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Bison would be nice on restored prairie

We salute The Nature Conservancy for its plans to reintroduce bison at Nachusa Grasslands. The herd will be good for prairie plant management and tourism.

Published: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Visitors expect to see grass when they go to Nachusa Grasslands, and they do.

The 3,100 acres of Nature Conservancy land between Dixon, Franklin Grove and Oregon has many species of grassy prairie plants. Volunteers have put in hundreds of hours collecting varieties of seeds and planting them to create a tallgrass prairie ecosystem on land that was once farmed.

But all that tall prairie grass makes it hard for shorter flowering native plants to survive without help.

In pre-settlement times, herds of bison, also known as buffalo, grazed on America’s vast prairie, devouring native grasses and giving other prairie plants more room to grow.

It’s no wonder, then, that the Nature Conservancy plans to reintroduce bison at Nachusa Grasslands.

Signs at last weekend’s Autumn on the Prairie event described the upcoming project. If enough money can be raised, a herd of 60 to 80 bison is scheduled to arrive next fall.

A herd of bison living in the Sauk Valley! That hasn’t happened for nearly 200 years, we suppose.

Visitors at Autumn on the Prairie expressed their excitement at the prospect of seeing bison roaming the land again.

A herd’s presence would keep the tall prairie grass under control, as well as non-native grasses, which would be a good thing in the continuing restoration of the property.

The herd may accomplish something else: attract more visitors to Nachusa Grasslands.

After the bison herd gets established and word gets out, people will want to come here to see it.

Bison are a symbol of America’s pioneer past. From 1913 to 1938, the U.S. nickel coin – the buffalo nickel – had a bison on the reverse side.

Buffalo Bill. The Buffalo Bills. Bison have their place in the American consciousness.

Unfortunately, settlement of the Middle West and Great Plains left little room for bison herds. However, it is good to see that situation being reversed on public lands and privately owned preserves.

Friends of Nachusa Grasslands has information on the bison reintroduction project on its website. People who want to contribute to the cause may contact Diane Gerrish, associate director of philanthropy at The Nature Conservancy, at 312-580-2153.

Bison would certainly be nice on the restored prairie at Nachusa Grasslands. We look forward to their arrival.

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