of work managing invasive species. Invasive plant species, such as fescue, Osage orange, honeysuckle, and locust trees threaten the open prairie.

Prescribed fire is used to recreate the effects of natural wildfires that historically occurred here. Fire benefits include releasing nutrients into the soil, spurring seeds to germinate, prompting flowers to bloom and controlling tree seedlings that encroach on the grassland. Since restoration efforts have begun, several native plant species have emerged that were previously unrecorded at the site, including sensitive briar, prairie milkweed, and shooting star.

Throughout the years, Dunn Ranch Prairie has become a hub for cutting-edge technology and research.  Dozens of studies, including bison and prairie chicken tracking, pollinator studies, soil health research, ongoing bird surveys and vegetation and grazing studies have taken place at the site.

In 2011, bison were reintroduced onto the prairie as a management tool to help maintain a biologically rich landscape. Bison behaviors, such as wallowing, tree horning and roaming while grazing, increases diversity in grassland species – while their grazing patterns and the way they trample the ground provides varying habitats for wildlife and nesting birds.

HUNTING

Limited hunting is allowed at Dunn Ranch Prairie and public access to the bison pastures is strictly prohibited. See hunting resources below or email missouri@tnc.org for more information. 

VISITING DUNN RANCH PRAIRIE

Dunn Ranch Prairie is open every day of the year from sunrise to sunset.

Whether you are looking to check some birds off your birding list or want to watch the iconic bison herd graze among fields of native prairie flowers – Dunn Ranch Prairie is the place for you. There is always something to see and every season brings a different perspective and beauty to the prairie; whether you visit in the summer during peak blooming months or in the winter when there is a hint of frost glistening on the plant stems. Dunn Ranch is home to over 300 species of native grasses, wildflowers, sedges and trees.

Informational kiosks are located around the preserve and various trails have been established for self-guided tours, allowing you to walk amongst the birds and pollinators.

For an immersive prairie experience, coordinate your visit on a day that we have a scheduled workday or event planned. We offer workdays and events throughout the year. Click the “Volunteer” tab for information about upcoming events and workdays.

Any time of the year can be a good time to visit Dunn Ranch Prairie:

  • Spring affords you wet conditions, migratory birds, booming prairie chickens, bison babies, spring wildflowers and the intense greening up of areas that have been burned using prescribed fire.
  • Summer allows you to enjoy the vast number, colors and shapes of our prairie wildflowers including the vibrant purple hues of prairie blazing star. Additionally, butterflies, dragonflies and other pollinators hum along the prairie.
  • Fall is when the prairie changes from greens to gold. Fields of showy goldenrod burst into bloom and provide an important nectar source for the migrating monarchs on their way to the overwintering sites in Mexico. The autumn sunlight captures the golden and maroon hues of seed heads on bluestems, Indian grass and other native grasses. 
  • Winter is crisp and cold on the prairie. The snow-covered bison continue to move around. Dried prairie forb seed heads appear as frost flowers across the plains.  Vast skies and rolling terrains are more evident parts of the landscape at this time.

CONDITIONS

The area is marked by high vegetation from late spring through fall. Large rolling hills make for a moderate hike. It is frequently windy, and spring can be very cool and breezy on the prairie. In summer it is often very hot, with little shade. Some areas of the preserve may be temporarily closed due to restoration efforts and while the bison units are closed to the public, they can be seen from other areas of the preserve.

Guests are encouraged to wear sturdy shoes, dress for the weather and bring water.

Visitors stop for a photo at Prairie Days at Dunn Ranch Prairie
Prairie Days Visitors stop for a photo at Prairie Days at Dunn Ranch Prairie © Kristy Stoyer/TNC

In the fall of 2011, TNC brought 30 bison to Dunn Ranch Prairie to help manage the landscape. The bison were relocated from existing TNC preserves in South Dakota (Slim Buttes Preserve) and Iowa (Broken Kettle Preserve). The bison are descendants of the Wind Cave National Park bison herd, which is one of only two herds in the United States that were never crossbred with cattle – making them genetically pure.

