Friday, April 01st, 2011 | Author:

On March 19th I went to the Environmental Film Festival in DC to see the film “America’s Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie”.The first thing I want to note is that the theatre was packed! I was surprised because I figured that a film about the prairies wouldn’t exactly be the most popular of the films. This film focused mostly on how the tallgrass prairie, a “national treasure”, had been lost to white farmers and settlers after the War of 1812. One statistic that struck me was that if the pre-settler prairie was a thousand piece puzzle, only about one piece is left. The beginning of the film explained how the prairie has hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters. Since the climate is too dry for trees, the Big Blue Stem (about 5-10ft tall) grass is the major plant of the prairie. The prairie had biodiversity with a hundred species of birds, bison, elk, coyotes, and badgers, in addition to many different types of grasses and plants. About 30 Indian tribes lived on the tallgrass prairie. After the War of 1812 when the Indians were pushed out of the prairie, the white settlers flooded onto the land. Louis and Clark had discovered that the prairie soil was very fertile, and the settlers cleared the land for extensive farming. By the 1880s all of the bison had vanished from the prairie (keep in mind this is only about 70 years since the settlers arrived0. By 1900, there was no prairie left…it had all been converted into farm land. This devastation of the tallgrass prairie is so shocking because it happened within the lifetime of one person.

The last part of the film focused on a man named Aldo Leopold and his efforts to conserve the prairie lands. His books helped redefine the environmental movement and the way that people viewed their land. By the 1960s, the prairie conservation had taken hold and some of the tallgrasses began to return. Today, prairie conservationists focus on doing roadside restoration projects. While the tallgrass prairie is an important place for agriculture, I think it is important that we try and save a portion of it (like establishing national parks). We can’t expect to change the ecosystem of the tallgrass prairie, and the soil would be more productive if we worked with it, instead of against it. I really enjoyed watching this film and learning about the tallgrass prairie, especially since it is a topic that I have never really studied before. I hope that after reading this blog you can respect the tallgrass prairie and realize that conservation efforts are important.

-Kristen Callahan

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  1. Dr. Szulczewski says:

    Great post- I wish I had seen the movie. Aldo Leopold is a great writer if you ever have time to read his essays.