We’ve lost millions of acres of grasslands. Here’s how we can protect what’s left.

WWF’s 2023 Plowprint Report outlines policies to protect the Great Plains

An aerial view of a tractor driving over a large swathe of converted land with unconverted grasslands in the background

WWF's 2023 Plowprint Report

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Grasslands are critical for people, nature, and the climate, yet we are plowing them up for cropland at an astounding, unsustainable rate. WWF's 2023 Plowprint Report shows that 1.6 million acres of grassland habitat were destroyed in the Great Plains across the US and Canada in 2021. Since 2012, we've lost 32 million acres, plowed up primarily for row crop agriculture.

Healthy grasslands are invaluable. They provide critical habitat for plants and wildlife, store vast amounts of carbon that help mitigate the climate crisis, provide livelihoods and food security to rural communities and Native Nations across the region, and support a vibrant ranching industry.

Good public policy is one of the best tools available to turn the tide of destruction in the Great Plains. We cannot afford to lose any more of this precious ecosystem; we have already lost 70% of America's prairies, and only 377 million acres remain across the Great Plains—much of which is privately owned and managed.

To reverse current trends, we must address the policies that are encouraging grassland plow-up, bolster investment in programs keeping them intact, and support sustainable, grass-based agriculture.

Important grassland-friendly policy actions

  1. Protect the historic investment in conservation programs included in the Inflation Reduction Act. The passing of this legislation directed $20 billion toward agricultural conservation and rural communities—the largest investment of its kind. 
  2. Expand and strengthen a key program to eliminate subsidies for crop insurance on newly converted grasslands. Crop insurance subsidies reduce the risks associated with farming marginal lands such as converted grasslands, incentivizing crop expansion on those lands. Congress can address this by strengthening a key program in the Farm Bill called Sodsaver to eliminate these subsidies. 
  3. Increase investment in Farm Bill conservation programs that can keep grasslands intact, healthy, and able to support vibrant economies and communities. The 2023-2024 Farm Bill provides a critical opportunity to invest in conserving grasslands, supporting sustainable grazing, enhancing wildlife habitat, and expanding programs that provide the financial and technical assistance that farmers and ranchers need to protect grasslands, such as the Grasslands Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and Conservation Stewardship Program.
  4. Increase equity and access, including for Native Nations. Although Native Nations have an outsized impact on conservation, with 80% of Tribal lands remaining as intact grasslands, the Farm Bill should ensure the US Department of Agriculture consults with, and increases access to programs for historically marginalized communities, increasing opportunities for Native Nations to conserve and restore grasslands.
  5. Reduce food loss and waste and keep existing productive farmland healthy, minimizing pressure to convert grasslands.
  6. Pass the North American Grasslands Conservation Act, which would provide important support for grasslands and the communities that rely on them.
  7. Address the unintended consequences of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Increased demand for biofuels crops such as corn and soybeans, combined with the lack of effective implementation of the original law's provisions to prevent biofuels-driven conversion, resulted in the program causing significant conversion of grasslands to cropland. We can address this by ensuring crops from lands converted to crop production since the creation of the RFS are not allowed to qualify for the program.

We must act now to maintain grassland systems for agriculture, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration, both for today and for future generations. Policy is a key lever we must pull to make this happen.

Read the 2023 Plowprint Report.