The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

A unique travel destination in Oklahoma………….

Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale

 Welcome back.  On Saturday morning while checking out the local farmer’s market I had the good fortune to visit with two local experts about the workings and management of the different ecosystems in Oklahoma, particularly the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. By now many of you in this area may be familiar with this Nature Conservancy preserve outside of Pawhuska with its large herd of free ranging bison

The Nature Conservancy purchased the original Barnard Ranch to start the Preserve. The ranch had been part of the Chapman-Barnard ranch which extended over 100,000 acres (400 km2). The foreman of the Chapman-Barnard ranch, Ben Johnson, Sr. was a rodeo champion. His son Ben Johnson, Jr. also worked at the ranch before heading out to Hollywood and becoming a big star. Since the initial purchase in 1989 the Preserve has grown to 45,000 acres. The focus of the Conservancy’s work has been to restore all of the native plant and animal species that would have been found in the area before it was ranched. The Preserve also serves as living laboratory for scientists and ranchers to learn more about Conservation based land management techniques and the restoration of biodiversity across the landscape.

According to the Nature Conservancy’s web page for Oklahoma (

“The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth. Originally spanning portions of 14 states from Texas to Minnesota, urban sprawl and conversion to cropland have left less than 10% of this magnificent American landscape. Since 1989, the Conservancy has proven successful at restoring this fully-functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of about 2500 free-roaming bison and a “patch-burn” model approach to prescribed burning.

The “patch burn” approach utilizes prescribed burning on roughly 1/3rd of productive rangeland each year, leaving the remaining portions undisturbed by fire. Early research by Oklahoma State University indicates that the complex and mosaic plant communities produced by this “patchy” approach offers huge rewards for biodiversity. Approximately three dozen prescribed burns are conducted each year totaling 15,000 – 20,000 acres. In addition Conservancy staff have helped neighboring ranches burn 170,000 acres and helped them suppress 50 wildfires.”

Simply put, what the Conservancy is doing now will offer conservation-minded ranchers an alternative to traditional grazing practices. The fellows tell me conservancy staff have already conducted several “patch-burn” workshops with area cattle ranchers to illustrate the potential rewards of embracing this wildlife-friendly method of land management, while continuing to meet the bottom line for their cattle production operations.

The Preserve is truly a hidden treasure right outside our back door and it is a great adventure to visit if you are interested in science, ranching history or just love nature. The preserve is open to the public every day from dawn to dusk with no charge for admittance and can be accessed via county roads. You’ll have the opportunity to see the bison herd and many other birds and animals.  In addition to the bison, the Tallgrass Prairie is currently host to over 200 species of birds, 671 types of native plants and grasses and 41 different mammals, including bobcat, mountain lion and feral pig. Not to mention all the butterflies, moths, reptiles and fish! The Preserve also offers many amenities for visitors including scenic turnouts with spectacular vistas, hiking trails, a picnic area and public restrooms at the historic ranch headquarters. There is also a visitor information center and gift shop and several educational displays about the prairie ecosystem. Trust me there’s a lot to see, not the least is the awe inspiring land itself, so aptly called a “sea of grass”.

Many thanks to Bob Hamilton, Director of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, and Steve Forsythe, retired ecologist, for sharing this information with me.

Up next, its eighteen hundred miles in three days. Till then, I’ll see ya down the road….



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *