Iowa's Prairies were some of the richest soils in the world, large mammals roamed the land in large numbers and they thrived. Over hunting and modern agriculture took a toll on this beautiful landscape, but efforts are being done to try and restore this magnificent area.
This article explains in detail what is being done and the history of the area. Enjoy!
Project type: Tallgrass Prairie and Oak Savanna Restorations
Location: Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Near Prairie City, Iowa [open Google map]
Status: Open to public, restoration efforts ongoing
Trained dogs that sniff out invasive plants, a combine that harvests prairie seed, bugle calls that can help locate the site's elk herd. A 30-minute chat with a maintenance man yielded nothing but interesting stories and fun facts. It was probably the best introduction to Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge (NSNWR) I could've hoped for. Mr. de Bruin was his name, a lifetime local, avid outdoorsman and wealth of wisdom on local ecology. He was also kind enough to keep me entertained while I waited for the Learning Center to open. With waving tallgrass and a rising orange sun as his backdrop, he shared lesson after lesson on prairie restoration.
At NSNWR they had learned many the hard way. They learned that cutting and spraying was only effective against certain invasives, while others like black locust needed to be girdled; they learned that bluestem seeds should be sowed onto snow, since they'd have no chance if sowed into competition come springtime. What I found most interesting was their protocol for converting farmlands to prairie. Some portions of the Refuge continued to be farmed (up until as recently as 2014) not just as a source of funding, but also as a place holder. If too much farmland was converted too quickly—more than the eight employees could manage—they would be stuck with fields of weeds and prolonged struggles.
This article reviews NSNWR and its restoration of tallgrass prairie, Iowa's historically dominant yet currently endangered ecosystem. Prior to settlement, prairie covered 30 million acres, or 85% of Iowa. Only 30 thousand acres remain, less than one tenth of one percent. 300 of these remnant acres have been restored at NSNWR. Another 3,000 are being reconstructed from farmland, making it the largest tallgrass prairie reconstruction site in the world.