I just read an article online at USA Today talking about Kansas and it’s 150th birthday. The article was talking about the new display at the Kansas Museum of History, 150 things I love about Kansas. The reporter done a good job on giving facts with personal opinion tied to it, finding the list a “tad bit underwhelming”. Kansan’s are use to others who obviously have a much more “sophisticated” lifestyle and culture palette thus are worthy of telling others just how things are. What I found most interesting was not the pleasant mention of Kansas in a national newspaper but the comments left by others after the article. This one for example by Vinz Clortho, “The best view of Kansas is in my rear-view mirror”. I find that so uninformed it’s almost funny. Obviously this person has no use for lands such as Kansas, no idea what ecology is and maybe can’t even spell it. Sure I’m being facetious but other comments seemed to tell a similar view. This isn’t about state boundaries it’s about the lands that sustain us, are people so caught up in urban life that they actually think there is no reason to have lands such as open prairies? So just what if any are the benefits of prairies and particularly the largest remaining stance of tallgrass prairie on the Continent which covers a big part of Kansas.
Why is the prairie important?
At one point, tall grass prairies covered vast expanses of the American heartland. The productivity of the grasses led to the formation of mollisol soils, which are deep and rich in organic matter, and are the key to the fertility of “America’s breadbasket”.
They help sustain some of the world’s oxygen and some of the insects and wildlife which is so important to human life. Tallgrass prairies are also important in keeping with the aesthetic appeal to human life. Every one wants to look at that kind of thing, but nobody protects it. If we were all in a world of concrete and buildings we would die. Tallgrass is so important because it shows natural beauty in life.
- The prairie is a rare ecosystem. Four hundred years ago, the prairie extended to over 400,000 square miles in all of North America. One hundredth of one percent of that original prairie land exists today. Almost all the plants that people see, from their lawn to tall weeds next to a road, are not native but came from Europe and Asia.
- The prairie is our natural heritage. It is what the Native Americans knew. Many of the plants of the prairie were used medicinally by generations of Native Americans. Early settlers benefited from these experiences.
- The prairie is beautiful. It has flowers blooming all season long, birds singing in the grasses, and butterflies fluttering from flower to flower.
- Prairie plants and animals are adapted for life in our climate and how they interact. For example, prairie plants are able to live through drought as well as fire. Prairie grasslands provide habitats for numerous species of animals. In many cases predators have been reintroduced into areas where some animals have become a nuisance helping to restore the balance of nature.
- The prairie created some of the best soil in the world. Some of the richest farmland in the world can be found where the prairie once flourished. The roots of the prairie plants were largely responsible for making this soil so precious. Pioneers traveled through and settled the prairie plowing native plants into farm fields.
- It is possible that a medicine, a beautiful garden flower, or a drought resistant food crop some day could be developed from prairie plants.
- History teaches many lessons about protecting our natural heritage. By studying the past we may learn better land stewardship and the mistakes of the past.