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Return of the native: natural prairies slowly make a comeback. (Currents).

Only about five percent of native prairie is left in Kansas. Less than one percent remains in Illinois, North Dakota North Dakota, state in the N central United States. It is bordered by Minnesota, across the Red River of the North (E), South Dakota (S), Montana (W), and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (N).  and Minnesota. Agriculture, urban sprawl and fire suppression have left Iowa with less than one-tenth of one percent of its native prairies. But native grasses, which once fed the soil and the far-ranging bison and elk before European settlers came with their fenced-in livestock, are making a comeback. Government agencies and grassroots groups are using native grasses as part of prairie restoration Prairie Restoration is an ecologically friendly way to restore some of the prairie land that was lost to industry, farming and commerce. For example, the state of Illinois alone once held over 22 million acres (89,000 km²) of prairie land and now a mere 2,000 acres (8 km²) of  efforts across the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. . According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 the Missouri Department of Conservation, more than five million acres of native warm-season grasses have been re-seeded in the plains states alone.

Departments of Transportation (DOT) in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and other Midwestern states are establishing native grasses and wildflowers along what is now called the Prairie Passage route. "During the 1973 gas crisis, DOTs couldn't afford to mow from fence row to fence row because gas prices were so high," says Mark Masteller, chief landscape architect for the Iowa DOT "That's when the impetus for switching to native plants started to grow."

Aside from the visual pleasures of wildflowers and replacing exotic turf with the blues, reds and bronzes of native grasses, natural vegetation holds a number of practical benefits as well. "These are the plants that have adapted to our soils and climate over thousands of years," says Masteller. "So when we hit droughts and floods, these species can withstand it. Exotic species struggle and are susceptible to weeds." Costs for mowing mow 1  
1. The place in a barn where hay, grain, or other feed is stored.

2. A stack of hay or other feed stored in a barn.
 and chemical sprays are kept to a minimum because native grasses need little maintenance. The height of native plants also aids in snow control by preventing drift onto the highway. Native vegetation nourishes the soil by effortlessly recycling nutrients, and their root systems can delve 12 to 20 feet into the ground (compared to the 10- to 12-inch depth of exotic grasses), which helps control erosion. "Native grasses also help with our water-quality issues because they absorb water and chemical runoff from our roadways," says Masteller.

Despite many DOTs' increasing favor for native vegetation, exotic grasses are often planted on exposed dirt along roadways because they grow faster. "Once native grasses are established, they do a good job. But the two to three years it takes them to grow creates an erosion concern," says Rick Ross Rick Ross may refer to:
  • Ricky Ross (drug trafficker), an American drug trafficker, also known as "Freeway" Ricky Ross
  • Rick Ross (rapper), an American (Miami) hip hop artist with Def Jam Records, also known as Rick Ro$$
, Kansas DOT's chief landscape architect.

Nevertheless, with millions of dollars being set aside in each state, DOTs are committed to restoring and preserving the small percentages of native prairie left. "Detractors say the money should be spent on resurfacing bridges and roadways," says Masteller. "But we have to look at the whole package and protect the investment for the long term."

The rise of big agriculture made the family farm something of a remnant species of its own, and many of these farms left tracts of native prairie. Some groups, such as the Missouri Prairie Foundation (MPF MPF

mitosis-promoting factor.
) and The Nature Conservancy Nature Conservancy, nonprofit organization established in 1951 to preserve or aid in the preservation of natural environments. It protects wilderness areas in the United States and Canada and is affiliated with similar groups in Latin America and the Caribbean. , often buy defunct farms and private lands to preserve remnant prairie and convert surrounding row crop areas into native prairie. To date, the MPF has bought and managed more than 2,500 acres of native prairie. Along with the Grasslands Coalition and the Missouri Department of Conservation, the MPF is using grant money from the Species Recovery Fund to recover land near the Taberville Prairie Conservation area, which is the largest remaining prairie chicken prairie chicken: see grouse.
prairie chicken

Either of two species of North American grouse (genus Tympanuchus) noted for lek displays (group courtship displays). The greater prairie chicken is about 18 in.
 breeding ground in Missouri. The MPF reseeds, performs controlled burns, regulates grazing and removes exotic species and trees from the prairie to restore the habitat for the endangered prairie chickens, as well as for quail, pheasants and other wildlife. "Trees are not part of native prairie, and the [prairie game] birds don't tolerate them because they are ground nesters," says Bill Crawford
This article is about the Canadian football player. For the American editorial cartoonist, see Bill Crawford (cartoonist).
William Crawford (born on July 17, 1937 in Victoria, British Columbia) is a Canadian-born former American football offensive lineman
, co-founder of MPF.

