A long time ago, the prairie was the first ecosystem in the Indiana region, however, in the last 150 years, almost all of it has been turned into agricultural land.
It is estimated that less than 1 per cent of original, native prairie remains today.
In the last 20 years, the people behind The Nature Conservancy has been working tirelessly to transform the 7000 acres of farmland back into a diverse prairie.
Today, over 750 species of plants and 250 species of butterflies thrive on the newly restored prairie, named the Kankakee Sands Nature Preserve.
The Nature Conservancy transported 23 bison onto the preserve from another preserve in South Dakota, in October of 2016.
“They got off the truck and in about 5 hours, they were settled as they had never left,” Kankakee Sands site manager Ted Anchor said in this video :
In early 2017 the total number of bison in Indiana was 43, ten of which were newborn calves and ten more brought from South Dakota
They represent the first pure-bred bison in the state in 200 years.
They a treasure in their own right to the state, however, the Nature Conservancy brought them in for more than their magnificence.
Bison are a crucial partner in prairie restoration. The prairies need the bison as much as the bison need the prairies.
“When bison graze grass, it gives a competitive advantage to all the neighbors of that plant, such as native wildflowers,” Anchor said.
They also help in keeping down tree saplings, which stop the prairie from turning into a forest, and cut furrows in the dirt with their hooves, which assists with seed dispersal and planting.
“It’s really about restoring the interactions between the plants and animals for the sake of the ecosystem,” Anchor says.
At one point in time, over 60 million bison walked free in the United States. Their numbers dwindled to less than 1000 by the year 1889 and are now up to about half a million thanks to conservation efforts.
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