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1978 Ohio Prairies Report

OBS Ohio Prairie Report

1978 Ohio Prairie Survey Report of Ohio Prairies

Historic, Out-of-print Ohio Prairie Booklet Free for Download


 Data to Date document (1978) has been scanned,

converted to a PDF, and with permission of the

Ohio Biological Survey (original publisher) is

now available for download from the OPA.

In the 1950s and 60s, Ohio field biologists, particularly academic botanists, were aware of prairie plants and scattered, poorly-preserved or remnant prairie plant communities in Ohio. Edgar Nelson Transeau, botany professor at Ohio State, had discovered and documented the Prairie Peninsula in the 1930s, and had created a number of elemental Ohio prairie maps, using original land survey records. In 1966 Robert Gordon published his seminal map and documentation, Natural Vegetation of Ohio. It, too, was derived from the field notes of the earliest surveys in the state, and it showed a number of larger prairie and oak savanna areas.

But in the 1960s, the location, extent, composition, and ecology of Ohio’s unique prairie communities were still in the realm of speculation, or downright ignorance. It was known that Ohio had a few prairies in pre- and early-settlement times, but a full understanding of them was absent. Ohio is a primarily a forested state, and the ecological factors that control forests simply didn’t seem to apply to what little was known about prairies. In essence, prairies in Ohio were an unsolved mystery.

That was the Ohio prairie story, as so incompletely known until the early 1970s. Gordon’s map had widespread distribution, and viewers were excited by the forest types it showed. The forests all made sense. The wet Black Swamp in NW Ohio had an expected elm-ash swamp forest. The gently-rolling glacial moraines of the central portions of the state all had the expected beech-maple forest types. Dry SE Appalachian hillsides had expected oak forests, with mixed-mesophytic forests in slightly more moist bottomlands and coves. Gordon’s map made perfect sense out of each of Ohio forest communities.

Not so, however, with the prairie areas. Some were on extremely wet sites (wet prairies); others on extremely dry sites (xeric prairies) of pure sand. Bedrock types seemed to have no control, or even soil types. In the 1960s and early 70s, Ohio prairies were an ecological mystery.

That started to change, however, in 1971 when Dr. T. Richard Fisher, chair of the biology department at Bowling Green State University, wrote a letter to his professional colleagues across the state, offering to host a meeting to initiate a detailed state-wide prairie survey, where both prairie plants and prairie plant communities would be recorded. From such a survey, the big mysteries of Ohio prairies and their plants could begin to be solved.

The rest is history. In response to Dr. Fisher’s invitation, a meeting of those interested in prairies was held, and that begin the contemporary study of Ohio prairies. The rest of this is detailed in the Introduction of THE PRAIRIE SURVEY PROJECT TO DATE: A Summary of Data to Date , published in 1978, below:


This report and indeed the beginning of the Ohio Prairie Survey Project, was initiated by a letter of invitation to a meeting from Dr. T. Richard Fisher of Bowling Green State University in 1971. This meeting was held on 23 October 1971 at Aullwood Audubon Center, Dayton, Ohio and brought 24 people together for the first time to discuss their mutual interest – prairie.

A "seed" was planted which took two and a half years to germinate in the form of another get-together on 16 March 1974 at the offices of the Division of Wildlife, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Fountain Square, Columbus, Ohio. During this second meeting a multitude of subjects was discussed, not the least of which was the possible creation of a formal organization. Dr. Charles C. King took the suggestion to the Executive Committee of the Ohio Biological Survey, and on 25 April 1974, that committee authorized the creation of the Ohio Prairie Survey Project and charged it to identify areas of existing prairie and prairie species in. Ohio.    

The organizational meeting of the Ohio Prairie Survey Project “committee” took place on 28 June 1974, again at Aullwood Audubon Center. The meeting was chaired by Steve Bass, then of Aullwood; Roger Troutman was appointed secretary.

It was at this meeting that a survey of Ohio's prairies was planned. A prairie "packet," including the Ohio Prairie Site Survey form and directions for its use (as shown), was designed and distributed to all interested persons. Shortly after the meeting Bass resigned as chairman because he was leaving the state for other employment. The junior author [K. Roger Troutman] replaced him as chairman and Dr. Dennis M. Anderson was named secretary. By this time membership had grown from the original two dozen to approximately 65. For nearly two years the committee members, on a volunteer basis, went about their business of gathering and filing information about Ohio's prairies. In 1976.  the committee, through funding provided by the Ohio Biological Survey, employed the senior author [Allison W. Cusick] as a Data Coordinator for the summer. Many of the sites reported on Site Survey forms were visited and verified.

This publication is the first public report of the data gathered by the committee members from various sources including published literature, theses and dissertations, herbaria, personal contact, and, last but not least, field work. It also represents the first effort to screen and consolidate a vast amount of information on Ohio's natural areas with prairie being the underlying theme.

This, the Ohio Prairie Survey Project, began the modern study of Ohio prairies. At the turn of the century, to further support and promote prairie study and appreciation, the Ohio Prairie Association was founded, primarily by the principals who had earlier done much of the field work in the Ohio Prairie Survey Project.

Readers are invited to download a PDF copy of the Ohio Prairie Survey Project report, to learn the state of Ohio prairie awareness in the last quarter of the last century. It was the firm foundation of all contemporary Ohio prairie knowledge.

Download Ohio Prairie Survey booklet.

Note: The scanning, conversion to PDF, and posting for download of this out-of-print document is by specific permission of the Ohio Biological Survey.