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Where the Buffalo Roam: Illinois

American bison are back in Illinois for the first time in 200 years

(Photo: Radius Images/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Buffalo might conjure up images of the American West, but they roamed all the way east, from New York down to Georgia. Now, they've taken back one of their former stomping grounds: Illinois. 

According to EcoWatch, buffalo haven't been spotted east of the Mississippi River since the 1830s. Now, a herd of 30 bison live in north-central Illinois' Nachus Grasslands. Just one percent of the prairie habitat that once stretched across the state remains today.

But the Nature Conservancy, the non-profit responsible for that reintroduction, thinks that the buffalo can help "recreate that lost landscape," EcoWatch writes. Buffalo selectively eat grasses—but not flowering plant, which are usually outcompeted by greedy grasses. But the buffalo's eating habits could help the flowering plants thrive. They also spread seeds and fertilizer in their droppings, EcoWatch writes. 

To reintroduce buffalo and restore the prairie, the Nature Conservancy has so far acquired 3,500 acres of former farmland in Illinois. The group is conducting control fires to mimic the natural cycles of the prairie ecosystem and is peppering the ground with seeds from prairie grasses that once grew there. The buffalo are allowed to roam around 500 acres of the newly created prairie, EcoWatch reports, and a wire fence ensures that they don't find their way into anyone's backyard. 

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