Posted on Dec 15, 2020

EcoEducation: Fire to Frost: A Prairie Story

We thought we knew a little bit about the restored prairie at Crow Hassan from our seed collecting event this past fall, but WOW we gained a lot of new information from Angela Grill, wildlife biologist from Three Rivers Park District.  27000 acres of land makes up the park district, serving over 10 million visitors.  
The most endangered ecosystem in the world is prairie.  There was once 18 million acres of prairie in Minnesota and there is only 1% remaining.  The prairie in the Three River Park District is all recreated/restored because all of their land was at one time farm land.
Prairie is an amazing and unique ecosystem that not only provides incredible habitat to species not found anywhere else, but also can be a tool in our arsenal for combating climate change and its effects.  Prairie, because of the incredible root systems of the native plants is a huge carbon sink.  An acre of prairie can sequester 0.3 to 1.7 metric tons of carbon.   An acre of prairie can also absorb 9 inches of rain per hour.  Important for the larger rain events happening recently. 
Angela shared some photos of plant species flowering at different seasons on the prairie.    Lupine, prairie smoke, Pasqueflower  (apparently really tough to get into a recreated prairie - -but success in Crow Hassan!) and reminded us that the seed that we collected this past fall was just a drop in the 200lbs that is collected and processed annually by her team.  We heard a bit more about the prescribed burns managed in the park system.  The parks remain open during these burns.  They burn in a mosaic pattern, making sure that the insects and wildlife alwasy have a place to go.  The burns are critical to the health of the prairie and Crow Hassan also has oak forests that benefit from periodic burning.  
She also shared photos and stories of birds that have found homes in this recreated prairie - such as Eastern Bluebirds, Henslow (an endangered bird), Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink.  and insects such as the Rusty Patch Bumble Bee the MN state bumble bee which used to be the 2nd or 3rd most common bumble bee in its historical range, but is now endangered - and the reintroduced a butterfly Regal Fritillary.  The team hand planted 10,000 violets (the host plant for the butterfly) and introduced 24 butterflies.  The next year there were 100s of these butterflies!   
Enjoy more of Angela's excitement about the natural world accessible to all of us at the podcast the Wandering Naturalist. 
Picture credit:  Prairie Smoke  by Marcia Benson on Pixabay