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Paynesville Press - December 11, 2002

Nature preserve restored to prairie

By Jennifer E. Johnson

Colin McGuigan and Erica Christensen - photo by Jennifer E. Johnson Tall grass prairies once covered over 400,000 square miles of North America. Less than one percent remains.

The Regal Meadow is one of a dwindling number of tall grass prairies in existence, and the Nature Conservancy hopes to reverse this depletion one prairie at a time.

The Nature Conservancy has committed to restoring the 385-acre Regal Meadow to its natural state as a tall grass prairie. On Saturday, land steward Colin McGuigan and volunteer Erica Christensen (right) worked to remove non-native jack pine and blue spruce from the preserve.

"The prairie is a functioning ecosystem that provides a habitat and food base for many species," said Colin McGuigan, regional land steward for the Nature Conservancy, "and this important system has declined to less than one percent of what originally made up the great plains landscape."

Last Saturday, the Nature Conservancy held a work party to physically remove a ridge of non-native trees from a section of the 385-acre meadow as part of an ongoing effort to return the prairie back to its natural state.

Though the Nature Conservancy has owned the property for over 20 years, non-native plants still exist in the Regal Meadow. Restoration includes eradicating non-native plants and reintroducing native seeds culled from other tall grass prairies.

Located a few miles north of Hawick in Kandiyohi County, the meadow is one of several areas of Minnesota prairie targeted for restoration. Since its acquisition from five local families, the Nature Conservancy has been committed to returning ecological balance to the tall grass prairie.

Tall grass prairies flora and fauna - chart by Jennifer E. Johnson Tall grass prairies are composed of native plants that existed prior to European settlement. The flora and fauna contained within the prairie ecosystems are numerous. "Overall, a good native prairie would contain over 250 species of vascular plants that would play host to a variety of microbiotic and macrobiotic organisms," said McGuigan.

Goals for the Regal Meadow preserve include restoring the surface and ground water hydrology, working with local partners to establish a safe "corridor" for migrating wildlife to travel through; acquiring land around the preserve to protect the unique biological communities, and restoration of the land surrounding the wetland complex with local "ecotype" prairie to further buffer it from invasion of exotic species.

"It's a good waterfowl production area and habitat for pheasants and deer. The wetland is a giant sponge that helps to mitigate the risks of flooding in the valley," said McGuigan.

olunteer work days are usually held two or three times a year for seed collection, removal of brush and trees, and building fire breaks. The Nature Conservancy also carries out prescribed fires that are done by the land steward and a volunteer burn crew. The site is maintained year round, but most of the work occurs during the summer on exotic species control and other pieces of the restoration puzzle.

Erica Christensen and Katurah Weyenberg drove from Minneapolis on Saturday to help. Working several summers for the Nature Conservancy prepared Christensen for the labor-intensive work of clearing brush and trees. Wielding a chainsaw she made steady progress, removing several non-native jack pine and blue spruce. The ridge of trees absorbed more water from the marshy rich fen below than the native prairie grasses and flowers would normally use, throwing off the balance of the ecosystem.

The Nature Conservancy has another property, Roscoe Prairie, a few miles west of Roscoe. Both preserves are open to the public for walking, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, photography, and bird and wildlife viewing.

Motorized vehicles aren't allowed on either preserve. School and local groups are also encouraged to use them as hands-on resources for learning and exploration of a native prairie setting.

Colin McGuigan, Katurah Weyenberg, and Erica Christensen - photo by Jennifer E. Johnson "We invite the public at large to visit (these preserves) to view and involve themselves in our restoration process," said McGuigan. "The (Regal Meadow) is truly a gem and one of the last great places in Minnesota."

The Nature Conservancy held a volunteer work day at the Regal Meadow north of Hawick. Erica Christensen (left) cut trees marked for removal while land steward Colin McGuigan and Katurah Weyenberg (right) cleared brush. Christensen and Weyenberg drove from Minneapolis to help clear a ridge of non-native jack pine and blue spruce. Two more work days will be held in January.

The Nature Conservancy will host two more workdays in January: on Saturday, Jan. 11, and Saturday, Jan. 25, to continue work on tree and brush removal. For information on volunteering, contact Colin McGuigan at 218-575-3032 or

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