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Parks and Protected Spaces

Prairie Management at Spruce Woods Provincial Park

Originally, mixed grass prairie stretched across southwestern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and as far south as Texas.  Today, only remnants of this once great prairie remain in their natural condition.  These remnants constitute less than 20 percent of the extent of the original mixed grass prairie.  With so little of this prairie left, there is great importance in protecting and preserving these surviving remnants. The prairies of Spruce Woods Provincial Park are some of the best examples of these remnants.  To help maintain the health of these prairie remnants a prairie management plan for the park was initiated in 1996.

The objectives of the prairie management plan are:

  1. To maintain or improve the health of the prairie sites within the park;
  2. To provide greater opportunities for the interpretation of mixed grass prairie and management of mixed grass prairie;
  3. To help communicate the direction and progress on prairie management at Spruce Woods;
  4. To coordinate prairie management work with that of other wildlife species such as the northern prairie skink;
  5. To facilitate scientific research on mixed grass prairie.

There are 17 prairie management sites in Spruce Woods.  They are the biggest and best examples of mixed grass prairie in the park.  Each site has its own challenges and specific management prescriptions have been determined to address these challenges.  Prairie management often involves manipulating vegetation through controlled disturbances to achieve specific goals.  Long term protection from disturbance is generally considered unhealthy for a vegetation community.
Spruce Woods Prairie Sites

Prairie management activities

1. Burning

All of the prairie sites in the park have been burned several times on a five year rotation.  These burns have been done in the very early spring.  The fires have improved the vigor of every prairie site with big bluestem and little bluestem in particular thriving following the burns.

2. Monitoring

Permanent sample plots throughout the prairie areas have been monitored since 1996.  Over the long term this monitoring will help managers determine if the health of the prairies is improving, staying the same or deteriorating.

3. Mowing

Tree growth is a common threat to prairie areas.  Mowing to control aspen encroachment on prairie sites has occurred frequently since 1996.  It often takes several years of mowing to eliminate the tree encroachment.  Future efforts will focus on mowing to create wildlife corridors between adjacent prairie sites.

4. Grazing

One prairie site was included in a rotational grazing demonstration project for three years.  The cattle producer utilizing this site installed additional fencing and water sources for a twice over grazing regime.  Increased weight gain on the cattle and improved prairie health were realized with this project.

5. Control of Leafy Spurge

Leafy spurge is an invasive weed that can choke out native vegetation.  Use of Apthona beetles to control the spurge started in 1983.  There are now over 300 beetle release sites in the park.  The tiny beetles are captured at some of these sites and moved to new locations in the park.  These beetles have been very effective at controlling spurge at some of the sites.  Goat grazing was implemented in cooperation with a local farmer at one site for three years to help control the spread of leafy spurge.  The goats were very effective at reducing the leafy spurge but many years of grazing would be needed to eliminate it.

6. Interpretive Programming

Interpretive facilities and programs informs over a thousand park visitors each year about mixed grass prairie and prairie management.  These programs include amphitheatre shows, guided hikes and car caravans to prairie sites.

For information on upcoming interpretive events click here

7. Research

Several research projects have occurred in the park since the prairie management plan was initiated.  Invitations have been extended to Manitoba universities to use the park for education purposes, for research associated with the mixed grass prairie, or for research based on management of mixed grass prairie.

If you are interested in conducting research at Spruce Woods Provincial Park please contact Parks and Protected Spaces Branch at 204-945-6797