The state of Michigan has only a few small remnants of its original grasslands and savannas, and many associated wildlife species are in trouble as a result. To help these species and to conserve this habitat, the Institute has converted over 100 acres of fallow farm field into native tall and short grass prairie habitat since purchasing the property in 1998.
The stewardship process of converting pre-existing agricultural fields into a prairie ecosystem is a multi-year process. The stewardship department is committed to using Michigan genotype seed whenever feasible and only introduces species historically found in Barry County. These seeds are planted directly on the surface. Once a deep root system is developed, the prairie grasses and wildflowers begin to visibly dominate the area. The planting will continue to mature over time as a result of natural disturbances and the recruiting of plants in their preferred microhabitats.
The stewardship department manages prairies and savannas with prescribed fires intentionally ignited under a strict set of weather and site conditions. These prescribed fires reintroduce fire, an important ecosystem maintenance process, to the landscape. Prior to widespread European settlement in West Michigan, fires ignited by native Americans or by lightning strike served as an efficient prairie maintenance method. The fires maintained prairies and savannas by setting back encroaching shrubs and trees, allowing for increased light penetration, stimulating native plants, reducing competition from native plants and fertilizing the soil with ash. Without fires, Michigan’s prairies, savannas, and other fire-dependent ecosystems are quickly disappearing. Prescribed fires are helping to conserve them.