Northern Great Plains

The Challenges

Between 2006 and 2011, 1.3 million acres of native grasslands in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa were plowed for cropland. Research indicates that this loss of grasslands parallels the rate of deforestation of countries such as Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia. The loss of these prairie grasslands is having, and will continue to have, devastating impacts on soil health and integrity, water quality and quantity, and wildlife – both game species, threatened or endangered species, and pollinators.

Demand for agricultural commodities, new varieties of drought-resistant, bioengineered crops and government incentives that reduce risk, encourage the plow-up of native grasslands and drainage of wetlands. Rapid energy development from both traditional and emerging sources that include oil, gas, coal and wind also puts pressure on wildlife and functioning grasslands. With climate change, erratic weather will result in more extreme levels of heat, snow and rain, severe floods and droughts. Land managers will need to consider how they manage their land and cattle to be resilient in the face of increased climatic variance.