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From Prairies to Corn

August 18, 2016

Market forces have recently converted large areas of sensitive North American prairies to cropland.


Intact and developed prairie

A road divides a healthy, managed North Dakota prairie (left) from cropland (right). (Susanne Bard)


Prairies in peril. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When we think of ecosystems at risk, tropical rainforests and coral reefs often spring to mind. But lesser-known ecosystems like the prairie potholes region of the northern Great Plains are also in peril. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, soaring corn and soybean prices over the past ten years have led to the rapid conversion of large swaths of wetlands and prairie to cropland.


It happened so quick, and with such intensity.


That’s refuge manager Neil Shook, who says the prairie potholes store carbon, mitigate flooding, and provide vital habitat. His colleague Dave Azure says agreements between private landowners and the federal government help protect these resources.


We have over 30,000 easement contracts in the Dakotas and those protect over 2.87 million acres.


But, he says over 10 million of acres still remain vulnerable. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard

Prairie Smoke

Prairie smoke, a grassland species that disappears when native prairies are converted to cropland. (Susanne Bard)