Area groups deserve support in preserving native grasses
Mention the prairie and, for most of us, it conjures up images of buffalo roaming the wide open spaces of places like Nebraska and South Dakota. Or it recalls memories of an elementary teacher reading from the “Little House” series of books.
Either way, the prairie seems like something long ago and far away.
But through the efforts of some, the prairie - albeit small bits of the huge expanses of land described in history texts - is making a comeback. It’s happening in the Ann Arbor area, and it deserves public support.
A prairie is a resilient, but vanishing ecosystem of native grasses and flowers. According to state officials, Michigan’s native prairies are among the most completely destroyed ecosystems in the state.
But there are a number of efforts under way to preserve what is left of the prairie in Washtenaw County and actually create additional grasslands.
A group of University of Michigan graduate students, working with Robert Grese, as associate professor of landscape architecture, has completed a year-long study of nine grassland remnants along the Huron River corridor from Ypsilanti to Dexter. The study concludes that these threatened ecosystems need help to survive. The students are trying to raise funds, through T-shirt sales and other methods, to pay for publishing their report. They hope heightened awareness will lead to enthusiastic protection of these tiny local prairies.
There also are several other initiatives underway:
■ Seventh-graders from Ann Arbor’s Slauson Middle School are building a prairie habitat on two acres near Briarwood Mall. The project will show that we can regain some of what has been lost, even in the shadow of something as foreign to the prairie as a shopping mall.
■ The Ann Arbor Parks Department is restoring tracts of native prairie in several city parks as a place of refuge for the plant life of the prairie.
■ U-M’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens is converting part of a prairie habitat created in the 1970s to a quarter-acre wetland to purify runoff from the gardens before it flows into Fleming Creek.
what is needed is a coordinated network of all who have the will and the means preserve habitats. That includes bringing together property owners, government, environmentalists and volunteers. That also includes getting peopie to educate, advocate and promote on behalf of prairies.
We simply cannot allow these patches of land called prairie to vanish from the American landscape.