Prairie management

The management activities are performed by Fermilab’s Roads and Grounds Department under the direction of Dr. Robert Betz and the Environmental Land Management Committee. Management activities include soil preparation and seeding, selective overseeding, plant surveys and periodic burning. This burning helps to eliminate unwanted brush and weeds. The large majority of seed for sowing is harvested on site by hand and by mechanical means. Other seed is acquired by trading with local seed sources, such as schools and forest preserves. The resulting costs of these types of management practices are significantly less than other land management styles such as frequent mowing and pesticide applications. Tallgrass prairie seed and other seeds needed for restoration are extremely expensive to buy. Some range from $50 to $100 a pound or more. Volunteer and mechanical harvests are much less expensive. The Roads and Grounds Department uses a converted farm combine, once used for wheat and soy bean harvests, to pick prairie seed on site. Seed sorters and cleaners are also used to clean and sort the harvested prairie seed. These seeds are then put into a burned prairie each spring using an agricultural seed drill.

Most of the restoration activities occur in spring and fall. In the fall, the harvests are conducted and large portions of the restored areas are burned. In spring more burns are conducted and new areas are planted. Other areas are enriched with specific seed for places lacking certain plants using the seed drill mentioned earlier. Enrichment area selection is determined by the previous year’s plant surveys.

When asked, Roads and Grounds personnel also go to local schools to talk and present a slide show on the restoration process. A project display is also available for local events when requested. In addition, when construction projects on site threaten valuable native flora, trees and plants are relocated, whenever possible, to areas that have similar growing conditions outside of the construction zones.