Plains and Prairie Potholes LCC Leverages Investments in Grassland Conservation, Water Quality and Invasive Species Management
By Ashley Spratt
Alongside leading natural resources agencies and organizations in the United States and Canada, the Plains and Prairie Potholes Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) is investing $288,680 and leveraging more than $4 million in partner funds to conserve and manage key natural resources across the northern Great Plains and prairie pothole region.
LCC partners recently announced funding for three stakeholder-driven research initiatives to benefit grassland conservation, water quality and invasive species management.
This map outlines the geography associated with the Plains and Prairie Pothole LCC, Williston Basin, Bakken Formation, and all petroleum related wells drilled since 2000 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service graphic)
Carbon sequestration research to benefit grassland conservation in the northern Great Plains
The LCC will provide $153,300 in 2013 funding to carbon sequestration research as part of a new pilot grassland conservation program to protect at-risk grasslands from conversion to cropland in the northern Great Plains.
Natural resources partners have leveraged more than $3 million in private and federal funding to support an innovative program that extends protection of privately-owned grasslands that have expired under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). In the past two years alone, the number of CRP acres nationally has dropped from 31.2 million to 27 million. Of the 4.2-million-acre-decline, lands lost in North Dakota and Montana accounted for 1.6 million acres, or 38 percent.
The program encourages private landowners to conserve CRP grasslands through the financial incentives of carbon credits.
“Keeping grass on the landscape via the Conservation Reserve Program is an important tool for conservation of fish, wildlife, soil and water resources of the Northern Great Plains,” said LCC coordinator Rick Nelson. “Working side-by-side with private landowners, natural resources agencies and organizations are looking for ways to enhance agricultural profitability and maintain important habitats for fish, wildlife and plants.”
With the support of LCC funding, LCC partners Ducks Unlimited and the Agricultural Research Service’s Northern Great Plains Research Lab will conduct soil carbon measurements on expired CRP lands before and after installation of livestock fencing and other infrastructure benefiting grassland conservation.
“Many landowners and agricultural producers in the northern Great Plains are interested in retaining their expired CRP as grasslands, yet have few economically competitive options. With support from the LCC, Ducks Unlimited and its partners look forward to further piloting a working lands transition program that combines payments from grassland carbon offsets with other investments in grass-based agriculture,” said Randal Dell, lead project investigator and economist with Ducks Unlimited.
“These combined revenue streams can help provide a more economically competitive incentive to maintain grasslands for wildlife, livestock and people,” Dell said.
Targeting wetland restoration and conservation to improve water quality while maximizing agricultural production in the Souris River watershed
The LCC will provide $74,400 in 2013 funding to support research targeting wetland restoration and conservation efforts in nine sub-watersheds of the Souris River, which has experienced dramatic increases in nutrient concentration over time.
The Souris River watershed spans more than 23,000 square miles (61,000 square kilometers) across Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Manitoba.
“As a working landscape, wetland restoration and conservation efforts throughout the Souris River watershed must be targeted to maximize agricultural production and incentivize conservation on private lands while reducing water quality impacts,” said LCC coordinator Rick Nelson.
The funding will support a cross-jurisdictional study led by Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Ducks Unlimited Canada, and Province of Manitoba researchers that will combine current and historic wetland inventories and examine water quality trends across watersheds with varying levels of wetland cover.
“A coordinated approach to wetland restoration across a large prairie watershed is critical to finding the most effective balance between agricultural yield and ecological integrity,” Nelson said.
Non-point source pollution from the Souris River watershed has been known to impact water quality throughout the watershed including the adjoining Assiniboine River and Lake Winnipeg.
“Algae blooms on Lake Winnipeg and many of our lakes and rivers are a symptom of increased nutrients, sediment and runoff from upstream watersheds as a result of wetland drainage,” said Pascal Badiou, research scientist with Ducks Unlimited Canada’s Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research. “The results of this research will really help us target wetland protection and restoration efforts that will benefit our lakes, rivers and streams.”
New study examines relationship between oil production and invasive plant species within the Williston Basin
The LCC will provide $60,980 in 2013 funding to support research examining the relationship between the presence and abundance of invasive plant species, mainly noxious weeds and perennial forage grasses, and the location and age of oil well pads in native prairie environments.
Energy development across the northern plains of Montana and North Dakota is occurring at a rapid speed, while invasive species continue to challenge conservation practitioners’ efforts to restore native prairie, grassland and wetland habitats.
“We don’t fully understand how the rapid and large scale development of oil may be changing the rate at which invasive plants are spreading,” said LCC coordinator Rick Nelson. “It’s critical to stay ahead of the game by learning as much about these relationships as possible. As conservation stewards, we must arm ourselves with the necessary science and research to guide our responses to environmental challenges today and in the future.”
Led by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), this study will help resource managers understand how invasive plants are moving and the role of oil development in invasions. Research results will assist wildlife managers, private landowners and the oil industry in developing effective ways to reduce the spread of invasive plant species.
More than 46,000 new petroleum-related wells have been drilled in the Williston Basin and Bakken Formation since the first successful Bakken test well was drilled in 2000.
“An average well pad is typically five acres, which translates into 230,000 acres of soil disturbance. We have observed invasive plant species, including noxious weeds, on and around lands disturbed from recent energy development,” said lead project investigator Todd Preston.
“We will examine if there is a pathway for noxious weeds to become established in adjacent native prairie lands associated with well pad construction. This study will help the conservation community understand the interactions between recent energy development and the introduction and spread of invasive species across the plains and prairie pothole region.”
For additional information on the mission, vision and activities of the Plains and Prairie Potholes LCC visit http://www.plainsandprairiepotholeslcc.org/
Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) address large scale natural resource challenges that transcend political and jurisdictional boundaries and require a networked approach to conservation— holistic, collaborative, and grounded in science – to ensure the sustainability of America’s land, water, wildlife and cultural resources. For more information about LCCs, visit http://www.fws.gov/landscape-conservation/lcc.html