Keeping Grasslands Green Side Up

Continued conversion of native grasslands to crops is one of the largest threats facing grasslands in the Great Plains. 

Past cultivation of the most productive grassland soils has enabled the Great Plains to become one of the most agriculturally productive regions of the world, but this land use conversion has also reduced wildlife habitat, water quality, soil health, and carbon storage potential. WLFW’s Framework seeks to avoid further grassland loss within landscape cores and strategically restore marginal croplands back to grassland.

Strategic Approach

WLFW’s approach for tackling this threat emphasizes transitioning of expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)-enrolled lands to grazing operations, proactive easement acquisition, and revegetating previously cultivated lands in otherwise intact landscapes that are at-risk of cultivation or development.

Spatial Data

The maps below enable practitioners to rapidly visualize and analyze opportunities for threat reduction. Local maps and data should also be incorporated, where available, to refine conservation delivery. Multiple spatial data types should be used in combination to meet WLFW’s strategic approach.

Cultivation Risk

This map depicts the probability of cultivation relative to climate, temperature, soils, and topography. It can be used to identify intact grasslands and where there is potential to maintain and expand grasslands in landscape cores with low cultivation risk.

The Conservation Reserve Program and the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program provide financial incentives for producers to keep marginally productive lands out of cultivation while maintaining them for grazing and wildlife.

Conservation Reserve Program Statistics

Monthly CRP summary data are available, including county-level maps depicting CRP enrollment and expiration across the U.S. The products can be used to inform targeting efforts to transition CRP to grazing lands.

Vegetation Cover

These maps provide annual percent cover estimates from 1984 to present of: annual forbs and grasses, perennial forbs and grasses, shrubs, trees, and bare ground. The data can be used to identify relatively unfragmented grassland cores and monitor the efficacy of conservation actions at preventing land use conversion.

Vegetation Production

These maps provide annual and 16-day aboveground biomass from 1986 to present of: annual forbs and grasses, perennial forbs and grasses, and herbaceous (combination of annual and perennial forbs and grasses). Estimates represent accumulated new biomass throughout the year or 16-day period and do not include biomass accumulation in previous years. The data can be used to quantify rangeland productivity protected, enhanced, or restored.