The varied tapestry of the tallgrass,
mixed-grass, and short-grass prairies reaches from the eastern woodlands
and oak savannas to the foothills of the Rockies. Grasses and wildflowers
make good use of limited rainfall, and fire helps sustain the ecosystem.
Prairies provide habitats for many animals, including the pronghorn
-- North America's fastest land animal -- and the prairie dog, one
of many burrowing animals living on the prairies.
Explorers were impressed by
the immensity of the central and western grasslands, the region
that came to be known as the Great Plains. Settlers' steel plows
altered the landscape and transformed life on the prairies.
Native prairie is rare today;
remaining patches exist because of careful management and diligent
preservation efforts. But the defining characteristics of the prairies
live on; for instance, cattle, rather than bison, are now the dominant
grazing animals of the plains.
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