Friday, September 21, 2007

Prairie Remnants

I spent a morning last week exploring a small parcel of unplowed Blackland Prairie with Matt White,author of Prairie Time: A Blackland Portrait and Birds of Northeast Texas.
I've lived in the Blacklands, in the Dallas area, for the past 25 years, but this was the first time I had ever seen virgin Blackland Prairie. I've seen many working pastures with little bluestem and and other natives that provide decent habitat for grassland birds, but nothing like this.

Unplowed Blackland Prairie is far and away the most endangered habitat in Texas if not all of North America. Of the original 12 million acres, only about 5,000 remain, mostly in the form of small patches on private land. This particular patch survived only because it was set aside as a hay meadow and was spared the plow. Even when the cotton and corn crop failed, you could feed yourself and your family on a piece of prairie with a milk cow and a few hogs or other livestock. Matt had an interesting theory on these remnants. He said, "The very best of the old Blackland farmers had a practical conservation ethic that's rare today. They knew that they had to plan for contingencies because they couldn't just run out and buy whatever they needed, like we can today."

Prairie Rose - Blooms April-July

Blue Sage


Chest-High Big Bluestem

In 1848, upon arriving at the edge of the Blackland Prairie, Dr. John Brooke, an emigrant from England, wrote,

“It was the finest sight I ever saw; immense meadows 2 or 3 feet deep of fine grass and flowers. Such beautiful colours I never saw…”

Later, after settling in Grayson County near the northern edge of the Blackland Prairie, he wrote,

“I can sit on my porch before my door and see miles of the most beautiful Prairie interwoven with groves of timber, surpassing, in my idea, the beauties of the sea. Think of seeing a tract of land on a slight incline covered with flowers and rich meadow grass for 12 to 20 miles…”

Keep that in mind if you ever drive through the Dallas area.

I just finished a feature article on the Blacklands for Texas Parks & Wildlife. I believe it's scheduled for the February issue. It was interesting, worthwhile work but very depressing.