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. Additionally, on average, about 1.2 million acres of sagebrush burn each year due to invasive annual grasses that fuel catastrophic wildfire.
While the remaining fragments of our once vast prairies still have abundant wildlife, they are quickly fading, along with their many ecological benefits.
The grazing lands that have sustained generations of farmers, ranchers, and tribal nations are dwindling. Species from pronghorn and elk to teal and pheasants are struggling to navigate fragmented landscapes. Total grassland bird populations have declined by more than 40 percent since 1966. Some species, like the lesser prairie chicken, 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.
Protecting and restoring America’s prairies and grasslands can do more than boost habitat: it will use voluntary, nature-based solutions to sequester carbon into the soil and reduce the impacts of climate change.
There is an urgency to act now to maintain grassland and sagebrush shrub-steppe systems for agriculture, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, and for future generations. We need to act quickly to conserve and restore North America’s native grasslands and sagebrush shrub-steppe while supporting ranchers, farmers, Tribal Nations, sportsmen and women, and rural communities.
An investment in North America’s grassland and sagebrush shrub-steppe ecosystems will drive voluntary, science-based efforts to conserve these ecosystems while supporting working lands conservation in order to sequester carbon and prevent further loss of grassland and sagebrush wildlife.
A new North American Grasslands Conservation Act would help kickstart the voluntary protection and restoration of grasslands – and the livelihoods and wildlife that depend on them – by creating a landowner-driven, voluntary, incentive-based program to conserve and restore threated grassland and sagebrush steppe ecosystems. By enacting a North American Grasslands Conservation Act, we will keep working grasslands working. We’ll do so by providing voluntary technical and financial assistance that will increase the protection and restoration of our continent’s most imperiled ecosystem, while contributing to climate resilience, ranching livelihoods, and wildlife abundance.
To learn more about this bipartisan solution that will restore America’s grasslands and help revitalize rural communities, please reach out to Aviva Glaser at National Wildlife Federation (GlaserA@nwf.org) and Bethany Erb at Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever (BErb@pheasantsforever.org).