“Prairie” is a general term for several types of grass-dominated ecosystems where trees are either absent or only widely scattered on the landscape. The tallgrass prairie once covered an area stretching from Canada to Mexico and Ohio to the Rocky Mountains - covering more than 12 million acres of North America. Tallgrass prairie ecosystems with grasses such as little bluestem, big bluestem, Indiangrass, and switchgrass support uniquely specialized plant, animal, reptile, and bird species. The loss of large grazing animals such as buffalo, pronghorn and elk, plowing for agricultural development, and the lack of fire all contributed to native prairies becoming functionally non-existent over the last 150 years. Today, only 5,000 acres of tallgrass prairie remain.
Much of what is now Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge used to be part of the Blackland Prairie Ecosystem and had some of the richest, naturally fertile soils in the world. Invasion by trees including cedar, locust, mesquite, and winged-elm has transformed the grasslands into areas that look much different than even as recently as the mid 1800’s. Even though buffalo will likely never graze in this area again, restoring native prairie is very important to grassland birds such as dickcissels, meadowlarks, bobolinks, and various sparrows. For more information on what the refuge is doing to restore prairie habitat, please visit the Resource Management section under the What We Do tab.