A new compendium of the best science on how to restore prairie ecosystems — the rarest in Washington — is available online, in a special edition of Northwest Science on prairie restoration.
Beautiful, and among the first lands to be developed because of their level terrain and good soil, prairies have long been among the most prized ecosystems in Washington. Native people relied on the camas plants that thrive in prairies, digging the roots for food during the lean spring months. The beautiful blue flowers carpet a healthy prairie landscape, such as this one, in South Sound:
Camas blooms at Glacial Heritage Preserve, a Thurston County natural preserve where the Nature Conservancy with volunteers has been doing restoration work for nearly 20 years. These healthy stands of camas are the result. Photo by Keith Lazelle, courtesy, The Nature Conservancy of Washington
As prairies have become rare in Washington, so, in turn, have some species of butterflies that depend on prairies. Along with battling weeds, restoration has even included bringing back some of the butterflies that have become rare along with the landscape, with captive rearing and releases.
Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies are prepared for release onto a Thurston County prairie. The live release of captive-reared butterflies is intended to rebuild populations of this threatened species. Photo by Jocelyn Ellis, Courtesy, the Nature Conservancy of Washington
The open areas of the prairie ecosystem — without trees and large shrubs — is key for the insects that use them, enabling them to fly unimpeded to nectar at flowers. Native people used to burn prairies regularly to keep them open and free of trees, so that plants they depended on would flourish. The open areas also were good spots for hunting game.
The open quality of prairie ecosystems is key to their ecological function. Here, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Mary Linders releases Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies onto a Thurston County prairie. Photo by Ellis Abood, courtesy, the Nature Conservancy of Washington.
To learn more about prairies, read my story in the Seattle Times.
To learn more about work by the Nature Conservancy and its conservation partners on Washington prairies and opportunities to visit or volunteer to restore these landscapes, go online here: