The prairie during a period of drought.
The present prairie ecosystem is influenced and impacted by several different environmental factors. Airborne pollution rides in on the prairie wind from metropolis and industrial areas. The water quality of the many lakes, streams and tributaries can be compromised by runoff from pesticides used in agriculture.
When we factor in climate change, urban sprawl, and the flat unobstructed prairie geology, it becomes apparent that this last stand of tallgrass prairie is profoundly effected by a variety of potential ecological issues.
For thousands of years, climate and drainage patterns of the Flint Hills geology nurtured the prairie grasses and forbs. Consequentially, these forces created features that were integral in supporting animal and human life. Drawn to the land by its rich natural resources, humans used the bounty they found here to further shape the land.
Early hunter-gatherers were profoundly connected to the prairie landscape. They followed the great herds of bison in a natural ebb and flow. Following these herds guaranteed the sustenance of these early societies. In many ways today’s ranchers and prairie residents mimic this reliance on the land. Grazing animals such as buffalo or cattle are a necessary component of prairie ecology. Yet overgrazing can diminish the leaf area that conducts photosynthesis and alter the next years growth of plants.
In an effort to better control how the prairie sustains us, we humans have taken on an incredible responsibility. We have learned many lessons. Technological advances produce greater yields of preferred domestic food crops, protein, and fiber. Science has shown us how these methods can drastically effect and change an entire ecosystem within a very small window of time.
The first people’s methods of exploitation relied heavily on natural cycles of which they had very little control. Today’s modern techniques of farming, ranching, and industry require much more human interaction, control, and maintenance. Subsequently, we impact ecosystems to a greater degree.
Though it is evident that North American Indians increased the predictability of bison herd locations by burning the prairie, this was not prolific or centralized enough to drastically effect patterns in air, water, and land. As with all types of ecosystems, balance is necessary to maintain the health of this last stand of tallgrass prairie.