"The vital Kansas ecosystem is rapidly shrinking. Its future depends on private landowners like Lorna Harder."
"Lorna Harder moves carefully through the dewy prairie grass in her Kansas backyard, avoiding the flowering plants. It’s early in the morning and the land is bathed in blue light. On either side of her, tall, thin strands of big bluestem, a grass species native to the Great Plains, arch more than a foot above her head.
“This is why we are here,” she says, holding a stem. Beneath the ground, the roots of the big bluestem will stretch nearly 12 feet deep, leaving deposits that enrich the soil and keep it in place against the strong Kansas winds. “This is what made our soils strong enough that we could live here.”
Grasslands can seem barren and uninhabited. But the low, constant choir of insects and the occasional solo of a songbird confirm what Harder already knows: This land teems with life. It’s hard to understand that by looking out the window of a speeding car or from the seat of a plane. Prairies must be experienced.
The health of the prairie is vital. It maintains the state’s watersheds and supports two major agricultural exports: cattle, and the wheat that becomes the nation’s bread. Once North America’s largest ecosystem, the prairie now is rapidly shrinking: Less than 4 percent of the tallgrass prairie remains, according to the National Park Service, with most of it in Kansas, a state with very little public land."
Sarah Spicer reports for the Washington Post magazine November 30, 2021.