Conservation Showcase - White
NRCS Program Protects Prairies Perpetually
There won't ever be a little house or anything else on Bill and Helen White's prairie.
The Whites worked with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to place 118 acres of native prairie near Mount Vernon in a permanent easement under NRCS' Grassland Reserve Program (GRP). In exchange for the easement, the Whites receive $1,125 per acre and retain ownership and use of the land.
Helen White says it is a good feeling knowing that the land that has been in her family since the late 1930s will be native prairie forever.
"I always said to my dad, "don't sell the hay field,"" she says. "Now my daughter says the same thing."
The "hay field" is actually a remnant native prairie, says Diana Sheridan, NRCS resource conservationist in Lawrence County. Remnant native prairies feature a combination of native, warm-season grasses and native forbs.
Carol Davit, development coordinator with the Missouri Prairie Foundation, says there are only 90,000 acres of remnant native prairie still surviving in Missouri. Before settlement, one-third of the state (about 15 million acres) was native prairie.
Davit says that in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, prairies provide habitat for pollinators, build rich soil, hold water, protect streams, and effectively sequester carbon in the soil. She applauds people who take measures to protect the prairies, either on their own or through programs like GRP.
"It's wonderful when landowners can protect remaining prairie," Davit says. "Prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world, and we have it right here in Missouri to protect for future generations."
Statewide, 15 GRP easements have been completed covering about 1,100 acres of prairies and other grassland types. Another 14 easements for about 1,900 acres are pending. NRCS estimates that about half of those acres will involve prairies.
"GRP is a good example of a program that we have available today that will provide dividends for future generations," NRCS State Conservationist J.R. Flores says. "As an agency, we share the landowners' satisfaction of knowing that what we do today will make a difference forever."
Sheridan says she enjoys working with landowners to protect and restore prairies because all prairies have intrinsic value.
"Our native ecosystems have value that goes beyond dollars," she says.
Sheridan says knowing that the land has never been plowed makes remnant prairies even more special. She adds that remnant prairies are easy to identify.
"On a planted prairie, there's a pattern," she says. "You can just tell that it's planted. On a remnant native prairie, the plants have found their niche over thousands of years. There is a certain random diversity not found in planted prairies."
Helen White says she and Bill had been considering putting the prairie into GRP for several years.
"We decided to go ahead and do it because (by enrolling the land in GRP) the land stays in our family and it stays income-producing," Helen says. She adds that the income comes from selling hay and seed.
Bill White says profitability is what kept Helen's father from tilling the prairie many years ago.
"He was proud of the fact that he didn't have to spend anything on lime or fertilizer and he always had plenty of high-quality hay to feed his cattle," Bill says.
Bill adds that when he looks across the fence separating the prairie from his neighbor's fescue pasture, he feels sure that the easement is the right thing to do because it transfers with the property if it ever is sold.
"Now we can be sure that this land will always be prairie," he says.
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