What We Learned at WHF’s Native Prairie Discovery Tour – Restoring Deep Roots

The Wildlife Habitat Federation (WHF) is a Texas non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation and re-establishment of crucial upland game habitat vitally needed to sustain healthy populations of quail and other upland wildlife species. WHF provides information, specialized equipment, and on-the-ground physical assistance to landowners and lessees committed to re-establishing native grasses and forbs.

On Friday, October 7th the Wildlife Habitat Federation held a Native Prairie Discovery Tour in Cat Spring, TX. Everyone that attended this event received a hands-on opportunity to explore local native grass prairie sites under the guidance of some of the state’s top botanists, entomologists, and biologists. The field day included plant and insect identification, viewing results of various prairie restoration practices, and a rainfall simulator demonstration.

Identifying native prairie grasses with Jason Singhurst (pictured in the middle)
Identifying native prairie grasses with Jason Singhurst (pictured middle) and Jon Hayes (pictured right)

Texas Botanist, Jason Singhurst and Conservation Delivery Specialist, Jon Hayes, both from Texas Parks and Wildlife, led part of the tour through local native grass prairie sites to identify prairie plants. Everyone learned about the big four prairie grasses and how to identify them (Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii; Yellow Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans; Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum L; Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium) in addition to learning about key identification characteristics of many other plants.

The other part of the tour took place on property belonging to WHF Founder Jim Willis. Jim informed groups about various prairie restoration practices likes the harvesting and planting and native seeds. Participants also observed a rainfall simulation (pictured below) explained by WHF Program Director and Wildlife Biologist, Garry Stephens. Then, Dr. Greta Schuster explained different insect orders and their importance to native prairie ecosystems in addition to explaining the diversity insects one might find various types of vegetation communities. Participants also had the pleasure of learning about the importance and habitat requirements of Texas’ State insect the monarch butterfly from Founder and Director of Monarch Gateway, Barbara Willy.

Rainfall simulation showing accumulation of runoff and ground water resulting from different types of ground cover. The first grey bucket on the left represents bare soil, the second: soil with crop residue, the third: short grasses and forbs, and lastly, on the far right: native prairie tall grasses. The clear buckets below the grey buckets represent the amount of runoff water and groundwater that results from the 4 different types of ground cover. From left to right the first, third, fifth, and seventh clear bucket represent ground water and the second, fourth, sixth and eighth represent runoff water

The rainfall simulation showed the importance of ground cover in regards to the accumulation of ground water. As you can see (above), the bare soil, soil with crop residue, and bucket with short grasses and forbs resulted in the most runoff water, while the native prairie tall grasses resulted in virtually no runoff water and all ground water. Native prairies protect water quality and water quantity. 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 (Native Prairies Association of Texas).

Insect identification with Dr. Greta Schuster

Dr. Greta Schuster, Professor of Agronomy/Integrated Pest Management at Texas A&M Kingsville highlighted the diversity of insects that come with native prairie habitats, which are essential for the survival of wildlife, such as quail. Insect orders such as Hemiptera (“true bugs”), Coleoptera (beetles), Lepidoptera (moths & butterflies), and other orders of insects are important for quail and wildlife survival because they provide important nutrients and water.

A diversity of insects were seen during the Discovery Tour

Participants recognized the true importance of native prairies, specifically the importance of prairies to wildlife species such as the Northern bobwhite quail. Texas has faced a historical decline in the quail population which can be correlated to the decrease in their native habitat. WHF works to spread awareness in addition to enhancing and restoring native prairies to create crucial quail habitat. Bobwhite quail depend on the native prairie habitat for food and water, nesting habitat, and predator defense and concealment.

If you are interested in attending upcoming field days or other related events held by the Wildlife Habitat Federation head on over to their website and join their email list!

To see all the photos taken on WHF Native Prairie Discovery Tour on October 7th visit this link. (Photo Credit: Taylor Keys, Intern at Texan by Nature)

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