At 424 million acres, the Great Plains is the largest grassland ecosystem in North America and one of the largest in the world. Grasslands are probably the most altered by human impact of any of the continent’s terrestrial ecosystems. This ecosystem once supported one of the world’s largest populations of grazing wildlife species and associated predators.
Bison played a dominant role in the ecology and human culture of the northern Great Plains, and many other species, including elk, grizzly bear, and wolves were also present in abundance. Prairie dogs and beavers occurred in great numbers, and were responsible for the creation of vast habitats essential to many other wildlife species.
While numbers of some species have been reduced dramatically, recovery is underway and the northern Great Plains still has sufficient habitat to restore healthy populations of most species while also reinvigorating local economies and inspiring people to value intact grassland habitats around the world. Our overarching vision for the Great Plains focuses on restoration of ecologically important areas of the northern Great Plains to an ecosystem that sustainably supports the assemblage of native large mammals and grassland birds that once thrived here, with free-flowing rivers with healthy populations of native fish species.
These ecologically important areas are large enough to restore not only wildlife populations, but also traditional migration patterns and other natural processes. The restoration of other species, such as black-tailed prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, and mountain plovers will reestablish the wildlife diversity that was once interwoven into the prairie landscape. Restoration efforts also offer unique opportunities for helping build and diversify regional communities and economies; support and participation from local communities and landowners is essential to achieving this vision.
Specific Features of our Vision for the Northern Plains
We share a vision for the northern Great Plains that restores and preserves in perpetuity:
- A network of large, healthy grasslands and shrublands connected to the Rocky Mountains and neighboring grassland regions;
- Healthy populations of all native animals within these landscapes, including large herds of bison, pronghorn, and elk, as well as native carnivores and scavengers;
- Large, fully functioning colonies of prairie dogs and other important small grazers and their associated species such as raptors, small predators and grassland birds;
- Free-flowing rivers and abundant wetlands in their natural state carrying healthy populations of fish, migratory birds, beavers and all other native river and wetland species;
- Natural processes, including floods, fires, and animal migrations;
- Widespread areas where sustainable human economic activities support healthy people and native habitats and wildlife;
- Healthy human communities that benefit from and value these restored natural landscapes and the amenities they provide.