North American Grasslands: Management Initiatives and Partnerships to Enhance Ecosystem and Community Resilience

Status: Completed
Operational Plan: 2011 - 2012

Grasslands are one of the most valuable, yet most threatened ecoregions in North America. Stretching from Saskatchewan to Chihuahua, they are now among the largest farming and ranching areas on earth. Yet less than 20 percent of North America’s native grasslands remain intact and less than three percent lies within protected areas.

Tall and short grasses provide important forage for cattle and habitat for native species. They also enhance water conservation and sequester large amounts of carbon when not stressed by fire and drought. As the only shared, contiguous habitat across the continent, they create vital links for North America’s migratory and native birds and many other endangered species.

Agriculture and ranching have significantly transformed this ecoregion across its entire range so implementing conservation strategies to connect key native habitats now requires trilateral cooperation. Grasslands ranchers, particularly beef producers, recognize the need to encourage sustainable ranching
and agriculture practices—especially those that support biodiversity conservation and wildlife management. One of the challenges is getting continental, regional and local partners in grasslands management to adopt and disseminate these practices. However, there have been few economic incentives to encourage this. It is vital to meet this challenge: grasslands conservation actions will stem the highest rate of natural habitat conversion of any other terrestrial ecoregion in
North America, help address water scarcity, and allow options for species adaptation and range shifts under changing climatic regimes. This project will work closely with ranching associations to compile and distribute practices that promote sustainable ranching, production and biodiversity conservation. It will also support the development of partnerships to help disseminate, support and pilot these practices with land managers.

These activities will be complemented by research to monitor the recovery of birds in grasslands and provide scientific information on habitat requirements for
migratory and native species.

Other CEC work includes developing bird monitoring capacity through the CEC-initiated North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), identifying and addressing species of common conservation concern through North American Conservation Action Plans (NACAPs) for three grasslands species Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis), and supporting grassland conservation in northern Mexico as part of the CEC’s cooperative work program for 2008–2010.