The South Puget Sound Prairies

Private Connections, Public Benefits

Prairie Day also helps cultivate an emerging community of conservationists, which increasingly includes farmers, ranchers and other landowners. From local farmer, Karen Thelan, who is voluntarily restoring oak woodlands on her 18-acre property, to Dale Rutledge’s constant care for the land, landowners are helping to restore the beauty, integrity and biodiversity of the South Puget Sound landscape.

“We try to use a variety of tools to work with local landowners,” said the Conservancy’s Eric Devlin. “We have tools like conservation easements that can help people protect their land forever. Or sometimes we work with landowners to purchase their property to turn it into a nature preserve.”

Another project invites the owners of farms, woodlots and ranches into the conservation fold, encouraging the owners of productive landscapes to consider the ways in which nature preserves and “working lands” can not only co-exist, but can find ways to really support each other.”

There are a lot of different uses of private lands that “are not in any way contradictory to ecological values that exist on more traditional protected areas,” Devlin said.

As landscapes become ever more fragmented by rapid development, for example, it is increasingly important to connect one prairie preserve to another. Private landowners, says Devlin, can provide the open spaces that connect small, isolated prairie preserves into much larger protected areas.

“From an ecological perspective, it’s important for species and places not to get too isolated. Lot’s of species need to be able to move across landscapes, so if they can move to a similar habitat, then they are better able to survive and multiply and thrive.”

“Working farms, working forests, people’s backyards can all be places that rare and common species that are important for the integrity of the prairie ecosystem can really thrive.”

Ideally, the various prairie preserves in the South Puget Sound region will one day be linked by conservation easements, working landscapes and protected corridors, creating a connected mosaic of healthy habitats.

Looking even further ahead, as many conservation biologists are, one can imagine a much larger vision of eco-regional connectivity. Linda Storm notes that western Washington and Canada, prior to the 1830s, was a landscape of “expansive prairie and oak woodlands…managed and maintained by Native American burning and harvesting practices.” The integrity of the eco-region extended from Oregon’s Willamette Valley through the Puget Sound region and north to the Georgia Basin – a grand, intact, healthy landscape.

It’s an inspiring vision, to be sure. But, perhaps for now, we might do as Dale Rutledge does and take solace in a satisfying connection to our own little corner of the world – to our own sentiment for the nearby land.

“Having lived here 87 years,” he said, speaking of his South Sound farm, “it does seem like home.”

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