TEXAS CITY — The coastal prairie once stretched across 9 million acres from Southeast Texas to Southwestern Louisiana.
Years of urbanization and agricultural range improvement have led to almost 99 percent of the habitat being wiped out, according to the National Wetlands Research Center, but the prairie is attempting a comeback.
It just needs a little help.
More than 30 farmers, ranchers, conservationists and volunteers recently studied techniques for restoring and preserving prairie at the Texas City Prairie Preserve.
“Nature spreads a lot of seeds, but may not put it in the ground correctly,” said Jim Willis of the Wildlife Habitat Federation.
Presented by Coastal Prairie Partnership and the Houston Chapter of the Native Prairies Association of Texas, the Prairie Restoration Roundup on Friday was a day of hands-on demonstrations of techniques ranging from seed-drilling to bale-busting.
Galveston Bay Area Master Naturalists Jim Duron and Tom Solomon showed a group how to prepare and plant switch grass, bluestem and prairie flowers.
It’s a labor-intensive process, and Duron and Solomon often rely on volunteers from high schools and other programs when they go out onto the prairie to plant up to 1,500 seeds at a time.
“Prairie restoration is right now the most successful it’s ever been,” Duron said. “You don’t have to start from scratch.”
It’s a trial-and-error process. Duron and Solomon probably have killed more plants than anyone in the state of Texas, Duron joked. Duron said they often tend to the plants in greenhouses before making it out onto the prairie.
Aaron Tjelmeland, Upper Coast project director for the Nature Conservancy, works on the more than 2,300 acres of prairie in Texas City.
Preserving coastal prairie is critical because it is a habitat for hundreds of diverse species and plants, Tjelmeland said.
Prairie restoration also is drawing more attention because the plants are particularly durable during drought. Switch grass can survive for up to 12 years without water, Solomon said.
The grasslands also act as a buffer during severe weather events, and the grasslands can mitigate the effects of hurricanes by soaking up much of the water.