Preservation and Recovery of the National Grasslands
The Great Plains of North America originally covered more than 500 million acres, most of which has been converted to farms and ranches. The grasslands once extended from northeastern Mexico to southeast Alberta and from the Rocky Mountain front range to Wisconsin, Illinois and east Texas. The federal government bought back some land in this region from bankrupt farmers during the economic and environmental disasters of the 1930s and today holds title to about 1 percent of the total area. These lands are administered by the US Forest Service as the Great Plains National Grasslands.
The first comprehensive plan for the management of the National Grasslands was adopted in the 1980s and the second plan is now in the final stages of preparation. The Forest Service is required to manage the National Grasslands in accordance with the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other laws meant to protect the natural resources, but it is also under pressure from landowners, ranchers, farmers and agribusinesses to continue their use, often subsidized, of these public lands.The Final Environmental Impact Statement and revised Land and Resource Management Plans for the national grasslands can be viewed at www.fs.fed.us/ngp. We spoke with Greg Schenbeck of the US Forest Service about the history of the National Grasslands and the Forest Service's evolving plans for their protection and restoration.