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On the Road: Restoring Acadiana's Cajun Prairies

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Posted at 8:50 AM, Aug 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-30 09:54:14-04

St. Landry Parish is home to one of the state's most precious natural landscapes. A landscape that has diminished in recent years.

But now, biologists are working to restore what remains of the Cajun Prairie.

In its natural state, St. Landry Parish and much of Acadiana looked a lot different than it does today.

As retired biology professor Malcolm Vidrine explains, the Cajun Prairie, as an ecosystem, is a mix of grassland and forest, also known as a riverine forrest.

Today, a tiny percentage of that prairie remains in tact, reduced down to about 100-acres from its historical highs.

"In it's natural state, as far as we describe it, a million hectares or two and half million acres of grassland primarily extended from Lafayette to the Sabine, and north through Ville Platte," says Vidrine.

For him, restoring at least a portion of the prairie has become his mission.

"In 1988, Dr. Allen and I approached the mayor to see if we could get some land to restore the prairie in town," says Vidrine.

He's already helped restore a portion of the prairie in Eunice.

"We planted seeds and other propagules from other remnant prairies into that ten-acre spot and today that's a 33-year-old restored prairie," he says.

The restoration projects gives visitors a chance to see Acadiana in its pristine state.

"There's paved trails and a parking lot," he says. "We take hundreds of visitors there a year to see that restored prairie."

But for Malcolm, it's more than just building a unique tourist attraction. He sees the prairie as having very practical implications from helping to build up soil.

"The prairie has roots that go feet deep, and will pump carbon deep into the soil and create this reservoir that we use to grow," he says.

The new growths, he says, are a natural way of keeping the bayous clear by delivering water through underground aquifers instead of through run-off like we see today.

"You got rid of the prairie and all the water is run-off so it's full of soil and sediment which is why they're brown or black," says Vidrine.

Sunflowers offer food for pollinators and the milkweeds, a place for butterflies to lay their eggs.

Bringing them to his own yard, Vidrine created his own little acre and a half of restored prairie around 20-years-ago. It has turned his property into a little garden of paradise.