The herd has continued to expand since 2011, in part due to healthy breeding of the population.  In order to maintain genetic diversity, additional bison are periodically added to the herd from other TNC preserves, while some bison are sold each year.

Bison graze on dominant sedges and grasses and avoid broadleaf and flowering plants (called forbs); this results in a biologically rich prairie. Grazing also lowers the overall height of vegetation, and in doing so, provides habitat for rare birds such as the upland sandpiper. Additionally, when bison wallow, they create shallow depressions on the prairie, which fill with rainwater and can provide habitat for amphibians, reptiles, insects and early succession plants.

Today there are more than 200 bison at Dunn Ranch Prairie – grazing on 2,300 acres of prairie. The two pastures are divided almost equally into two 1,100 units.

The pasture is surrounded by 6-foot tall barbwire fence comprised of 7 strands of wire. For safety reasons, the public is not allowed to be in the pasture with the bison.

Bison Facts

  1. North America’s original bison population, estimated at 30-60 million, was reduced to near extinction in the late 1800s.  Today, bison have rebounded and number around 500,000, but only about 6,000 of these are genetically pure.
  2. Bison can grow to 6.5 feet in height, 10-12.5 feet in length, and adults can weigh 900-2,200 pounds or more.  They live an average of 20-25 years, but have been known to live up to 40 years.
  3. Bison are unpredictable. They often seem calm and peaceful, but have been known to attack without warning.
  4. Bison consume more than 30 pounds of vegetation per day, consisting mainly of grasses and sedges. Bison rarely overgraze a prairie because they constantly roam while grazing.
  5. Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour, can jump up to 6 feet high and more than 7 feet forward, and are strong swimmers.
  6. Bison like to wallow in wet or dry soil, covering themselves with mud or dust. Scientists suggest this may be to cool off, relieve skin irritation, shed fur, or simply to be playful.

Birding

Dunn Ranch Prairie plays host to birders from enthusiasts to novices who want to take in the sights and sounds of migrating and nesting birds. The prairie is listed on the Great Missouri Birding Trail and is a Hot Spot on the eBird online birding archive. If you’re at Dunn Ranch Prairie for a birding outing, please consider documenting what you find through the site. Or, enjoy viewing the list to see what species others have spotted recently.

Some commonly spotted birds include: Bobolink, Dickcissel, Henslow’s Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Yellowthroat.

Some lesser spotted species that have been documented include: Indigo Bunting, Brown Thrasher and the Orchard Oriole. 

Indigo bunting
Indigo bunting Indigo bunting © JanetandPhil via Creative Commons
Jelly Snack
Jelly Snack Female orchard Oriole..this oriole stopped by for some grape jelly! Taken this summer in my backyard..Louisiana! © Pam Garcia/TNC Photo Contest 2019

GREATER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN

Dunn Ranch Prairie is home to one of the last populations of the greater prairie chickens in the state. From 2013-2017, in partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, prairie chickens were relocated from Nebraska to Dunn Ranch Prairie. The species are now showing signs of resiliency from a low of only 3 birds found in the state in 2012. 

Viewing of the annual mating rituals of these birds has become a highly anticipated event not only for bird enthusiasts but also for the local community, schools and scouting groups.

TOPEKA SHINER

In 2013, in partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, over 3,330 hatchery-reared minnows of the federally endangered Topeka shiner were released into the headwaters of Little Creek on Dunn Ranch Prairie. This was a milestone in the decades-long effort to protect and restore a fish that evolved in and relies on healthy prairie streams to thrive.

Though Topeka shiners were once common throughout the prairie states, their numbers have continued to decline due to loss of habitat – as most native prairies are gone due to development and agriculture. In fact, at the lowest point, the Topeka shiner could only be found in two streams in Missouri.

In the Spring of 2018, another 1,000 minnows were released into Little Creek. Research over the past 5 years has shown thriving populations on Dunn Ranch, while other populations with less quality habitat are continuing to struggle. Restoration of Little Creek downstream of the headwaters on a newly acquired Conservancy property hopes to expand their habitat and allow their population to continue to grow.

