The Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest (39,650 acres) protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth. Due to urban sprawl and conversion to cropland, this ecoregion, originally spanning across 14 states from Texas to Minnesota, have left less than 4% remaining of this magnificent landscape
Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma has proven successful at restoring this fully-functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of 2,500 free-ranging 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.
Conservation In Action
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 730 prescribed burns have been conducted totaling 354,000 acres. In addition we have assisted neighboring ranches burn 518,000 acres and helped them suppress 127 wildfires.
In addition to using prescribed burns on our preserve, we offer offer conservation-minded ranchers an alternative to traditional grazing practices. Conservancy staff have conducted several "patch-burn" workshops with local 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. Beyond alternative grazing practices, we offer to hold conservation easements for land owners who would like to ensure the preservation of their property.
Research On the Ground
Dozens of research initiatives are active on the preserve and over 180 publications in scientific journals have been published with findings from the preserve. The Tallgrass Prairie Ecological Research Station was completed in 2004. This state-of-the-art facility offers field researchers the opportunity to conduct extended studies and initiate laboratory analysis for rangeland research. The research station is also utilized as a workshop destination for university students, researchers and conservation professionals from across the United States.