A small herd of around two dozen bison could be grazing on restored grassland south of Chicago as soon as this fall now that the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie has final approval for an experimental project that's been years in the making.
Officials announced Friday they plan to introduce a mix of young and mature animals at the prairie 45 miles southwest of Chicago, where the U.S. Forest Service and other groups have been trying to restore grassland at a site that was for decades a U.S. Army ammunition plant. The 1,200-acre project area could eventually support a little over 100 bison.
The disappearance of Illinois' tall grass prairie:
A difficulty the settlers encountered was that their plows, made for forest soils, were not able to cut through the dense prairie sod. It was not until 1837, when John Deere invented the self-scouring, steel-bladed plow in Grand Detour, Illinois, that it was possible to break the prairie sod and farm the prairie on a large scale. Then, in a remarkably short period of perhaps 50 years, the vast majority of prairie in Illinois was plowed and converted to agriculture. Prior to settlement, more than 60% of Illinois, approximately 22 million acres, were covered with prairie. Today, just over 2,000 acres remain, less than one-hundredth of one percent.