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Buffalo National River Grasses

Historic accounts and archaeological interpretations suggest that past climates were drier and produced a savanna-like setting in which prairie communities existed in a large area of the Springfield Plateau and even reached into part of the Boston Mountains of the Ozarks. Prairies, such as Baker's Prairie 4 miles north of the Buffalo River watershed, were numerous and supported herds of Eastern Elk and Bison. Historic accounts also describe the mountain ridge tops of the Boston Mountains to be savanna like with only intermittent shrubs and trees. Natural fires and fires set by Native Americans maintained early succession plant communities and produced a landscape mosaic that enhanced hunting opportunities.

After European settlement, the people of the Ozarks also managed the landscape in a similar fashion using fire to reduce the understory species and maintain the native grasses. However, as the area became more populated wildfires were suppressed, cattle began to overgraze the praire grasses, homesteaders plowed up the praire and planted crops and other non-native grasses. These factors produced a change in plant community species composition, and now only remnant areas of prairie exists. Buffalo National River now recognizes the role that fire plays in maintaining a diverse plant communities and the value of some cultural historic practices. Recent efforts to restore native grasses have been successful, and in the process several species of non-native grasses are being controlled. The Open Fields project has a goal of restoring nearly 6500 acres to their original early succession condition. The project is almost half completed and success in restoring the native grasses has been good in areas where fire can be seasonally used.

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