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Old 07-03-2018, 11:46 AM   #1
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Default Saving America's Broken Prairie.

This is a long article but well worth the time invested. I wasn't sure where to place but Natural History seemed good.


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“It is not enough … to think of different species merely as ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves.”
https://undark.org/article/saving-am...roken-prairie/

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Here’s a long list of these kinds of sustainable farming practices, and none of them are new. The Romans rotated their crops. Thomas Jefferson wrote of cycling through wheat, clover, peas, corn, and potatoes in the hope that “my fields will recover their pristine fertility, which had in some of them been completely exhausted by perpetual crops of Indian corn and wheat alternately.” The rise of mechanized farming and synthetic fertilizers in the mid-20th century helped to erode these practices. Geopolitics played a role, too. By supplying food to the rest of the world, the U.S. sought to gain leverage at the negotiating table. “Food is power,” as former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz put it in 1974. “Food is a weapon.” Farming got bigger, more specialized, and more industrialized.

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Decades of work by tribal leaders — along with the intervention of a conservation-minded president Theodore Roosevelt and an intrepid zoologist William Temple Hornaday rescued the animal from complete annihilation. Today, some 500,000 bison live across North America, though the vast majority are raised for meat and have been interbred with cattle. Last year, the federal government declared bison the national mammal.
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Last August, Jay Stacy, a longtime volunteer steward at Nachusa, took me to the piece of prairie restoration to which he tends. In a bumpy four-by-four, we drove through what he called an “almost sterile” cornfield to a ridge full of little bluestem, side-oats grama, prairie clover, leadplant, thimbleweed, and baptisias. The pastiche of colors and textures somehow looked right, but I don’t know why. Stacy, in between drags on a Marlboro, explained to me how they revert cropland back to grassland. The bad news about being a conservationist in Illinois is that there is very little grass left to conserve. The good news is that you can work on offense rather than defense. Where Shook looks to hang onto what native grass is left in North Dakota, Stacy and his cohort in Illinois eye the corn across the road to see if they might buy it and turn it into something like what it was.
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Some neighbors might call that a waste. What good is grass in a field that could grow calories for us to consume? If we don’t maximize production, how will we feed the nearly 10 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050? Perhaps paradoxically, the expansion of cropland “may actually be undermining the very agricultural productivity it seeks to gain,” write the authors of the Environmental Review Letters study. Compared to cropland, grasslands “harbor significantly greater plant, microbial, and animal diversity, and generate higher levels of nearly all agriculturally vital ecosystem services, including pest suppression and pollination.
” To break prairie, then, is to dismantle the very supply chain that underpins American agricultural abundance.


David J. Unger is a Chicago-based writer and reporter who has written for Midwest Energy News, InsideClimate News, The Christian Science Monitor, The Atlantic and other outlets. Previously, he was the energy editor at The Christian Science Monitor in Boston, where he wrote and edited stories about the global energy transition toward cleaner fuels.
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Old 07-03-2018, 12:27 PM   #2
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Thank you for sharing. For now, I just read through the quotes.

Restoration is great...I hope more people see the value in it--but, the more I read, the more I realize that the remaining prairies must be preserved; restorations do not have the same depth of ecological features/species that the original have. I hope we can do both, preserve and restore.
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Old 07-03-2018, 04:25 PM   #3
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I often think about the restoration vs reconstruction aspect of prairies.


In my neck of the woods, errr, I mean in my neck of the prairie there is really nothing left save and all thats left is a few large Burr Oaks here and there. All the land around these old sentinels is either crop fields or have grown into woodlots. I don't know for sure but I'd guess just by looking at what is growing now I'm in an area that was mixed Savanna and woodlot before settlement times. I find it very sad all the Savanna is gone around here.



If all your going to do is try and save what is left I feel your fighting a loosing battle. Very little is left, less 1% I'd bet. If on the other hand your trying to reconstruct what is now crop land, over grown field or brushy woodlot you can at least expand the flora to other places that have little to no diversity from the vast majority of the land.


I also have notice to a old timer like me when I was young there were no prairies around. Over grown crop field was as close as I ever saw. Now within a couple of dozen miles there are several reconstructed prairies that are mostly owned by the state. Some private. Most are just seeded and left to there own devices. Some are already getting invaded with brush/trees and need some help.



I'm trying to convert approx 4 acres of overgrown crop land back to prairie. The more I study and the more I read the more discouraged I get. I don't have the resources (time, knowledge and or money) to do a good job of it. So I have consigned myself into planting these couple of acres and working on them as I can. I look for little wins and let it go at that.



One of the biggest help would be knowledgeable people that could help with learning and improving my knowledge. Reading is fine but this old dog learns best by seeing.
If you point out a plant in front of me and tell me what it is its recorded in my brain, looking at books trying to ID a plant is very time consuming and in the end is not positive in lots of cases.
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Old 07-03-2018, 06:28 PM   #4
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Weedy feilds,

I commend you for your 4 acre project. Fantastic!

I am all for restoration/reconstruction...it is vital. My concern is that I read (here on WG, I believe) that a 40 year old prairie restoration still did not support some of the more rare/conservative species. I would just hate to see the remaining intact prairie (even if it is only 1%) lost.

A restoration, though somewhat incomplete, will preserve so many species of flora as well as the fauna that depend upon them.

