Broken Kettle Grasslands bison calf

A newborn bison calf is shown with its mother and the rest of the herd at The Nature Conservancy’s Broken Kettle Grasslands in 2010.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

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WESTFIELD, Iowa | A unique stretch of land gives visitors a glance at what Siouxland looked like for centuries before European settlers began arriving in the 1800s.

The Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve near Westfield contains more than 3,000 acres north of Sioux City that represents the prairie environment that once was common here. It's Iowa's largest native prairie.

Also found grazing in the grasslands is a bison herd of approximately 130.

In 1993, The Nature Conservancy bought three properties totaling 642 acres and has since acquired more than 20 additional properties, bringing its total ownership to more than 3,217 acres at Broken Kettle.

The group reintroduced 28 genetically pure bison from western South Dakota to Broken Kettle in 2008 to help control invasive plant species and create habitat for other grassland animals.

The bison subsist on foraging. They are not fed hay or other feed.

“We make ‘em work, and that’s what we brought them in for,” Scott Moats, director of stewardship for the Iowa chapter of The Nature Conservancy, said recently. “We wanted the bison to manage the prairie.”

Heavily grazed areas provide habitat for animals that like open, short-grass areas, such as spade foot toads, killdeer and snakes. Other animals flourish in the taller, less-grazed fields.

A recently purchased 65-acre strip will connect two large tracts of land, expanding the bison's range from about 1,700 acres to approximately 2,500 acres.

The bison cannot enter a 550-acre hiking area. Cattle graze on another section of the property, which also is inhabited by the only population of prairie rattlesnakes left in Iowa.

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