As winter temperatures plummet, so does the number of species of grassland animals that need protection.
And this year, some are getting a boost from a new federal rule requiring federal lands managers to report on the extent of their grassland and how it’s managed.
“This is a good sign for grasslands,” says Mark Smith, a conservation biologist at Oregon State University.
“They’re getting the attention that they deserve.”
And it’s also an opportunity for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase efforts to protect grassland.
USDA says it has spent $1.8 million on grassland management since 2000.
The agency has made some progress, but its biggest priority remains the health of the grasslands that support its programs.
“It’s a great time to be a grassland ecologist,” says Greg Henshaw, an ecologist at the University of California, Davis.
“We can’t go out and say that we’re going to make sure that every inch of our landscape is grassland, but we can certainly make a difference.”
How grasslands are managed The US government has been working on the management of grasslands since the 1960s, when a federal study determined that grasslands were among the world’s most biologically rich ecosystems.
These days, the U and U-52, the world headquarters for the World Wildlife Fund, have a long history of working on improving the health and well-being of grasses.
The U-62s first project was the restoration of a section of the California coast, which included the Pacific coastline.
The National Park Service has been involved in grassland restoration in other places around the country, including on the banks of the Mississippi and Mississippi River in Louisiana and on the Great Plains in Texas.
Today, the US Forest Service has over 1,200 grassland-management projects and more than a dozen states have their own grasslands restoration efforts.
The federal government also provides funding for programs that protect endangered species and ecosystems.
The USGS’s National Grasslands Initiative (NGI), a joint effort of the Forest Service and USDA, is a partnership between the Forest and Natural Resources Departments.
The NGI, which began in 1997, works to restore grasslands on federal lands across the country.
For the last 15 years, the agency has been actively working with the states and other stakeholders to develop grassland health plans and strategies.
This year, the Forest & Soil Conservation Institute, a nonprofit based in Sacramento, California, and the University at Buffalo, partnered with the NGI to develop a new national grassland plan.
“The Forest Service is doing a great job on grasslands and in general conserving these ecosystems, but they have a lot of problems with how they manage them,” says Jim Henshaws, a scientist with the Forest Science Center in Rochester, New York, and an author of the NGS plan.
These problems are exacerbated by a lack of funding, he adds.
“There is a lot more of a focus on the environment than on the grassland,” he says.
The USDA, in turn, has been helping to address these issues through the US Grasslands Alliance, a partnership of agencies and universities that focuses on grasses and other ecosystems that are being affected by climate change.
The alliance’s most recent report focused on how grasslands in the United States are managing their grasslands.
It was released this week and is being distributed to stakeholders in the grass land movement.
The report focuses on how to prioritize funding for grassland programs and how to improve the health, fitness and diversity of grass areas.
This is important because grasslands can play a role in sustaining our national forests, says Mike Williams, a retired forest ecologist who was the USGS National Director of Grasslands Programs from 2002 to 2007.
“In the past, grasslands served as buffers between ecosystems, keeping them in check during drought, flood and other environmental changes,” Williams says.
But with climate change and other changing climate conditions, grassland habitats can become increasingly vulnerable to disturbance.
“When grasslands have no protection, they become vulnerable,” Williams explains.
In addition to providing funding for the grass ground program, the USDA also is supporting research to better understand the health impacts of the changes in grasslands caused by climate and water stress.
“What we know about how grassland ecosystems function and how they are affected by changing climates and water availability are key to understanding how to manage grasslands for the future,” says John Gorman, the head of the National Park Foundation’s Grassland Research and Education program.
He adds that this research could lead to better management plans and a better understanding of how to maintain grasslands when they are under stress.
A growing number of countries around the world are also using the National Grassland Alliance to promote grasslands as part of national parks and landscapes.
The United Kingdom is a major player in this movement, with more