Western Prairie Scientific and Natural Area is home to a population of greater prairie chickens, a bird the Conservancy is committed to helping. Best known for their spectacular courtship and mating rituals, this chicken-sized bird once numbered in the millions. Its populations in many parts of the United States are imperiled. Minnesota’s populations of this bird, however, are rebounding.
This preserve, along with the nearby Richard M. & Mathilde Rice Elliot Scientific and Natural Area, combine to create 817 acres of habitat for this bird.
Western Prairie lies in what once was the bottom of the ancient glacial Lake Agassiz, which was the largest freshwater lake in the world. As glaciers receded, the lake disappeared, leaving behind an organically rich alkaline soil that eventually supported extensive prairies. Today, sedge meadows cover nearly 50 percent of the natural area, with wet and mesic prairie communities covering the rest.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
The Conservancy acquired Western Prairie because it supports a remnant population of greater prairie chickens, a grassland bird that the Conservancy is working with its partners to help. Nearby state-owned wildlife management areas—Altherton and Rothsay—provide additional habitat for this rare bird.
This natural area also features a tallgrass prairie with few exotic plants, a natural community that is rare in Minnesota and throughout the United States.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
Conservancy stewards use periodic controlled fire to maintain this site as an open grassland. Woody species can become dominant without the presence of these burns.
Occasional mowing of sweet clover prevents this introduced legume from setting seed and reduces its presence over time.
Numerous private landowners in the immediate area have enrolled their wetland areas in the federal Wetland Reserve Program, assuring their protection for future generations of waterfowl and other wetland and grassland dependant species.