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(For the week of March 16, 2009)
Native Grassland Restoration Handbook Available
by James L. Cummins

Wildlife Mississippi is pleased to announce the availability of the handbook: Restoring and Managing Native Prairies: A Handbook for Mississippi Landowners. The handbook was written by Dr. Jeanne Jones with Mississippi State University with assistance from Daniel Coggin of Wildlife Mississippi. The handbook is just another in a long line of educational tools that Wildlife Mississippi has developed to help educate Mississippi's private landowners about the proper ways of enhancing, managing and protecting the natural resources found on their lands.

Daniel Coggin, a field biologist with Wildlife Mississippi and one of the co-authors of the book, states, “It is and will always be our mission at Wildlife Mississippi to help enhance and protect Mississippi's natural resources. This handbook was developed to educate Mississippians about the proper ways of restoring and managing native grasslands.”

The handbook is part of the efforts of Wildlife Mississippi through its prairie restoration initiative. Through the initiative, Wildlife Mississippi and its partners are working to restore native grassland using sound, scientifically-based, management practices within the prairie regions of the state.

Described by early explorers as “expansive illuminated grassy plains,” this prairie is made up of two main areas. The largest of the Blackland Prairies, as well as the most southeastern of the tall prairie type, is the Black Belt Prairie. Development of the Black Belt was chiefly from chalk, a soft limestone, with small concentrations of clay and silt. The “blackness” of the soil as described by early explorers and settlers is a result of humus of the grassland that forms dark-colored topsoil. The second area of this prairie is the Jackson Prairie. The fine-textured soils of this prairie were derived from calcareous clays and are well suited for cultivation.

Much of the prairie was converted to agricultural use during the 1800s. The 1900s saw the conversion to grazing lands and other agricultural crops. Excessive grazing and the exclusion of fire have also allowed the expansion of Eastern red cedar and other noxious species. The Conservation Reserve Program has allowed much acreage to be converted to loblolly pine production. Today, the Black Land Prairie has been listed as one of the most critically endangered ecosystems in the nation with less than 1 percent of the prairie still remaining. The only remnants of native prairies left are in cemeteries, 16th section lands and in the Tombigbee and Bienville National Forests.

Those interested in obtaining a free copy of the handbook can contact Wildlife Mississippi at (662) 686-3375.

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi.