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Purple/grey and bright orange flowers bloom in a grassy field.
Information icon Two species of milkweed, common and butterfly, grow wild in the barrens. Milkweed is a favorite plant of monarch butterflies. Photo by J. Brent Harrel, USFWS.

Partners join to conserve rare prairie barrens in Kentucky

Monarch butterflies descend on the fields in droves, drawn by the abundance of milkweed, their favorite pollinator plant. Endangered northern long-eared and Indiana bats swoop through the sky. On the ground, biodiversity abounds, with rare plants like scurf pea and false gromwell.

This little Eden - 160 acres now owned by the non-profit Southern Conservation Corps (SCC) – is a combination of forest and extremely rare prairie barrens habitat in Garrard County, a mostly rural county in central Kentucky. Kentucky used to be home to 3 million acres of prairie barrens, but today, less than 1 percent of that remains.

Because of the delicate nature of the habitat, it is not open to the public.

The plot was previously owned by a private landowner, who decided it was time to sell. But he wanted his beautiful land protected, so in 2016, he sold it to SCC, and it is now protected in perpetuity for conservation. SCC was founded in 2003 to help government agencies and private landowners conserve important land and wildlife habitat in the southeastern United States.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program has helped the SCC to expand and restore habitat conditions for the area by providing funding, technical and biological expertise for eastern red cedar removal, herbicide treatments to control invasive species and implementation of prescribed fire.

A fire burns through low-growing vegetation.
Using careful planning, the Service uses prescribed fire to prevent the build-up of invasive plant species while benefiting native species. Photo by J. Brent Harrel, USFWS.

An array of partners has also come together, including the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Forest Bat Conservation Fund.

This barrens is important regionally, as it connects to larger conservation areas to the south and connects to the state’s bird conservation areas to the north. It is also on the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission registry for very rare habitats.

It contains a vast amount of rare prairie plants and other fauna, such as scurf pea, which is the sole host to the state-listed flower moth. The site also has a host of other prairie plant species such as prairie dock, six species of milkweeds, and false gromwell, a state critically imperiled species. These plants are highly beneficial to monarch butterflies, other pollinators, and some migratory birds.

Leafy green vegetation with vertical cones of purple flowers.
Prairie dock and scurf pea are rare in Kentucky, but plentiful on this 160-acre plot of land. Photo by J. Brent Harrel, USFWS.

It would be difficult to find a site in Kentucky with greater biodiversity than this beautiful barrens.

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