Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Last updated
This article is about the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma. There is also a Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas, a Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois, and a Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in Manitoba.
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.jpg
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
USA Oklahoma location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Map of Oklahoma
Usa edcp location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve (the US)
Location Osage County, Oklahoma
Nearest city Pawhuska
Coordinates 36°50′31″N96°25′08″W / 36.842°N 96.419°W / 36.842; -96.419 Coordinates: 36°50′31″N96°25′08″W / 36.842°N 96.419°W / 36.842; -96.419
Area 45,000 acres (180 km2)
Established 1989
Governing body The Nature Conservancy

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, located in Osage County, Oklahoma near Foraker, Oklahoma, is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. It is protected as the largest tract of remaining tallgrass prairie in the world. The preserve contains 39,000 acres (160 km2) owned by the Conservancy and another 6,000 acres (24 km2) leased in what was the original tallgrass region of the Great Plains that stretched from Texas to Manitoba. [1] [2]

Osage County, Oklahoma county in Oklahoma

Osage County is the largest county by area in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. Created in 1907 when Oklahoma was admitted as a state, the county is named for and is home to the federally recognized Osage Nation. The county is coextensive with the Osage Nation Reservation, established by treaty in the 19th century when the Osage relocated there from Kansas. The county seat is in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, one of the first three towns established in the county. The total population of the county is 47,987.

Foraker, Oklahoma Town in Oklahoma, United States

Foraker is a town in Osage County, Oklahoma, United States. It was named for Ohio Senator Joseph B. Foraker. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is southeast of town. The official population peaked at 415 in 1910 and has declined steadily since 1930. The population was only 19 at the 2010 census, a 17.4 percent decline from 23 at the 2000 census.

The Nature Conservancy organization

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a charitable environmental organization, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, United States.



The preserve is located at the southern end of the Flint Hills, a rocky, rolling prairie that stretches from northern Kansas into Oklahoma. Exposed limestone formations make cultivation difficult, and thus the Flint Hills have survived much as they were when they were an Indian hunting ground for tribes such as the Wichita, Osage, and Kaw. The region is called “The Osage” by Oklahomans, referring to the name of the county and the Indian tribe to which the land belonged. Pilots call The Osage the “Black Hole” when flying over it at night because it is so lightly populated. [3]

Flint Hills landform

The Flint Hills, historically known as Bluestem Pastures or Blue Stem Hills, are a region in eastern Kansas and north-central Oklahoma named for the abundant residual flint eroded from the bedrock that lies near or at the surface. It consists of a band of hills stretching from Kansas to Oklahoma, extending from Marshall and Washington Counties in the north to Cowley County, Kansas and Kay and Osage Counties in Oklahoma in the south, to Geary and Shawnee Counties west to east. Oklahomans generally refer to the same geologic formation as the Osage Hills or "the Osage."

Osage Nation Native American Siouan-speaking tribe in the United States

The Osage Nation is a Midwestern Native American tribe of the Great Plains. The tribe developed in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys around 700 BC along with other groups of its language family. They migrated west of the Mississippi after the 17th century due to wars with Iroquois invading the Ohio Valley from New York and Pennsylvania in a search for new hunting grounds. The nations separated at that time, and the Osage settled near the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers.

In March bison graze the new green grass in areas of the preserve which were burned the previous fall. Bison at tallgrass prairie preserve.jpg
In March bison graze the new green grass in areas of the preserve which were burned the previous fall.

Prior to its purchase by the Nature Conservancy in 1989, the preserve was called the Barnard Ranch which had been part of the Chapman-Barnard ranch of 100,000 acres (400 km2). [4] The foreman of the Chapman-Barnard ranch, Ben Johnson, Sr. was a rodeo champion. His son, also a rodeo champion, was Ben Johnson, Jr. who appeared in more than 300 movies and won an Oscar for his role in “The Last Picture Show.” [3]

Ben Johnson (actor) American film actor (1918-1996)

Ben "Son" Johnson Jr. was an American stuntman, world champion rodeo cowboy, and Academy Award-winning actor. The son of a rancher, Johnson arrived in Hollywood to deliver a consignment of horses for a film. He did stunt-double work for several years before breaking into acting through the good offices of John Ford. Tall and laconic, Johnson brought further authenticity to many roles in Westerns with his extraordinary horsemanship. An elegiac portrayal of a former cowboy theatre owner in the 1950s coming-of-age drama, The Last Picture Show, won Johnson the 1971 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor. He operated a horse-breeding farm throughout his career. Although he said he had succeeded by sticking to what he knew, shrewd real estate investments made Johnson worth an estimated $100 million by his latter years.

