Prognosis for the Future

Prognosis for the Future

In the past 60 years, many public and private landowners, ecologists, foresters, and wildlife managers have recognized the very poor condition of tallgrass prairie. Given its early disappearance from the American landscape, and despite some foundational work by ecologists, it has been difficult to reconstruct some aspects of the prairie processes, including fire dynamics, role of grazers, etc. But much has been learned from the early and ongoing efforts at restoration

Conservation efforts vary widely depending on the extent of the area and surrounding land use.  Larger areas of remaining tallgrass are managed using a variety of techniques including prescribed burning, selective grazing, and seeding of native species.  Smaller remnants can become refuges for threatened or endangered species so their management is handled differently.  All these remnants are under constant pressure from surrounding urban, agriculture or forested areas.  Invasive species are a particular concern.  Much of current conservation efforts also center around prairie restoration by identifying suitable areas and then seeding them with native tallgrass species.  These restorations take considerable time and active management, and it may be several years before it is known if these restoration efforts are successful. 

Although restoration and conservation efforts are occurring across the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, it is a daunting task.  The majority of tallgrass prairie was converted to agriculture and remains plowed.  Other areas are heavily grazed or largely invaded by exotic species.  Of the vast stretches of tallgrass prairie found throughout the Great Plains and Midwest prior to European settlement, only approximately 4% remains.  Most of larger tracts of this remaining tallgrass prairie are found in areas such as the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma and on glacial moraines in Minnesota and the Dakotas.  These areas were unsuitable for crop production and therefore spared the plow. The majority of other tallgrass prairie left is found in small, scattered, protected remnants surrounded by agricultural or urban development.  Many of these remnants are in poor shape and often are focus areas for restoration or conservation.

A Conservation Success Story – The Tallgrass Legacy Project, Kansas

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