Wyden Introduces Legislation to Restore America's Grasslands
With 85 percent of grasslands privately owned, the North American Grasslands Conservation Act empowers ranchers, farmers and Tribes to restore and conserve grasslands and support the rural economies and wildlife species that depend on them, all while addressing the climate crisis
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today led colleagues in the introduction of legislation to prevent further loss of native grasslands and sagebrush shrub-steppe systems, strengthen grassland and rangeland health and management, improve biodiversity and habitat, provide increased recreation and hunting opportunities, and address the climate crisis by mitigating the threats of wildfire and drought and increasing carbon sequestration.
Grassland ecosystems are among the most vulnerable in the world, and over the last decade alone, millions of acres of grasslands have been lost to wildfire, commercial development, and continue to face fragmentation, invasive species, and degradation. The agriculture community and Tribes are deeply connected to the landscape and often on the front lines protecting these lands from devastating wildfires and drought and subsequent encroachment from fire-prone invasive species. In addition to agriculture, hunting and recreation are important cultural and economic benefits of intact and healthy grasslands.
With 85 percent of grasslands privately owned, the North American Grasslands Conservation Act takes bold action to empower land stewards to conserve and restore grasslands in North America by establishing a voluntary, incentive-based grant program and support the rural economies and wildlife species that depend on them – all while helping to address the climate crisis. It also establishes the first-ever North American Grassland Conservation Strategy.
"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," 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 legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
“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 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 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.”
Modeled after the hugely successful North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the North American Grasslands Conservation Act:
- Establishes a North American Grassland Conservation Strategy for the protection, restoration, and management of grassland ecosystems across North America. The strategy would identify areas at high risk for grassland habitat loss, high potential conservation areas, at-risk populations of grassland-dependent bird species like sage grouse, and will identify specific goals for enhancing grasslands. This strategy would draw from existing local, state, Tribal and regional conservation plans and wildlife action plans.
- Establishes a flexible Grassland Conservation Grant Program for voluntary, incentive- based conservation of grasslands, including projects to restore degraded grasslands, increase carbon sequestration, improve grassland and rangeland health, mitigate the threats of wildfire and drought, improve biodiversity and support habitat connectivity, and restore watersheds.
- Creates National and Regional Grassland Conservation Councils to recommend and approve grassland conservation projects to be funded under the grant program, and provide recommendations on best practices that will support on-the-ground work already being done. The Council will be composed of federal, state, Tribal, conservation organizations and different farming, ranching, or grazing groups.
- Establishes research initiatives on native seed crop systems and regenerative grazing practices.
- Supports regenerative grazing research by establishing a jointly run pilot program to holistically study the effectiveness of regenerative grazing practices to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis on Forest Service and BLM lands.
A one page summary of the legislation can be found here.
A section-by-section summary can be found here.
Bill text can be found here.
The legislation is endorsed by: National Wildlife Federation, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, North American Grouse Partnership, National Deer Association, First Nations Development Institute, World Wildlife Fund, Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance, National Bobwhite & Grassland Initiative, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Native American Fish and Wildlife Association, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, Izaak Walton League of America, American Bird Conservancy, Land Trust Alliance, Southeastern Grasslands Initiative, Colorado Wildlife Federation, Missouri Prairie Foundation, North Dakota Wildlife Federation, Tennessee Wildlife Federation, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, Montana Wildlife Federation, and South Dakota Wildlife Federation.
National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Collin O’Mara: “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. 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.”
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever President and CEO Howard Vincent: “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. 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 Senator Wyden and sponsors for having the foresight to embrace significant, positive change for grasslands conservation.”
Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett: “Grasslands are essential to eastern Oregon ranchers, farmers, and landowners. The voluntary grant program established in this bill will help provide the tools they need to address the impacts of drought and wildfire, while also supporting the good work already happening on the ground to preserve these landscapes. I want to thank Senator Wyden for introducing this bill and I look forward to working with him on these issues impacting Eastern Oregonians.”
Carman Ranch (Wallowa, Ore.) Owner Cory Carman: "The importance of grasslands in NE Oregon couldn’t be understated. This legislation proves an incredible opportunity to do work for conservation and restoration in support of both ecological health and rural economies. We depend on grasslands to support wildlife, ranching, and clean air and water. This bill recognizes their importance, prioritizes improving them and highlights the regional differences. I’m particularly excited about the grant opportunities which will provide funding for landowners who want to restore, protect and improve the health of grasslands they own. The focus on grasslands will provide critical support for significant areas that are often overlooked and yet critical to all aspects of the economy and quality of life in places like Wallowa County."
Four Lazy F Ranch (Lone Pine, Ore.) Owner Dan Flitner: "The Crooked River National Grasslands is an integral part of how we exist as cattle ranchers in Central Oregon. Having more resources to create ideas, integrate research, and take a more proactive approach to grazing would be a tremendous benefit to our ranch. This bill would give us a more positive approach to improving soil health, forage diversity for wildlife and grazing, as well as education."
