28 Sep Round Up: Conserving Grasslands, a Vital American Resource
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) is working in partnership with a broad coalition of organizations to advance the North American Grasslands Conservation Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate this July by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). This legislation would authorize the investment of $290 million annually in grants to incentivize the voluntary conservation of grasslands and sagebrush steppe — among the most valuable and threatened ecosystems in North America. Modeled after the successful North American Wetlands Conservation Act, this legislation would create a landowner-driven, voluntary program to conserve and restore threatened grassland ecosystems across the continent.
“When we get this bill across the finish line, the implications for grasslands and the sage steppe will be tremendous,” says BHA President and CEO Land Tawney. “Look no further than a similar piece of legislation, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, for evidence. Since its passage in 1989, it has been responsible for the conservation of more than 30 million acres of wetlands, benefiting waterfowl, fisheries, hunters, and anglers. This new legislation would give us the tools to conserve grasslands in the same way.”
North America’s grasslands are among the most critical habitat for wildlife. They include tallgrass, mixed grass, and shortgrass prairies, sagebrush shrub-steppe, and savanna grasslands.
Over 50 million acres of these various grassland ecosystems have been lost in just the last decade, either converted to croplands, lost to residential and commercial development, or fragmented by invasive species. Each year, average losses exceed 1 million acres of sagebrush due to invasive annual grasses that fuel wildfire.
With the loss of grassland habitat comes the loss of grassland wildlife, particularly upland birds, but also iconic big game species such as pronghorn and bison. Since the 1960s, grassland bird populations have declined by more than 40 percent. Species like the popular bobwhite quail have seen an even greater population decline of nearly 85 percent.
“Together we have the power to create an indelible legacy for our nation’s grasslands habitat, the wildlife that relies on it, and our outdoor traditions,” Tawney adds. “We have much to do to complete our work here, and this is a great step in that direction.”
Protecting wildlife and the ecosystems they rely on is a cornerstone of BHA’s mission across North America, and they are proud to be part of a coalition that is fighting for the future.