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'More than 99% of the prairies are gone': Restoring Iowa's native prairie to the Loess Hills

Posted at 4:20 PM, Oct 20, 2023

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (KMTV) — Green Hill Wildlife Management Area in Pottawattamie County is owned by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It’s situated in the Loess Hills approximately five miles south of Council Bluffs. Thursday evening, Golden Hills Resource, Conservation & Development — a nonprofit based in Oakland, Iowa — led a group of volunteers collecting native prairie seeds.

“Out here you can see kind of the gold color, that’s the remnant prairie,” said Golden Hills Deputy Director, Lance Brisbois as he pointed to a hillside in the distance. “In Iowa, more than 99% of the prairies are gone. They’ve primarily been plowed for agriculture but as well as urban development.”

Remnant prairie is what’s left of the original prairie plants that covered the bluffs for centuries.

“Here in the Loess Hills, we have the majority of the remnant prairies that are left in Iowa. So these are pretty unique, rare, special spots,” said Brisbois.

Conservationists want to restore more of the native prairie on the Green Hill property.

“So we’ll just go out by hand and pick seeds that are ready,” said Brisbois. “We’ll demonstrate which ones are ripe, how to tell which species they are — and then, we’ll point out if there are any invasive species, which we don’t want. But on the remnants, pretty much, whatever’s native is a good thing that we’ll want to pick.”

The Loess Hills used to have fewer trees and the native plants depended upon regular prairie fires for renewal. Now, though, the hills are covered in trees and non-native pasture grasses.

“Prairies can have 200 or more species in them. So, biodiversity is a big part of it. Just restoring some of that wildlife habitat that’s been lost,” said Brisbois.

The seeds collected on Thursday will stay with the Department of Natural Resources and replace some of the non-native grasses at Green Hill.

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