Grasslands Need Protection Now – StarTribune.com
The textbooks in my rural northern Minnesota classroom raised an issue that led to a discussion over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Rainforests were cut down. The animals disappeared. The Disney movie “FernGully” supported the lyrics.
There I was, 5,000 miles from the Amazon rainforest, a worried elementary school kid. We had to do something.
Little did I know that at the same time, an equally important ecosystem was disappearing at an unprecedented rate in my own backyard. And not a word has been written about it in the textbooks; nor has it been dramatized in animated films.
Today I find myself on the prairie of eastern South Dakota. Grassy habitats have disappeared from the landscape, which is of great concern. As the region’s regional representative to the largest upland bird conservation organization in the country, I have witnessed this firsthand.
The grasslands of North America are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Over the past decade, more than 50 million acres of diverse grasslands have been lost to residential and commercial development and cropland production. As grasslands disappear, so do upland birds and other wildlife.
Since 1970, pheasant populations have declined by 70%, bobwhite quail populations by 85%, and total grassland bird populations have declined by more than 50%.
This problem is of course more important than the birds, or lack thereof. Grasslands provide important ecosystem services – reduced soil erosion, improved water quality, flood mitigation, and habitat for pollinators such as the monarch butterfly. These have significant economic value.
Grasslands also reduce the impact of climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil. If these ecosystems disappeared completely, it would be catastrophic for the climate and the environment.
Something must be done to protect and conserve threatened grassland ecosystems before it is too late.
The opportunity to do something is at hand. A certain dynamic is created. Led by a coalition of conservation organizations including Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Izaak Walton League, National Deer Association, American Bird Conservancy and many others, a proposal to Congress is in preparation. works to establish the North American Grasslands Conservation Act.
If you are a member of these organizations, now is the time to pay attention. If you are not a member of one of these organizations, now is the time to register.
The proposed North American Grasslands Conservation Act would create a voluntary, incentive-based, landowner-directed funding program to conserve and restore threatened grassland ecosystems. In other words, this legislation provides the funding needed to restore and conserve grasslands and creates a program that works with producers, ranchers and landowners for conservation, economic opportunity and outdoor recreation.
There is reason to be optimistic that this bill will make a difference, as this law is similar to the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), a voluntary, incentive-based program aimed at wetland ecosystems across the continent. The NAWCA has helped fund more than 3,100 wetland improvement projects covering more than 30 million acres across the United States since its enactment in the late 1980s.
The proposed North American Grasslands Conservation Act is an urgent call to action and a key step in restoring and conserving North American grasslands while supporting farmers, ranchers and rural communities. We need policy makers and our elected representatives to back and support this bill. Now is the time to act.
Your help is needed to defend and support this bill. Together we can take action for the grasslands. Visit actforgrasslands.org to learn more about this proposal and check for legislative updates.
Who knows? Maybe our collective efforts will one day end up in a manual.
Jacob Hanson of Sioux Falls is the South Dakota regional representative for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.