In the spring of 2010, the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory replaced over 3,500 square feet of lawn with native prairie. Implementation was possible through a Sustainable Operations Microgrant from the Rocky Mountain Research Station and the hard work of many volunteers.
The native prairie serves as an example of intermountain prairies of western Montana and a platform to connect Fire Lab research with tangible environments. See our native prairie brochure for more details. The long-term vision is to develop a walking tour of the Lab’s campus that would include several native Montana plant communities.
By replacing traditional lawn with native grasses the Fire Lab has reduced resource use and assisted in meeting the needs of pollinators. The native prairie does not require mowing, which reduces fuel use. After the first growing season, the native prairie has not required supplemental watering, and it does not require the annual treatment of fertilizer and herbicides that traditional lawns typically receive. Many insects have been observed in the native prairie, including several butterfly species.
Replacing lawn with native prairie required a lot of work up front, but has been well worth it. The first season required sod removal, spreading large loads of dirt, planting hundreds of plants, watering, and lots and lots of weeding. At the end of the first season the area was mulched. In the second season, with the plants established and the seeded grasses doing incredibly well, plants were not watered and weeding was less.
Species planted in the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory’s native prairie include:
Artemisia cana - silver sagebrush
Campanula rotundifolia - mountain harebells
Festuca idahoensis - Idaho fescue
Heterotheca viscida (Chrysopsis villosa) - cliff false golden-aster
Gaillardia aristata - blanketflower
Geranium viscosissimum - sticky purple geranium
Geum triflorum - prairie smoke
Lupinus leucophyllus - velvet lupine
Opuntia polyacantha - plains prickly-pear
Penstemon wilcoxii - Wilcox’s penstemon
Pseudoroegneria spicata (Agropyron spicatum) - bluebunch wheatgrass
Sedum lanceolatum – spearleaf stonecrop
Sphaeralcea munroana - Munro's globemallow