<i>The Last Picture Show</i> 1971 film by Peter Bogdanovich

The Last Picture Show is a 1971 American drama film directed and co-written by Peter Bogdanovich, adapted from a semi-autobiographical 1966 novel The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry.

The preserve is bisected by well-timbered Salt Creek and its tributaries. The eastern portion of the preserve is in the Cross Timbers, a north-south running belt of tangled oak forests that were a major impediment to early travelers heading west. [3] About 10 percent of the preserve is forested and the remainder is tallgrass prairie with grasses of several species that can grow 10 feet (3 m) tall. [5]

Cross Timbers

The term Cross Timbers, also known as Ecoregion 29, Central Oklahoma/Texas Plains, is used to describe a strip of land in the United States that runs from southeastern Kansas across Central Oklahoma to Central Texas. Made up of a mix of prairie, savanna, and woodland, it forms part of the boundary between the more heavily forested eastern country and the almost treeless Great Plains, and also marks the western habitat limit of many mammals and insects.

The tallgrass prairie owes its existence to fire, whether caused by lightning or manmade. Without fire, the prairie quickly becomes brushland. The Indians were aware of this and burned the prairie regularly to nurture new growth of succulent grasses and to kill intrusive trees and shrubs. The Nature Conservancy has continued this practice with a process called “patch burning” in which about one-third of the prairie is burned each year. [6] This process has proven beneficial not only for bison and cattle, but also for the threatened greater prairie chickens which also inhabit the preserve in small numbers.

<i>Bison</i> genus of mammals

Bison are large, even-toed ungulates in the genus Bison within the subfamily Bovinae.

Cattle domesticated form of Aurochs

Cattle—colloquially cows—are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos taurus.

Greater prairie chicken species of bird in the grouse family

The greater prairie chicken or pinnated grouse, sometimes called a boomer, is a large bird in the grouse family. This North American species was once abundant, but has become extremely rare and extirpated over much of its range due to habitat loss. Conservation measures are underway to ensure the sustainability of existing small populations. One of the most famous aspects of these creatures is the mating ritual called booming.

Bison are the most prominent attraction of the preserve. An Oklahoma oilman, Kenneth Adams, donated 300 bison to the preserve in 1993. By 2000, the herd had increased to 1,200. [6] The herd now numbers more than 2,500 and grazes 21,000 acres (85 km2) of mostly open range. Bison are rounded up each fall and the excess numbers sold. Cattle are grazed on 11,000 acres (45 km2). The preserve supports 755 plant species, many unique to the tallgrass prairie, and more than 300 bird species. [5] [7] Forest trees include several species of oak, cottonwoods, ash, red cedar, elm, sycamore, and others.

Open range

In the Western United States and Canada, open range is rangeland where cattle roam freely regardless of land ownership. Where there are "open range" laws, those wanting to keep animals off their property must erect a fence to keep animals out; this applies to public roads as well. Land in open range that is designated as part of a "herd district" reverses liabilities, requiring an animal's owner to fence it in or otherwise keep it on the person's own property. Most eastern states and jurisdictions in Canada require owners to fence in or herd their livestock.

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is on what used to be the Osage Indian Reservation. The Osage Indians [8] retained sub-surface mineral rights on all their former lands and the petroleum on their reservation made them the richest people per capita in the world in the 1930s. Today, bison graze among the more than 100 producing oil wells on the preserve. [3]

The preserve is home to numerous interesting invertebrates species. In addition to the many species of butterflies and moths that feed and host on the flowering plant biodiversity found there, the prairie mole cricket (Gryllotalpa major) is a rare insect species found on the preserve. Males congregate in leks in large numbers in the spring months (April–May) to produce loud choruses from calling burrows to attract flying females. In the summer months the preserve serves as habitat for the endangered American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus), which plays an important role in nutrient cycling.

==Visiting and recreation== Emporia,Kansas, is the nearest large town. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is open every day from dawn to dusk. There is no admission charge. The headquarters of the Chapman-Barnard ranch has been converted into a visitor center with restrooms, a gift shop, and the restored bunkhouse in which the cowboys lived. The main building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 01000208). [6] The gift shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m from March to mid-November.

Near Salt Creek are two hiking trails. One is a short nature trail; the other is a 2-mile (3 km) trail that climbs to overlooks over the creek and through the riparian forest. Frequently, bison are seen just across the fence that separates the hiking area from grazing areas. White tailed deer are abundant in the wooded areas.

