NATIONAL PRAIRIE DAY
On the first Saturday of June, we recognize one of the richest ecosystems on the face of the earth with National Prairie Day. In North America, the prairies are at the heart of the continent.
A wide swath of central North America comprises flat grassland running from the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan down to Texas. Prairies provide homes to a wide variety of wildlife including prairie dogs, prairie chickens, buffalo, bison, elk, deer, rabbits, hawks, and foxes. They are also home to diverse native prairie plantings offering year-round food, shelter, and nesting grounds for habitat.
What took thousands of years to form approximately 170 million acres has been reduced in the last 150 years to 1 percent of habitat. Where once a vast and un-numbered variety of species thrived, the fertile soil now produces bumper crops of wheat, sorghum, flax, rye, and oats.
As a result, we’ve lost complex established ecosystems that once supported precious native birds, pollinators, insects, and other native wildlife. Habitat loss contributes to extinctions. However, what remains is still teeming with diverse flora and fauna species. Many of these species are endangered of becoming extinct and some still yet to be discovered and identified. Amazingly, original tracts of undisturbed prairie serve as living ecological and native American cultural research stations. These models of precious ecosystems with genetic resources continue to be studied, their ecological worth, and economic benefits yet to be realized.
National Prairie Day creates a chance to educate the public about preservation, conservation, and restoration. It also teaches us about the history, wildlife, and habitats of the prairie. Understanding the prairie means looking beyond what often initially appears simple and learningat each form of life that thrives within it. It also means comprehending complex systems we can learn from and ensuring our future. The natural beauty of prairies can be breathtaking, too. Today’s “amber waves of grain” were created from the fertile soil of these oceans of grasslands. They were were once tall enough to hide a man on horseback! Prairies inspired the paintings of Harvey Dunn in South Dakota, poetry from Walt Whitman, and books from authors such as Laura Ingalls Wilder in Missouri.
Measurable Interrelated Benefits of Prairie Include:
Water Quality and Quantity Protection:
- Prairies absorb up to seven inches of rain without runoff.
- Prairie plants are adapted to drought; It’s like having drought insurance.
- They offer watershed protection.
- Prairies also increase water infiltration and water yield, increase water supply by reducing erosion and reservoir sedimentation.
- Because fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides aren’t used on these natural habitats, they increase water quality.
- Stormwater management on the prairie acts as a sponge that curbs soil erosion and flooding.
Soil Quality and Quantity Protection:
- Prairie soil microbes can also reduce the amount of synthetic chemicals used in agriculture.
- The root systems of native prairie grasses firmly hold soil in place to prevent soil run-off.
- One acre of prairie can store well over one ton of carbon per acre per year.
- Native prairie plants with roots up to 15 feet deep act as a sponge, absorbing up to seven inches of rain without flooding.
Birds, Native Pollinators, and Wildlife Protection:
- Native bees are found to be 40 times more efficient pollinators than honey bees.
- Praries support pollination to adjacent farms through native pollinators.
- They provide habitat to migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, waterbirds and songbirds.
- Praries protect animals adapted to wide open spaces with few trees.
Energy Independence via Biofuels:
- Prairie biomass can be harvested for renewable energy, creating natural gas.
North American Cultural and Natural Heritage Conservation:
- Praries provide the opportunity to learn primitive skills.
- They are rich in Native American history.
- They are also rich in homesteading history.
Plant Biodiversity Protection:
- Praries offer management by grazing fire disturbance.
- Prairie plantings can be considered a form of drought insurance as they are adapted to drought, grazing, and fire.
- Forbs (native wildflowers) are of particular importance as food sources for native insects and wildlife.
- Endangered plant species have yet to be studied for their medicinal potential.
- Paries are full of natural seed stores and offer propagation of endangered species.
HOW TO OBSERVE National Prairie Day
Learn about prairies by participating in a Prairie BioBlitz. National Prairie Day also includes other ways to celebrate.
- Visit public prairies and take in the views, nature and wildlife around you.
- Support local, state, and national organizations committed to prairie education, conservation, and restoration
- Create your own prairie garden at home. You will see how it changes through the season while giving back to nature.
You can also learn more about prairies by visiting these websites:
The Prarie Enthusiasts
National Park Service
Use #NationalPrairieDay to post on social media.
NATIONAL PRAIRIE DAY HISTORY
In 2015, Christine Chiu of the Missouri Prairie Foundation founded National Prairie Day to educate the public about the vital ecosystem and increase prairie education, conservation, and restoration.
The Registrar at National Day Calendar proclaimed National Prairie Day to be observed on the first Saturday in June annually.