The Frustration of Present Day Prairie Preservation

As a person who cares about tallgrass prairies, it is frustrating as hell to to live in the present. Put me in a time machine and send me back to 1870’s Iowa and I could understand the feelings of pioneers as they worked to plow the virgin prairies to farm the land and support their families. These people did not hate the prairie, and they would probably be more inclined than present day man to feel its loss.

In the present, we have lost our connection to the prairie and nature in general. Most people have never known the prairie, so I can’t blame them if they don’t recognize its value in those situations where they actually encounter the shattered prairie remnants that exist. My frustration is not with these people.

My deepest frustration is with the people and organizations that profess to be environmentalists, yet miss opportunites to really make a difference. Without land ownership, there is no habitat. Without habitat, there is no nature.

Many environmental organizations have decent “hearts”. Many spend all of their resources lobbying Congress or engage in lawsuits to stop the destruction of natural resources. Certainly, these activities have value. But without protected habitat, species never have and never will survive.

For the tallgrass prairie, the opportunity to save the ecosystem was lost nearly a century ago. The only hope for the prairie now is for restoration. Many prairie enthusiasts and those who command resources to buy habitat or land for restoration often see prairie restorations as “second class citizens”. They say that no prairie restoration can truly replace a virgin prairie. Agreed. But if a meticulous prairie restoration restores 100+ plant species on the scale of hundreds or thousands of acres to restore a “functional” prairie ecosystem, shouldn’t this be our goal? The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is an example of something large scale.

The best and only sensical model to restore the tallgrass prairie to its rightful role as a functional ecosytem is to buy land, meticulously restore the prairie, then repeat. The frustration is that the will and desire to do this is missing from most environmental organizations.

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