Grassroots Works for Grasslands

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

Grasslands are subtle. They don't shade us from summer's sun or shield us from winter's wind. They don't grow stately and tall like forests. They don't yield lush and colorful fruits.

As uninspiring as grasslands may be, we owe our existence to them.

From grasses we take our daily bread, and from grass-eaters we take our daily meat. Just three grasses --corn, rice and wheat--supply 50 percent of the world's daily supply of nutrients.

Of all the world's ecological systems, none has been more dramatically affected by humanity than grasslands. Prairie once covered 40 percent of the continent. Most of it has been transformed into vast fields of grain. In the tallgrass prairie region, less than 1 percent is still native grassland. In Missouri, less than one-half of 1 percent remains.

Many of the creatures native to our prairies have not adjusted to this dramatic loss of habitat. First to go were the large mammals. Grizzly bears, wolves, elk and bison have been squeezed into mountainous areas or isolated preserves.

As native prairie continues to dwindle, the smaller animals are diminishing, too. Grassland birds are the most rapidly declining group of birds in North America. Most have been in constant decline since the Breeding Bird Survey was initiated in 1966. Several bird populations have dropped by more than 80 percent. Since 1990, prairie chickens in Missouri have plummeted from 3,000 to 500 birds.

Dwindling prairie habitat, and the demise of the creatures that depend on it, sparked the formation of the Grasslands Coalition. Led by the Missouri Prairie Foundation, the Coalition formed in 1998, within a month after the greater prairie chicken had been placed on Missouri's state endangered species list.

Natural resource agencies and private conservation groups joined the Coalition to pool knowledge, manpower and resources to better understand and address the needs of grasslands. The prairie chicken, a widely recognized symbol of the grasslands, is the Coalition's mascot.

The Coalition has two goals. One is to help the public understand the importance of grasslands. The second is to improve grassland habitat in areas that could make a significant and lasting difference to species like the prairie chicken. The term "grasslands" was chosen to define the Coalition, because even though our remain-in prairie is vital to grassland wildlife survival, many thousands of acres of non-prairie grasslands are also important in stabilizing grassland wildlife populations.

To get started, the Grasslands Coalition

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