“If you build it, they will come.”

Life quickly returns to restored tallgrass prairie. Like the adage from the movie “Field of Dreams”- “If you build it, they will come.”

Case in point, the relatively miniscule four acre prairie my family and I restored in rural North Central Iowa starting in 1988. In 1988, this same plot consisted of a barren field of corn stubble. Historic records indicate that the land was tallgrass prairie; first broken around 1870. After a 118 year absence, the prairie “sons” returned home. Compass plant, pale purple coneflower, rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, big bluestem and other prairie seed was sown. Plants unfamiliar to the 1980’s farmer. As foreign to him as surely the modern day multi-generational high yielding corn hybrids would have been to the Civil War veteran who first broke the prairie sod here so long ago.

Within two years, the first true prairie natives flowered after a centuries absence. Over twenty years later and with the help of the prairie’s fire ally, the restored prairie thrives. The prairie holds no grudges against man.

Compass plants tower over me at 8 feet. A rich tapestry of colorful flowers at every turn. Dickcissels, Western Meadowlarks, yellowthroat warblers, and song sparrows fill the restored prairie with their songs. Spring and Fall migrations have brought golden plovers and upland sandpipers. The summer prairie teems with insects and butterflies. The drone of bees fills the air. Cottontail rabbits and leopard frogs duck in the prairie grass for cover as I approach. Not bad for a former dismal, lifeless field of corn stubble.

“If you build it, they will come.”

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A New Beginning

The vast unbroken tall grass prairie that blanketed Iowa is gone. Hopelessly lost forever to the plow and the herbicides that followed. What little is left exists in fragments, like tiny specks in a sea of corn, soybeans, and ditches of smooth brome grass and other non-native species that man introduced to replace the prairie.

The fragments and preserves of tall grass prairie continue to be chipped away year by year by more plowing, herbicides, and neglect. Fragments of true prairie that Ada Hayden measured in acres can now be measured in square feet. Mankind has still not widely recognized the value of tall grass prairie, and so it continues to evaporate from the face of the Earth.

The ONLY hope for the tall grass prairie and its plant and animal species is to RESTORE the tall grass prairie. There are no other viable option because virgin aces of tall grass prairie no longer exist to be preserved. This is a new beginning in terms of prairie preservation.

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