Prairie: A Natural History

Paperback | February 14, 2011

byCandace Savage

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Told in the author''s distinctively enchanting style, this bestselling guide to one of the largest ecosystems in North America is now updated.

Authoritative, detailed, and scientifically up-to-date, Prairie: A Natural History provides a comprehensive, non-technical guide to the biology and ecology of the prairies, the Great Plains grasslands of North America. This edition has been updated to include a new preface, new information about declining bird species, enhanced protection of bison, the effect of industrialization on the prairies, and the effect of the increase in coyote numbers on red foxes and swift foxes.

Extending from Alberta south to the Mississippi River, the prairies are among the largest ecosystems in North America. Until recently, they were also one of the richest and most magnificent natural grasslands in the world. Today they are among the most altered environments on Earth.

Illustrated with spectacular full-colour photographs and elegant black-and-white line drawings, this authoritative reference and easy-to-read guide is a must for anyone who wants to know more about the dazzling natural variety of the prairies.

Published in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation.

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From the Publisher

Told in the author's distinctively enchanting style, this bestselling guide to one of the largest ecosystems in North America is now updated.Authoritative, detailed, and scientifically up-to-date, Prairie: A Natural History provides a comprehensive, non-technical guide to the biology and ecology of the prairies, the Great Plains grasslands of North America. This edition has been updated to include...

Candace Savage is the author of numerous internationally acclaimed books on subjects ranging from natural history and science to popular culture. She is the author of the best-selling natural history titles Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies and Jays and Prairie: A Natural History, for which she won two Saskatchewan Book Awards and a Gold Medal from ForeWord Magazine in 2004. She is also a freque...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 10 × 7.5 × 0.5 inPublished:February 14, 2011Publisher:Greystone Books Ltd.Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1553655885

ISBN - 13:9781553655886

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Advisory Panel for Prairie: A Natural History Dr. Henry Murkin Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research Ducks Unlimited Canada Oak Hammock Marsh Conservation Centre Dr. John Janovy School of Biological Science University of Nebraska Lincoln, Nebraska Dr. Dan Johnson Professor of Environmental Science Department of Geography University of Lethbridge Dr. Kenneth F. Higgins U.S. Geological Survey South Dakota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Douglas H. Johnson, Leader Grasslands Ecosystem Initiative Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center United States Geological Survey Jamestown, North Dakota Paul G. Risser, Chancellor Oklahoma System of Higher Education Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Dr. Richard Cannings, Consulting Biologist Penticton, British Columbia Dr. Sydney Cannings, Coordinator Nature Serve Yukon Yukon Territorial Government Whitehorse, Yukon Preface to the Second Edition: There is no way to hold back the future. But we can shape the course of events by engaging-fully, deeply, and passionately-with the present This approach is sometimes referred to as a strategy of "no regrets," because the work is worth doing now, no matter what happens next. Even now, seven years after the fact, I can vividly recall the moment when I wrote those words, read them back to myself, and realized that I was done. My book on grassland ecology and conservation, the impossible project that had occupied me night and day for so many years, was finally finished. At the time, my main emotion was not so much elation--the satisfaction of a job well done--as giddy relief that I had managed to get the thing completed, somehow. It hadn't been easy. Just as I sat down to write the concluding chapter, my partner, Keith, was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. (Don't worry: he's alive and well.) A couple of weeks later, my father suffered a stroke and died in hospital. No matter what happens next. Being alive is a risky business, and the inevitable conclusion of our life stories is not what, given our druthers, most of us would choose. We're born; we die. And between the time when the lights switch on and the lights switch off, what are we to do? Let's say that we number among the fortunate minority of humanity who enjoy reasonable access to the basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter, and community. With our survival needs met, how do we "improve each shining hour," so that our brief lives are not a flash in the pan but a flash of brilliance? How do we craft lives of purpose and significance? because the work is worth doing . These questions lurk, like ephemeral companions, at the edge of our field of vision. For me, the answers have often turned out to be comically understated: growing carrots in my garden, playing fiddle tunes on my accordion, or stringing words one after another to form sentences. But none of these activities can compare with the simple, animal pleasure of scuffing across a dusty stretch of half-wild prairie somewhere in the back of beyond, with hot licks of meadowlark song filling the air. Enveloped in the sounds and scents of the grasslands, I am a child again, holding my mother's hand, as memories of her own sage-scented prairie childhood rise up to meet her. The Great Plains grasslands are old, older than memory. For visitants like us, this ancient land offers a grounding in continuance. Something kindles inside me when I sit on a lichen-covered boulder and realize that it has sat there for ten thousand years, ever since the retreat of the glaciers. Or when I lie on my back in the grass, soaking up the sun, and feel the Earth pressing against me, as if it were holding me up. Whatever it was that lit the spark of life, in the beginning of time, is still present here, in the grass, wind, sunshine and rain, in the birds and animals. Working to preserve and restore grassland ecosystems is an act of reverence for the crazy caper of life, which gave birth to us and all our flying, walking, swimming and slithering relations. It is an expression of gratitude for the mundane gift of being here. There is no point in pretending that everything is hunky-dory for the wildlife and wild places of the Great Plains. In my home region of the Canadian prairies alone, more than two dozen species have been added to the at-risk list since this book was first released seven years ago, and another dozen have been "uplisted" to a more critical status. Only two listed species appear to have made significant gains during the same span of years: a tiny fish called the bigmouth shiner, which has been found in new locations and is no longer thought to be at risk, and the swift fox, a cat-sized canid that went from Extirpated to merely Endangered, thanks to a long-term reintroduction effort. Meanwhile, the status of prairie birds as a group continues to worsen year by year, as formerly abundant species, like the Common (now uncommon) Nighthawk, become the focus of concern. The fundamental problem for most prairie species is loss of habitat. To this day, we continue to lose wetlands to drainage, river-flow to dams, and both native and tame grasslands to cultivation. In the Great Plains states, for example, millions of acres of marginal cropland that were seeded to hay in the 1980s and 1990s under the Conservation Reserve Program-and that have provided living space for wildlife ever since-are currently being ploughed up and dedicated to the production of biofuels. As for the surviving wild prairie, it is in declining health, due to the incursions of invasive plants and the relentless, dendritic expansion of oil-and-gas exploration and other human demands. If you are looking for a place where the conservation needs are urgent and your help is required now, look no further. a strategy of "no regrets," I can't promise you that a united force of grass-huggers will succeed in striking a happy balance between prairie people and the more-than-human world. It's pretty clear, however, what will happen if we do not make the attempt. From my own small experience of engagement (as board member for the Nature Conservancy of Canada and a partner in a restoration project, among other things), I can tell you that, even though the context is often disheartening, the work of conservation can be exciting, inspiring and fun. The prairie ecosystem is battered, but it is also adaptable and tough. Repeat after me: Things can change for the better. There is no way to hold back the future. But we can shape the course of events by engaging-fully, deeply, and passionately-with the present. And so we begin again.

Table of Contents

Preface Chapter 1: Where Is Here? Chapter 2: Digging into the Past Chapter 3: The Geography of Grass Chapter 4: Secrets of the Soil Chapter 5: Home on the Range Chapter 6: Water of Life Chapter 7: Prairie Woodlands Chapter 8: The Nature of Farming Chapter 9: Long-Range Forecast For More Information Appendices --Scientific Names --Endemic Vertebrates of the Great Plains Map Credits Index