|A storm is passing over the nation's grasslands (image by Christian Collins, Wikipedia)|
What is the North American Grasslands Conservation Act of 2022?
In 2022, Senators Ron Wyden, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bennet introduced a bill which would take bold actions to conserve and restore native grasslands in North America through voluntary, science-based efforts. This will help conserve grassland ecosystems in order to sequester carbon, prevent wildfires, and stop the further loss of wildlife. It will also address and support the interests of various stakeholders, including ranchers, farmers, Native American Tribes, sportsmen and sportswomen, rural communities, and others.
Why is this needed now?
Grasslands, including sagebrush shrub-steppe systems, are some of the most threatened ecosystems in North America and in the world. In 2021 alone, more than 800,000 ha (2 million acres) of native grasslands in the Great Plains and Northern Great Plains were converted to agricultural cropland (mostly wheat and corn). This area is significantly larger than the entire state of Delaware, and it was lost in just a single year!
If we are to save these open ecosystems that are essential wildlife habitats and critical for rural economies and carbon sequestration, then we must act now.
What will it do?The Act would initiate the following actions in support of its overarching goal to conserve native grasslands:
- Create a North American Grasslands Conservation Council
This council will help develop an overall conservation strategy, as well as recommending and selecting specific grassland projects. It will be composed of Federal, State, Tribal, and conservation organizations, in addition to different farming, ranching, and grazing groups.
- Establish Regional Grasslands Conservation Councils
These numerous councils will give recommendations, support, and advise on grasslands projects for their specific regions. They will be composed individuals from regional conservation organizations, ranchers, Tribes, and State wildlife agencies.
- Formulate a North American Grasslands Strategy
The Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service will coordinate with the councils to develop an overall strategy to conserve grasslands, including:
- identifying areas at high risk for grassland habitat loss
- spotlighting conservation areas with high potential
- identifying at risk populations of grassland obligate bird species
- establishing specific goals for enhancing grasslands
This strategy would not exist in a vacuum, but draw on existing local, State, Tribal and regional conservation plans and wildlife action plans.
This will support projects for conservation, restoration, management, and education activities, and can include:
- prescribed burns
- management of invasive species
- grazing management training programs
- projects that conserve intact grasslands at risk of conversion to cropland, residential or commercial development
The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture will carry out research relating to native seed crop systems, in order to help improve our understanding of native seed technologies and promote adoption of native seed cropping systems on rangelands.
- agronomic research to improve the understanding of native plants as seed crops
- research on plant seed physiology to improve seed quality, storage, and seeding success in the landscape
- development of best management practices and technologies for seed production, seed storage, and reseeding success in the environment.
The Act will establish a program to holistically study the ability of regenerative grazing practices on Forest Service and BLM lands to mitigate climate change. Some regenerative grazing practices include:
- season of use
- forage and biomass management
- range monitoring methods
Using such practices on test and live projects can then allow assessment of their effects on soil health, carbon sequestration, watershed biodiversity, and air quality