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Conservationist Warns of Missouri's Disappearing Prairie

A truck drives on top of a levee that protects a soybean field in New Madrid County, Mo. when the Mississippi River floods.
Kristofor Husted / KBIA

Missouri's prairies are disappearing and the loss is hurting the state's ecosystem, according to a conservation expert.

Carol Davit, executive director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation, told KCUR-FM that prairies are rich in nutrients, serving as a natural habitat for pollinators that fertilize crops.

Further destruction of prairies would reduce pollinators' ability to thrive, which could affect food security in the state, Davit said.

"We have reaped the benefits of prairie soils, becoming an agricultural powerhouse," Davit said.

She's pushing to protect prairies from the development projects and agriculture efforts that have been plowing them down.

"I'd like us to really embrace our prairie inheritance and be proud of it, and understand that it is part of our lifeblood," Davit said.

She said restoring the grasslands could be beneficial as Missouri grapples with recovering from severe flooding this spring. In March, hundreds of residents had to evacuate their homes, which were inundated with water after the swollen Missouri River breached levees due to heavy rain and snowmelt.

Prairie vegetation can absorb substantial amounts of stormwater, as well as reduce soil erosion.

"Taking just 10% of a cropped area and creating strips of prairie plants, we can see up to 90% reduction in soil erosion," Davit said.

She's calling for the planting of more native vegetation to restore some of the prairie's ecological functions.

Using plants for landscaping can also help preserve the habitat, which Davit called "an inherent value that we must preserve and protect for our benefit and for the benefit of future generations."

Davit will serve as the keynote speaker at the North American Prairie Conference in Houston in June.