FW5  Prairie Management and Expansion at Jennings Environmental Education Center: Managing a Prairie Remnant for the Threatened Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake


Wil Taylor (Manager, Jennings Environmental Education Center)
Mike DiRinaldo (Resource Management and Field Services Specialist, PA State Parks)
Art Gover (Wildland Weed Specialist, Penn State University))

Depart:  9:00 a.m.
Return: 2:00 p.m.

Difficulty: Easy. Walking in terrain that is mostly flat: prairie remnant and forest.

Destination: Jennings Environmental Education Center

Conference themes: Special Species/Natural Communities

Jennings Environmental Education Center, located in Butler County, PA, features a blazing star prairie remnant dating back to the Xerothermic Interval: approximately 8,000 to 4,000 years ago. Dr. Otto Jennings discovered the prairie in the early 1900's while working for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. At the time, it was only a small patch of blazing star and a few other prairie-associated plants. Further investigation, which included the mapping of other blazing star fields in the area, identified the location of glacial margins and lakes and began to reveal the geologic and climatic history of the region. Dr. Jennings worked to preserve this prairie and developed the first management strategies to prevent it from succumbing to development and succession. In addition to blazing star, sunflower, Culver's root and a variety of other plants, the prairie is also home to the federally threatened Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake. This small, timid rattlesnake is extremely rare in Pennsylvania and is completely dependent on the continued management of this early successional plant community. 

The presence of the snake presents additional challenges to prairie management. During this field workshop, these challenges will be discussed as well as how continued research and partnerships have resulted in improved management strategies. In addition to managing the existing 20-acre prairie, an effort is now underway to potentially double the size of this crucial habitat. The development and facilitation of this plan will be discussed during a walk-about of a recently cut, six-acre section of immature forest that will be managed to become Massasauga habitat. The walk will also investigate additional acreage that will be thinned as part of future phases of this project. 

Center manager Wil Taylor will lead the tour accompanied by Mike DiRinaldo, PA State Parks Resource Management Field Services Specialist, who helped to initiate the project. In addition, Art Gover of Penn State University, a Wildland Weed Specialist, will discuss the effort to manage invasive species as well as the unique challenge of suppressing several native species that were encroaching onto the prairie.  Participants will have the chance to explore a unique natural area that is home to a variety of rare species and learn the value of flexibility, partnerships and citizen science when it comes to the management of critical habitat.

Fee: $75

Capacity: 50

Transportation:  Bus from Conference Venue


Join the people who protect and manage our natural areas