Grasslands Conservation Legislation Introduced, Will Save Endangered Landscapes
WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 27, 2022) — The North American Grasslands Conservation Act will help farmers, ranchers, Tribal Nations, and others work to collaboratively address the immense challenges facing North America’s grasslands and prairies — one of the fastest disappearing ecosystems in the world. The legislation, introduced by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), will invest $290 million in voluntary initiatives to collaboratively conserve and restore native grasslands to support working ranch lands and to help recover wildlife like Western meadowlark and monarch butterflies and safeguard this vital habitat for future generations.
“Our prairies help define who we are as North Dakotans,” said John Bradley, executive director for the North Dakota Wildlife Federation. “There is a strength and austerity to their beauty. They are central to our economy, they are where ranching thrives, where wildlife species are still abundant, and they are where thousands of hunters go each fall. Unfortunately, we are losing more and more intact grasslands every year. This grasslands bill is an important step towards conserving this important part of our heritage. We hope the Senate moves this bill soon.”
“Grasslands are North America’s most imperiled ecosystem and without urgent, collaborative, conservation efforts, this essential habitat and the lives and livelihoods it supports are at risk. Just as we’ve restored millions of acres of wetlands through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Duck Stamp, the North American Grasslands Conservation Act will mark a sea change in how we conserve, restore, and revitalize our prairies for ranchers, hunters, and wildlife alike,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Thank you to Senator Wyden for this landmark legislation that brings long overdue and much needed resources to what remains of this great American landscape that holds such importance for the future of both ranchers and wildlife. Congress should take up this landmark bill as soon as possible.”
Grasslands and sagebrush shrub-steppe systems are some of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. More than 70 percent of America’s tallgrass, mixed grass, and shortgrass prairies have vanished. According to recent research, the United States lost 1.1 million acres of grasslands every year from 2008 through 2016. North Dakota lost an average of 120,475 acres every year during the same period. This is the second most lost acres of any state in the country after South Dakota.
Additionally, on average, about 1.2 million acres of sagebrush burn each year due to invasive annual grasses that fuel catastrophic wildfire.
This habitat loss has caused total grassland bird populations to decline by more than 40 percent since 1966. Some species, such as the Western meadowlark, teeter at the edge of extinction. Species that had been economically significant throughout American history, like the bobwhite quail, have seen declines of nearly 85 percent in the last half century.
Grasslands are a natural climate solution, and healthy working grasslands not only provide soil, water, and wildlife benefits, but they sequester a significant amount of carbon. Researchers have found that the loss of carbon when grasslands are converted to cropland is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from around 27 million cars on the road every year.
The $290 million from the North American Grasslands Conservation Act would directly invest in voluntary grassland and sagebrush restoration and conservation projects, such as incentivizing prescribed burns, managing invasive species, grazing management training and grassland conservation easements. Additionally, the bill would provide at least $29 million in dedicated funding opportunities for tribal nations to engage in grasslands conservation and include tribal representation on the program’s governing council.
This legislation would create, for the first time, a North American Grasslands conservation Strategy to identify key areas of grasslands at risk of degradation, establish goals for increasing grasslands acreage and develop baseline inventories of wildlife species throughout grasslands habitat.
By: John Bradley