Sustainable Northwest Regenerative Ranching Program Director Dallas Hall Defrees: "The Grassland Conservation Act enables ranchers and land managers to improve our native grasslands by supporting regenerative land stewardship approaches and working towards a brighter future for the people, plants, and animals that rely on these landscapes."
The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Chairman Jonathan Smith: "This legislation helps reconnect tribes such as Warm Springs to conservation and restoration of grasslands in our ancestral areas.”
Oregon State University Malheur Experiment Station Director Dr. Stuart Reitz: “Restoring the health and well-being of our rangelands depends on the ability to revegetate them with native plants. Without an adequate native seed supply, we cannot restore rangelands to a more natural state following wildfires or other disturbances, and the rangelands will become further degraded with more intrusion from invasive weed species. We applaud Senator Wyden for his leadership on this bill that authorizes needed research to support a new native seeds and plants cropping system that can help to improve our rangelands for the benefit of land managers and the public.”
Stewarding Native Lands for the First Nations Development Institute Director of Programs Shaun Grassel: “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. The North American Grasslands Conservation Act addresses all of these important issues for Tribal communities.”
North American Grouse Partnership Executive Director Ted Koch: “When Native Americans and Settlers waded through the endless sea of grass in the southwestern Great Plains and fed themselves on lesser prairie-chickens, they could not have imagined the day when all that remained were small patches of prairie and an endangered species. It is beyond time we have a Grasslands Act for the entire nation so all Americans can help caring landowners voluntarily protect and restore their prairie habitats."
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership President and CEO Whit Fosburgh: “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. 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 for his leadership and look forward to working with decision-makers to advance this smart, proven conservation solution.”
National Deer Association’s Director of Policy Torin Miller: “We’re incredibly proud and humbled to have worked with Senator Wyden and nation’s top conservation partners to make the North American Grasslands Conservation Act a reality. Native grassland and sagebrush ecosystems provide some of our nation’s most important deer habitat. Voluntary conservation programs, like those found in NAGCA, are uniquely American and highly effective. We’re looking forward to moving this bill towards passage, and ultimately, ensuring swift and efficient implementation.”
World Wildlife Fund President and CEO Carter Roberts: “Grasslands matter because they provide irreplaceable habitat for species like the plains bison. They matter because they lock carbon in the ground. And they matter as a home for the Native nations and ranchers whose cultures and livelihoods are tied to the land. Pressure to convert grasslands for agriculture or other uses contributed to the loss of some 2.6 million acres across the US and Canadian portions of the Great Plains from 2018-2019 alone. This new legislation would create incentives to help reverse that trend, providing funding needed to restore and conserve America’s remaining grasslands. It will enable landowners and Native nations to ensure grasslands remain for future generations. WWF thanks Senators Ron Wyden, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bennet for their leadership in introducing this landmark legislation.”
National Bobwhite & Grassland Initiative Director John Morgan: “Restored rangelands and grasslands comprised predominately of native plant species are the key to healthy wild northern bobwhite populations and many other grassland-associated species and agriculturally important pollinators. These habitats can also create a drought-resilient forage strategy for livestock producers. We applaud the bill sponsors for the introduction of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act and for the opportunity to work with private landowners to voluntarily restore the most endangered ecosystem in North America while recovering an iconic call of the wild in rural America."
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers President and CEO Land Tawney: “Sportsmen and women cherish our ability to retreat to the backcountry, and for many that is represented by rolling grasslands or the sagebrush steppe. We thank Senator Wyden for his leadership on this brand-new legislative proposal with the foresight to encourage voluntary, science-based efforts to stop the loss of our grasslands. Hunters who wade through these landscapes with a bird dog ahead of them and a shotgun in hand recognize firsthand the threats to our native grasslands, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers urges Senator Wyden’s colleagues to join him in supporting this commonsense bill.”
Idaho Wildlife Federation Executive Director Brian Brooks: “Idaho’s grasslands are essential for species like mule deer and all manner of upland birds — and our way of life in the Gem State. The North American Grasslands Act will help conserve and restore this important and vanishing ecosystem by supporting voluntary conservation measures and partnerships. Idaho’s congressional delegation should sign onto this important bill and support the restoration of this vital ecosystem."
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies Executive Director Tammy VerCauteren: “Resilient, productive grasslands are vital for clean air and water, food security, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation and the future of our urban and rural communities. Private landowners, Indigenous leaders and partners across the country are working hard to conserve our grasslands but our disparate efforts have not changed the downward trajectory of this disappearing landscape. The bipartisan North American Grasslands Conservation Act represents an opportunity to voluntarily reverse those trends, to help catalyze funding that supports a grass-based economy delivering critical resources where they are needed most. We strongly encourage our elected representatives to ratify this bill at the earliest possible time so that we can put those resources to work restoring, conserving and enhancing our North American grasslands for the diverse human communities and wildlife that depend upon them.”
