Tallgrass Prairie
Panicum virgatum, commonly known as switchgrass, is a perennial warm season grass native to North America, where it occurs naturally from 55°N latitude in Canada southwards into the United States and Mexico. Switchgrass is one of the dominant species of the central North American tall-grass prairie and can be found in remnant prairies, in native grass pastures, and naturalized along roadsides in a vanishing prairie landscape. Much of North America, especially the prairies of the Midwestern United States, was once prime habitat to vast swaths of native grasses, including Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides), Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and others. In native prairies, switchgrass is historically found in association with several other important native tallgrass prairie plants, such as big bluestem, indiangrass, little bluestem, sideoats grama, eastern gamagrass, and various forbs (sunflowers, gayfeather, prairie clover, and prairie coneflower). These widely adapted tallgrass species once occupied millions of hectares. As European settlers began spreading west across the continent, the native grasses were plowed under and the land converted to crops such as corn, wheat, and oats. Introduced grasses such as fescue, bluegrass, and orchard grass also replaced the native grasses for use as hay and pasture for cattle. Due to accumulation of loess and organic matter, parts of the North American tallgrass prairie had the deepest topsoil ever recorded. After the steel plow was invented by John Deere, this fertile soil became one of America's most important resources. Over 99% of the original tallgrass prairie is now farmland.

Icons of the Vanishing Prairies
A monumental earthwork depicting the iconic and threatened Bison, Gray Wolf and Bald Eagle of the vanishing prairies.

Bison were hunted almost to extinction in the 19th century and were reduced to a few hundred by the mid-1880s. They were hunted for their skins, with the rest of the animal left behind to decay on the ground. After the animals rotted, their bones were collected and shipped back east in large quantities. Link

The Gray Wolf was once the world's most widely distributed mammal, living north of 15°N latitude in North America. Though once abundant, the gray wolf inhabits a very small portion of its former range because of widespread destruction of its habitat, human encroachment of its habitat, and the resulting human-wolf encounters that sparked broad extirpation. This reduction has been greatest in developed areas of the United States because of poisoning and deliberate persecution. Link

Bald Eagle It is estimated that in the early 1700s, the bald eagle population was 300,000–500,000, but by the 1950s there were only 412 nesting pairs in the 48 contiguous states of the US. The Bald Eagle was severely affected in the mid-20th century by a variety of factors, among them thinning of egg shells, attributed to the use of the pesticide DDT. Other factors in Bald Eagle population reductions were a widespread loss of suitable habitat, and illegal shooting, which was described as "the leading cause of direct mortality in both adult and immature bald eagles," according to a 1978 report in the Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. Link

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