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Rooted in history: Little Bluestem for Alabama’s state grass

Before European settlement, much of Alabama was covered by vast grasslands and open savanna. These grasslands have been maintained by a combination of natural factors, including periodic wildfires and grazing by large herbivores such as bison, elk, and deer.

Fire in particular played an important role in the formation of Alabama's grasslands, promoting the growth of fire-adapted species such as small bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).

However, with the arrival of European settlers, agricultural expansion, and urbanization, Alabama's grasslands began to rapidly decline. Much of the state's prairie has been converted to agricultural land or lost to urban development, while fire suppression efforts have resulted in heavy woody plants encroaching on once open habitat.

By the early 20th century, only a few remnants of Alabama's once vast grasslands remained, primarily in areas unsuitable for cultivation or development.

To protect Alabama's native grasslands and prairies and promote native species, University of Alabama Republican Federation teamed up with Native Habitat Project Work to name Alabama's native state grasses.

Small bluestem can be found in northern Alabama from Huntsville to the wiregrass plains. Little Bluestem fosters healthier Alabama ecosystems by creating and enhancing habitat that maintains ecological balance and supports environmental heterogeneity.

Little bluestem provides habitat and resources for a variety of plant and animal species that depend on grassland ecosystems. Its dense cells provide nesting sites and cover for ground-nesting birds such as bobwhite quail and eastern meadowlark, and its seeds provide food for songbirds and small mammals.

By creating diverse and structurally complex habitats, little bluestem increases biodiversity and promotes the health of grassland communities. Little bluestem combats Alabama's challenges with drought conditions and soil erosion and is essential to the resiliency of Alabama's entire ecosystem.

Today, remnants of Alabama's historic prairie can still be found scattered throughout the state. These grasslands serve as important refugia for native biodiversity and provide valuable ecosystem services such as soil stabilization, water filtration, and carbon sequestration.

By recognizing and preserving Alabama's prairie and prairie heritage, we ensure that future generations can continue to benefit from the ecological and cultural richness of these unique landscapes. .

The University of Alabama Republican Federation is pleased to work to pass HB 229 in Congress and provide an opportunity to highlight Alabama's natural biodiversity and one of Alabama's native grass species.

Hunter Weathers is a law student at Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and president of the University of Alabama Republican Federation.

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