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Tall Grass Story: the Little Landscape on the Prairie

June 21, 1997|From Associated Press

The tall-grass prairie, once an ocean teeming with wildlife, is now nothing more than a puddle here, a trickle there. When the first European explorers left this new country's Eastern forests, they encountered 142 million acres of tall-grass prairie. Now, nearly all the prairies are gone. But there has been a resurgence of interest in them.

"We're like children gobbling cake. When it's almost gone, we realize too late what we wasted and nearly missed," says John Madson, author of two books--"Tallgrass Prairies" and "Where the Sky Began." Madson, an Iowa native, has spent a lifetime writing about wildlife and the natural history of prairies, plains and rivers.

In the past 10 years, Madson has noticed a marked increase in prairies. Not only are large tracts of prairie being preserved or restored (such as the 8,600-acre Konza Prairie in Kansas, the 32,000-acre Tallgrass Prairie in Oklahoma and the 8,600-acre Walnut Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa), smaller pieces are also being restored on both public and private property.

"There's a number of factors that account for this," Madson says.

Perhaps the main reason is the rare beauty of the prairie that is generating this renewed interest.

"There are some absolutely spectacular plants you won't find anywhere else. We need to keep what little wilderness we have," Madson says.

"Like the great conservation writer Aldo Leopold once wrote, 'Relegating wilderness to Alaska is like relegating our happiness to heaven--we might not get to either place.' "

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