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Identifying Natural Prairie Lands in Minnesota

At Prairie Restorations, Inc, most of our projects involve restoring prairies and other native landscapes in Minnesota and other states in our region.  These projects also involve converting already built landscapes into ecologically sound native landscapes.  But occasionally we hear about a pocket of land that still exists as it has been for hundreds of years.  And when we find those areas, it’s very gratifying, for a number of reasons.

In the not-too-distant past, before major settlements developed (around 1850), Minnesota was covered with natural prairie, savanna, and other native plant communities.  It’s estimated that prairie alone made up about 18 million acres.  In fact, most of western Minnesota was only prairie, as far as the eye can see.

But as settlers from the East moved in and converted these once-wild areas into farms and towns, those natural plant communities dwindled. Settlers needed places to live, and they had to grow crops to eat.  As settlements expanded, those natural prairies disappeared.  Of course, with the rapid development that has occurred in the last 50 years, very few virgin prairie areas remain.

Today it’s estimated that less than 1% of the historical native prairies still exist.

Much of the remaining prairies have been documented, but we believe that there are still many areas that have not.  Occasionally we will hear of – or discover – small pockets of land that have been untouched by a plow or have remained undisturbed, in their natural state.  That’s exciting for us, and it’s very fascinating.  Perhaps it was a rocky or wet area that couldn’t be plowed, so the farmer just left it alone.  Although these areas are often degraded due to lack of fire or pressure from invasive species, they can be salvaged and are worth saving.

Look for our upcoming post where we’ll talk about one particular Minnesota prairie remnant that was discovered, developed, and through our preservation efforts is now protected – Roscoe Prairie.