Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and the Role of Bison

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Zibby, Shreya, and Maya on top of an emptied TNT bunker

Zibby, Shreya, and Maya on top of an emptied TNT bunker

In honor of the two Bison Reintroduction Experiment pamphlets that fell out of my backpack the other day, this blog post will be filling in the gap from our visit to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie by discussing Bison.

While bison are perhaps the most symbolic and exciting part of Midewin, they fit into a broader narrative of tension and transition that pervades every part of the national site.  From the empty bunkers to the archeological digs and from the intermodal to the armies of Phragmites, every image of Midwin tells a story of the many chapters of land use that have redefined and recreated this Illinois prairie.  Many sites that we visited this quarter emphasize the stark contrast between recovering habitats and industrial sites looming adjacently.  Midewin was thought provoking in a

Calumet students huddle atop a bunker for a photo.

Calumet students huddle atop a bunker for a photo.

different way; instead of separating different ideas about how land should be occupied geographically, Midewin provided a uniquely historical representation of overlaid competing ideals from various time periods.

The bison experiment represents another step in the current transition towards habitat remediation.  The stated purpose of the experiment is to “determine if bison grazing patterns benefit the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and grassland bird habitat.”  It is challenging to figure out what Midewin really looked like “originally” when so many groups have already affected the land but hopefully the reintroduction of bison will be a proactive first step towards improving the quality and viability of the non-native prairie site as a habitat for species that historically lived alongside the bison.

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A picture of a wild bison from the Yellowstone Bison Re-introduction program. We are borrowing this photo because we didn’t see any ourselves. Photo credit: http://yellowstonewildlifesanctuary.org/yws-blog/bisonattack

Since my favorite blog posts leave the reader with some new facts for their consideration, here are some bison trivia questions:

  1. What is the bison’s scientific name?
  2. What was the bison’s peak North American population?
  3. What do bison do that improves prairie quality?
  4. Which National Park has the largest plains bison population in North America?