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Summer on the Arkansas Prairie

By Ray Moranz on 25. August 2022
Ray Moranz

Short courses called for a visit to Arkansas prairie

You might be surprised to learn that Arkansas used to have more than one million acres of prairie. Most of it is gone now, but some of the remaining patches are very beautiful and host incredible bees, butterflies, and other invertebrates. Restoration and conservation of such habitats is an important part of Xerces’ work. 

Earlier this summer, I found a reason to visit Arkansas prairie. I had the great pleasure of co-delivering three pollinator conservation short courses alongside colleagues from Quail Forever, which is a nonprofit dedicated to conserving quail, pheasants and other wildlife. Each of these May trainings were conducted in different regions of Arkansas. During each session, we visited high quality prairie and discussed methods for restoring prairie on privately-owned farms and ranches. 

Our target audience members for these courses were USDA-NRCS field staff in Arkansas. In other words, these folks work for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The USDA-NRCS is a federal agency that works with private landowners like farmers, ranchers and foresters to put conservation practices in place that will benefit soil, water, air, and wildlife. 

Each NRCS field staff works with dozens or perhaps hundreds of agricultural producers per year, so we at Xerces view training them about pollinators as a high-leverage strategy for on-the-ground conservation.


A rare southern sight 

One of the highlights of this experience for me was our visit to Downs Prairie. This is where I saw my first southern plains bumble bee (Bombus fraternus). In fact, I saw three! All were foraging on flowers of tall green milkweed (Asclepias hirtella). This bumble bee is an endangered species, which highlights the importance of preserving this space. 


Southern plains bumble bee on milkweed blooms
One of the endangered southern plains bumble bees seen at Downs Prairie, Arkansas.


Scenic blooms of blue and yellow  

Another amazing place to visit was Camp Robinson Special Use Area, as its slopes were covered with the deep blue flowers of Carolina larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum) and the bright yellow flowers of largeflower tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora)


Purple and yellow flowers on a hillside
Blue flowers of Carolina larkspur and yellow blooms of largeflower tickseed covering a hillside at Camp Robinson Special Use Area, Arkansas.


A hopeful landscape

We finished up the last training by visiting a private property near Paris, Arkansas where they began restoring prairie for pollinators in the fall of 2021 by sowing seeds. It will likely be a year or two before this prairie is full of flowers, but a green antelopehorn milkweed (Asclepias viridis) in full bloom was providing food to a brown-belted bumblebee (Bombus griseocollis). (Its rootstock had probably already been there before last fall’s seeding.) 


Field of young prairie plants with barn in distance
Seeds from last year begin to restore prairie habitat as seedlings take root on this private property in Paris, Arkansas.


Bumble bee on milkweed
A brown-belted bumblebee searches for nectar on an older green antelopehorn milkweed plant in Paris, Arkansas.


Join us in restoring native habitat on working lands 

If you are an agricultural producer and are interested in restoring pollinator habitat on your land, please contact the Xerces Society pollinator program and contact your local USDA Service Center.



Ray works to conserve pollinators on rangelands in the central U.S., and he also serves as a Partner Biologist to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Central National Technology Support Center in Fort Worth, TX. He is based at the NRCS Field Office in Stillwater, Oklahoma. One focus of his work is to assist in the planning and implementation of monarch butterfly conservation efforts in the south central U.S.. Ray began studying the effects of fire and grazing on prairie plant and butterfly communities in 2004, and earned his Ph.D.

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