Boots On The Ground Conservation


  • GRN Workshop a success


    About 100 attended the recent Grassland Restoration Network workshop in the Platte River area of Nebraska.  For two days attendees were outside hiking around prairie restorations, and sharing stories of success and defeat. It all was a great success.

    Our 2017 GRN workshop will likely held be at Konza Biological Station in Manhattan Kansas.  We are working on a date.  Stay tuned.

  • Weed Suppressive Bacteria (WSB)

    Cheatgrass on the land of Dixie Dringham. She volunteered for D7 (the biocontrol) testing on some plots of her land. Photo © Hannah Letinich

    Ann Kennedy has been researching microbes for more than 30 years and one day, when she saw a stunted wheat plant in a field, she decided to find out what was going on in the soil nearby. She and her colleagues isolated 25,000 microscopic organisms native to the soil of Washington State and tested their effects on crops and non-native plants, eventually isolating a promising bacterium known as D7 for further testing as a biocontrol.

    D7 and some other promising microbial candidates that Kennedy is working with inhibited not only cheatgrass growth, but also the growth of another invasive, medusahead — without having a negative impact on native plants, wildlife, or crops.

    “There is a genetic potential in the soil that we have not even begun to explore,” Kennedy explains. “What this research shows is that we can actually go into the soil and find those organisms or isolates that have the traits we want and use that trait selectively.”

    Today cheatgrass, tomorrow garlic mustard?

  • Seed Shed Doings, September 2016

    Dear Prairie Enthusiast,
    A few days ago I went seed picking. I don’t get out to pick much anymore—most of my time is spent tending the prairie garden and processing the seed that other volunteers have picked—-over 100 species to date.

    The prairie divas assigned me to pick 1/3 of a large bag of Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (narrowleaf mountain mint—-the stuff that makes great peppermint tea) from the back 40 (well, 240 actually.) To me that translated into ½ a bag as the divas are known to jam their bags full when picking. I’m more of a fluffer—-it gives me a sense of accomplishment.

    I got up early to beat the heat and was chomping at the bit by 6:15 a.m.—-waiting for it to get light enough so I could see where I was going. The hubby, who was assigned to pick Desmanthus illinoensis (Illinois Bundle flower) said he would wait until it ‘warmed up’ (it was 70 degrees at 6 a.m.!) Bundle flower is one of my favorite prairie plants. It has such fragile-looking flowers that turn into lovely brown seed pods reminiscent of roses. Such a study in contrasts.

    By 6:30 I was in the car and on my way to the minty motherlode. There is a portion of the prairie here at Lonetree Farm that we call ‘The Washboard’ because the ground is corrugated—-probably from long-ago farming activity. It’s a gentle uphill climb but has treacherous gullies that cascading water has made over the years. The gullies are hard to see under the dense vegetation, so it’s good to follow deer trails whenever possible. How do the deer know to avoid these sinkholes? I needed to be careful; I’d left my phone at home and no one would come to my aid if I twisted an ankle.

    I flushed a pair of Great-horned Owls as I worked my way uphill and they must have settled in a copse not far away—-the crows let me know of their displeasure at having to accommodate these two invaders! I noted other prairie plants growing where I walked; some Gentiana alba (white gentian) here, some Rosa Carolina (Carolina rose) there. Bumblebees almost exclusively pollinate the gentians—-they are the only insects strong enough to pry the petals of the flower apart to access the nectar at the bottom.

    Other than the steady drone of insects and the chittering of a few goldfinches, all was quiet on the prairie. I was alone with my thoughts. This is where the pleasure of seed picking kicks in. I thought about many things: the amount of work needed in the prairie garden after an absence of three weeks; the drying seed on the tables in the shed that would require my attention; the bags of seed that had accumulated at my workstation and would need percentage calculations. I thought about my son’s retirement at the end of the year. Would the siren call of new opportunities lure him out of retirement before he’s had a chance to savor it? I thought about my grandchildren. Will my grandson continue to be the carefree boy we think of as ‘the ambassador’ because he gets along with everyone? Will my granddaughter stop wearing black and—like Greta Garbo—quit insisting that she “vants to be alone”?