The principal activity for the 10,000 visitors to the preserve yearly is driving the many dirt roads to observe the bison. It is a rare visitor who does not see hundreds of bison near – and often blocking – the roads. There are scenic turnouts along the roads and broad vistas of rolling prairie, emerald green in spring, tall and brown in fall, and dotted with wildflowers in the summer. [1]

Related Research Articles

Black Mesa (Oklahoma) mesa in the U.S. states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma

Black Mesa is a mesa in the U.S. states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. It extends from Mesa de Maya, Colorado southeasterly 28 miles (45 km) along the north bank of the Cimarron River, crossing the northeast corner of New Mexico to end at the confluence of the Cimarron River and Carrizo Creek near Kenton in the Oklahoma panhandle. Its highest elevation is 5,705 feet (1,739 m) in Colorado. The highest point of Black Mesa within New Mexico is 5,239 feet (1,597 m). In northwestern Cimarron County, Oklahoma, Black Mesa reaches 4,973 feet (1,516 m), the highest point in the state of Oklahoma. The plateau that formed at the top of the mesa has been known as a "geological wonder" of North America. There is abundant wildlife in this shortgrass prairie environment, including mountain lions, butterflies, and the Texas horned lizard.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is a United States National Preserve located in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, north of Strong City. The preserve protects a nationally significant example of the once vast tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Of the 400,000 square miles (1,000,000 km2) of tallgrass prairie that once covered the North American continent, less than 4% remains, primarily in the Flint Hills. Since 2009, the preserve has been home to the growing Tallgrass Prairie bison herd.

Tallgrass prairie ecosystem native to central North America

The Tallgrass prairie is an ecosystem native to central North America. Natural and anthropogenic fire, as well as grazing by large mammals, were historically agents of periodic disturbance, which regulates tree encroachment, recycles nutrients to the soil, and catalyzes some seed dispersal and germination processes. Prior to widespread use of the steel plow, which enabled conversion to agricultural land use, tallgrass prairies expanded throughout the American Midwest and smaller portions of southern central Canada, from the transitional ecotones out of eastern North American forests, west to a climatic threshold based on precipitation and soils, to the southern reaches of the Flint Hills in Oklahoma, to a transition into forest in Manitoba.

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (MNTP) is a tallgrass prairie reserve and United States National Grassland operated by the United States Forest Service. The first national tallgrass prairie ever designated in the U.S. and the largest conservation site in the Chicago Wilderness region, it is located on the site of the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant between the towns of Elwood, Manhattan and Wilmington in northeastern Illinois. Since 2015, it has hosted a conservation herd of American bison to study their interaction with prairie restoration and conservation.

Texas blackland prairies

The Texas Blackland Prairies are a temperate grassland ecoregion located in Texas that runs roughly 300 miles (480 km) from the Red River in North Texas to San Antonio in the south. The prairie was named after its rich, dark soil.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge protected area

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, located in southwestern Oklahoma near Lawton, has protected unique wildlife habitats since 1901 and is the oldest managed wildlife facility in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service system. Measuring about 59,020 acres (238.8 km2), the refuge hosts a great diversity of species: 806 plant species, 240 species of birds, 36 fish, and 64 reptiles and amphibians are present. The refuge's location in the geologically unique Wichita Mountains and its areas of undisturbed mixed grass prairie make it an important conservation area. The Wichitas are approximately 500 million years old.

<i>Platanthera praeclara</i> species of plant

Platanthera praeclara, known as the western prairie fringed orchid and the Great Plains white fringed orchid, is a rare and threatened species of orchid native to North America.

Osage Plains west-central Missouri, the southeastern third of Kansas, most of central Oklahoma, and extending into north-central Texas in the USA

The Osage Plains are a physiographic section of the larger Central Lowland province, which in turn is part of the larger Interior Plains physiographic division. The area is sometimes called the Lower Plains, North Central Plains,or Rolling Plains. The Osage Plains, covering west-central Missouri, the southeastern third of Kansas, most of central Oklahoma, and extending into north-central Texas, is the southernmost of three tallgrass prairie physiographic areas. It grades into savanna and woodland to the east and south, and into shorter, mixed-grass prairie to the west. The Osage Plains consist of three subregions. The Osage Plains proper occupy the northeast segment. Although sharply demarcated from the Ozark uplift, the plains are nonetheless a transitional area across which the boundary between prairie and woodland has shifted over time. In the central portion of the physiographic area lies the second subregion, the Flint Hills, commonly called "the Osage" in Oklahoma. This large remnant core of native tallgrass prairie is a rocky rolling terrain that runs from north to south across Kansas and extends into Oklahoma. To the west and south of these hills are the Blackland Prairies and Cross Timbers. This vegetatively complex region of intermixed prairie and scrubby juniper-mesquite woodland extends into north-central Texas. Bluestem prairies and oak-dominated savannas and woodlands characterize the natural vegetation in the Cross Timbers. Much of the area has been converted to agriculture, although expanses of oak forest and woodland are still scattered throughout the eastern portion of the subregion.

