Native prairies: restoring a critical landscape on the Olympic Peninsula

Updates from our prairie creation and restoration efforts at Lower Dungeness Prairie and the Lyre Conservation Area.

Volunteers prep a new area for prairie creation at the Lyre Conservation Area, courtesy of John Gussman.

As you gaze upon the wild beauty of the Olympic Peninsula, it’s easy to assume that these stunning landscapes have remained unchanged for centuries. But there is at least one vital ecosystem missing from the scene. Prairies, essentially open grassland habitats, were once bountiful in the Olympic rain shadow—supplying food and items for trade for Tribes across the Pacific Northwest. Why are prairies special?

Prairies are now a rare and precious gem, hanging on by a thread. Since European colonization began here around the 1850’s, nearly all of these magnificent habitats have vanished, swallowed up by urbanization, farmland, and pastures. Today, only fragmented remnants remain.

The decimation of prairies has had a ripple effect on the environment and culture at large. Golden paintbrush, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, and other pollinators, birds, and mammals are in peril. Not to mention, the loss of culture-defining first foods like camas. As a land trust that conserves farmlands that were once prairie, we feel a responsibility to learn from the past and support these precious ecosystems.

Through active management of the Lyre Conservation Area, we became aware of prairie species growing out of a long dormant seed bank and began to pursue the restoration of native prairie habitats. Thanks to funding from the Charlotte Martin Foundation and the Land Trust Alliance, we’ve been able to work in deep partnership with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, biologists, historians, and more to create plans to enhance and create prairie habitats on two properties that we manage—the Lyre Conservation Area and a property we are calling Lower Dungeness Prairie.

How are we doing it?

What have we done so far?

In April 2023, initial tarps were installed on both properties by volunteers. The tarps stayed throughout the warmest and sunniest months to assist in killing the non-native pasture grasses that currently dominate the beachside meadow at the Lyre Conservation Area and most of Lower Dungeness Prairie. Lower Dungeness Prairie is not currently a prairie, but thanks to our volunteers it will be one day!

Volunteers seed the Lower Dungeness Prairie for the first time.

In late October and early November, volunteers removed the tarps at both locations and had the opportunity to seed these areas—an exciting milestone in our prairie journey so far! Volunteers also reset the tarps in the neighboring areas to expand the size of the prairies this time next year. Over the coming months, staff and volunteers will closely monitor these new prairies to see how well the seedlings are doing.

What can you do to support this work?

Not only will the process of creating these prairies take many years, but prairies are a human managed landscape and require lots of care. Volunteers will be critical to helping this habitat return! Interested in volunteering or learning more? Reach out to Lexi at to receive about upcoming volunteer opportunities!

Courtney, Land Manager, gives volunteers a weed whacker orientation, courtesy of John Gussman.
A volunteer uses a weed whacker to help control non-native pasture grass, courtesy of John Gussman.