Boots On The Ground Conservation


  • Great Plains fields are moving. Really.

    University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers show in a new study that crops, including corn and soy commonly used for biofuel, expanded onto 7 million acres of new land from 20008 through 2012, replacing millions of acres of domestic grasslands and prairies.

    Over the same period, 4.4 million acres of former cropland were abandoned or otherwise removed from production, most of which were enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.

    North and South Dakota experienced the greatest amount of new crop land, followed by southern Iowa, northern Missouri, and the western parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Texas panhandle.


  • Pretty but Powerful

    Plants may find it difficult to deal with herbivores, but they are far from helpless.

    Cattle and other large herbivores have to deal with a number of plant defenses, from silica and other compounds that make plants difficult to eat and digest to chemicals that make them bad tasting or toxic.
    Read more...much more.
  • Photo of the Week – March 26, 2015

    Sandhill cranes landing on the Platte River, where they will roost overnight.  Because of low light levels, this photo was taken with an ISO of 2000, making it relatively grainy.

    Sandhill cranes landing on the Platte River.

  • Rising From the Ashes

    For a different perspective, be sure to check your spring burns for emerging plants.

    Purple poppy mallow (Calliroe involucrata)

    Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) begins its new year of growth.


  • Photo of the Week – March 19, 2015

    A redbelly snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) found in Hall County, Nebraska.

    A redbelly snake (Storeria occipitomaculata).

  • When Restoring Nature Every Little Bit Helps

    I’m getting excited about this upcoming field season. For the first time in several years, we’re going to be attempting to harvest seed from as many prairie plant species as we can. Between about 1997 and 2005, we spent much of each field season hand-picking seeds from a broad diversity of species – often ending up with over 200 species by the end of the season. It was exciting and fulfilling, and we were often able to create up to a couple hundred acres of new prairie habitat each year.

    Since that time, we’ve focused less on converting cropland to high-diversity prairie (we ran out of cropland!) and more on harvesting large amounts of fewer species to overseed degraded prairies. I’m not sure we’ll be able to harvest as many as 200 species this summer – we’re pulled in many more directions now than we were in our “glory years” of seed harvesting – but making the attempt will be fun.

    A clonal patch of bracted spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata) in a 2002 prairie planting.

    A clonal patch of bracted spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata) in a 2002 prairie planting.  It isn’t hard to find these patches (when they’re blooming) despite the fact that we had only about 1 cup of seed spread over about 70 acres.

    During those glory years, we worked hard to build the most diverse seed mixture possible. We used to joke about how many seeds we had to get from a plant species before we could add it to that year’s harvest list.  It kind of felt like cheating when we’d only find a handful or two of seeds from a species but would add it to the list anyway.  However, we justified listing those species because of conversations with people who had much more experience than we did (especially Bill Whitney with Prairie Plains Resource Institute) who claimed that even a few seeds would usually be enough to establish a species in a new prairie. Besides, we figured if the species was appropriate to the site, tiny populations would spread out over time.

    Now that I’ve had up to 17 years to watch the establishment of plantings I personally harvested seed for, I can testify that Bill and others were right. Sometimes, just a few seeds really are enough. That knowledge is awfully good for morale when we’re on our hands and knees searching for violet or pale poppy mallow (Callirhoe alcoides) plants to harvest from. Those are just two or many examples of plants that are short, have widely scattered populations in our prairies, and are difficult to find at seed harvest time because the surrounding vegetation has grown tall enough to obscure them from sight. To make things worse, neither of those species produces many seeds per plant, so even when you find a plant, you might only get 20-50 seeds out of it.

    Knowing that those 20-50 seeds are worth finding makes crawling on hands and knees seem much less tedious.  Ok, a LITTLE less tedious. Read more...

  • Invasive Species List

    Invasive plants displace native plant species, reduce wildlife habitat and damage natural ecosystems. They threaten natural areas and parks and spread via roadways, rivers and trails. In the United States, they cost an estimated $34 billion annually in economic loss.

    Here is a good list of invasive plants to look out for. Its from Virginia which applies generally to northwest Illinois and, unfortunately, may indicate things to come.

    If you're interested, here is their invasive species management plan. Good luck Virginaia.

  • Natural Areas Have Intrinsic Value

    Cladium mariscoides in a SE Wisconsin calcareous fen.

    Cladium mariscoides in a SE Wisconsin calcareous fen

    Much of the conservation community’s current approach to conservation planning is a commodification of nature. Lands are valued according to laundry lists of the tangible services (e.g. water quality protection, forage, carbon storage) they provide. We might not assign actual dollars to such services, but we’re certainly thinking about cash for services.

    …and sometimes that’s fine.

  • Does Plant Diversity Matter?

    2013 photos from

    How important is plant diversity in restored prairies? Are diverse prairies more resistant to drought and invasive species? How does plant diversity influence invertebrate communities?

    The plots above, from left to right, were planted to a monoculture (big bluestem), a low diversity mixture (mostly grasses and a few late season wildflowers) and a high diversity mixture (100 plant species).  TNC is investigating the functional differences between these kinds of plant communities. The plots are 3/4 acre and represent varying levels of plant diversity. Researchers from the University of Nebraska, Kansas State University, the University of Illinois, and Simpson College have been involved in data collection efforts so far.

    Stay tuned.

  • Grassland Restoration Network Workshop July 21-23

    GRN save the date flier photo minnesota

    Join the Grassland Restoration Network near Hawley in northwest Minnesota for presentations and discussion on restorations at scale and use of high diversity local ecotype seed. Field trips will include tours through several stages of grassland reconstruction at Bluestem Prairie and Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge.

    Save the Dates. Details and registration information coming in April.