Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

A short drive north of Pawhuska, Oklahoma is the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. Before pioneers came to the great plains there were tens of millions of Bison or American Buffalo grazing in grasslands which stood 6 to 8 feet tall for as far as the eye could see. Prairies exist in areas too wet for desert yet too dry to support healthy forests. This preserve is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth. Originally covering over 142 million acres in 14 states from Texas to Manitoba, urban sprawl and conversion to cropland have left less than 10% of this magnificent American landscape. Since 1989, the Nature Conservancy has proven successful at restoring this fully-functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of about 2500 free-roaming bison. The preserve spans 39,000 acres, and bison again graze the prairie.

The perimeter of the preserve is fenced and the entrances are blocked with cattle guards made of a row of railroad ties spaced a few inches apart. Cars can drive over but hoofed animals are very reluctant to cross them. There are Buffalo and Texas Longhorn Cattle who roam the area. Signs at the entrances warn to observer that these are not "tame" animals. Do not annoy the Buffalo.

Verdant grassland flows over the rolling hills like green water undulating in the wind. There is a quiet majesty about this open landscape. It was a warm day (90F) and we started out with the windows closed and the air conditioner on. I rolled the window down to take some pictures and the air smelled so wonderful that we opened all the windows to breath it in. I was a moist sweet mixture of grass, wildflowers, and Bison dung. Smokey really liked it.

Here and there are small groups of Bison, also called American Buffalo. Before the pioneers came these animals grazed in great herds numbered in many thousands. When they moved they looked like a wooly ocean and sounded like thunder.

The tallgrass prairies are covered with Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, and Switch Grass growing to heights of eight feet at times. Mid-grass prairie is dominated by side-oats grama and wheatgrass, with a mixture of shortgrass prairies in dry sites and tallgrass in wetter sites. It is estimated that there were between 30-60 million bison roaming the prairies. Elk, deer, and antelope also grazed in astounding numbers. Large predators preying on the grazers included the grizzly bear and wolf. For more information on the tallgrass prairies look HERE.


Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I love your blogs - thanks for the interesting information.

We just have sheep and cows in abundance in the UK!!!