Many of the greatest conservation success stories in Missouri are a result of the Department’s collaboration with partners. Partnerships include other agencies, nonprofit organizations and about 23,000 landowners each year. Bruce and Jan Sassmann, owners of Prairie Star Restoration Farm in Osage County, are two of our dedicated landowner partners in conservation. Bruce and Jan’s goal is to use their farm as an education center and an example for others on how to manage their property for fish, natural plant communities and wildlife. A lot of time and effort has gone into every project they’ve taken on, from the habitat work to the development of the education center. Prairie Star Restoration Farm is located in the middle of the Covey Junction Quail Focus Area and plays a primary role in promoting quail management.
Prairie Star Restoration Farm is 124 acres in Osage County between Bland and Belle. Historically, the farm was used for grazing and haying and was dominated by tall fescue and timber. The management plan was developed to complete many projects that included grassland, woodland and aquatic restoration, as well as the restoration of an 85-year-old barn for educational events.
The management plan for Prairie Star Restoration Farm included converting 50 acres of tall fescue to a more wildlife-friendly native warm season grass, timber stand improvement in the woodland areas, creating covey headquarters and prescribed burning. One of the most unique projects on the farm was the aquatic restoration. Bruce said, “If we’re going to intensively manage the property for bobwhite quail then why can’t we manage the pond using the same ideas?” So the pond was drained and the heavy equipment was brought in. The results looked like something you would see at a motocross race. The theory was to manage for better fish habitat just as you would manage for better quail habitat by creating more usable space and edge within the pond.
Much of the timber on the farm had been invaded by dense thickets of red cedar. In addition, it had not been managed and contained a large number of small, stunted trees that were not contributing to the health of the woodland and were shading out a diversity of understory plants. Through removal of the red cedar and thinning of the remaining timber, the Sassmanns were able to restore historic open woodlands on the property and brought back some unusual plants. After a prescribed burn removed the dense mat of leaves on the woodland floor, a rare Missouri wildflower, eastern featherbells, appeared in large numbers. This was the first record of this plant in Osage County. As time goes by and more fire is applied to these restored woodlands, the Sassmanns should see a greater diversity of native grasses and wildflowers fill up the woodland understory.
Through the Sassmanns’ elimination of fescue on the farm and restoration of the open woodland community, they have seen the comeback of quail on the property. During the winter of 2008, they knew of only one covey on the farm. Today they estimate six to eight coveys use the habitat improvements on the farm. This quail response resulted within two years of the beginning of their habitat restoration activities.
An Education Center
The creation of the Prairie Star Restoration Farm was not only to develop good habitat for wildlife and aquatic species but also to promote these practices through workshops and farm tours. Both Bruce and Jan have backgrounds in education and their passion is teaching others what they know. Prairie Star Restoration Farm, along with the Four Rivers Quail Forever Chapter and the Missouri Department of Conservation, have developed nontraditional methods of attracting and educating the public about conservation. Habitat workshops, landowner tours and tree planting workshops have been held at the farm, but a couple of additional events have been added to target another group of conservationists. On June 5, 2010, the first 5K Run/Walk—Trail Challenge in the Tall Grass was held to attract runners and walkers to not only compete, but leave with an appreciation of the outdoors and good conservation practices.
Prairie Star Restoration Farm, along with its partners, also hosted the first Photography Challenge, which invited local amateur photographers to the farm to create their own vision of the outdoors. The only rule for the challenge was that the photographers had to take the pictures on the farm. On Oct. 24, 2010, all the photographers were invited back to the barn to display their work during an art show open to the public. More than 300 attended.
Many landowners take part in conservation projects, but there aren’t many who educate others about how to do the same. Promoting good conservation practices can be done through the traditional methods of workshops and landowner tours, but how do we reach the groups that may not think about the outdoors as many of us so-called conservationists do? The Prairie Star Restoration Farm is thinking about these nontraditional methods each day, trying to figure out how to attract more people who can call themselves conservationists. “Jan and I are anxious to share our story, knowledge and experiences about land restoration, whether it’s a group of 300 or a chance to talk to an audience of one,” said Bruce.
The Sassmanns’ neighbors also have welcomed the chance to participate in many of the management practices that benefit wildlife. In addition to enthusiastic local residents, Jan mentioned that “partnerships have been created and a network of conservationists pitched in to share their resources and talents. Partners who assisted with our management projects included the Missouri Department of Conservation, Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Quail Forever and National Wild Turkey Federation. Organizations like the Conservation Federation of Missouri and the Missouri Prairie Foundation have also guided us as we pursue our goals creating an informed neighborhood interested in creating quality habitat for wildlife.”
The Sassmanns are just one of more than 23,000 reasons we put stock in our partnerships. For their efforts, Bruce and Jan Sassmann were selected as the Conservation Federation of Missouri 2009 Wildlife Conservationist of the Year and also received the 2010 Private Land Services Partners Award.