UNI Hosts Prairie Conference
Prairie management, prairie restoration and reconstruction, education and outreach are just a sample of the numerous issues discussed at the 22nd North American Prairie Conference held at the University of Northern Iowa, Aug. 1-5.
More than 550 individuals from 23 states and two countries gathered together for the five-day conference, allowing conservationists, educators, farmers, scientists, writers and other prairie enthusiasts to exchange ideas and discuss the latest prairie research.
But the conference was more than just a venue for dialogue, exhibitors, keynote speeches and presentations. It gave attendees the opportunity to experience a part of U.S. heritage that has nearly vanished.
As Daryl Smith, professor and director of the Tallgrass Prairie Center, pointed out during the conference's closing address, "tallgrass prairie is the most decimated ecosystem in continental North America."
"Less than 2-percent of the original tallgrass prairie remains. Many states, such as Iowa, have lost more than 99.9 percent of their prairie ecosystem," he said.
To further educate conference attendees about the prairie ecosystem, a number of field trips and pre- and post- conference trips were arranged to explore remnant and restored prairies and view local and national exhibits.
One field trip took individuals to the Cedar Hills Sand Prairie. The 90-acre preserve located near Cedar Falls contains a remnant sand prairie and supports a diverse array of species, including more than 360 native plants species.
The Iowa chapter of the Nature Conservancy works in cooperation with UNI in managing this unique habitat. And it's this type of cooperation that helps preserve a small part of the prairie ecosystem.
"As part of our biological and cultural heritage, examples of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem must be available to society," Smith said.
But he said more is needed in order to restore this national treasure.
"The best hope for maintaining this historic ecosystem is to restore degraded remnants and reconstruct new prairie patches to approximate the pre-settlement prairie."
He advised conference attendees that action should be taken to assist in recreating and restoring prairie remnants because it's an investment for the future.
"We need to recreate the ecosystem as best we can but need to understand it won't be an exact historical duplicate."