National Geographic : 1980 Jan
native herd died out.Just as the bison were regeneratedafter nearly disappearing, preservationistsseek a similar revivalfor the beasts' originalhome-the prairie. and refrigerating them in plastic containers. Autumn planting does away with this cumbersome procedure. Of course, it also makes cultivation the following spring impossible-the prairie seedlings would be destroyed-and so the weeds sprint off to an even faster start. But, to Betz, the risk is worth taking. "If we're ever going to build prairies on a large scale, this is the way to do it," he said that day. We flagged down the tractor and clam bered aboard the drill. Amid a great squeak ing of gears, rotating metal fingers of the drill reached up, snatched, then thrust the fluffy seeds down into tubes that led to the ground. The falling seeds glinted one last time in the chill November sun. Then they fell into the moist black earth and were gone. The sun was an orange ball now, almost gone itself. Betz and I retreated to the edge of the field and watched the tractor weave its pattern like a shuttle on a loom. Above us big jets descended slowly toward O'Hare Inter national Airport. A flock of blackbirds wheeled, settled in upon the newly planted prairie-and started eating prairie seeds. "Hey!" Betz shouted. "Get out of there! Go bother somebody else's prairie!" He walked out into the field, waving his arms and making fierce noises. "You know," a watching Polley Cosgrove told me, "that man is worth his weight in prairie seeds." And that's worth a lot. O Can the TallgrassPrairieBe Saved?