Faculty: Peter Schulze
Description: Why did people come to central Texas? Native Americans followed the bison who came here for the grass. After the bison were slaughtered, longhorn cattle briefly thrived on that grass. Then, in the late 1800s, Western settlers discovered the prairie had built some of the richest soil west of the Mississippi River. Virtually the entire triangle of Blackland Prairie (so named for its jet-black soil), from Paris to Ft. Worth in the north down to San Antonio in the south, was plowed to grow cotton. With Southeastern U.S. soils failing because of soil damage from cotton cultivation, central Texas became the world leader in cotton production. The economy thrived. The former productivity of those farms is responsible for rapid population growth that eventually led to today’s Interstate-35 corridor, the set of metropolitan areas in a north-south line through the former prairie. But almost no cotton grows here now. The soil was damaged in record time. Some farmers still grow wheat and corn but depend on imported nitrogen and phosphorus. Most of the landscape is low quality cattle pasture. Many formerly bustling small towns are economically depressed while the Texas tallgrass prairie is one of the nation’s most endangered ecosystems; less than 1% remains. The agricultural land use was neither economically or environmentally sustainable. Roughly the same story has been repeated around the world for millennia – though usually not so fast. A region’s soil is destroyed and its agriculture decimated. Today there is no frontier of new farmland. Soils and ecosystems must be restored. Our lives depend not only on farm soil but also on a multitude of services provided by native ecosystems. As awareness builds, interest in ecosystem restoration will grow over your lifetime. This course focuses on restoring Blackland Prairie to Clinton and Edith Sneed’s former farm fifteen miles west of campus. Restoration fieldwork is complemented with classroom sessions that address the ecology, history, conservation, and ecosystem services of tallgrass prairies, as well as techniques and ethics of prairie restoration. In addition to a significant amount of reading and daily classroom sessions, this course involves daily physical work in often cold or otherwise unpleasant weather. Most days we will meet from 9:30 to 11:00 indoors and then go to the field site from about 1:00 to 4:00. Weather permitting, some days we will set prescribed fires. On those days we will leave for the field site at approximately 9:00 am and return between 3:00 and 4:30 pm. We do not recommend enrolling unless you are willing to study hard, endure inclement conditions graciously and enthusiastically, and can avoid conflicts during normal business hours.
Meeting Information: 01/02/2023-01/24/2023 M-F 09:00AM – 11:00AM, Room to be Announced
Section Requisites: Course fee:$50. Estimated out-of-pocket cost:$50-100. Instructor interview required. Course time listed does not include fieldwork.