Palatine Prairie (an Illinois Nature Preserve) is just 2.5 acres of original prairie and marsh that was almost destroyed in 1979. Advocates saved it from bureaucrats and "progress." Stewards began managing it back to good health. (Some of it had suffered from invasives and brush.)
|In April 2013, the western end of the prairie was choked by crown vetch, the plant here with little leaflets.|
|Somehow the vetch kills most other plants. The only other plant in this photo|
that still has enough energy to bloom is bastard toadflax.
Some people argue that nature should be left alone, and then high quality nature will prevail. I had never before had the grim scientific opportunity to test the “no action” alternative on a good original prairie. Now I did. The pace of degradation was worse than I’d feared. More than half of the original prairie is gone.
|August 2015: dense vetch is two to three feet high over most of the prairie. Those dark fingers are mature seed pods.|
|Yellow outlines original prairie. Red outlines current extent of heavy crown vetch invasion. Red dots are outlier vetch populations of a few square yards each. Left unchecked, the invasive will soon have destroyed the entire original prairie.|
It’s a sad story. But looming defeats can be valuable catalysts that inspire new initiatives and approaches. The Palatine Prairie saga raises some existential questions.
|How do we assure needed resources, as we make commitments to the future?|
It's not too late for Palatine Prairie.
This post is still a draft, good recommendations have helped improve it. More suggestions (and comments) would be appreciated.