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Introduction to the Native Grass Gazette

My first post is to introduce myself to you with a little bit about my background.

I don’t know for sure where my appreciation for prairie/grasslands came from, but I suspect it has always been a

part of me. I grew up, and still live in, the pre-settlement prairie region of west central Missouri known as the Cherokee Plains. All my formative outdoor experiences came from the rivers, streams and prairies (and yes, some woodlands too) of the region.

My earliest recollections of prairies, as a kid, come from Memorial Day weekends on my grandparents’ farm in St. Clair County, Missouri, where my cousins and I would frolic through the pastures and pick wild strawberries. I remember too, summer prairie hay harvest; an annual ritual during which my grandfather and all the neighbor men gathered to assist, my grandmother bringing mason jars of iced tea to the field for refreshment and a “harvest hands” lunch, big as any holiday meal. A few years later, highway construction en route to my grandparents’ farm detoured us through prairies where I remember seeing and marveling at prairie chickens in flight.

After graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife, my first introduction to prescribed fire was in 1980 when I helped an employer burn off some switchgrass he had planted. My father tells me differently, that the burns on our farm in the early 70’s were “prescribed” but somehow that’s not the way I remember it. Swinging a wet gunny sack as fast as you can to swat out fire, running to the well pumping another bucket full of water, then returning to the fire line didn’t seem “prescribed” to me. On second thought, it probably was prescribed … just not “controlled.” Regardless, the fire bug bit and I am an admitted pyromaniac; not recovering, mind you, practicing.

In the mid-80’s my work with the Missouri Department of Conservation had me planting native grasses. This was during the first two years of CRP and the department had a program that provided a native grass drill and operator (me) to encourage landowners to plant native grasses instead of tall fescue. During two years working that program I planted about 2,500 acres. I’ve been planting native grasses ever since. I’ve lost track but it is now somewhere around 30,000 acres or more.

In the late 80’s into the early 90’s I gained 10 years experience planting, managing, harvesting, buying, storing, cleaning, packaging, warehousing and marketing native grasses and wildflowers for a native grass seed production business during the 5 years I was employed by them. I then went to work as the Great Plains Regional Director and Biologist for Quail Unlimited where I stayed for 15 years. Most recently I owned and operated my own natural resource consulting and contracting company. Since taking this job I have turned that business over to a manager and my son.

I am honored to have the position of NBCI’s Grasslands Coordinator and am excited about the possibilities. There is a long list of things to do that has been developed by the Grassland and Grazing Lands sub-committee of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee, all focused around advocating for native grasses, grasslands and prescribed fire. My task is challenging indeed, but I embrace that challenge and look forward to the opportunities ahead.

Keep the tall grasses growing and burn on!


February 15, 2016

Jef Hodges

Jef Hodges