Introduction to Prairie Restoration
The prairies of North America were once vast grasslands that covered 200 million acres, a complex ecosystem supporting a large amount of wildlife. Today, less than one percent of that native habitat is left. In restoring the prairie, we are restoring our heritage and supporting an impressive and complicated habitat, that supports wildlife and is attractive to the eye.
Imagine a sea of golden grass bending in the wind as far as the eye can see, cranes soaring through the air while a herd of bison graze in the distance. The butterflies are floating from flower to flower, their wings shining in the sun. If you look closely, you will notice many species of grasses and forbs (wildflowers). You may even see a gopher, or perhaps a hawk will swoop out of the air in pursuit of a mouse. It's difficult to imagine, but the prairies of yesterday must have been magnificent.Why is prairie restoration important?
Prairie restoration enhances the environment. It increases the abundance of native plants, increase ecological diversity, and therefore creates habitats for native animals and insects. Prairies absorb a lot of rain, reducing erosion and runoff.
Settlers turned the productive soils of the prairie into farmland and later into urban areas, lawns, industry, and other uses. Settlers reduced the numbers of large grazers, such as caribou and bison. Grazers were a very important part of maintaining the prairie. The settlers suppressed fire, one of the most important parts of maintaining a prairie.
Did You Know?
At Lake Itasca, the elevation of the Mississippi River is 1,475 feet above sea level. It drops to sea level at the Gulf of Mexico. More than half of that drop occurs within the state of Minnesota.