Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Sarah Presents The Declaration of Interdependence

This post is written by Sarah Lueder, one of our Hubbard Fellows. In this essay, she imagines how prairies might think about people. She illustrates the post beautifully with three video clips she made earlier this year.

The following is a statement from the proceedings of the Association of Central North American Prairies (ACNAP) convention: the only meeting to be run by prairies, for prairies. This message constitutes an integral part of the Human Ethic, the very real code by which prairies consider humans.

After a few rounds of lively debate and negotiation, ACNAP agreed upon a statement that expresses our commitment to human conservation: a declaration of our interdependence. We thought it necessary to express our views on the subject given the amount of controversy the species has been causing. There have been murmurs of feeling underappreciated and misunderstood by humans, and it isn’t hard to see why when you look at our current state.

In our prime, we were grand, spanning the vast heart of the continent. Species movements were dictated by their ecology, not according to the number of roads and corn fields separating us. Competition for space arose from trees, not from airfields and agriculture.

A group of goldenrods (Solidago spp.) reminisce about central North America being full of expansive, intact prairie.

It may be easy to look at where we stand now, relatively fragmented and degraded, and feel only hostility for this happening at the hand of humanity. But we make the case to forgive their shortsighted nature and move forward together: reflecting on our interwoven history, the good of the present, and the potential for a better future.

Prior to the late Wisconsinan (15-12,000 BP), the land where we are now looked vastly different. Areas that weren’t covered with ice were covered with spruce and jack pine forest. In the following millennia, the glaciers retreated. There were droughts, lightning-caused fires, and large, browsing animals that cleared the way for grass. But trees persisted still, and the area did not yet resemble great plains.

A tree cricket and a sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus) confer about what the landscape was like during the Ice Age

For us to flourish, we needed something previously absent from the landscape: intention. The ability to modify of an ecosystem with specific outcomes in mind. Something that could evolve with us, relatively quickly. Enter Homo sapiens, who arrived some 20,000 years ago and adapted the landscape for reasons plentiful and varied. An instrumental part of our formation was their use of fire. Indigenous peoples eliminated relict stands of woodland across the region, setting more fires than caused by lightning, particularly in our eastern portions. This brought more grazers to the landscape (a desired effect for them), which compounded tree clearing effects of burning (a desired effect for us). Although most of the species we contain have been around for a million or more years, the landscape might not have supported them if it weren’t for the millennia of fire and grazing maintaining our diversity.

As we write this, the knowledge that we do not predate the arrival of humans remains at the forefront of our minds. We have been developing alongside one another for thousands of years.

The domination of us and Indigenous peoples by European settlers has left a scar, this much is evident, but still the fact remains: as long as there have been prairies here it has been because of people. Today, those of us that are here exist largely because of the intentional efforts of the species. A healthy remnant is no accident, nor is a restoration.

We know they have the potential to facilitate a functional, thriving prairie community. We see examples of it every day. They assist in spreading our seeds, bring fire to the landscape, remove invasive species, and manage grazing. Moreover, among prairie species they are unique in their ability to express love and appreciation. They spend time with us, listen to and share our stories, and voice their thanks for the peace and solace they find in us.

The prospect of losing humans today echoes that of the past: trees would encroach upon us, diversity would fall, and no one would be around to extend their gratitude.

Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), and cows gather at sunrise to express their support for the conservation of humans

Recognizing that we have never been without them, nor do we want to be, ACNAP confirms that we are committed to the conservation of humans and that we will continue to embrace them as a part of the ecosystem. Knowing their extraordinary potential, we hope they (continue to) work to consider themselves a part of it as well.

Information for this post came from the following sources:

Anderson, Roger C. “Evolution and Origin of the Central Grassland of North America: Climate, Fire, and Mammalian Grazers1.” The Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 133, no. 4 (2006): 626–47.

Axelrod, Daniel I. “Rise of the Grassland Biome, Central North America.” Botanical Review 51, no. 2 (1985): 163–201.

Bennett, Matthew R., David Bustos, Jeffrey S. Pigati, Kathleen B. Springer, Thomas M. Urban, Vance T. Holliday, Sally C. Reynolds, et al. “Evidence of Humans in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum.” Science 373, no. 6562 (September 24, 2021): 1528–31.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

11 thoughts on “Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Sarah Presents The Declaration of Interdependence

  1. Beautiful post Sarah! Thank you!

    The Prairie is wise, thanks to those humans and their efforts to keep it so.

    Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All!

  2. Brilliant.


    On Tue, Dec 21, 2021 at 7:21 AM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” This post is written by Sarah Lueder, one of our > Hubbard Fellows. In this essay, she imagines how prairies might think about > people. She illustrates the post beautifully with three video clips she > made earlier this year. The following is a statemen” >

  3. I feel a part of my world when I’m outside, never removed from it. This essay perfectly describes that KNOWING I have after prescribed fire, a feeling of joy that an abundance and diversity of life is waiting to emerge shortly. It also describes that feeling of dread when a favorite prairie is fenced, razed, readied for concrete and houses and urban development, knowing that homebuyers will remain largely unaware of what used to be. But I know. Thank you, Sarah. Just so beautifully and eloquently written.


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