OTHER WILDLIFE

Besides birds and minnows, the following wildlife species can be found at Dunn Ranch Prairie on any given day: deer, coyote, bobcats, rabbits, squirrels, over 30 species of ants, and much more. 

Greater Prairie Chicken
Greater Prairie Chicken Greater Prairie Chickens on Dunn Ranch Prairie. © Danny Brown
Greater Prairie Chicken Greater Prairie Chickens on Dunn Ranch Prairie. © Danny Brown

Volunteers play a critical role in helping us maintain our prairie. We have volunteer opportunities in a variety of shapes and sizes, for all ages and abilities. Join us in a way that suits you best. If you are interested in volunteering with us at Dunn Ranch Prairie, please sign up for our Volunteer Program and indicate in the comments box that you are interested in volunteering at Dunn Ranch Prairie.

Weekday Workdays

Throughout the growing season, we will host weekday workdays. This work will mostly include native seed collection with our TNC staff. For more information on the weekday workdays, contact Kristy Stoyer at kstoyer@tnc.org or join our Volunteer Program.

Dunn Ranch Prairie Trail Steward

Trail Stewards can select a Dunn Ranch Prairie trail to supervise. Duties include removing annual and biennial weeds by hand and reporting new invasive species to a Dunn Ranch Prairie staff member. Trail stewards should be able to commit to volunteering on average of once per month.

Dunn Ranch Prairie Photography Volunteer

Come out on your own time as a volunteer photographer for Dunn Ranch Prairie. Photos should be 1 MB or larger and shared digitally via flash drive or through an online sharing source with a Dunn Ranch Prairie staff member in a timely fashion. The flash drives can be returned once photos have been transferred.

*Visitors are always welcome to photograph Dunn Ranch Prairie and are not required to share their photos with us. This is just an opportunity for those who want to volunteer their talent with us.

If you have questions about volunteer opportunities or events at Dunn Ranch Prairie, please contact Kristy Stoyer at kstoyer@tnc.org.

We hope you enjoy a live look at Dunn Ranch Prairie. Throughout the year we will move the cameras to capture all the beauty that this landscape brings. From blooming prairie flowers and migrating monarchs to the iconic bison herd that roams the prairie hills.

The camera is currently streaming from our bison pasture. Spring is a great time to watch for bison calves following the herd around the prairie.

Dunn Ranch Prairie Has Gone Live! Discover the sights and sounds of Dunn Ranch Prairie - LIVE from Hatfield, MO!

Nature Disclaimer: This live stream is coming to you from the middle of a prairie and is subject to rain, wind, snow and multiple other elements and wildlife sightings...but that's part of the fun, right?


If there is no video on the live stream, we are either moving the cameras or experiencing technical difficulties. Please enjoy the highlights below and check back later!

Our work at Dunn Ranch Prairie is made possible by the generous support of our committed members. If you are interested in making a gift to support our work at Dunn Ranch Prairie, please contact Mona Monteleone at (314) 968-1105 X 1118 or at mona.monteleone@tnc.org. Additionally, you can mail a check to us at: The Nature Conservancy in Missouri; P.O. Box 440400, St. Louis, MO 63144 and include a note or write “Dunn Ranch Prairie” in the memo for your designation.

We thank you for your support. Together, we will make a world of difference. 

 

LIVE STREAM HIGHLIGHTS BELOW

Bison on the Prairie Watch as our bison herd make their way through the pasture with their spring calves frolicking along the way.
The Sounds of the Greater Prairie-Chicken Listen in as a group of state-endangered greater prairie-chickens gather on a lek at TNC's Dunn Ranch Prairie in Hatfield, MO.
Snowy Morning on the Lek State-endangered greater-prairie chickens spend a snowy morning on The Nature Conservancy's Dunn Ranch Prairie lek in Missouri.
Special guests join the lek - 4.19.20 Watch as some special guests make their way across the greater prairie-chicken's lek at The Nature Conservancy's Dunn Ranch Prairie.

You Can Support Dunn Ranch Prairie

We rely on the generous support of individuals like you to continue our work at Dunn Ranch Prairie and around the state. Now is your chance to give back to nature.