Grounded in Science: Connecting ecological systems,
and people in the Prairie Pothole Region
Robust fish and wildlife populations and intact natural systems support and enhance local communities and their economies - communities that also depend on food production, clean air and water, storm protection and recreation. The natural systems of the Prairie Pothole Region of the U.S., which stretch from portions of Minnesota and Iowa to the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming, face mounting threats due to growing energy development, shifting agricultural practices and other land-use changes.
“Today we have loss rates for prairie grasslands and wetlands that we have not seen since the Dust Bowl days," said Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Regional Director Steve Adair. "We must work together to conserve this habitat that is vital not only to the production of wildlife, but also to our clean water and our nation's recreational economy.” Adair is one of more than 30 natural resources professionals that make up the Plains and Prairie Potholes Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) leadership team.
To contribute to the conservation and restoration of prairie wetlands, grasslands and associated natural systems, the Plains and Prairie Potholes Landscape Conservation Cooperative is leveraging partnership resources to better understand critical uncertainties associated with prairie habitats while drawing linkages between terrestrial and aquatic systems. These key connections are a building block necessary for effective landscape conservation design by federal, state and non-governmental agencies and organizations vested in prairie conservation.
“Our greatest conservation contribution is not what we achieve within our own boundaries; it is our collective ability to conserve functioning landscapes that support fish, wildlife and plant populations at scales that allow them to thrive in the face of regional, national and even global challenges,” said Tom Melius, Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Region, and chair of the Plains and Prairie Potholes LCC.
“Our partnership connects not only the ecological systems, but the people and ideas necessary to move conservation forward across entire landscapes,” said Terry Steinwand, LCC co-chair and Director of the North Dakota Fish and Game Department. “We’re putting greater emphasis on uncertainties associated with social and economic questions - including a greater understanding of the importance of production and protection - the people piece of ecology.”
With a firm grounding in science, LCC partners are providing the tools necessary to make informed on-the-ground conservation and management decisions in the face of these threats. The LCC is committed to partnership-driven conservation and management for the Prairie Pothole Region and the terrestrial and aquatic systems the region supports. Learn more about just a few partnership projects informing landscape conservation design below:
Iowa wetland assessment and restorable wetland inventory
In partnership with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the LCC contributed to the successful completion of data sets that map drained wetland basins in the Prairie Pothole Region of Iowa. Combined with completed data sets mapping the Prairie Pothole Region of Minnesota, this data is being used to design conservation actions to restore wetlands across landscape-scale watersheds, taking into account migratory bird habitat, water quality, agriculture and flooding. Learn more.
Land-use change, economics and rural well-being in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States
U.S. Geological Survey economists released a comprehensive analysis of the Prairie Pothole Region highlighting the relationship between the farm economy and off-farm economy and labor market, including the contributions of wildlife-dependent recreation opportunities. This LCC-supported study helps to quantify how an investment of time and resources in strengthening the non-farm rural economy may greatly assist local governing officials as they work to support agriculture in the community. Learn more.
Predicting effects of climate change on native fishes in northern Great Plains streams
Prairie streams provide critical “green lines” of habitat for both aquatic and terrestrial wildlife in the northern Great Plains and portions of the Prairie Pothole Region. Changes in water quantity and quality associated with global climate change may transform prairie streams from essential refuges to habitats no longer capable of supporting fishes. This project is examining these changes and developing tools to assist managers in predicting the effects of climate change on prairie stream ecosystems. Learn more.
Carbon sequestration research to benefit grassland conservation
Ducks Unlimited, Inc., is leading research on the benefits of grassland conservation in the context of carbon sequestration, as part of a new pilot program to protect at-risk grasslands from conversion to cropland in the northern Great Plains and portions of the Prairie Pothole Region. The program aims to encourage private landowners to conserve Conservation Reserve Program grasslands through the financial incentives of carbon credits. Learn more.
Regional assessment of fish habitat conditions and groundtruthing aquatic habitat models
Fish Habitat Partnerships are collectively working to assess the status of priority aquatic habitats. The LCC is collaborating with the Midwest and Great Plains National Fish Habitat Partnerships to assemble and serve data layers that will allow biologists and researchers to conduct fish habitat assessments on streams and rivers across the Great Plains including portions of the Prairie Pothole Region. This in turn will allow agencies to target restoration and protection efforts where they are needed most. Learn more.
To learn more about the science behind natural resource conservation and management in other parts of the Northern Great Plains, visit http://plainsandprairiepotholeslcc.org.
By Ashley Spratt