FERMILAB: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Students' Views


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Fermilab Prairie
by Emma

Say that you're a person from Rhode Island going on a trip to Illinois, the Prairie State. You've always wanted to see a prairie. You asked everyone, "Where's the prairie?!" Well, where is the prairie? Nearly 80% of Illinois was prairie at one time, now only 1/100% remains. Is Illinois' prairie going the way of the steppe and rain forest? Have we gone too far? What about those animals and plants? Nature is our mother, and we need to protect her!

Some of the richest prairie in Illinois and the world's largest restoration project belong to Fermilab. Every year, volunteers collect the seeds. After that, they are planted on new acres.

On the 800 acre restored prairie, many of the 200 (100 now) native Illinois plants including some rare ones are making a comeback. In the future a 2,500 acre prairie at Fermilab is proposed. The goal is to get a large enough restoration to make a prairie functioning as a self-sufficient ecosystem. So far the goal is coming into view.

As some birds and insects come, the larger animals follow, such as skunks, raccoons, beavers, opossums, mink, white-tailed deer, coyotes, and fox. In the winter, long and short-eared owls roost in the Big Woods. The upland sandpiper and a number of herons have made Fermilab their home.

The Lab hopes to get Franklin's ground squirrel and badgers because the prairie is a little overrun with woodchucks.

If bumble bees could make a comeback, the ways of pollinating the flowers of the prairie plants would increase. The hopes of having wolves and bobcats on the site have diminished because it's not feasible; the prairie lacks an adequate food source for them to live here.

One of the most characteristic parts of the prairie is the Mound Builder Ants that have homes six feet in diameter.

With 455 acres of old cornfields returned to prairie inside the ring, and more outside, this is a prairie people can be proud of.

"Every year the prairie gets burned. It burns off weeds and the prairie plants can flourish. Such plants, like the purple lead flower, won't flower on old stocks, so to flower the fire burns the old stocks, and new stocks peep out with flowers as a result of the fire.

So, how wonderful is Illinois' prairie?