Prairie to the People

Prairie to the PeopleTM

Building stronger communities through integrated prairie habitat, conservation best practices and civic leadership.

For thousands of years, prairie habitat dominated the landscape stretching from Texas to Canada. The heartland of the United States featured millions of acres of diverse prairie habitat that held untold numbers of pollinator species and insects. Enormous amounts of wildlife were dependent on the prairie such as the American Bison, waterfowl, and many other species.

Native prairie ecosystems were extremely diverse and contributed to pristine water quality due to an expansive root system that often exceeded 10 feet of depth. Three main classifications of prairie habitat were discovered and identified, to include Tall Grass Prairie, Mixed Grass Prairie and Short Grass Prairie biomes. Each of the three biomes represent a uniquely adapted plant community that support unique types of insects that rely specifically on an individual plant species. Prairies are the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world comparable to the Amazon jungle of Brazil.

In just over 150 years, through the development of modern farming practices and global population growth, these vast lands have been converted for agriculture production, livestock grazing, and development, reducing native prairie habitat to less than 1% of its original scale. Few remnants of native Tall Grass Prairie remain and are scattered throughout the Midwest. Fragmentation, invasive species, mismanagement and lack of education are the main factors for modern prairie habitat loss.

The effects of this dramatic landscape shift continues to be at the epicenter of many of our nation’s top conservation issues today. In Minnesota, 40% of lakes and rivers are impaired and deemed not safe for swimming. Across the Midwest, toxic algae blooms from urban and agricultural runoff forcing emergency drinking water restrictions. The Mississippi River continues to deliver non-life supporting water to the Gulf of Mexico.

Restoring the power of the landscape to improve water resources and provide greater biodiversity of plants and animals will support pollinators and reduce misuse of chemicals and fertilizers.

With supported civic leadership and integration of prairie habitat throughout the community, municipalities will benefit from an engaged citizen base supporting local conservation projects and volunteer opportunities for young and old.

Prairie to the People is a community program to integrate prairie habitat restoration,demonstration projects and adoption of conservation best practices. Through civic leadership, public engagement and implementation of prairie-friendly policy, integrated prairie conservation practices will create significant benefits in three core areas:

Ecologically, Prairie to the People™ will create buffer zones in urban and developed areas where excessive water runoff impact sewer systems and local waters, including ponds and wetlands. By integrating native prairie plants adapted for soil types and local conditions, storm water can be absorbed, filtered, and slowed, reducing erosion and nutrient overloading. Toxic blue green algae blooms are a direct result of chemical misuse and runoff into waterways. Prairie habitat has the ability to absorb and store chemicals and storm water. Converting green spaces from mowed landscapes to a diverse prairie will greatly increase pollinator species such as bees and butterflies, along with numerous wild bird and bat species. Additional ecological benefits include less dependence on herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers to manage monoculture landscapes such as Kentucky Bluegrass.

Municipal benefits from Prairie to the People™ adoption include lower maintenance costs associated with upkeep of traditional green spaces. In summer months, less mowing of traditional grass spaces will create savings in fuel costs, machine maintenance, and staff requirements for repetitive duties. Cost savings will enable resources to be spent on higher priority projects. Benefits also include reduced storm water overflow inundating municipal sewer systems and water treatment plants. The rise of large storm events and collateral impacts can be mitigated through strategic prairie habitats. Prairie habitat can also help in winter months by adsorbing blowing and drifting snow which can impact road and driving conditions.

Civic adoption and community engagement is the most important component for a successful Prairie to the People™ program. Community leaders need to create and adopt policy that empowers citizens and business owners to support prairie-friendly best practices. Implementation of prairie habitat will improve aesthetics and provide a platform for community pride as being a certified Prairie City USA™. A unified Prairie to the People conservation program, initiated by community leaders, include county, state, and federal agencies which often manage and oversee local property and sites for prairie conversion. Implementation and adoption by businesses will showcase investments to enhance the community and create an educational and volunteer foundation for program maintenance and growth. Educating the public is also critically important. Signage at highly-visible habitat projects will help to inform residents and visitors about the benefits of integrated prairie habitat and serve as a model for other communities. Expanded prairie habitat will encourage recreational and outdoor learning opportunities as prairie plants and flowers bloom at various times throughout the growing season, attracting many colorful pollinators. Quantifying and studying the increase in pollinator numbers can help support national efforts to protect at-risk species such as the Monarch Butterfly.