Current Issues in Grassland Preservation

Grasslands are under constant threat from nature and from anthropogenic activity. The current issues include development, overgrazing, riparian damage, and improper rotation or retirement of farming lands. The 2002 Farm Security And Rural Investment Act provided program funding for conservation of land that is used for grazing and for crop production, along with some other areas.

Before 2002, funds were expended to allow farmers to retire crop land for specified periods of at least 10 years, when the land was environmentally sensitive.

Conservation expenditures go to such programs as technical assistance, land retirement, working land, agricultural land preservation and other programs.

Current issues include competition for biofuels where food grains and other foodstuffs are in high production in order to satisfy both food and fuel markets. This can lead to overworking of cropland, which leads to soil depletion and ultimately desertification.

With all crop production, issues of fertilizer and other riparian problems, such as building logging roads which creates pollution that washes down into waterways is of great concern. In semi-arid and arid areas, such as the Western US, the issue of water rights and water diversion create complex and constant competition for water.

High demand for animal proteins and dairy products results in overgrazing and ultimate permanent damage to the soil structures of grasslands. The animal wastes present needs for preventing the waste from entering and polluting waterways.

As a result, the issue of water preservation and conservation is integral to the issues of protecting and maintaining the integrity of grasslands.

With working land conservation, the issues are complex and the attempts to get voluntary investment in taking on conservation and land use programs is supplemented with government funds. The larger producers, however, have had a lot of influence with government in limiting the regulatory and mandatory requirements. The smaller producers are given leeway as to whether they engage in voluntary management programs in order to qualify for government funding.

Conflicting with many farmer’s needs are the requirements to enhance wildlife habitat for wildlife that is a threat to farm animals. There are many who take issue with being required to allow once controlled predatory populations, such as coyotes, to grow, where they become an increased threat to crops and animals, costing great financial loss.

Invasive species, such as the exploding feral boar/pig population, present major threats to grassland biomes. These pigs are voracious and are expected to cause increasing damage. There is a wide array of animal, insect, fungi, bacterial and viral invasion that threatens the animal and plant life of the grassland biomes of the world, given the global rise in movement of people and items throughout the world.

Finally, there is a great  magnitude of issues and complexity. The complexity is apparent when we consider industrial and housing development, the costs of conservation and protection, and the political environment. The problems are enormous in balancing grassland management for profit, soil nutrition, wildlife habitats, riparian restoration or protection, crop rotation, implementing costly environmental and conservation programs, or invasive species management.

There are groups which will actively and aggressively fight for one position or the opposing position on a host of issues, making for a costly and complicated process of designing, funding, regulating and managing programs at the regional or national levels.

Roger Claassen and Marc Ribaudo, “Conservation Policy Overview”, Chap 5.