Working in partnership with the City of Fayetteville, the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust is pleased to announce that 40 acres of unplowed tallgrass prairie have been permanently protected in west Fayetteville. Located adjacent to the newly constructed solar installation that powers the West Side Wastewater Treatment Facility, the property is “one of the last remnants of virgin prairie left in the area,” according to land trust director Terri Lane.
It’s estimated that only 1% of native tallgrass prairie ecosystems are left in North America. Recent botanical surveys of the property have identified more than 200 native plant species, providing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. Prairies slow and filter stormwater runoff and are particularly important for carbon sequestration. Native prairie grasses and wildflowers have deep root systems with the ability to store more carbon underground than forests can store in trees above ground.
The solar installation was originally planned to be built directly on the prairie, but after conversations with Northwest Arkansas Land Trust executive director Terri Lane and Jennifer Ogle, botanist and board chair of the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association, about the ecological importance of the site, the City of Fayetteville readily agreed to relocate the installation to an adjacent and more degraded site. Fayetteville is the first city in Arkansas to commit to 100% clean energy by 2030, and the installation on city-owned land offset nearly two-thirds of municipal consumption in 2019. “We greatly applaud their intent,” Lane recalls, “and came prepared with an alternative site and a request to permanently protect the prairie remnant.” Although construction at the new site would cost more, the city agreed to relocate the installation and permanently protect the prairie parcel as another means to sequester carbon.
In February 2020, the city and the land trust completed a conservation easement and land management agreement to restore the prairie. Plans for public access include a walking trail through the land where residents can enjoy birding and rare native plants. “It’s a climate and conservation win-win.” says Lane. “Here we have the permanent protection of virgin prairie sequestering carbon, capturing stormwater runoff, and providing habitat for declining pollinator species next to the solar array providing renewable energy. The project tells a greater story of the power of partnerships and of taking local action to curb climate change and protect the valuable ecosystem services that nature provides to our growing communities.”