We've all passed by a prairie, whether it be by automobile or other means of travel. And chances are, you don't even realize it, since there isn't much to look at with acres and acres of what appears to be tall grass and weeds growing everywhere.
But Scott Seigfried, chairman of the Many Rivers Chapter of the Prairie Enthusiasts, is all about changing that theory. Seigfried has dedicated most of his time towards the re-emergence of prairies in southern Minnesota.
Seigfried purchased a piece of land in Faribault County and was determined to change it into prairie land.
August sunset on Touch the Sky Prairie
Brenda Clobes (left) and Naoko Meyer of New Ulm on a tour of Rathmans Tallgrass Prairie near Comfrey.
Fred Harris MN DNR Plant Ecologist speaks to the Many Rivers Chapter of The Prairie Enthusiast about the importance of the work we are doing to restore the tallgrass prairie.
Scott Seigfreid on prescribed fire
(Photo by Scott Kudelka)
"When I purchased that land, I kind of felt a sense of responsibility to give back a little bit to the environment," Seigfried said. "I decided to take an old pasture, clean it up and convert it back to prairie."
Seigfried got together with others who shared his enthusiasm and helped form the Many Rivers Chapter of the Prairie Enthusiasts.
The goal of the club is to help promote prairie growth. Seigfried said that people approach him about an area that they may think is perfect to turn into prairie land, only to find out otherwise.
Many Rivers is a chapter of The Prairie Enthusiasts, a non-profit grassroots conservation organization. They work throughout Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Freeborn, Martin, Nicollet, Waseca and Watonwan counties in South Central Minnesota. Long term goals for the Many Rivers Chapter include:
1.) Provide labor and assistance to members and non-members in preserving, restoring, expanding, maintaining and enhancing native prairie and oak savannah habitats.
2.) Educate members as well as the general public on sound land management options, specifically as it pertains to native prairie and oak savannah habitats.
3.) Train members in methods of prescribed burning and form burn teams to assist members in completing prescribed burns.
4.) Obtain easements or out-right land purchases of high quality prairie remnants.
5.) Provide a forum and/or opportunities for members and the general public to further expand their appreciation of prairie and oak savannah habitats.
"They don't specifically know how to go about that," Seigfried said. "Most of them don't know about specific species that have been there, or why that land is special, and that's part of our job - to educate them."
Seigfried said that one of the first steps to restoring land to prairie land is to burn the area, which helps get rid of the extra thatch and tree trunks, among other things. This helps the grass and plants that are buried underneath grow and reach full potential.
He says its important to burn the area regularly so that everything can continue to grow.
"We decided, being land owners and owning grasslands, that there are prairies that need to be maintained with fire - these are fire-dependent ecosystems -it's a lot of work," Seigfried said. "It's hard for an individual to maintain these things, because every three to five years they need to be burned.
"So we started looking at some options to start a cooperative of land owners that were interested in native prairies and we could purchase equipment and help each other out maintaining this," Seigfried added.
The Many Rivers Chapter of the Prairie Enthusiasts is now in its third year and the membership continues to grow. The club now has 90 members throughout southern Minnesota, growing at a rate of five or six new members every month.
At first glance, the prairie doesn't appear too exciting to the untrained eye. But Siegfried said that there are many species and plants that thrive in such a setting, and once you know what you're looking for, there's all kinds of flowers and plants to check out that you may have never noticed before.
"The prairie is a very complex ecosystem," Siegfried said. "You could have a very small acreage that could have 350 species of plants and grasses. You don't see that driving down the highway."
He also said that a prairie can hold as much as nine inches of rainfall because of the roots underground.
"The roots will hold that capacity of water before there's any run-off, because two- thirds of the prairie is below ground," Seigfried said. "That's where a lot of the complexity of the prairie comes about."
The prairie doesn't hold just plants. It's also home to many species of wildlife, some exclusive to the prairie. It's very common to see wildlife such as pheasants and snakes that make their home their and use the land for protection.
"All game birds, grassland birds, meadowlarks, bees, and species of butterflies are very dependent on the prairie for its habitat," he said. "I think in Minnesota, there are over 100 species on the prairie that are on the endangered list."
On May 5, Many Rivers Chapter of the Prairie Enthusiasts had about 60 volunteers near Judson to help with another prairie, burning debris and removing tree stumps. The event was recorded by Field and Stream Magazine and the 10-minute video will appear online June 13 at www.fieldandstream.com.
Meanwhile, the chapter is always looking to add new members who are interested in preserving the prairie.
"That's one thing that our organization keys on is protecting these areas for rare and endangered plants," Seigfried said. "We also help the DNR quite a bit and locate these rare and endangered things and we do citizen science projects and collect data for the DNR."
For more information about The Many Rivers Chapter of the Prairie Enthusiasts, contact Seigfried at firstname.lastname@example.org