El Dorado Springs, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has added a 320-acre grassland tract to the Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie Conservation Area in St. Clair County. This filled a gap between existing area tracts and provides the opportunity to manage contiguous native grassland on the northern boundary. MDC manages Wah’Kon-Tah for native prairie plant and wildlife species in partnership with area cattle ranchers who graze livestock on selected acres.
“A concern we have is there is so much fragmentation in surviving native grasslands,” said Stasia Whitaker, MDC wildlife management biologist. “That’s contributed to grassland birds being among the fastest declining species in North America. Grassland birds are in dire need of our help and now. All prairie species on the area will benefit from this expansion.”
A large portion of the 3,350-acre Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie Conservation Area is owned by The Nature Conservancy of Missouri. Other portions are owned by MDC, which manages the entire area in partnership with the Conservancy. The area is north and east of El Dorado Springs. Visitors can hike, hunt, watch birds, study plants, and enjoy prairie vistas. Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie is a cornerstone of MDC’s Upper Osage Grasslands Priority Geography, a partnership that includes private partners and landowners.
The area also benefits the nearby community, said W. Jackson Tough, CEO and executive director for the El Dorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.
“Our local residents love and utilize the Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie Conservation Area on a regular basis,” Tough said. “We also have visitors from the outlying area, regionally and even from out of state, who enjoy many of the outdoor pursuits the prairie offers. The sunsets and star gazing opportunities are amazing, too. Of course, visitors traveling to the prairie are good for the local economy. Since El Dorado Springs is the closest community to the prairie, visitors find food and fuel while also exploring our community along US Highway 54 and the historic downtown area.”
Purchase of the new tract was made possible with donations from the late Harry and Lina Berrier to MDC and the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. The Berriers, of Columbia, for many years donated portions of proceeds from their Show-Me Bar-B-Q sauce business towards prairie preservation and native grassland management.
“Lina and Harry dreamed of preserving native grassland,” said MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley. “It’s through their generosity and vision that we are able to provide this incredible opportunity for the citizens of Missouri.”
Native grasslands host unique upland streams fed by springs, seeps, small wetlands, and storm water runoff. Fish and wildlife depend on the streams, which also support good water quality for farms and towns.
“This new piece of property protects a portion of the upper watershed for Little Clear Creek,” Whitaker said. “It’s a critical piece to protect water quality.”
A high ridge on the new tract has 20 acres of quality native prairie, she said. The remaining acreage was grazed in recent decades and has good potential for a return to native warm-season grasses and wildflowers with proper management. MDC will use prescribed burns, grazing, and seeding to enhance prairie qualities on the tract. An added plus for the tract is that an earlier owner conducted tree removal and prescribed burns to enhance the grassland for prairie species and grazing.
“We’ll work to expand and enhance the prairie as much as we can,” Whitaker said.
For more information on the Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie Conservation Area, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zwd. Private landowners can get help from MDC with grassland management practices that benefit prairie species and conservation ranching, visit https://mdc.mo.gov/property.