Protecting Our Native Prairies

On October 4, 2007, Senators John Thune (R-SD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the American Prairies Conservation Act, which would help protect America’s remaining native prairies and small prairie wetlands. Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Tim Walz (D-MN) are introducing similar legislation in the House.

Native prairie once covered much of the Great Plains as well as parts of the Midwest, Southeast, and West Coast. America has lost 99 percent of our historic tallgrass prairie, much of it converted to cropland, and our mixed-grass and shortgrass prairies are disappearing as well. Prairie grasslands are considered North America’s most endangered ecosystem, and many of the birds and other wildlife that depend on those disappearing grasslands are in trouble as well.

wetland protected in cropland_credit Krista Lundgren USFWS
You can help! Call or write your members of Congress today, and ask them to support the American Prairies Conservation Act.

Unfortunately, taxpayer-paid subsidies for federal crop insurance premiums are actually encouraging landowners to plow up or destroy remaining native prairies.     

The American Prairies Conservation Act would change that by expanding the “Sodsaver” provision of the 2014 Farm Bill, which reduced federal subsidies for crop insurance on native sod that is plowed up or converted to crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat.

The current Sodsaver provision only applies in six states: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa. By expanding the provision to apply nationwide, the bill would reduce incentives to convert native shortgrass prairie in places such as eastern Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico; central and coastal California; the southern Great Plains; the Palouse prairies in the Pacific Northwest; and the few remnant patches of tallgrass prairie in states including Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.

The bill would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to track and report on the loss of grasslands nationally so we can better understand the ongoing loss of native prairie. It would also close a loophole in the current law that allows landowners to plant alfalfa for several years to avoid a reduction in subsidies for breaking out native prairie.

The bill would not prohibit landowners from converting native prairie, but it would reduce federal crop insurance premium subsidies that now encourage it. That would be a good first step towards protecting what is left of America’s native prairie legacy.

The League is a strong supporter of the American Prairies Conservation Act. We are working with other conservation and agriculture organizations in support of the proposal, and we hope it will become part of the 2018 Farm Bill.  

You can help! Call or write your members of Congress today, and ask them to support the American Prairies Conservation Act.

RELATED READING

The State and Fate of Prairie: Farm sizes are multiplying, and the temptation to transition from cattle to corn has become almost irresistible as many farm owners convert native grassland to monoculture crop productions.