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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

The Importance of Grasslands

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The best articles I've read about the importance of grasslands is written by John H. Davidson, president of Northern Prairies Land Trust, and appears in the Winter 2010 issue of Saving Land, the publication of the Land Trust Alliance. I urge everyone to read the complete article.

Davidson notes that "Land conservation priorities have favored visually dramatic resources-- mountains, lakes, forests and shores," but neglected the "more visually humble but no less vital resource" of grasslands of the North American prairie.

The complex prairie ecosystem, says Davidson, are repositories of an "ocean of carbon." "We must ask whether it makes sense to spend fortunes on attempts to control releases of carbon from coal-based energy plants and cutting of tropical forests while simultaneously releasing an immeasurable ocean of carbon by plowing up our prairie," says Davidson. "In Nebraska and South Dakota, less than 2% of tallgrass prairie remains," and the mixed and shortgrass prairies that lie to the west are being plowed at an "alarming pace;" an estimated 80% of shortgrass prairie has been converted to crops. The federal system of encouraging plowing native grasses by offering financial payments to corn and grain farmers, says Davidson, is partly responsible for this loss, as is industrial farming, with its resultant increase in grain prices which encourages livestock growers to plow prairie and turn to confinement meat production and genetically modified seeds.

Prairie birds are declining more swiftly than any other birds in North America (www.stateofthebirds.org), and inland floods are increasing, all due to the loss of prairie. The World Wildlife Fund describes the Northern Great Plains as "one of the least protected places on earth."

Northern Prairies Land Trust is working with private ranchers and other landowners in eastern Nebraska and South Dakota to protect native grasses, with more than 100 active projects covering nearly 20,000 acres of unbroken tallgrass prairie. Northern Prairies is working to protect riverside wildlife habitat, wetlands, farms, ranches, and open spaces near cities and towns. Visit www.northernprairies.org to learn more about this important organization.

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For more information:

Northern Prairies Land Trust website

State of the Birds website

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