At one time, bison, deer and elk grazed their way across the plains, enriching soil with their droppings along the way. Dual effects of burning and grazing resulted in the lush, biologically diverse prairies that Lewis and Clark wrote of in their journals. Frequent grazing leveled the field for all prairie plants, ensuring that fast-growing, aggressive species did not take over.
Our tractor and mower are, in a sense, our mechanical buffalo. Although mowing cannot replicate the effects of grazing, it’s a useful tool in maintaining the health and diversity of plant life at South Fork.
We time our mowing to make sure that ground-nesting birds like turkey, field sparrows and quail are not disturbed while getting their broods from eggs to fledglings. Mowing also opens up areas for birds that require shorter, less dense stands of vegetation. We keep the perimeter of the prairie mowed continuously, creating a green space that acts as a barrier to fire during controlled burns.
People often ask us why we go to so much trouble and expense to maintain this small prairie remnant. Is saving an endangered milkweed really worth all of this effort and expenditure of money?
Missouri Department of Conservation regional biologist Larry Rizzo responds to that question this way: “I believe that it’s a moral issue. We have so altered the landscape that plant and animal species are disappearing. It seems to me that we have an obligation to preserve and protect what is left.”