The National Grasslands Story
From the US Forest Service
The grass was eternal, teeming with abundant bison herds, elk and other wildlife. It was also home to many tribes including: Sitting Bull's Hunkpapa Sioux, Apache, Arapaho, Arikara, Assiniboine, Atsina, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Chippewa, Ojibwa, Bungi, Comanche, Cree, Crow, Hidsata, Kiowa, Klamath, Kootnei, Mandan, Metis, Modoc, Pawnee, Santee, Shasta, Shoshone, Teton, Wichita, Yankton, and Yanktonia.
The United States acquired most of the Great Plains and Great Basin from France with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Until the late 1860s, the Great Plains region was America's last frontier.
The Homestead Act of 1862 brought almost six million settlers by 1890 who tried to replace grass with crops more beneficial to economic aspirations. The settlers soon discovered, however, that while these vast grasslands were productive in wet years, they were also subject to serious drought and bitter winters. Land that should never have been plowed yielded its topsoil to incessant dry winds. Dust clouds rose to over 20,000 feet above parts of Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and the Dakotas. Ten-foot drifts of fine soil particles piled up like snow in a blizzard, burying fences and closing roads.
During the same time, bison were largely eliminated by westward expansion. Ranchers filled the large open ranges of the plains and the Great Basin with cattle and sheep. Soldiers, prospectors, railroad builders, and a host of others seeking the West helped push back the last frontier as they crossed and settled these lands. By the early 1930s, the broad midsection of America was in trouble. Not only because of the Dust Bowls, but the Great Depression was reaching its economic depths.
Emergency measures were taken to save the farmers and settlers. The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 and the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act of 1935 allowed the federal government to purchase and restore damaged lands and to resettle destitute families. From these disastrous days, a hundred years after the Homestead Act on June 23, 1960, the National Grasslands were born.
Grass is the key to maintaining the productivity of these areas. Remove it, and the soil blows away. When rain falls, the barren ground can't absorb water and it runs off quickly carrying silt into streams and ponds. These grasslands must be used wisely for the benefit of the land and its inhabitants.
Our nation's 20 National Grasslands managed by the US Forest Service are an outstanding conservation success story. They are examples of progressive agriculture in arid grass country. Revegetated to provide for soil and water conservation, these intermingled public and private lands are managed to complement each other and to conserve the natural resources of grass, water and wildlife habitat.
Clean water flows off restored watersheds to be used miles downstream. Wildlife, including many declining, threatened or endangered species, thrive in reborn habitats.
Under a nurturing shield of vegetation, once wounded soil rebuilds its fertility. The construction of livestock ponds has expanded the range of many wildlife species by providing water where none existed before. The scattered watering ponds allow more cattle grazing throughout the grassland and also benefit wildlife habitat. Private farmlands within the National Grassland boundary add diversity to the prairie habitat.
The presence of prairie dog colonies creates habitat favorable for such wildlife as burrowing owls, which use the abandoned burrows. The almost extinct black footed ferret used to prey on the prairie dogs and use their burrows as well. Rattlesnakes are the only poisonous snakes found in the grassland. They are seldom seen during the heat of the day.
National Grasslands are rich in mineral, oil and gas resources. They also provide diverse recreational uses, such as mountain bicycling, hiking, hunting, fishing, photographing, birding, and sightseeing. Fossils, prehistoric and historic resources, as well as many cultural sites are being discovered. The National Grasslands are being managed to protect these important legacy resources. The National Grasslands are important lands managed for sustainable multiple uses as part of the National Forest System. They have made important contributions to conserving grassland ecosystems while producing a variety of goods and services, which, in turn, have helped to maintain rural economies and lifestyles.
WHERE ARE GRASSLANDS?
Grasslands Map > Grasslands, Savanna, and Shrublands
From National Geographic
These areas are known by different names throughout the world. They can look desolate, generally containing few or no trees, except in areas along rivers and streams. But they are vibrant ecosystems, and some, like the African savanna, are home to the animal kingdom's most recognizable fauna.
For more information about the definition of grasslands, go to:
The Grassland Biome
From University of California Museum of Paleontology