Native prairie is rare. Less than one-tenth of 1% of Iowa's original prairie landscape remains. The other 99.9% has been plowed under, bulldozed, over-grazed, or taken over by trees. The primeval prairies are responsible for Iowa's incredibly fertile soils. No other Midwest plant community matches prairie's ability to prevent erosion, sequester carbon, and prevent flooding. That is why re-establishing prairie is such a worthwhile endeavor.
Most prairie plants are perennials and take 3 years to get established. A few will bloom on their first year, while a handful of other species take 7 or more years to mature. Patience is necessary.
Prairie vegetation can be established on agricultural, commercial, and residential, land as well as public land such as parks, preserves, and highway rights-of-way.
Prairie & Wetlands's service area for planting prairie extends generally 50 miles out from Des Moines. The investment required to re-establish small plots of prairie generally runs from 10¢ to 20¢ per square foot. That's a whole lot cheaper than laying sod, which can cost anywhere from 25¢ to 75¢ per square foot. Prairie-by-the-acre usually runs between $1,500 to $2,000, but can be as much as $3,000 if erosion netting is required or if the purpose of the planting is to serve as a refuge for rare species.
Speaking of rare species…Prairie & Wetlands also re-establishes oak savanna plant communities. Oak savanna remnants in Iowa are rarer than prairie remnants. Some people have described the oak savannas of the Midwest as prairie dotted with oak trees at a density of 1 to 4 mature trees per acres. In actuality the understories of intact oak savannas are an amalgam of woodland, prairie, and savanna "oddball" species. They are called oddball species, because most of them are uncommon or rare, and that's in part because they occur naturally only in native oak savannas which are themselves uncommon. Botanists have recorded approximately 1,000 prairie plant species across the prairie biome. On the other hand, the Midwest's oak savannas can claim a mere 125 oddball species as exclusively their own.
Here is a list of potential benefits to look for from your prairie:
- Aesthetics -- Prairies are beautiful and provide restful places to enjoy nature and feel refreshed.
- Economic benefits for a homeowner -- Although they might cost more to establish than a lawn they are cheaper to maintain.
- Economic benefits for a farmer -- A better overall return on investment (ROI) can be achieved by using cost-sharing and set aside programs to plant prairie on a field's least productive acres. Click here for more info.
- Economic benefits for a land manager -- Prairie provides excellent wildlife habitat, which is good for bird watching, hunting, and nature study. Hunting and bird watching result in billions of dollars in economic activity. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation $107 billion was in spent in 2011 on birdwatching equipment and travel in the U.S A well established prairie is also great for controlling weeds.
- Economic benefits for a land use planner -- Prairie can help prevent water pollution which in turn can promote recreation and tourism. Cleaner water also means less money is spent by water utilities to provide safe drinking water.
- Less soil erosion -- Look forward to seeing sparkling water downstream from your prairie, more profit from your farm or lower prices at the supermarket.
- Less chemical pollution -- Take joy in knowing that your are helping to lower the price of wild-caught shrimp by reducing the size of the dead-zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Someone you know might have a lower water bill too.
- More diverse wildlife -- Prairie provides great habitat for the birds that eat insect pests. If you are a hunter, you'll have more room to hunt.
- Better flood control -- Prairie soil is very soft and puffy. It acts like a sponge. Rainwater soaks in and thereby helps reduce the amount of runoff that would otherwise drain quickly into streams. The economic harm from floods impacts everyone in the region, including those upstream from the flood.
- Less greenhouse gas -- The prairie's deep roots send carbon six feet or more into the soil were it is sequestered as the humus and colloids that make prairie soils so fertile. A young prairie will sequester one ton of carbon per acre per year. 1* Everyone benefits from less greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
Click here for more detailed information about the benefits of planting prairie.
*1 Piñeiro, G., E. G. Jobbágy, J. Baker, B. C. Murray, and and R. B. Jackson (2009) Set-asides can be better climate investment than corn ethanol. Ecological Applications 19:277-28
Wetland Product and Services
Wetlands provide many valuable functions. First and foremost they purify polluted water by capturing sediment and by sequestering phosphorus and other nutrients. Wetlands also help breakdown pesticides, and they excel at converting the nitrogen in nitrates and nitrites into nitrogen gas. In addition wetlands provide spawning grounds for certain fish and habitat for a whole host of other valuable organisms.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) protects certain wetlands. The act stipulates that if a protected wetland is destroyed, then another wetland needs to be created to compensate for that loss. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) issues permits to allow people to destroy wetlands. The staff of Prairie & Wetlands prepares permit applications on behalf of our clients and submits those applications to the ACOE for approval. The staff also prepares monitoring reports to document the ecological health of compensatory wetlands. That's because the ACOE wants to make sure that the ecological functions of the destroyed wetland are being replaced by the compensatory wetland. The Prairie & Wetlands staff also prepares the plant species list and construction specifications for compensatory wetlands.
In addition to preparing and submitting permit applications, reports, and construction specifications, Prairie & Wetlands plants and maintains wetlands. The staff also provides inspection and supervision services during a compensatory wetland's construction phase. Prairie & Wetlands has the capacity to do minor earthwork for the purposes of maintaining a wetland, but when it comes to constructing large compensatory wetlands, we let the big operators with their full-sized bulldozers and backhoes do all the work.
Field Biology Product and Services
Every other year or so Prairie & Wetlands contracts with ecotoxicology firms to solve environmental problems dealing with pesticides. Our role is to gather valid samples and data for the regulatory agencies to use during their decision making processes. The regulatory agencies require that we, as scientists in the field, follow strict procedures. They also require our science staff to be trained in Good Laboratory Practices (GLP). Four of our associates are GLP certified.
We provide the people-power, and expertise to make sure the biological studies we work on are a success.
A Short History of the Prairie Movement
The movement to reestablish prairie began in the 1930s. University professors recognized prairies as a distinct plant communities. They saw more and more prairies being destroyed and decided to see if it would be possible to recreate a prairie ecosystem. The first large-scale prairie re-establishment took place at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum at Madison, Wisconsin. A decade or two later conservationists working for governmental agencies became enamored of prairie and started planting it, partly for wildlife habitat, but most certainly for aesthetic reasons too. In the 1960s homeowners couldn't resist the beauty and romance of the prairie and began replacing lawns with prairie. As time went on biologists saw that prairie was also good at controlling weeds, so in the 1980s a number of counties in Iowa began planting prairie to their roadside ditches. And now research has shown that farmers can boost their bottom line profit by planting prairie strips on their row crop ground in 20- to 60-foot wide swaths perpendicular to the fall line. The prairie strips only need to cover 10% of the tillable ground for the maximum economic benefit to be realized. Click here to find out how prairie strips can pay for themselves and provide benefits to you and future generations.
Prairie is a plant community type that depends on disturbances such as periodic grazing and burning to survive. Without periodic fire, trees invade the prairie and kill the sun-loving prairie plants. And without periodic grazing, the grasses takeover and choke out the many beautiful wildflowers so important to the overall health of the prairie.
The staff of Prairie & Wetlands has thought about sprinkling salad dressing on ungrazed prairie, getting down on their hands and knees and feasting on swards of little blue stem and bouquets of prairie violet. However so far they have resisted. They do however participate in controlled burns, and are very serious about making sure all fire is completely controlled.
We'd like to bring natural beauty your life and provide you with a healthful environment. Please click on the button to the right for our contact information.