I am in the Mid-Atlantic region...and have little knowledge of actual prairies. [I have visited a remnant prairie on the western part of the state (Pennsylvania).] Although my region is not known for prairie, I am trying to create a native meadow/grassland with native grasses, sedges, forbs, etc. Everyone knows to "plant a tree"...but I fear the native grasslands and the wildflowers that grow in them need to be restored here as well. Despite the idea that we were all forest, it seems to be there were always clearings from downed trees, fires, natural succession of pond to wet meadow, rocky ground to meadow, etc.
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Old 07-04-2018, 07:22 AM   #5
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The article was a good read, although not all that encouraging. You'd think crop rotation and soil conservation would be standard practice by now. Economically depressed communities need a better solution than corn to ethanol plants and farming subsidies. I see articles on Reuters occasionally about surplus wheat and corn rotting in grain depots because of surplus, market volatility, and other factors. Im trying not to make this post political but politics and economics are clearly a huge part of the problem, while properly valuing wild open spaces is part of the solution.

Preservation of the tiny swaths of remaining undisturbed or old growth land should be number 1, because these systems are irreplaceable. They give us a view of how the ecosystem functioned and provide a source of genetics to draw from. Restoration/improvement needs a big PR boost. I say improvement because, especially here in the east where invasives are the predominant pioneer vegetation after disturbance, I dont think its possible to reconstruct the ecosystem that existed before. Its not impossible for a landowner with an acre to improve it, but it gets daunting when you see miles and miles of invasive vegetation along the highway.
We have to try to restore biological function to our landscapes by adding more natives back in and creating semi-stable plant communities, while keeping our expectations of the outcome grounded in reality. Obviously a forest should develop in most parts of the east coast if left alone, but in situations where human interests demand other types of land, beneficial, manageable plant communities need to be deployed.

People know this, the best we can do is support and amplify those voice where we can, at appropriate times, and do our part in our little pieces of the world to put it into practice.
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Old 07-04-2018, 09:54 AM   #6
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Very well stated, skip.
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Old 07-04-2018, 10:54 AM   #7
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Another thought.
I know its not ideal but I think that there are other solutions between the all of restoration or reconstruction to the nothing of cropland.



About 25 years ago at the last place we lived at I planted a small prairie garden. I used potted plants.

I also planted maybe 4 dozen plants of maybe 12 different varieties out in an overgrown field.
What I noticed after 25 years with no maintenance or help is over half of the plants spread or even took over areas. Some maybe even would be considered weedy. Cup Plant is a great example of becoming "weedy".

The rest just stayed put but grew to a large and impressive plant over the years.


One of the fields where we live now was a hay field when I bought the place. So after seeing how the plants slugged it out with the competition at the old place I transplanted about 200 plants from the old place to the new place. Some were the ones I planted, some were the offspring of things I planted 25 years ago and a few where other native plants that I found on my old place. I added to this with maybe 100 potted plants that I bought. I also harvested maybe 2-3 gallons of seed at a local reconstructed prairie that I then spread on the more gravelly areas with less vegetation on them. So after only 3 years of letting this old hay field go it has a lots of native plants. Some I put there, some came back after the mowing stopped. Already I can see that some are spreading, some are growing into large clumps one or two will never amount to much. I get great enjoyment seeing the changes and improvements. And it has been dramatic in places. I'm going to continually add different species every year or plant more of stuff that seems to enjoy where I have planted it.


It'll never be a pristine prairie but it will be a small chunk of land with lots of diversity and native plants. Still will be lots of weeds and non-natives but its the best I can do.


I think that small 1/4 acre or larger areas similar to mine would be a step in the right direction.
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Old 07-10-2018, 08:38 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by weedy feilds View Post
...It'll never be a pristine prairie but it will be a small chunk of land with lots of diversity and native plants. Still will be lots of weeds and non-natives but its the best I can do.


I think that small 1/4 acre or larger areas similar to mine would be a step in the right direction.
Definitely a step in the right direction. It is a happy medium that brings diversity and supports a lot of wildlife, I'm sure

Are you adding any native grasses to the mix...or only forbs?

I am finding that I may need to plant out native grasses and get them established before adding many native wildflowers. Planting them together seems to give the wildflowers a head start and they may be suppressing the grasses. My sections are too small and two few for me to be certain...but, as much as I love the color and variety of the flowers, I'm missing the native grasses.
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Old 07-11-2018, 05:22 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by dapjwy View Post
Definitely a step in the right direction. It is a happy medium that brings diversity and supports a lot of wildlife, I'm sure

Are you adding any native grasses to the mix...or only forbs?

I am finding that I may need to plant out native grasses and get them established before adding many native wildflowers. Planting them together seems to give the wildflowers a head start and they may be suppressing the grasses. My sections are too small and two few for me to be certain...but, as much as I love the color and variety of the flowers, I'm missing the native grasses.

I'm planting Grasses and forbs, also a few sedges for good measure


I guess it all depends when you plant, spring favors Grasses, fall favors flowers.
What you plant and how your mixes are made up.
What percent are flowers and what are grasses.
How you manage it, burning favors grasses.
Some of your flowers may diminish as times go by, they might get out competed by other flowers or grasses. If you have a really dry year some flowers might get knocked back. A real wet year and some flowers maybe more in profussion, till a dry year.
Flowers that are early in the succession of things, you will see them first and they won't usually last. Some may not bloom for 5 years or more even tho they are there.


Mix that all in and be sure you have a large variety of grasses/forb/sedges and I'm sure you'll know just what to expect!



Lot to it. I'm no expert, I just have a lot of time in.

I used mixes from Prairie Moon.



Have fun, enjoy the ride, and realize that it will always be an evolving thing that you can only control so much, Mother Nature will have her way with your gardens.
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