With the continual disappearance of grasslands and wetlands and huge changes occurring rapidly in the landscape and environment, now is the time to stop and really think about and pay homage to our planet. And Earth Day is the perfect time to do so.
Earth Day, held every year on April 22, promotes environmental awareness and calls for protection of our planet. An ideal place to celebrate Earth Day is right here in our backyard at the Nature Conservancy's Samuel H. Ordway, Jr. Memorial Preserve, located 10 miles west of Leola.
From work in Zambia to China's Lashi Lake, from Hawaii's Kamehame Beach to Alaska's Gustavus Forelands Reserve and from the Valdivian Coastal Reserve in Chili to northeast South Dakota's Ordway Preserve, the Nature Conservancy has protected more than 119 million acres of land worldwide.
We are losing grass at a rapid rate, and the Nature Conservancy protects habitat to preserve our biodiversity, said Mary Miller, Ordway Preserve manager. We provide research-demonstration sites, including a livestock grazing operation, on the best ways to manage land to meet objectives of wildlife habitat. We are non-profit, so we can conduct experiments on land which private landowners wouldn't be able to do. We get the information and give it to them.
Sprawling grasslands, such as those once prominent across the Great Plains, once covered one-fifth of the North American continent. Ordway Preserve represents a fraction of what remains after the West was settled. Visitors are reminded of the history of the Great Plains through the numerous granite boulders and potholes that are evidence of the area's glacial past. Indian history is recalled by teepee rings, and pioneer settlements are remembered in the ruins of an old homestead.
Ordway Preserve is comprised of 7,800 acres that lie at the southern end of large, untilled area consisting of more than 135,000 acres that extends into North Dakota.
The Conservancy selected the Ordway site because most of the preserve has never been plowed and has been managed with a good rotational-grazing system. The area contained a very diverse mix of prairie plants, which was the original scientific interest. Aquatic communities were also of interest.
Ordway Preserve is the largest preserve that's owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy in South Dakota. The landscape in which the preserve lies is threatened by conversion to agriculture, incompatible grazing practices and invasive species.
Mixed prairie grasses, including needle-and-thread grass, porcupine, green needlegrass, western wheatgrass and big bluestem and lots of little bluestem grass, grow on the preserve, Miller said.
Over 300 plant species exist on the preserve, and its hillsides are covered with wildflowers from late spring throughout the entire summer. The self-guided Lichen Interpretive Trail is a mini-course in lichenology, containing 35 species of lichens.
Buffalo were reintroduced as a critical part of the restoration of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem.
We have a herd of 300 buffalo, Miller said. Depending on where the herd is at the time of your visit, they can be seen from the self-guided wildlife trail off the highway. The buffalo are in a pasture south of the trail. Miller also said the buffalo calved during the second week of April.
Badgers, ground squirrels, fox, whitetail deer, pheasants and sharptail grouse also reside on the preserve.
More than 400 wetlands exist on the preserve, along with several thousand pairs of nesting waterfowl. Additionally, many types of shorebirds, grebes, rails, herons and other grassland birds call the preserve home.
Bird migrations are the most special thing to see in the spring, Miller said. We have massive amounts of birds flying all over.
Hunting is not allowed on the Ordway Preserve, but is allowed on other Conservancy properties.
Recent college graduates work on the preserve during the summer. They spray weeds, fix fencing, help with equipment, monitor butterflies, grass and bird surveys, Miller said. They physically help to monitor species we want to provide habitat for.
A nature-photography workshop will be held July 13, 2013 at the Ordway Preserve. This is an opportunity to meet with our staff, see the preserve, ask questions and learn about nature and photography, Miller said.
For more information about the preserve, how to prepare for a visit and the upcoming photography workshop, go to the Nature Conservancy's website at http://www.nature.org.