Despite the period of historic drought that has crippled parts of the Northern Great Plains (NGP) over the past two years, during the spring of 2022, WWF and Air Wick’s One Square Foot (OSF) initiative reseeded 2,961 acres of marginal cropland back to native grasses and forbs totaling 128,981,160 square feet.
The goal of this three-year collaborative initiative is to restore a minimum of 1 billion square feet (approximately 23 thousand acres) of previously plowed grassland back to thriving prairie for wildlife, pollinators, and sustainable ranching operations.
Although historic levels of drought forced some scaling back of the planned rate of reseeding, by closely monitoring weather trends, and planting in areas where precipitation patterns were favorable and chances of reseeding were relatively high, the project was able to make headway. Grassland ecosystems are highly complex and there is still much to discover about their restoration and conservation. In a sense, grasslands can be compared to forests, but on a smaller scale. Restoration takes time and patience.
Joe Russell, who manages the Veebaray Cattle Company 30 miles west of Sydney, Montana, was one of the first ranchers to participate in OSF. In the fall of 2021, 300 acres of marginal cropland on the ranch were reseeded back to grassland.
This past summer, the first signs of real grassland recovery began to show, with bright yellow prairie coneflowers—great food plants for seed-eating birds and native pollinators—dotting the formerly plowed field. Grassland ecosystems can take years to recover in the best of years, so to see the land respond so quickly to the reseeding effort is promising.
In another OSF success story, a Nebraska landowner reseeded 30 acres back to a high-diversity grass and wildflower mixture to help prevent additional soil erosion, improve the overall soil health, provide wildlife habitat, and reduce the risk of economic hardship from unproductive farmland. He planted a mixture of 25 species including five grasses and 20 wildflower species in the spring of 2022.
The landowner turned to this program due to poor crop production and his interest in restoring the land back to native grasses. He is excited to put more habitat in, especially for pollinators and grassland birds like the Greater Prairie Chicken.
Grassland birds like Great Prairie Chickens require a broad range of native seeds, grains, and fruit for their diets, which are only found in intact, healthy grasslands. Native grasslands also provide cover for nesting birds and their young.
This fall, the WWF team has made plans with landowners to reseed thousands of acres of marginal cropland back to healthy grassland and wildflower habitat. Stay tuned for more updates in the weeks to come.