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Freese Scale Highlight: Native Prairie Hydrology

Restoring a prairie landscape takes many forms, from assembling habitat and reestablishing fire to rebuilding natural water flows. To help guide prairie management, we rely on the Freese Scale developed by conservation biologist Dr. Curt Freese with Dr. Kyran Kunkel and Dr. Sam Fuhlendorf. The Freese Scale looks at the prairie through ten different lenses that help determine if a grassland ecosystem is fully functioning.

One of these lenses focuses on natural stream flows and healthy riparian areas. Prairie streams once supported a wide array of plants and wildlife, including nearly half of all prairie birds. However, much of this habitat has been lost over the last century.

Today, American Prairie is home to several intact riparian sites with impressive biodiversity, especially when migratory shorebirds arrive each spring. Collaborators like World Wildlife Fund and the Montana Conservation Corps have helped restore sites in the Sun Prairie region along Box Elder and Telegraph Creeks, and last year’s PRO volunteers planted trees and shrubs along Third Creek. We also continue to assess opportunities for diversion dam removal that would help restore connectivity across the prairie, greatly improving our Freese Scale ratings.


Each year, our land managers and range specialists rate the regions of American Prairie according to the Freese Scale, taking into account additional data from experts, partners, and the Landmark program. The total score for a particular area is recorded and retained, allowing for annual comparisons. Armed with this information, we decide what approaches in management could lead to improved score. This measurable yet flexible structure is part of our adaptive management approach to all American Prairie lands. Learn more and see current ratings.


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This article originally appeared in The Sentinel, our biannual publication. Starting this fall, we'll continue to post updates on our News and Blog pages, and The Sentinel will be provided in print and digital versions.

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