There was an interesting article from the Chicago Tribune today about how Illinois, which is kown as “the Prairie State,” has only 0.01% of its native prairies left!
Imagine if West Virginia, “the Mountain State,” had only 0.01% of its mountains left; or if Rhode Island, “the Ocean State,” had only 0.01% of its coastline left.
Most would agree that would be a tragedy of epic proportions.
Well, it’s no less tragic to have the Prairie State losing 99.99% of its native prairie.
Illinois lies to the east of what is truly considered the Great Plains, but is (was) home to a large extent of what is known as tallgrass prairie – the Great Plains proper being a short, or mixed grass prairie. The reasons for this massive loss of habitat are the duel forces of urbanization and cultivation. As the enormous metropolis of Chicago exploded in the 1800s, a large population also settled to the south to grow food for a hungry city and nation. They found the soil to be excellent and the plowing to be nearly effortless. The result was a fantastic amount of food production, but the near total loss of a once grand ecosystem.
The article in the Chicago Tribune highlights efforts to increase the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie from 2,000 acres to an impressive 20,000 acres – and even to reintroduce bison to the area!
Grasslands, be they tallgrass or short grass, are some of the most endangered landscapes and ecosystems in the world. The Great Plains Trail Project wishes the restoration efforts at Midewin the best of luck.
Let’s hope Illinois can revive its tallgrass prairies to a percentage that is more representative of what once existed, so that it can proudly be the Prairie State once again.