Conservation News

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden Introduces The North American Grasslands Conservation Act

Investment in grasslands and sagebrush steppe ecosystems will drive voluntary, science-based conservation efforts

Today, in an effort to protect and expand iconic grassland landscapes for wildlife, ranchers, and rural communities, more than two dozen of North America’s leading conservation groups are touting the introduction of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon — co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. If passed, the bill will widely be considered one of the most significant steps for grassland conservation efforts in the 21st century.

“Grasslands are an essential American landscape, supporting the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers and Tribes like those in my home state of Oregon. They’re home to iconic — yet threatened — wildlife and have serious potential to help in the fight against the climate emergency. Yet, wildfires, invasive grasses and degradation, and more leave America’s grasslands imperiled. They are disappearing before our eyes,” Senator Wyden said. “By finally establishing a national strategy and empowering landowners to protect their lands, this legislation will go far in restoring and conserving these open spaces.”

The North American Grasslands Conservation 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. There’s urgency right now to maintain these systems for agriculture, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, and for future generations while supporting ranchers, farmers, Tribal Nations, sportsmen and women, and rural communities.

Highlighting the Act’s timely introduction, grasslands and sagebrush shrub-steppe landscapes are considered some of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. More than 70 percent of America’s tallgrass, mixed grass, and shortgrass prairies have vanished, followed by the precipitous decline of grassland bird populations – more than 40 percent since 1966.  Additionally, the grazing lands that have sustained generations of ranchers are dwindling and species from pronghorn and elk to bobwhite quail and pheasants are struggling to navigate places they used to call home.

“Grasslands are critical to farmers and rural communities across Minnesota and throughout our country, providing clean air and water as well as forage for livestock and habitat for wildlife. It’s critical that we protect these vital grasslands from the threats of wildfire, drought and other natural disasters,” said Senator Klobuchar. “Our legislation will help give landowners additional resources to help conserve and restore grasslands for years to come.”  

“Many rural communities across Colorado and the American West rely on our imperiled grassland ecosystems for working agricultural lands and the outdoor economy,” said Senator Bennet. “But intense wildfires and extreme drought fueled by climate change have put our grasslands at risk. The North American Grassland Conservation Act would ensure that Colorado has the resources to work collaboratively with farmers, ranchers, landowners, and tribes to voluntarily restore our native grasslands, improve wildlife habitat, protect our watersheds, and confront the climate crisis.”

Conservation organizations across the country, including Pheasants Forever  and Quail ForeverBackcountry Hunters & AnglersTheodore Roosevelt Conservation PartnershipNational Wildlife FederationNorth American Grouse PartnershipWorld Wildlife FundIzaak Walton League of AmericaIzaak Walton League of AmericaWildlife MississippiNational Deer AssociationLand Trust AllianceNative American Fish and Wildlife SocietyNational Bobwhite Conservation InitiativeAmerican Bird Conservancy and the Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance have all been advocating for this effort since the fall of 2020.

“America’s remaining strongholds of tallgrass, mixed grass and shortgrass prairie still have remnants of the iconic wildlife that once existed, but they are quickly fading,” said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “The North American Grasslands Conservation Act is our country’s opportunity to restore what we’ve lost while providing a solution for wildlife, rural economies, climate resiliency, sportsmen and women, and the future of America’s ranchers. Thank you to Senators Wyden, Klobuchar and Bennet for having the foresight to embrace significant, positive change for grassland conservation.”

“Grasslands are central to many Tribal communities. They provide habitat to many species of wildlife that are culturally important, offer traditional foods and medicines to Native people, and provide the economic base for many ranching families and Tribal governments,” said Shaun Grassel, Director of Programs – Stewarding Native Lands for the First Nations Development Institute. “The North American Grasslands Conservation Act addresses all of these important issues for Tribal communities.”

“The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership applauds today’s introduction of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act—it’s an idea that is already popular with hunters and anglers, who understand what is at stake for grassland and sagebrush species and have seen what success looks like where private land investments have improved waterfowl habitat across the country,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “This legislation would create willing partners in habitat restoration where they are needed most, boosting big game and upland bird species. It would also fund conservation jobs, invest in the health of the outdoor recreation economy, and support the future of working landscapes. We thank Senator Wyden, Senator Klobuchar and Senator Bennet for their leadership and look forward to working with decision-makers to advance this smart, proven conservation solution.”

“Grasslands are North America’s most imperiled ecosystem and without urgent, collaborative, conservation efforts, this essential habitat and the lives and livelihoods it supports are at risk. Just as we’ve restored millions of acres of wetlands through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Duck Stamp, the North American Grasslands Conservation Act will mark a sea change in how we conserve, restore, and revitalize our prairies for ranchers, hunters, and wildlife alike,” said Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Thank you to Senator Wyden for this landmark legislation that brings long overdue and much needed resources to what remains of this great American landscape that holds such importance for the future of both ranchers and wildlife. Congress should take up this landmark bill as soon as possible.”

To learn more about the North American Grasslands Conservation Act or to take action on behalf of this historic legislation, please visit www.ActforGrasslands.Org. For interview opportunities or detailed information, please contact Bethany Erb, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Director of Government Affairs, at BErb@PheasantsForever.Org or (571) 289-4472.

About Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever
 
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever make up the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. This community of more than 400,000 members, supporters and partners is dedicated to the protection of our uplands through habitat improvement, public access, education and advocacy. A network of 754 local chapters spread across North America determine how 100 percent of their locally raised funds are spent — the only national conservation organization that operates through this grassroots structure. Since its creation in 1982, the organization has dedicated more than $1 billion to 567,500 habitat projects benefiting 22 million acres.

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