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Preserving Natural Prairie Lands in Minnesota

In our earlier post, we shared about pockets of remnant prairie that still remain in their natural state in Minnesota. When these areas are found, it’s crucial that we protect them from development and preserve what exists. In this article we’ll share about one success story – Roscoe Prairie.  

About 20 mile west of St. Cloud near Paynesville there is an area called Roscoe Prairie.  It’s a beautiful little parcel, about 56 acres. In the St. Cloud area there are many outcroppings of granite.  Obviously rocky land like that couldn’t be plowed.  Farmers may have grazed their livestock on it, but it wouldn’t have been planted to hay; they simply let the cows and other animals graze on what grew naturally.

Because the Roscoe land was low, it stayed somewhat wet, and that is another reason it was never plowed.  The Nature Conservancy selected it for preservation and now manages it.  They indicate that signs of human disturbance are disappearing, due to very careful land management and control of non-native species.  Two very rare wildflowers were identified on this land – the small white lady’s slipper and Hill’s thistle.  This was a very important find, because both these plants are on the list of species of special concern.

Finding these undisturbed, native plant communities is important for more than just the plants we identify.  Those plant communities provide habitats for insects, birds, and mammals, many of them either endangered or threatened.  For example, a specimen of the Dakota skipper, a very rare butterfly that’s listed as threatened, was found here.  Several other species of butterflies are also thriving here.

It’s believed that this prairie remnant was a breeding ground for several wildlife species now listed on the federal Endangered Species Act.    Being able to protect these parcels is a huge step in helping to preserve these threatened populations.

Roscoe Prairie is just one remnant prairie that has been discovered and protected.  

Another area in Stearns County has been discovered.  A homeowner found a segment of undeveloped land on his property and has dedicated it to remain undisturbed.  And there are other parcels like that around Minnesota and the entire Midwest.  That’s very encouraging.

These natural, undisturbed pockets of vegetation are like finding a goldmine. They provide us insight into what viable, historical plant communities were like prior to settlement. This helps us to design accurate species assemblages that are used in today’s restoration projects.

They also can be a source of local ecoptype native seed that we can then cultivate to produce more seed for use on restoration projects.  And when we identify these remnants, they can be protected from future development and sometimes even expanded by restoring adjacent land with the same species.

If you are a farmer or other rural landowner who believes you may have portions of your land that remain untouched by either tilling or cultivation, please contact us or your local SWCD or NRCS office.