The Western Cherokee Prairies IBA was historically dominated by tallgrass prairie (Nigh and Schroeder 2002). Today, prairie remnants remain amidst much fescue pasture and hay meadows, and cropland. Prairie State Park (SP) contains the largest publicly-owned native tallgrass prairie remnant in the state.
Thirty-nine percent of the IBA is public conservation land, contained in Prairie SP (Missouri Department of Conservation[MDNR]; 3,942 acres, 1,596 ha), Shawnee Trail Conservation Area (CA) (Missouri Department of Conservation[MDC]; 3,680 acres, 1,490 ha), and Hunka Prairie (The Nature Conservancy[TNC]; 158 acres, 64 ha).

Ornithological Summary

Greater Prairie-chickens still occur in this IBA landscape that has relatively large prairie remnants preferred by this species (Walk and Warner 1999). Other grassland birds that use the tallgrass prairie within this IBA include Bell?s Vireo, Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow?s Sparrow, Northern Harrier (with evidence of nesting), Short-eared Owl, and Upland Sandpiper.

Conservation Issues

The large prairie fragments of the Western Cherokee Prairies are encompassed by the Western Cherokee Grasslands Conservation Opportunity Area defined by MDC (2005), where there exists opportunity to restore functioning tallgrass prairie landscapes. Conservation challenges for the IBA include afforestation of native prairie, conversion of native prairie to cool season (fescue) pastures and cropland, and exotic plant invasion of native prairie (especially sericea lespedeza). In addition to restoring tallgrass prairie and limiting woodland encroachment on existing conservation areas, similar actions could be taken by private landowners to maximize the abundance, sizes, and connectivity of native prairie remnants (e.g., through state and federal incentives, such as the US Department of Agriculture?s Conservation Reserve Program). MDC and MDNR have collaborated in applying National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grants for grassland restoration on public and private lands within the IBA, with significant success.

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