Once upon a time, Minnesota was blessed with a wide variety of habitats ranging from dense forests to wide open, grass-covered prairies.
It’s really not too hard nowadays to find a forest.
But it’s getting increasingly difficult to find a parcel of prairie grass.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr told a standing-room-only crowd at the opening session of the DNR’s annual two-day Roundtable meeting in Bloomington on Friday that grassland preservation and restoration are going to be a major focus for his agency for years to come.
Landwehr said to stakeholders, DNR staff and a handful lawmakers that of the 18 million acres of native prairie that once covered most of western and southern Minnesota, only about two percent still remain.
In addition, the continued loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres as contracts expire have resulted in an unprecedented loss of grassland habitat for game species like deer, pheasant, ducks and many other non-game species in farmland areas.
“In a good year, we manage to gain from 20,000 to 40,000 acres of grasslands in areas like WMAs, WPAs,” Landwehr said. “However, at the same time we’re also losing 150,000 acres of CRP so even with our best efforts, we’re losing 100,000 acres.”
“You can see the direction it’s going and it’s not the right direction,” he said.
That view was bolstered by a presentation given by Kurt Forman, a private land coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in North and South Dakota.
He said that between 2008 and 2011, more than 23 million acres of grassland in South Dakota
was converted to row crops.
At one point, South Dakota landowners enrolled 1.7 million acres of farmland in CRP. However, at the same time, about 1.8 million acres of grasslands that had previously never been farmed were converted to cropland. “In spite of the CRP sign-up, we actually lost acres.”