Last month, I traveled to South Dakota with to meet up with the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Northern Great Plains Advisory Committee, of which I’m a member, and whose projects we help fund. These meetings always remind one of the fragility of these magnificent grasslands.
The Northern Great Plains is an area of more than 180 million acres in the US states of Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, as well as the two Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Northern Great Plains are under constant threat of conversion to croplands. In 2017 more than half a million acres of grasslands were lost to cropland. The grasslands are important because they are natural habitats to many species, birds, bison, the black-footed ferret, the swift fox, and many others. Grasslands protect water quality and limit flooding for downstream communities and it is vital that we protect them!
One aspect of WWF’s Northern Great Plains Project is their sustainable ranching initiative. When properly managed, cattle and bison can have conservation benefits, as grazing maintains the health of grasslands, improves the quality of the soil and keeps the land as a possible wildlife habitat, instead of turning it into cropland. WWF has been working with ranchers throughout the Northern Great Plains region to develop more holistic practices in ranching. We had a wonderful dinner out in the plains with some of the ranchers.
Along with Silverback Productions, WWF created a new Netflix documentary series called Our Planet, now streaming on their platform. In episode 5 “From Deserts to Grasslands” you can see the Northern Great Plains in all of its glory, and peril.