Missouri

Dunn Ranch Prairie

Dunn Ranch Prairie is a restored piece of America’s natural heritage and a hub for restoration technology and research.


Bringing Back Bison

Watch the story of the bison reintroduction at Dunn Ranch Prairie unfold.

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Dunn Ranch Prairie by the Numbers

  • 3,258: Number of acres
  • 100: Percent planted with native seed
  • 91: Number of bison
  • 10,000: Pounds of seed harvested annually
  • < 1: Percent of native tallgrass prairie left in Missouri

Native grasslands, like Dunn Ranch Prairie in northwest Missouri, are the landscape of America's heartland. Prairies are important for wildlife habitat, carbon storage, and flood control. They also help clean our water by slowing runoff and erosion, and they stay healthy and green even during times of extreme drought - providing a food source for livestock and pollinators. New technology is even looking at using grasses as a source of biofuels (see page 5 of our 2014 Missouri Update to read more).

Today fewer than 1 percent of our native tallgrass prairies remain, making them the most endangered, least protected habitat type on Earth. The Nature Conservancy is working to restore and connect existing prairies through direct land management and by bringing prairie restoration to private lands.

Restoring Dunn Ranch Prairie

Located in the 70,000-acre Grand River Grasslands, Dunn Ranch Prairie is the best opportunity in to restore a fully functioning tallgrass prairie in the region. Remarkably, almost 1,000 acres have never been plowed, and the topsoil is 40 inches deep in most places.

Over the past fifteen years, the Conservancy has worked to return the prairie to its original splendor. Hundreds of trees were removed, a seed nursery and processing facility were established, and surrounding acres have been protected through direct purchase and conservation easements.

Each year, staff harvests and processes over 10,000 pounds of native seed to be planted in the spring. A bison herd, reintroduced in 2011, helps keep the prairie in balance: the herd's selective grazing benefits all native prairie plants and animals. Prescribed fires are also an important management tool, as they safely replicate fire cycles that were historically present on the prairie.

Species that were previously unknown at the site have emerged, such as sensitive briar, purple giant hyssop, shooting star, and eared false foxglove. Dunn Ranch Prairie is home to one of the last populations of greater prairie-chickens in Missouri, and federally endangered Topeka shiners (a small minnow) were reintroduced to restored prairie headwater streams last year. A recent study* gave Dunn Ranch Prairie the highest bird-friendliness score of all surveyed Missouri prairies.

Research

The remarkable restoration results have made Dunn Ranch an ideal location for a variety of research studies. Scientists are examining topics including pollinator health, the impacts of fire and bison, the habitat needs of native birds, and plant adaptation to climate change.

Community

Restoration work at Dunn Ranch Prairie is closely connected with the local community. Much of the surrounding landscape is privately owned; the help of nearby landowners is essential for the successful recovery of native grassland birds and other wildlife. Dunn Ranch staff works with neighbors to put management practices in place that benefit crops, livestock, and native prairie species.

Additionally, engaging educational opportunities abound for children and adults alike. School groups and community members often visit to enjoy the scenery, catch a glimpse of the bison herd, or simply to explore.

Dunn Ranch Prairie contributes to the local economy by working with nearby contractors, vendors, and producers. The site draws hundreds of tourists annually who patronize local businesses. Although tax exempt, the Conservancy voluntarily pays property taxes.

Looking Ahead

Work is ongoing and the site continues to expand. The bison herd will grow to about 350 head, and annual seedings will further increase plant diversity. Staff will continue to work with neighbors to improve migratory corridors for grassland birds.

To visit this restored piece of America’s natural heritage or to learn how you can help, contact our Dunn Ranch office at (660) 867-3866. 

Want to Visit?

Check out http://on.mo.gov/2lH0NZQ to learn more about prairie chickens in Missouri. To register for a prairie chicken viewing, contact MDC's Northwest Regional Office in St. Joseph, 816-271-3100. Guests will be sent a registration packet with maps, times, notes about photography and instructions on what to bring.  

*2014 Missouri River Bird Observatory Breeding Grassland Bird Report

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