North American Prairie Conference


Date of this Version



Published in Prairie Pioneers: Ecology, History and Culture: Proceedings of the Eleventh North American Prairie Conference, August 7-11, 1988, Lincoln, Nebraska (Lincoln, NE 1989).


A field survey was begun in 1986 to determine the status of prairie vegetation on railroad rights-of-way in Wisconsin. Two % of 849 sample points located at 1.6 km intervals along railroads were found to contain relatively high quality prairie, and 23 % contained slightly degraded prairie. A significant proportion of these remnants contained mesic prairie, a community type which today is almost non-existent in Wisconsin and neighboring states. The linearity and fragmented state of these remnants, however, increase their susceptibility to invasion by woodland edge species. The lack of management that accompanies railroad abandonment has dramatically affected the ability of these prairie remnants to sustain themselves. This paper discusses the impact railroads have had on prairie remnants by examining 1) construction and abandonment trends, 2) the management history of railroad rights-of-way based on survey observations and interviews with maintenance personnel, and 3) the importance of the management techniques utilized through the 1950s in the preservation of prairie remnants.