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Austin Peay State University’s Southeastern Grasslands Institute Preserves Rare Ecological Community

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – Spanning across the border of Kentucky and Tennessee, near the small town of Guthrie, KY, is a globally rare type of prairie community.

Now, thanks to a generous donation by Robert and Deborah Hulse to the Austin Peay State University (APSU) Southeastern Grasslands Institute (SGI), this place will be permanently protected for future generations.

Prior to the 1820s, 3.7 million acres of prairie (or an area equal to a little more than the size of Connecticut) stretched across Kentucky and Tennessee’s Pennyroyal Plain. Most of that prairie ecosystem has since been converted to agricultural fields, making remnant prairies extremely rare natural ecosystems in this region.

Scattered throughout this once-vast prairie ecosystem were wet prairies and marshes. These prairie wetlands were subjected to even heavier losses due to ditching and draining.
The newly acquired property, which is informally known as the Guthrie Prairie, is an example of a Pennyroyal Plain Wet Prairie community. It is one of the few remaining examples in the world of this type of community that has escaped the plow and development.
“It is rare to find a state and globally rare community that is mostly intact. It is even rarer to be able to preserve and protect it,” said Jeremy French, SGI and Quail Forever Interior Low Plateau Ecoregion Coordinator.
 The approximately 5-acre prairie contains two small prairie marshes that hold water for most of the year, offering habitat for amphibians and marsh birds. Guthrie Prairie also contains over 200 wet prairie plant species including tall green milkweed (Asclepias hirtella) – an imperiled species in Kentucky and a critically imperiled species in Tennessee. The Guthrie Prairie population appears to be the largest in Tennessee with over 1,000 plants. Like other milkweeds, tall green milkweed is a host plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars.
Recent surveys have also revealed the presence of Oklahoma purple top grass (Tridens x oklahomensis) which has never been found anywhere else east of the Mississippi River. In addition, there are historical records of prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata) and other species that may reappear as invasive species are removed and the property is managed for grassland restoration.
 “When we created SGI, we didn’t want to just focus on big-scale conservation. We knew we had to find a way for small-scale remnant prairies like Guthrie Prairie to stop slipping through the cracks and being lost,” said Dr. Dwayne Estes, SGI’s Executive Director and co-founder.
“Too often, small sites like this one are viewed as too small to matter and too costly to conserve, but we simply can’t give up on them. They are critical building blocks in our mission to restore larger prairie landscapes.”

The property is the first purchase with the Robert C. and Deborah B. Hulse Prairie Acquisition Fund. The fund was established in 2021 with the purpose of purchasing small, fragile prairie remnants that are often hard to protect through other means because they are so small.
“Small prairie remnants that are sometimes only between a ¼ acre and 5 acres are important too and can sometimes contain some very rare species,” said Robert Hulse when asked why he and his wife wanted to create the fund. “It is important to be able to buy and preserve these smaller properties.”
 “Our Southeastern grasslands are extremely diverse and are important from both ecological and historical perspectives,” said APSU President Michael Licari. “APSU is honored that private individuals and others are joining with SGI to help protect prairie remnants in the Southeast.”
SGI plans to continue growing the Robert C. and Deborah B. Hulse Prairie Acquisition Fund with the help of new donations from other like-minded private donors. Donations made to the Prairie Acquisition Fund will be used to purchase and protect small grassland remnants throughout the Southeast.
All donations are tax-deductible and can be made through Austin Peay State University by going to https://givetoapsu.com/Hulse.

 “We believe that you can do a lot of good with just a little land or a little money,” Hulse said. “We’re hopeful that others will join us and contribute so that more small properties like this can be purchased. Working together, we can make a difference.”
SGI is a grasslands-focused research, conservation, and education institute at Austin Peay State University that is dedicated to saving the forgotten grasslands of the Southeast.


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