Illinois is the “Prairie State,” but we’ve lost more than 99.99% of our prairies to farming and development. This loss of prairie threatens the survival of iconic species such as regal fritillary butterflies. Other species, such as the upland sandpiper and large grazers like bison, have been driven nearly or completely out of Illinois from hunting and habitat loss.
But, in a remote corner of Franklin Grove, a team of citizen volunteers and restoration practitioners is trying to change all that. Walking around Nachusa Grasslands is like taking a step back in time.
In the summer, new wildflowers bloom each week. One week prairies are yellow with coneflower, compass plant, and sunflower blooms and then turn purple with tick trefoil, vervain, and blazing star.
Perhaps most astonishingly, around 100 bison dot the prairie, having been reintroduced a few years ago to restore the ecological function of grazing to the landscape. These charismatic creatures used to number in the millions over the Great Plains until they were hunted to near-extinction in the late 1800s.
My students and I are incredibly fortunate to be able to do our research at Nachusa and quantify how plants, bugs, birds, and mammals respond to the newly reintroduced bison. You and your family can go witness this incredible prairie every day of the year!
The Nachusa Autumn on the Prairie event is Saturday, September 16. I encourage you to experience this hidden gem, and to consider supporting science out there through the Friends of Nachusa Grasslands science challenge.
I’m Holly Jones, and that’s my Perspective.