The economics of the prairie and prairie restoration will be the focus of the 4th Annual State of the Prairie Conference set for Dec. 6-9 in Kingsville, Texas. Private landowners, natural resource professionals, representatives of government, educators, landscape architects, naturalists, livestock producers, farmers, wildlife officials, researchers and volunteers will gather for four days of workshops, lecturers and field projects.

According to officials at the Native Prairie Association of Texas (NPAT), only about one percent of the original 20 million acres of Texas tallgrass prairie remains. Once considered a prairie state with more than three-fourths of its land area comprised of native grasslands or savannas, the organization’s primary mission involves the restoration of Texas grasslands and to provide practical methods to conserve, manage, enjoy, and educate about the vulnerability of the prairie system.

The Coastal Prairie Partnership (CPP) and the Native Prairies Association of Texas present the conference, now in its fourth year. This year’s conference will be staged at multiple locations, including Texas A&M University-Kingsville, the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Center, the King Ranch and various prairie restoration sites across South Texas. Events and activities include workshops, lectures and field trips designed for a diverse group of professionals and volunteers committed to prairie conservation.

Jaime Gonzalez, President of CPP, and Pat Merkord, Board President for NPAT, say they have partnered to present the annual conference to increase awareness of the importance of Texas’ prairie system and to explore ways that agriculture, landowners, wildlife officials and conservationists can work together to rebuild prairies for all vested interests.

Conservationists say suburban sprawl, plowing for row-crop agriculture, and improper overgrazing during the last 150 years have caused serious decline in the Texas prairie system and they warn that the endangered prairie is critical for the sustainability of the land as a source of farming and grazing.

The Texas Prairie System of the Past

According to the NPAT Website, Texas’ Tallgrass Coastal Prairies reached many miles inland from the Gulf, and the Tallgrass Prairie extended from southern Canada through Fort Worth-Dallas south to San Antonio including Texas’ Blackland Prairies and Grand Prairie.

The Hill Country of the Edwards Plateau was a mosaic of plant communities, with Mixed Grass Savanna/Prairie presumed to have been a large component. The Post Oak Savanna was native savanna, with a prairie understory and an open canopy of Post Oaks and other trees above.

The Rolling Plains and the High Plains of the Panhandle were Mixed Grass and Short Grass Prairie, and much of West Texas was Desert Grassland filled with grama grasses.

Texas cattle, cotton, and grains are still based on these now-degraded habitats. The soils they created now feed the world.

Protecting water quality and quantity
NPAT says native grasslands protect the watersheds in which they occur, increase water infiltration and water yield, increase water supply by reducing erosion and reservoir sedimentation, and increase water quality due to the lack of fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide use. Because of urban progress and a combination of rural land uses, more than 99 percent of the early ecosystem of Texas has been destroyed or fundamentally altered, making the tallgrass prairie the most-endangered large ecosystem in North America. Losses are estimated to be even greater in Texas’ tallgrass prairie regions, like the Blackland Prairies, Gulf Prairies and Marshes, and the Grand Prairie sub-region of the Cross Timbers and Prairies.

Workshop and lecture topics will include:

  • The Last Great Habitat—Revisited
  • Geology, Watersheds and Prairies
  • Cooperative Strategy for Connecting Prairie Landscapes
  • Landowners rights
  • South Texas Natives & Texas Native Seeds
  • Farm Bill Programs for Land Managers
  • Maintaining the Integrity of Native Prairies Through Grazing Management
  • Environmental Protection, Safety and Correlative Mineral Rights
  • Factors Influencing Native Seed
  • Grassland Bird Habitat Management
  • Prairie Visions
  • And others

Access the full schedule, lecture topics and speaker profiles, field trip destinations and restoration sites, plus registration information here.