Thursday, June 25, 2015

MDC to host Prairie Days with The Nature Conservancy

Free event at Dunn Ranch and Pawnee Prairie showcases prairie ecology and history

Eagleville, Mo. – Prairie grasses and wildflowers once waved in summer winds throughout northwest Missouri. Trees grew in scattered groves in the grassland ecosystem along streams and some ridges. But the grasses and wildflowers provided the main food base for bison, elk, prairie chickens and butterflies. Very little prairie remains today after 200 years of settlement and farming greatly changed land uses. 
   Prairie Days, however, will give visitors a look back in time and an update on what public-private partnerships are doing to preserve and restore grassland ecosystems. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) will host the free event on Friday, June 26, and Saturday, June 27. Activities will begin at 8 p.m. Friday with asocial and movies at TNC’s Dunn Ranch, 16970 W. 150th St., Hatfield, Mo. On Saturday, birding hikes will be offered 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. at MDC’s Pawnee Prairie, which is northwest of the ranch. Then Saturday’s activities will shift to Dunn Ranch from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. for bison herd tours, wildflower identification, grazing sessions and presentations on prairie critters and ecology.

  Camping will be available at Dunn Ranch without hookups. Harrison County Lake offers camping with some hookups and primitive sites. Motel lodging is available in Eagleville and Bethany. Booths or demonstrations will be offered by Missouri Prairie Foundation, Missouri River Bird Observatory, Pure Air Natives, Inc., Missouri Master Naturalists and Hamilton Native Outpost.
   Prairie Days will also showcase the public-private partnerships in the Grand River Grasslands. The cooperative effort spanning the Missouri and Iowa state line helps private landowners with grassland management for better production returns and in ways that help grassland species, such as Missouri’s endangered prairie chickens.
   Harrison County’s earliest settlers might be surprised to learn that prairie chickens and the grasses that supported them became scarce.
   “Originally about three-fourths of the land of Harrison County was prairie and one-fourth timber, according to the “History of Harrison County" published in 1921. "The timber was generally along the streams of water, and some on hilly tracks roughened and divided by ravines.”
   The book describes extensively tree species and uses in the woodland areas. Incredibly diverse native wildflowers and grasses that dominated the landscape did not get a similar description. Only in a maturing conservation movement in recent decades has the rich productivity and beauty of prairie plants and wildlife become appreciated.
   Pioneers did value wild game for food and for money from the fur trade.
   “When the county was first being settled game was plentiful, such as deer, turkeys, prairie chickens, quail and there were some elk,” according to the history. “It was reported about this part of the county that David Travis was one of the best hunters among the early settlers and in addition to other game occasionally killed an elk.”
   Bison were found in Missouri prior to the arrival of European trappers and settlers, but apparently not in large numbers, according to “The Wild Mammals of Missouri,” by Charles W. and Elizabeth R. Schwartz. But MDC’s Pawnee Prairie and TNC’s Dunn Ranch were in their final range.
   “By 1840, only remnants of this magnificent animal were found in the northwestern and southeastern sections of the state,” the Schwartz’s wrote, “and these soon disappeared.”
   TNC has restored a bison herd to a fenced range at Dunn Ranch. Studies at the ranch include how the bison and prairie species interact on an ecological basis. MDC conducts research and restoration for prairie species on both public and private lands in the Grand River Grasslands.
   Late June is a pretty time to visit Missouri’s prairies as many flower species are in bloom, such as coneflowers.   For more information about Prairie Days, visit http://mdc.mo.gov/NWprairiedays, or call T.J. Peacher, MDC conservation education supervisor, at 816-271-3100.
    Information about Pawnee Prairie and maps are available at http://on.mo.gov/1LlXs50. Dunn Ranch information is at http://bit.ly/1ellp2i.