Protecting Wildlife and a Way of Life: America’s Grasslands Conference
America’s prairies, iconic grasslands that conjure up images of cowboys, Native Americans, wild horses and bison, are some of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. As they disappear, so does an American way of life, a western spirit of freedom, wilderness and connecting with nature.
The National Wildlife Federation and South Dakota State University hosted a landmark event, America’s Grasslands: Status, Threats and Opportunities, in South Dakota to raise the national profile of our declining prairies. Participants came from all over the country, even representatives from South Africa, Mexico and Canada, to discuss the challenges for grasslands in North America.
As prairies vanish, often sacrificed to expand agricultural development, especially corn ethanol production, wildlife habitat also disappears across the Great Plains and other regions. “Plowing up our nation’s last remnants of native grasslands to grow more corn for ethanol is like burning the Mona Lisa for firewood,” said Julie Sibbing, director of agriculture programs for the National Wildlife Federation. Western Meadowlarks, black-tailed prairie dogs, tall grasses and wild prairie flowers are just some the important species that are trying to survive in this shrinking ecosystem.
Protecting America’s prairies also protects an essential part of America’s western outdoor and ranching heritage. The National Wildlife Federation is working on policies for the upcoming Farm Bill to make sure grasslands are protected.