    I’ll tell you what I didn’t think about. I didn’t think about the upcoming election; I didn’t think about the evil in the world; I didn’t think about all the problems we have created for ourselves and the negative impact we, as a species, have on so many other living things. For these few hours I only thought about maintaining my footing, filling my bag with seeds and how enjoyable the breeze was on my sweaty brow. It’s a wonderful way to spend time. If you’ve never picked prairie seed you should definitely try it and for those of you who volunteer on a regular basis, we thank you!

    Regards, Rickie Rachuy
    The Northwest Illinois Prairie Enthusiasts
    Protecting, Restoring and Managing the Driftless Areas of Illinois

  • Prairie STRIPS for pollinators...and farmers


    Despite a reduction in plant diversity that comes with the production of corn and soybeans, there may still be biodiversity that could respond to conservation efforts. So, what kind of insect pollinators are commonly found in corn and soybean fields?

    The most abundant insects found in corn and soybean fields are solitary, ground-nesting bees, accounting for 65% of the insects collected from both crops. Honey bees and bumble bees accounted for only 0.5 percent of all insects captured.

    STRIPS, which stands for Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips, began in the fall of 2003 at a single site at the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City. Today, STRIPS personnel have helped 18 farmers across Iowa and northern Missouri install native prairie on their fields, unlocking a range of conservation benefits such as cleaner water, healthier soil and new wildlife habitat.

    So, how do you design a prairie which will be part of a corn field? Read more...

  • Aerial Ping Pong for Prairies

    One ecologist wants to change the way we think about prescribed burns. The professor says he can harness extreme fire to restore grasslands on the Great Plains -- and he has created a small drone that launches ping-pong balls of fire to help him do it safely and cheaply.


  • Which is it, Biodiversity or Bioproportionality?

    Writing in the journal Biological Conservation, environmental philosopher Freya Mathews challenges biodiversity: not its scientific meaning, but the way it’s used in policy settings. There the word is not just scientific but political, says Mathews, and “it drastically limits what conservationists may aspire to achieve.”

    So long as there’s enough members of a given species to avoid extinction, or so long as representative examples of a given ecosystem exist, biodiversity’s policy requirements are met. “This results in a tendency towards an ‘ecology of the minimal,’” writes Mathews.


  • Seed Shed Doings, July 2016

    Dear Prairie Enthusiast,
    Seed picking for the fall restorations is underway, although the bulk of seed harvesting won’t begin until August. Check our schedule here, if you forgot to print it out earlier. As always, we are depending on you to help us get the work done.

    The Prairie Divas have been busy and we already have 34 species dried, or drying, in the seed shed. Many of these are trace quantities harvested from small plant populations—but it only takes one seed to grow into a new population—and that’s our aim.

    I’ve kept busy with weeding, weeding and more weeding…if you’re a gardener, you know how it goes. I am also working out percentages for the seed that we harvest. So far I’ve calculated the amount of seed to chaff for 12 species and have a thirteenth drying for later processing. We do this to get a reasonable estimate of how much we need to pick to attain that magic formula of one seed from that plant on so many square feet of restoration.

    Here’s how it works: Barbara or Laura bring me a small quantity of the plant in question direct from the field and I lay it out on a cookie sheet to dry. I then weigh the sample to get a gross weight (usually no more than half an ounce of chaff and seed combined) and then I separate the seed from the chaff, weigh the seed and divide chaff into seed to get a percentage of seed in the sample.

    Here’s what I’ve found out: Bugs and caterpillars must be evicted before any weighing can take place! Every species has a different way of ‘packaging’ the seed it produces. Some seed comes in capsules that explode when dry, e.g. Phlox pilosa (to effect maximum seed distribution) some have fuzzy tails attached, e.g. Clematis virginiana (they remind me of kites floating on air, and perhaps that’s the aim.) Some have their own umbrellas for navigation, e.g. the Asclepias species (like Mary Poppins!)