For the last 11 years, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, as part of the USDA-NRCS’s Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) approach to private land conservation, has worked with more than 800 landowners to conserve more than 1.5 million acres of working rangelands to benefit wildlife and people.
Building on this success, the NRCS recently released an action-based framework detailing how WLFW will continue to leverage the power of the Farm Bill to conserve this landscape. Called the “Framework for Conservation Action in the Great Plains Grasslands Biome,” the new approach outlines the key threats facing grassland landscapes and how voluntary, incentive-based conservation can address them to improve agricultural productivity and wildlife habitat.
This biome-level approach is necessary because so much of these landscapes are privately owned. Nearly two-thirds of the working rangelands west of the Mississippi River are privately owned, including nearly 90% of the Great Plains. These working lands include the sagebrush-steppe landscape and the sweeping Great Plains grasslands, home to some of the world’s largest and most intact grasslands.
Grazing by livestock is the common thread that maintains these working rangelands at an ecosystem scale. As a result, successful conservation relies on working with landowners and ranchers to improve working rangelands to benefit wildlife and the communities that rely on this land and have stewarded them for generations.
Great Plains Grasslands Framework
The Framework for Conservation Action in the Great Plains Grasslands Biome is the result of a multi-state planning effort that, alongside a separate but similar sagebrush-focused framework, produced the first biome-scale approach to conserving private lands from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.
Rangelands are being lost at an alarming rate – more than a million acres lost annually. The framework specifically provides an approach to target the two most severe and large-scale threats to the Great Plains grasslands:
Over the next five years, WLFW will work with landowners and partners to address these threats on nearly 9 million acres of the Great Plains.
Focusing on the most severe threats to grasslands in a scientifically grounded and partnership-based manner provides the best opportunities for success in this vast landscape. Efforts like the recently announced woody species eradication effort in Kansas exemplify the landscape-scale, partnership-based conservation approach outlined in the framework.
Individual states will work directly with producers and landowners to provide technical expertise and access to USDA funding programs. WLFW will support these state efforts through annual progress tracking, milestone reporting, assistance in spatial targeting, and ongoing science-based assessments of conservation outcomes.
Importantly, WLFW’s work on western rangeland doesn’t stop where the prairie transitions to sagebrush. By developing both the Great Plains grasslands and sagebrush frameworks in concert, WLFW has provided a common vision and coordination point to address resource concerns and ecosystem threats across state and ecosystem boundaries while maximizing the flexibility for delivering voluntary conservation programs tailored to local needs. Both frameworks are grounded in peer-reviewed science and utilize the innovative Rangelands Analysis Platform to prioritize where conservation investments will realize the greatest returns.
Ranchers and landowners can learn more about how NRCS combines on-the-ground expertise with new scientific tools to defend intact grasslands at their local NRCS service center. Visit the NRCS Service Center Locator: https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?agency=nrcs and click the state and then county for contact information.
>> Watch a recorded presentation about the frameworks
>> Check out the full Framework for Conservation Action in the Great Plains Grasslands Biome
>> Interested in sagebrush country? Read the Framework for Conservation Action in the Sagebrush Biome
>> Want to know more about WLFW? The 2021 Working Lands for Wildlife Magazine features producer partnerships and success stories for voluntary conservation efforts.
>> Find out more information about WLFW at farmers.gov/wildlife