The 6th Biennial “America’s Grasslands Conference” will be held in beautiful Cheyenne, Wyoming August 8th through the 10th. The conference theme is diversity, practicality, and the necessity of partnerships in facilitating grassland conservation. (More information on the conference.)
North American grasslands are the most imperiled ecosystem on the continent, the least protected of landscapes, and are threatened worldwide with extinction by conversion. For too long, there has been an overwhelming focus on planting more trees as some noble act of conservation, much to the detriment of grasslands. But we can’t plant trees as some saving act of grace to get out of the climate catastrophe. Planting trees is fine, but should only be done in areas fully supporting forest cover. Planting trees into grassland–a relict of colonialism–defeats the purpose of grassland conservation and contributes further to grassland decline. Just as there are old growth forests in North America, so, too are there many old growth grasslands. Some grassland plants can live a century or more.
One of the two largest intact remaining grasslands in North America is in Wyoming: The Wyoming Basin Steppe. This grassland is also the largest intact desert grassland region in North America and contains about 55% of the remaining habitat critical for the long-term viability of Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) species. Additionally, the Wyoming Basin grasslands are home to the greatest length and largest scale of migratory pathways for the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). Without this expansive and intact grassland, those two iconic species would likely go extinct, along with numerous other wildlife and plant species, and the livelihood of the Western cowboy would be impacted.
Save the date. Head to Wyoming this summer, and find out how you can help spread the word far and wide that grasslands are one of our greatest national treasures and worthy of as much and more protection than we give to forests.