Missouri Prairie Foundation Executive Director Carol Davit: "Native grasslands, including prairies, savannas, and sagebrush, are defining landscapes of North America. They are home to iconic plants and animals, and also are critically important for soil and water protection, as well as carbon storage. The North American Grasslands Conservation Act will provide an urgently needed framework for the protection of native grassland ecosystems and wildlife, to benefit all Americans."
Colorado Wildlife Federation Executive Director Suzanne O’Neill: "We appreciate Senator Bennet's co-sponsorship of this essential bill to help farmers, ranchers, tribal nations, and others to work together to conserve and restore our rapidly declining native grasslands. Numerous species of greatest conservation need in the Colorado Wildlife Action Plan depend upon our grasslands habitat for their survival.”
Izaak Walton League of America Conservation Director Jared Mott: “This investment in grassland conservation will benefit everyone. It will improve soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat and help reduce some of the worst impacts of climate change."
Association of Northwest Steelheaders Board Member Phoebe Stoner: “Grasslands, from the prairies to the Pacific, provide essential habitat for wildlife, support the outdoor recreation economy, and protect clean drinking water and healthy aquatic ecosystems. Senator Wyden’s North American Grasslands Act will help strengthen this critical ecosystem and ensure it thrives for future generations of hunters, anglers, hikers, and fish and wildlife. The Senate should swiftly take up this legislation and secure America’s grasslands for the next generation of people and wildlife alike.”
American Bird Conservancy Director of Farm Bill Policy Steve Riley: "The bad news is over half of our grassland birds have been lost since 1970. The good news is these grassland bird populations respond quickly and positively to thoughtful management actions by our farmers and ranchers. This legislation will significantly increase the opportunities for farmers and ranchers to make choices to benefit birds' and other wildlife habitat, regional water quality, and carbon sequestration, while maintaining profitable agribusiness."
Land Trust Alliance Senior Director of Government Relations Lori Faeth: “The conservation community and land trusts across the country have been working tirelessly to protect imperiled grasslands ecosystems, but without a larger, dedicated funding source, these threatened landscapes will continue to disappear at an alarming rate. On behalf of the Land Trust Alliance, I thank Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota for introducing legislation that will benefit wildlife, and climate resiliency, rural economies and tribal communities, and America’s ranching and agricultural communities. We must preserve America’s grasslands before it’s too late. This bill empowers America’s landowners to step forward and utilize voluntary conservation tools where they are needed the most, with the results benefitting stakeholders across the board, from ranchers and farmers to hunters and anglers, tribal communities, and threatened plant and animal species. This model of conservation has proven highly successful for America’s wetlands and can play a crucial role in restoring native grassland habitat across the country as well.”
North Dakota Wildlife Federation Executive Director John Bradley: “Our prairies help define who we are as North Dakotans. There is a strength and austerity to their beauty. They are central to our economy, they are where ranching thrives, where wildlife species are still abundant, and they are where thousands of hunters go each fall. Unfortunately, we are losing more and more intact grasslands every year. This grasslands bill is an important step towards conserving this important part of our heritage. We hope the Senate moves this bill soon."
Tennessee Wildlife Federation CEO Michael Butler: “Grasslands were once a significant part of the southeastern United States and supported hundreds of species of wildlife and plants, many of which are rare today. The North American Grasslands Conservation Act presents a proven approach to restoring these important grassland habitats, and we call on Congress to pass this important legislation.”
Minnesota Conservation Federation Executive Director Brad Gausman: “America’s grasslands, vast seas of green that seem to stretch out to the horizon, support the wildlife and habitat essential for game species and hunters alike. Minnesota’s grasslands, however, are shrinking every year as we lose acre after acre to land conversion and development. The North American Grasslands Conservation Act will help reverse this devastating trend by promoting voluntary partnerships to conserve and restore grasslands. This collaborative approach ensures that hunters, land owners, farmers, and ranchers alike all can work together to revive this endangered landscape.”
Montana Wildlife Federation Executive Director Frank Szollosi: “As urban boundaries grow, homes are built and row crop farming expands, Montana is losing a sizable chunk of our precious prairies every year. Gone with it is key habitat for deer, meadowlarks, sharp-tailed grouse, and black-footed ferrets, and open spaces for hunters, hikers, and bird watchers to enjoy the outdoors. The North American Grasslands Conservation Act comes at just the right time. It would create opportunities for willing landowners to use free market tools to keep working ranches going, enhance carbon sequestration and maintain water quality, all while protecting our most important prairie habitat."
South Dakota Wildlife Federation Executive Director Chris Hesla: “The rolling grasslands in South Dakota are special. We take pride in them. Tourists come from all over the world to enjoy them. They are where ranchers raise cattle to feed the world. They are home to deer, pronghorn, prairie chickens, ferrets, butterflies, and a multitude of spring wildflowers. But they are in trouble. Every year intact grasslands are broken up for crops and residential and commercial development. They need some help. The North American Grasslands Conservation Act, if passed, would provide such help.”
Nicole L’Esperance 202-224-5244
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