Over 60 million acres of grass remain in the Northern Great Plains (NGP), arguably more than any other region in North America’s central grasslands biome. The NGP makes up just 10% of the biome but provides over 52% of core breeding areas for some of the most imperiled grassland birds, making it a continental stronghold for grasslands and grassland bird conservation. Unfortunately, the region is not immune to the plow, conifer and exotic annual grass invasions, and other stressors that lead to grassland loss and impairment. On average, the region is losing 235,000 acres of intact grassland each year, slowly eroding the core. Grassland loss is a biome-wide predicament, but the NGP plays an outsized role in retaining what is left. Thankfully, there are two broad initiatives bringing attention to this imperiled biome so the people of the NGP do not need to work alone.
The Central Grasslands Roadmap is the collective voice elevating grasslands and inspiring collaboration across the three countries and multiple Indigenous Nations that span the central grasslands. This collaboration has come together around common principles and a shared vision for coordinated conservation while fostering mutual respect for the diverse people living and working across the Central Grasslands. The Roadmap has developed socioeconomic, ecological, and industry and private sector goals that are broad and approachable, leading the narrative and inspiring the people living and working on the land.
The JV8 Central Grasslands Conservation Initiative is the collaborative effort of eight Migratory Bird Joint Ventures to stem grassland losses, with the ultimate goal of reversing or stabilizing declining bird populations in the central grasslands biome. JV8’s Business Plan (coming soon in 2024) outlines how the JV8 will work in concert with the Roadmap to deliver on-the-ground actions at scale. To make measurable impacts on declining grassland birds, JV8 has identified a need to scale our collective conservation investment 10 times, from $180M to $1.9B annually, with a goal of impacting 27.8 million acres per year. The business plan outlines pathways to deliver on new investments.
At the Northern Great Plains Joint Venture, we are taking these continental efforts to the ground. In 2022, the NGPJV Management Board hosted a meeting with South Dakota state leaders who agreed to work together to bring the Central Grasslands Roadmap vision to South Dakota. A year later, the South Dakota Grasslands Initiative was born, staffed by a full-time director. The NGPJV is also helping the North Dakota Meadowlark Initiative, another state-based effort to step down continental visions, direct millions of Farm Bill dollars to on-the-ground grasslands restoration and enhancement. In preparation for Congressional Hill Visits in March of 2023, the NGPJV leveraged the collective expertise of the Roadmap’s Policy Committee to develop a Farm Bill Recommendations handout. The NGPJV met with five Congressional staffers who found this resource particularly relevant and timely as their delegates were wrestling with the nuances of agriculture and conservation policies. NGPJV staff also used materials from the Roadmap’s “Grasslands and You” campaign in local communications, including a Girl Scout Big Event in Bismarck that reached 130 families who live in the region but might not have strong connections with grasslands.
JV8’s ambitious habitat conservation goals provide a platform for delivering NGPJV’s grassland objectives in a larger continental context. The NGPJV brings dedicated staff, cultural will, and opportunities for contagious conservation to the ground. The NGPJV provides program and science support to local conservation professionals, convenes and catalyzes networks, supports community-led collaboratives and capacity needs, and helps direct limited funding to places of high ecological value and high cultural investment. The NGPJV is also putting hundreds of thousands of federal, industry, and foundation dollars on the ground each year. These biome-wide initiatives help us communicate how our regional actions are rolling up to make a difference for the continent.
The NGPJV is doing the work of elevating local and regional voices to continental initiatives and bringing continental resources and messaging to land stewards and rural communities. By leveraging our communal strengths and resources, we are collectively garnering the attention of national and international leaders who can influence policy and direct resources toward the most strategic local investments. The NGP region is critical to biome-wide efforts to retain core grasslands and, as such, needs to be intimately engaged with continental grasslands initiatives. The NGPJV is helping to provide that nexus.