NATIONAL PRAIRIE DAY
In North America, the prairies are at the heart of the continent. On the first Saturday of June, we recognize one of the richest ecosystems on the face of the earth with National Prairie Day.
A wide swath of central North America is comprised of flat grassland running from the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan down to Texas. Prairies are home to a wide variety of wildlife including prairie dogs, prairie chickens, buffalo, bison, elk, deer, rabbits, hawks, and foxes. Diverse native prairie plantings offer 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.
The result is the loss of complex established ecosystems that once supported precious native birds, pollinators, insects and other native wildlife—habitat loss contributing to extinctions. What remains is teeming with diverse flora and fauna species, many endangered of becoming extinct, with some still yet to be discovered and identified. 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 is an opportunity to educate the public about preservation, conservation, and restoration opportunities as well as the history, wildlife and habitats of the prairie. To understand the prairie is to look beyond what often initially appears simple, to learn about each form of life that thrives within it, to comprehend complex systems we can learn from, to ensure our future. The natural beauty of prairies can be breathtaking. Today’s “amber waves of grain” were created from the fertile soil of these oceans of grasslands that 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:
▪ prairie can absorb up to seven inches of rain without runoff
▪ prairie plants are adapted to drought, like having drought insurance
▪ watershed protection
▪ increase water infiltration and water yield, increase water supply by reducing erosion and reservoir sedimentation
▪ increase water quality due to the lack of fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide use
▪ stormwater management prairie acts as a sponge that curbs soil erosion and flooding
Soil Quality and Quantity Protection:
▪ prairie soil microbes can reduce the amount of synthetic chemicals used in agriculture
▪ 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
▪ pollinator services for adjacent farms provided by native pollinators
▪ migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, waterbirds and songbirds
▪ 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:
▪ primitive skills education
▪ Native American history
Plant Biodiversity Protection:
▪ 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
▪ natural seed stores and propagation of endangered species
HOW TO OBSERVE
Learn about prairies by participating in a Prairie BioBlitz, visiting public prairies, supporting local, state, and national organizations that are committed to prairie education, conservation, and restoration. At home, you can create your own prairie garden see how it changes through the seasons. To learn more about prairies visit any of the following sites:
Use #NationalPrairieDay to post on social media.
National Prairie Day was submitted Christine Chiu of the Missouri Prairie Foundation and was declared by the Registrar at National Day Calendar in 2015.
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