Why we need The North American Grasslands Conservation Act

New legislation will help protect America's iconic and imperiled landscapes

A bison sits aside her calf in the tall grass of the Wolakota Buffalo Range, Rosebud Sioux Reservation
bison group

North America’s grasslands are some of the most threatened habitats on the planet. WWF’s 2021 Plowprint Report found that from 2018-2019 alone an estimated 2.6 million acres of grassland across the US and Canadian Great Plains were plowed-up, primarily to make way for row crop agriculture. To put this into context, an area greater than Yellowstone National Park was destroyed in a single year.

Our grasslands provide critical wildlife habitat, support rural economies, filter water, and keep carbon in the soil, serving as a buffer against climate change. They have been the home of Native American nations since time immemorial and have supported ranching families for the past several generations. Unfortunately, more than 70 percent of America’s tallgrass, mixed-grass, and shortgrass prairies have been lost, which has led to the precipitous decline of species including grassland birds and pollinators.

To protect and restore iconic grassland landscapes, World Wildlife Fund and more than a dozen of North America’s leading conservation groups are touting the introduction of critical new legislation—The North American Grasslands Conservation Act—which has been introduced by US Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon), with support from Senators Michael Bennet ( Colorado) and Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota). If passed, the bill would become one of the most significant steps for grassland conservation in a generation. Senator Wyden and partners continue to seek co-sponsors.

“Grasslands matter because they provide irreplaceable habitat for species like the plains bison. They matter because they lock carbon in the ground. And they matter as a home for the Native nations and ranchers whose cultures and livelihoods are tied to the land,” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. “Pressure to convert grasslands for agriculture or other uses contributed to the loss of some 2.6 million acres across the US and Canadian portions of the Great Plains from 2018-2019 alone.

Prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), Lowry, South Dakota

This new legislation would create incentives to help reverse that trend, providing funding needed to restore and conserve America’s remaining grasslands. It will enable landowners and Native nations to ensure grasslands remain for future generations. WWF thanks Senators Wyden, Bennet, and Klobuchar for their leadership in introducing this landmark legislation.”

The Grasslands Act would help kickstart the voluntary protection and restoration of grasslands and sagebrush shrub-steppe ecosystems—and the livelihoods and wildlife that depend on them—by creating a landowner-driven, voluntary, incentive-based program to conserve these imperiled landscapes. It’s urgent that we maintain these ecosystems systems today, while continuing our support for the Native nations, ranchers, farmers, and rural communities who call them home.