The Sheyenne National Grassland Sheyenne National Grassland is a National Grassland located in southeastern North Dakota in the United States, comprising 70,180 acres (284 km²) of public land amid 64,769 acres (262 km²) of privately owned land in a region of sandy soils in the vicinity of the Sheyenne River in  in North Dakota offers one of the best examples of large-scale restoration of tallgrass prairies. When the Forest Service took possession of this 71,000-acre land, most of the native vegetation had been farmed or grazed. Invasive tree species, noxious weeds and soil erosion sickened the prairie. But in a state where only one tenth of one percent of tallgrass prairie The tallgrass prairie is an ecosystem native to central North America, with fire as its primary periodic disturbance. In the past, tallgrass prairies covered a large portion of the American Midwest, just east of the Great Plains, and portions of the Canadian Prairies.  is intact, restoring this land is increasingly important. While the Sheyenne is admired for its wildlife and recreational opportunities, it also produces meat and agriculture, and the Forest Service has to address all those needs. But land management priorities are shifting. "The Sheyenne's new management plan for 2002 is almost exclusively ecosystem preservation. Before, it was about livestock grazing," says Bryan Stotts, a Forest Service district ranger.

Whether restoring patches of right-of-ways or thousands of acres of prairie, finding sources of native seed is a common obstacle. "There are 1,200 species of flowering plants plants which have stamens and pistils, and produce true seeds; phenogamous plants; - distinguished from flowerless plants.

See also: Flowering
 in North Dakota, and 850 of those are found in the Sheyenne," says Stotts. "You can't just go out and collect seeds from 850 species. We have tremendous diversity, and to reestablish that will take a long time." A few commercial seed sources, such as Star Seed in Kansas, have also found a niche market A niche market also known as a target market is a focused, targetable portion (subset) of a market sector.

By definition, then, a business that focuses on a niche market is addressing a need for a product or service that is not being addressed by mainstream providers.
 in native prairies. The company takes native grasses and wildflower wildflower

Any flowering plant that grows without intentional human aid. Wildflowers are the source of all cultivated garden varieties of flowers. A wildflower growing where it is unwanted is considered a weed.
 seeds developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and sources them to farmers, private landowners, wholesalers and prairie restoration groups across the country. Also, some universities are developing native seed sources. In a cooperative effort with the Iowa DOT, the University of Northern Iowa The University of Northern Iowa, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, was founded in 1876, as the Iowa State Normal School. It has colleges of Business Administration, Education, Humanities and Fine Arts, Natural Sciences, and Social and Behavioral Sciences, and a graduate school.  is using volunteers to harvest seed from original species of Iowa's native remnants. "They've been doing about three species a year," says Masteller. "We now have about two dozen species that weren't available before."

Without an economic advantage, such as in the case of right-of-ways, convincing people of the importance of prairies is difficult. Many livelihoods depend on vast, wide- open spaces for agricultural and ranching use. "The prairie is a hard sell. We have a beauty aesthetic that's dictated by topographic relief, and flat lands don't fit that," says Stotts. "But if you want to see what your ancestors saw when they came to the Great Plains, and understand how it was, you don't have many options anymore. The prairies are our link to the past, and with the species that we as a society have made a commitment to protecting, they are also a link to the future." CONTACT: Dakota Prairie Grasslands, (701)250-4443, rl/dakotaprairie; Missouri Prairie Foundation, (888)843-6739, www.mopra; TransData DOTS,
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Author:Kerlin, Katherine
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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