[Update #2: Texas lost a great man when Bob passed away in April 2009. He is buried on the prairie.]
Bob and Mickey Burleson are two of my prairie heroes. Decades ago, when few people talked about tallgrass prairie conservation and restoration, they went and did it: they purchased worn our crop land and an overgrazed prairie remnant in Bell County and spent many years restoring over two hundred and fifty acres of highly diverse, native tallgrass Blackland Prairie through collection and planting of local ecotype native seed from area hay meadow prairie remnants, invasive plant removal, prescribed burning, haying, and other management practices.
The Burlesons collected local ecotype seed from native prairie hay meadows in the area, many of which no longer exist due to being destroyed by plowing or development. Their prairie is an invaluable source of locally adapted native plant genetics and seed, and they have provided prairie seed and seed hay for use in other restorations.
Bob and Mickey served on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and are largely responsible for the existence of a natural resource management section within that department. Mickey is a former board member and president of the Texas Nature Conservancy, initiated their Texas Land Stewards program and was influential in TNC’s early priority on Blackland Prairie preservation. Mickey also served as a board member and vice president of Audubon Texas.
Both Bob and Mickey were founding members of the Native Prairies Association of Texas (NPAT).
Bob and Mickey host field trips for landowners, prairie conservationists and enthusiasts, Master Naturalists, and any others who wish to learn about tallgrass prairie restoration. They have also written a tallgrass restoration guide, “The New Southern Reconstruction – Home Grown Prairies”, which is available online on NPAT’s web site.
Native tallgrass prairie is very rare – while it once occupied over 20 million acres of Texas, less than 1% of this beautiful ecosystem now remains. Tallgrass prairie is the most endangered large ecosystem in North America, and is the highest priority ecoregion in the Texas Land and Water Conservation Plan and the Texas Wildlife Action Plan.
Restoration of native tallgrass prairie recreated habitat for grassland birds, the most declining group of birds of North America with many species appearing in the Texas Wildlife Action Plan.
Slideshow photos by Lisa Spangler.