Twenty Years of Missouri Natural Areas: Protecting the Genuine Article

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

I finished absorbing the expansive view. The prairie overlooked miles of Missouri River bottoms and the states of Nebraska and Iowa. On this ridgetop, I felt removed from the rest of the earth, from the toy cars and trucks that sped by on the miniature interstate and the mini John Deere tractors cultivating corn below. I had been invited to the edge of heaven to view the world.

Several unique plants directly underfoot grew plants that were common out west but found only on the dry, steep loess slopes of Holt and Atchison counties in Missouri. There were so many new names to learn. I scribbled down plant names and characteristics as my instructor, Dr. John Rushin, named them ...thimbleweed, downy painted cup (a relative of Indian paintbrush), scarlet gaura, beard-tongue (rare in Missouri), locoweed (poisonous to cattle), and hairy grama.... I left that day, grateful to have been introduced to such a wonderful, unusual natural community.

Later that same year, I got a job with the Department of Conservation as natural features inventory biologist for northwest Missouri. One of my responsibilities was to search for all remnant loess hill prairies. I inventoried almost every hill prairie from the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge to the Iowa state line - that included a very fragmented string of linear, blufftop prairies about 40 miles long - and found that only approximately 150 acres of this prairie natural community type still exist in Missouri.

Most hill prairies have been overgrown with woody vegetation. Through the inventory process, I learned that the Star School vicinity holds around 40 acres of the most diverse loess hill prairie remaining in the state. Sixteen plants and two animals listed on Missouri's Rare and Endangered Species List were found on the Star School landscape.

Agency # of Natural Areas # of Acres
Total number of Natural Areas *167 Total Area: 37,073
Missouri Department of Conservation 76 17,743
Department of Natural Resources 36 6,384
Mark Twain National Forest 18 5,824
The Nature Conservancy 13 2,127
National Park Service 8 2,371
L-A-D Foundation 10 1,638
Corps of Engineers 3 520
University of Missouri 1 80
K.C. Parks and Recreation 1 82
Jackson County Parks and Recreation 1 18
City of Excelsior Springs 1 15
City of Joplin 1 32
Audubon Society of Missouri 1 23
Pinnacles Foundation 1 27
Greenwood Forest Assoc. 1 10
Missouri Prairie Foundation 1 37

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