Osage Hills hilly area in Oklahoma

The Osage Hills is a hilly area in Oklahoma, commonly known as The Osage. The name refers to the broad rolling hills and rolling tallgrass prairie and Cross Timbers encompassing Osage County and surrounding areas, including portions of Mayes, Tulsa, Washington and Kay Counties. The Osage is the southern extension of the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Konza Prairie Biological Station native tallgrass prairie preserve in the Flint Hills of northeastern Kansas, United States

The Konza Prairie Biological Station is a 3,487-hectare preserve of native tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills of northeastern Kansas. It is located south of Manhattan, Kansas and its southern boundary parallels Interstate 70. A scenic overlook exists on the preserve's eastern boundary along K-177. "Konza" is an alternative name for the Kansa or Kaw Indians who inhabited this area until the mid-19th century.

Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge

Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge was created on October 12, 2004, the 545th National Wildlife Refuge in the United States. Its creation was the result of cooperation between at least 30 agencies or governmental entities. The creation of the refuge was spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy, and the initial endowment of 2,300 acres (9.3 km2) of land was donated by the Conservancy. In light of its planned final size of 37,756 acres (153 km2), it is described by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as "the largest tallgrass prairie and wetland restoration project in U.S. history."

Hoosier Prairie State Nature Preserve

Hoosier Prairie began in the 1970s as wasteland that conservation organization found of a unique interest. From a core of 304 acres (123 ha), it has grown to 1,547 acres (626 ha) of important prairie habitat. The area was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974 and a State Nature Preserve in 1977 The sandy soil creates a variety of habitats, from oak barrens, wet prairie, including sedge meadows and prairie marshes. More than 350 native species of vascular plants have been identified. A minimum of 43 species are uncommon in the State of Indiana. It is a unit of the Indiana Dunes National Park.

Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve

The Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve is located in southeastern Manitoba near Gardenton and Vita, this is about 50 kilometres (31 mi) south of Steinbach, Manitoba. It is one of the last remaining stands of tallgrass prairie in Manitoba and is part of the Tallgrass Aspen Parkland conservation area in Manitoba and Minnesota. Several groups and organizations help in land preservation in the Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nature Manitoba, Environment Canada, Manitoba Conservation and the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation.

Niobrara Valley Preserve

The Niobrara Valley Preserve is a 56,000 acre conservation area in Brown and Keya Paha counties of Nebraska owned by The Nature Conservancy.

Tallgrass most frequently refers to the native North American grasslands, Tallgrass prairie. Many events, businesses, and locations have been named after the prairie including:

Central Great Plains (ecoregion)

The Central Great Plains are a semi-arid prairie ecoregion of the central United States, part of North American Great Plains. The region runs from west-central Texas through west-central Oklahoma, central Kansas, and south-central Nebraska.

Nachusa Grasslands

The Nachusa Grasslands is a 3,500 acres (1,400 ha) tallgrass prairie conservancy located near Franklin Grove in Lee County, Illinois. It is operated by the Nature Conservancy.


  1. 1 2 "Tallgrass Prairie Preserve". nature.org. The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
  2. Rinehart, Bill (April 22, 2005). "Across the Fence : Patch Burning Results". oklanature.com. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Jones, Jr., Jenk. "Osage County History". oklanature.com. Archived from the original on March 1, 2012. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
  4. Warehime, Les (2000). History of Ranching the Osage. Tulsa, OK: W.W. Publishing. p. 253.
  5. 1 2 Hamilton, R.G. (2007). "Restoring heterogeneity on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve: applying the fire–grazing interaction model". Pages 163–169 in R.E. Masters and K.E.M. Galley (eds.). Proceedings of the 23rd Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference: Fire in Grassland and Shrubland Ecosystems. Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, Florida, USA.
  6. 1 2 3 Larry. O'Dell, " Tallgrass Prairie Preserve." Encyclopedia of History and Culture.
  7. "Tallgrass Prairie Preserve". TravelOK.com. Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
  8. Osage Nation