Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More Information about Tallgrass Prairies

Interested in learning more about tallgrass prairies? It’s something you really should know about if you live in Missouri. Before the arrival of white settlers, about one-third of this state was prairie land—nearly 15 million acres. Today, less than one-half of 1 percent remains of our state’s native presettlement prairies. The rest has been turned into cropland or “developed” in some other way.

The plants and animals that live (or lived) on our prairies were here for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. It’s a shame, a real tragedy, that so much of our natural legacy has quite literally been “plowed under.” We’ve got to act to keep the rest from disappearing.

Here’s an idea: Like I did several years, ago, make it your project, this year, to adopt a prairie for yourself. Springtime is the perfect time to start. Look at some of the links below and pick a prairie that’s near you. Then go visit it every month or so. Wander around in it. Take notes. Ask questions and look things up. Learn, and cultivate your appreciation for these places. (Trust me, this is much more fun than television, movies, or anything else that appears on a “screen.”)

Here are some good places to start learning about the tallgrass prairie.

General Books

The big classic, which gives you the true soul of the prairie, is John Madson, Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie (1982; reprint, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004). This is simply required reading.

A shorter and breezier, more journalistic approach, with a punchier environmental message and more updated information on politics and restoration efforts, is Richard Manning’s manifesto, Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie (New York: Penguin, 1997).

Wildflower Guidebooks

A book that focuses only on species of the tallgrass prairie, and which is most helpful if you’re exploring grasslands from Manitoba south to Oklahoma and Nebraska east to Indiana and even parts of Ohio and Kentucky, is Doug Ladd and Frank Oberle’s Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers (2d ed., Guilford, Conn.: Globe Pequot, 2005).

Perhaps an overall handier book for you, if you’re in Missouri, is the Conservation Department’s best-selling Missouri Wildflowers, by Edgar Denison, now in its sixth edition. It’s available for a measly $12 from the MDC, and it covers hundreds of species commonly found throughout the state, including the prairies, Ozarks, roadsides, Bootheel swamps, and so on. This book belongs on every Missourian’s bookshelf, or, better, glove compartment or knapsack.

Organizations and State Agencies

I also encourage you to check into the Missouri Prairie Foundation, a group that includes many specialists, but also nature lovers like you and me. They work to save what’s left of our state’s native prairies, by acquiring prairies. They also focus on management, education, and research. Look at their Web site to see their list of upcoming events—some of these, even the “work days,” look extremely fun! And joining the foundation helps more than the prairies—it’s good for your soul.

A group that’s endlessly interested in plants (which means it has a great interest in prairies) is the Missouri Native Plant Society. There are several chapters in the state, and there’s a good chance one is near you. In addition to the statewide meetings and activities, the local chapters tend to have a lot of fun activities: Field trips led by experts, native plant sales, interesting speakers on a wide array of topics, habitat restoration, workshops, and more. Annual dues is only, like, $15 or $20, and you will learn a lot as a member.

The Web sites of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources are also good places to get information about the prairies of Missouri—where the public prairies are located, how the various prairie species are faring, how to create and maintain your own patch of prairie, and so on. Together, the DNR and MDC are charged with caring for the state’s prairie resources, the land and the organisms that live there.

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