Blackland Biography (REGPCEC)
This lesson will survey the Blackland ecosystem of Arkansas and Rick Evans Grandview Prairie (REGP). It will address the prairie’s historical, cultural and ecological characteristics, and participants will be introduced to the agencies that preserve the ecosystem and manage restoration.
K - 12
Indoor or outdoor classroom
Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Conservation Education Center, Columbus
Education Program Coordinator, 800-983-4219
45 minutes to 1 hour
Suggested Number of Participants:
10 - 30
- Understand the ecological significance of the Blackland ecosystem and REGP.
- Identify the agencies protecting the ecosystem and how they are restoring it.
- Discuss flora and fauna which thrive in Arkansas’ Blackland ecosystem.
Tall grass prairie
*See glossary for definations
Blackland biography trunk
Blackland ecosystem of Arkansas poster
Blacklands of Arkansas (the nature center fact sheet)
“Tallgrass Prairie Wildflower” book
Site-specific species list(s) – plant and animal
The North American prairie – Peterson Field Guide
“Prairie Time: A Blackland Portrait” by Matt White
“Blackland Prairies of the Gulf Coastal Plain: Nature, Culture and Sustainability”
“The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook for Prairies, Savannas and Woodlands”
“Fire: Friend or Foe”
“The Ecology of Fire”
“Arkansas and the Land”
Project Wild K-12 curriculum and activity guide
Rick Evans Grandview Prairie is part of a unique ecosystem. It is the nation’s largest contiguous tract of Blackland prairie in public ownership. The area consists of improved pasture, woodlands, wooded draws, bottomland habitats and native grasslands composed of Blackland prairie communities. After the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) bought REGP in 1997, personnel from AGFC, The Nature Conservancy and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission began an ecological assessment.
- Blackland prairie
- About 12 million acres of Blackland prairies and woodlands originally covered parts of Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
- Today a small portion of Blackland remain in scattered patches, making this one of the more imperiled ecosystems of the South.
- REGP has 4,885 acres owned and managed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in the Blackland belt.
- REGP is composed of non-native pasture, retired croplands, low- to high-quality dry Blackland prairie, degraded Blackland savanna, dry calcareous woodlands and mesic forest.
- This area was once covered by a cretaceous sea. The western interior seaway connected the present-day Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean. As the waters receded, deposits of marine life were exposed. A deep mantle of rich, black soil eventually formed over the chalky layer. This black soil is the reason the region is called Blackland.
- The Arkansas archeological survey has uncovered valuable artifacts and information from when the Caddo Indians once lived here.
- Tall grasses dominate the Blackland ecosystem. There are many types of grasses native to the habitat, including Indian grass, little bluestem, gama grass, switch grass and big bluestem.
- This magnificent but threatened landscape is alive with more than 600 species of plants and 315 animal species, each one filling a role in Blackland ecology.
- REGP harbors 14 rare and endangered plant species tracked by the Arkansas Heritage Commission.
- Natural grass fires have maintained the health and diversity of species within the ecosystem. Native Americans realized this and used fire as a tool. The black ash from fires accumulated over the years and formed the topsoil of the Blacklands. After European settlement, fire was suppressed from the landscape. Today, prescribed burns are key to restoring and maintaining the health of the Blacklands.
- Threats to the ecosystem
- Suppression of fire – widespread suppression of fire allows woody vegetation and other invasive species, choking out wildflowers and grasses.
- Exotic invasive species – habitat loss for native species
Fragmentation – ecosystem is not able to function as a whole since remnants are small and scattered
- Detrimental agricultural practices – overgrazing, non-native invasive plantings, land practices that induce erosion, etc.
- What has been done
- In the 1980s, The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission began to increase efforts to preserve the Blacklands.
- After conducting ecological surveys, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and The Nature Conservancy protected several Blackland remnants including the terre noire natural area near Arkadelphia, white cliffs west of Lake Millwood, nacatoch ravine by McNab, Columbus prairie preserve and stone road glade by Nashville. Another area north of Saratoga landing on Lake Millwood is owned by the Corps of Engineers and managed by Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and The Nature Conservancy. Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and The Nature Conservancy currently own more than 2,500 acres described as Blackland sites and have enrolled more than 4,000 acres of private land in a conservation management program.
- Ecological assessments by The Nature Conservancy and Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission in the 1990s identified the least-disturbed areas and developed plans to conserve them.
- During ecological assessments, all components are examined – the different types of prairies, woodlands and wetlands. There are 22 ecological communities in the Arkansas Blackland ecosystem. Twenty-one are globally imperiled (meaning they exist in only a few places in the world).
- REGP was bought by AGFC in 1997 with money from the conservation tax.
- The Nature Conservancy, AGFC and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission began a partnership that includes monitoring and restoring Blackland areas as well as expanding public and private conservation efforts.
- Examples of work in progress
- Partnering agencies, along with many private landowners, are preserving and restoring remnants of the Blackland ecosystem.
- Arkansas has the largest Blackland conservation site in the United States.
- Fire is important for maintaining the Blackland ecosystem, and controlled burns are assessed for their effects on species and communities.
- Other projects include fescue eradication and cedar removal.
- Show a map of the site and point out the audience’s location. Even the youngest participants will enjoy finding their location on the map.
- Explian that an ecosystem is made up of geology, climate, plants, animals, soil and people. Share the background information and open the discussion, if time permits. Ask their opinions on the actions taken, plans or overall impression of the Blackland ecosystem.
- Before beginning this part of the lesson, review the contents of the Blackland biography trunk. Look at each item and decide what information will be shared.
- Tell them they will examine REGP by exploring the Prairie in a Basket. Take one item out of the basket at a time. As each item is brought out, let a few participants guess what it represents in the Blackland ecosystem.
- After a few guesses, explain what the item represents. (The limestone represents the formations deposited by the cretaceous sea. The matches represent the prescribed burns for keeping the prairie healthy, and the white-tailed deer track represents the healthy deer population.)
- After discussing an item, lay it down so they may see it as other items are introduced. They could be passed around or assigned to individuals, depending on the class size.
- Conclude by discussing the vast components of the Blackland ecosystem.
- If time permits and the audience is conducive, play a modified version of the WILD activity, habitat lap sit. Use prairie components: fire, managers, soil, plants and animals.
- What types of fossils are prevalent on the prairie?
- Name four threats to the Blackland ecosystem.
- Identify the partners working with AGFC to preserve the Blackland prairie.
- What is the most important ecological process in maintaining the Blackland ecosystem?
- How many plant species are found on the Blackland prairie? How many animal species?
- How did Arkansas acquire the Blackland prairie at REGP?
Calcareous – soil rich in calcium because of limestone rich bedrock
Ecosystem – plants and animals interacting with each other and their physical environment
Exotic – a species that has been introduced from another geographic region to an area outside its natural range
Food chain – feeding order in an ecological community that passes food energy from one organism to another as each consumes a lower member and in turn is preyed upon by a higher member
Forb – broadleaf herb other than a grass, especially one growing in a field, prairie or meadow
Grass – a flowering monocot
Habitat – an arrangement of food, water, shelter or cover, and space suitable to animals’ needs
Invasive – tending to spread
Marl – earthy clay deposit that contains a substantial amount of calcium
Mesic – ecological habitat classified as “moderately moist"
Native – living or growing naturally in a region and not introduced from elsewhere
Plant community – a population of species in a common location
Prescribed fire – controlled fire used as an ecosystem management tool