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#Fridaysonthefarm: Bringing Back the Prairie

#Fridaysonthefarm: Bringing Back the Prairie Web HeaderStory and photos by Justin Fritscher, NRCS; photos and videos by Justin Fritscher and Chad Douglas, NRCS

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.


In this #Fridaysonthefarm, we celebrate Bruce Reynolds and Julie Hoffman, who manage a ranch in Sulphur, Oklahoma, where they are working to bring back the prairie. It's also National Pollinator Week, a time when we celebrate the importance of bees, butterflies and other critters that play a critical role in crop pollination. 

#Fridaysonthefarm: Bringing Back the Prairie Web Map

 

Stewards of the Prairie

Bruce and Julie Hoffman raise cattle on about 1,700 acres in south central Oklahoma. Six decades ago, the land was nothing but wide-open grasslands.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Bringing Back the Prairie Web Photo 1

 

But over the years, juniper and cedar trees encroached, turning the open landscape into a forest. These forests have little biodiversity – which is bad for the cattle business and bad for wildlife.

That’s why Bruce and Julie are taking the land back and restoring it to its former glory.

Green Glacier

Over the past 150 years, much of the landscape west of the Mississippi River has changed from grasslands, prairie and sagebrush to forests, as woody species have encroached on once-open landscapes. 

Fire suppression, historic overgrazing by domestic livestock and favorable climate condition have caused this encroachment, which is bad for ranching operations as these trees soak up water and shade out grasses and wildflowers that livestock eat.

Bruce and Julie are fighting redecedars, one-by-one on the ranch they manage.

Bringing It Back

First, they knock down the cedars with a dozer. The next year, they burn them.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Bringing Back the Prairie Web Photo 2

 

And then, the prairie begins to return. Beneath the soil, seeds that have been stored for many years begin to sprout. And a new prairie emerges, ripe with colors, which the bees and butterflies love, and high-protein grasses, which are perfect for cattle and game species like northern bobwhite.

Working Together

Bruce and Julie worked with NRCS to make this possible. Brandon Chandler, their local NRCS district conservationist, worked with them to plan and implement the practices that help restore the prairie, such as removing the encroaching trees and then using prescribed burning.

NRCS also provided funds to help pay for those practices, which have far-reaching benefits, including healthier soil and cleaner and more abundant water.

Pollinator Paradise

Bees, butterflies and other pollinators are abundant there. The newly reclaimed prairie provides top-notch habitat for pollinators because of the new growth of wildflowers and native grasses. 

Many pollinators have suffered population declines, and landowners like Bruce and Julie are helping these important critters. One out of every three bites of food is dependent on pollinators.

Bruce and Julie keep honey bees. Here is one gathering nectar from a milkweed flower.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Bringing Back the Prairie Web Photo 3

 

One special pollinator is the monarch butterfly. The orange-and-black butterfly is known for its annual, multi-generational migration from Mexico to as far north as Canada. 

Oklahoma is in the core of the monarch’s migration route and breeding habitat.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed to lay their eggs during the journey. In fact, it's the only food source for monarch caterpillars. Bruce and Julie's place has at least four different milkweed species.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Bringing Back the Prairie Web Photo 4
 
In May, Bruce and Julie spotted monarch butterflies headed back from Mexico. These butterflies were laying eggs on milkweed plants so the next generation could continue the journey. 

Want to Work with NRCS?

Check out Bruce and Julie’s conservation story in the following video. 

Visit www.nrcs.usda.gov to learn more about voluntary conservation near you. 

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Follow the #Fridaysonthefarm and other voluntary conservation stories on @USDA_NRCS Twitter and @USDA Facebook. View the interactive ESRI storymap of this #Fridaysonthefarm feature.