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eather Jobst has seen her fair share of remnant prairies — more than most. But every time she steps onto one, the effect is still the same. “There’s something magical about being at those places,” said Jobst, INHF senior land conservation director. “You start thinking about how long it’s been there, about the history of that place. Remnant prairies have a way of bringing us back, of reminding us where we are.” By simple definition, remnant prairie is true native prairie. Unlike restored or reconstructed prairies, which have been reestablished or returned to prairie, prairie remnants are fragments of the original, pre-settlement prairie landscape. “First and foremost, it’s a piece that has not been greatly disturbed and has maintained some of its original vegetation,” said Dr. Daryl Smith, founder and former director of the Tallgrass Prairie Center. “The quality of remnants varies considerably, but when I think of remnant prairies, I think of prairies that have remained relatively intact.” Historically, prairie once covered 75 to 80 percent of Iowa’s landscape. Now, less than 0.1 percent of that original prairie remains, scattered throughout small pockets across the state. “Native prairie is overwhelmingly rare in Iowa,” said INHF President Joe McGovern. “We must do everything we can to preserve this important part of our natural history that is so fundamental to our future.” The Loess Hills contain the largest amount Canada anemone bloom at Doolittle Prairie State Preserve in Story County. Doolittle Prairie is one of just a handful of untouched remnant prairies remaining in Iowa. Photo by Kerri Sorrell, INHF

of prairie remnants remaining in Iowa. Pristine native prairies can also be found in the rolling hills of southern and south central Iowa, the prairie pothole region of northern Iowa, and the blufflands of eastern Iowa. “Remnant prairies tend to be found in areas where the landscape was too steep, rocky or wet to farm,” said John Pearson, an ecologist with the Iowa DNR. “Of course, there are exceptions to those extremes.” At 240 acres, Hayden Prairie State Preserve in Howard County — a favorite of both Pearson and Smith — is the largest prairie remnant in Iowa outside the Loess Hills. Bursting with an incredible array of wildflowers, prairie grasses and an abundance of wildlife, this public prairie preserve offers an amazing glimpse into Iowa’s prairie past. While the size of Hayden Prairie is unique — remnant prairies in Iowa tend to be small and isolated — the diversity found there is not. “The ecological diversity in any remnant prairie — regardless of size — is noticeably different,” said INHF Land Stewardship Director Ryan Schmidt. “You see it in the soils, plants and animals. Nowhere else in the state can you find that level of diversity; it’s got it all.” At minimum, remnant prairies are home to approximately 100 species of prairie plants — some with roots known to reach depths of 20 feet. High quality prairie remnants can contain in excess of 300 species of prairie plants. In contrast, a reconstructed prairie can have between 20–100 plant species. Remnants also provide critical habitat for a wide variety of threatened and endangered wildlife including large and small mammals, birds, pollinators, reptiles and insects. That diversity, which has developed over thousands of years, is also incredibly difficult to recreate. Soil conditions, micro climate and inhf.o r g


Summer 2017  
Summer 2017