PBS Terra– Jan 14, 2021
American prairies were once home to as many as 60 million bison. But when ranching and agriculture displaced elk and bison from the prairies, America’s grasslands all but disappeared. Now, the Nature Conservancy manages the largest remaining protected tract of tallgrass prairie in the entire world, the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma.
This 40,000-acre expanse is much more than grass. It is a biologically rich habitat that harbors a diverse collection of plant and animal species—more than 750 species of flora and 80 different mammals. This prairie is also a vital component in nature’s fight against climate change. The key to keeping the prairie healthy? Bison.
The Nature Conservancy reintroduced 300 bison to this prairie in 1993, and the herd has grown to more than 2,000 animals today. They graze on the majority of the preserve, playing an important part in enhancing the prairies. Combined with a method of land management known as patch burning—preserve managers torch about a third of the acreage every spring, summer, and fall, mimicking ancient seasons of fire—the tallgrass prairie is thriving.