Conservation Spotlight: Missouri Prairie Foundation March 05, 2012

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

The Missouri Prairie Foundation was founded in 1966 and has grown into an extraordinarily dynamic and effective organization. But, to be honest, I was unaware of its existence for many years despite my "prairie" background. As a kid, I grew up on a farm in western Missouri where putting up prairie hay was an annual summer event and Greater Prairie-Chickens, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and Dickcissels were an important part of my youth. Huddled in a borrowed tent I spent many chilly spring mornings watching Greater Prairie-Chickens display on our farm. In the winter I thrilled to the sight of coveys that flushed with powerful wing beats and then set their wings on unbelievably long glides.

Today those Greater Prairie-Chickens are gone. So also is most of the continent's tallgrass prairie, a once vast zone that, following the last glacial retreat some 12,000 years ago, extended from Manitoba to northern Texas and east to Ohio. Only a fraction of a percent remains. In several states there is virtually none. Even in Kansas and Oklahoma, two states with the largest remaining stands of tallgrass prairie, sites are fragmented and greatly diminished. Ecologists today rank temperate grasslands, including tallgrass prairies, as the "least conserved and most threatened major habitat type on earth." This is largely because prairie soils are among the richest and most productive for agriculture.

Today numerous organizations focus on the preservation of prairie grassland (see the Missouri Prairie Foundation website for some of these) but the Missouri Prairie Foundation is my favorite and one of the best. Their focus is regional and specific: they actively purchase and manage prairies; organize public awareness events, workshops, and campouts; participate in prairie burns and prairie restoration; work with private landowners; advocate for local, state, and national issues; and publish perhaps the premiere magazine on prairie grasslands. Examine their beautiful website (www.moprairie.org) and you’ll see why I am such an ardent supporter of this organization.