Our Prairie People – Living the Dream
“Our Prairie People” series from June continues as a monthly feature. Enjoy!
National Eco Observatory Network (NEON)
NPAT Member since 2022
It was Native Plants and Prairies Day at White Rock Lake in Dallas, not far from where he lives. That’s what finally inspired Canaan Sutton to join our family of prairie enthusiasts. He had heard about us before through his work, but it was the event hosted by NPAT and the North Texas Master Naturalists that brought us to life. The May 7th festival featured prairie tours, plant sales, presentations, and tables from local conservation organizations, including NPAT, with activities for children. He took his two-year-old son Sam, and they had a grand time.
Canaan grew up in the rural East Texas Piney Woods and Post Oaks region. His grandparents had some property where Canaan reveled in exploring the woods. He was also a Boy Scout, which offered more opportunities to learn in the outdoors. After high school, Canaan started his undergrad studies at Texas A&M Commerce in environmental science. It was here he first visited Clymer Meadow and met the Nature Conservancy’s legendary Brandon Belcher. Once Canaan discovered prairie remnants and their remarkable diversity there, he was hooked.
Canaan’s undergrad and grad school focused on wetland prairies. His graduate school project was centered on switchgrass and eastern gamma grass. While doing work at the university on constructed prairie wetlands under Dr. Johanna Delgado-Acevedo, he was preparing a prescribed burn. A spark lit in his mind. He went to the nearby hardware store, bought some galvanized sheets, and constructed squares to create burns in patches for experimentation. It effectively mimicked the patchwork pattern of many natural burns which are so important to prairie health and invasive species control.
At one point while he was considering graduate school, Canaan and his wife Kelly lived in a 700-square-foot fourplex. They decided that was too big! They moved into a 320-square-foot tiny home on family property, with the basic structure built while they completed the finishing work. They lived there for two years. Canaan appreciated that it forced them into a more active lifestyle. After graduate school, they moved the tiny home to someone’s backyard in East Dallas for eight months, before buying their current home in 2019.
Today Canaan works for the National Eco Observatory Network (NEON) as a Field Ecologist on the Botany Team. This thirty-year project funded by National Science Foundation (NSF) is creating open source data to study climate change on an ecosystem scale. There are 20 domains nationwide, with the local one covering Texas and Oklahoma. Sites include the Caddo National Grasslands in NE Texas and the Oklahoma Red Plains. Canaan is collecting plant and prairie diversity and phenology data on both, as well as conducting small mammal tracking and collecting other data.
With a beautiful wife and son and a job he loves, Canaan is living his dream. And in it, he often finds himself on the prairie.
Thank you, Canaan, for your love of prairies! We are grateful to you and all of our members. If you are not yet an NPAT member, learn how you can become one HERE.