Northern Great Plains Conservation Project
"...in every derection around us was one vast plain in which unnumerable herds of Buffalow were seen attended by their sheperds the wolves; the solitary antelope which now had their young were distribed over it's face; some herds of elk were also seen; the verdure perfectly cloathed the ground."
-Meriwether Lewis, 1805, at the junction of the Marias and Missouri Rivers in what is now Montana
The prairie ecosystem is shaped and maintained by water. Streams and rivers carve paths of green in the sun-baked, golden landscape. Land and climate combine to create unique niches for specialized plants and animals.
The prairie grasslands are an ecosystem that rewards close observation. Within the grasses there is blue gamma grass, a favourite food of the bison that once roamed the plains, needle and thread grass whose sharp awns catch unwary hikers, prickly pear cactus that breathes only at night and gumbo evening primrose, whose flowers change colour in 24 hours.
Since the arrival of European settlers, however, the prairie grasslands have become one of Canada's most endangered places. According to Parks Canada (http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/sk/grasslands/edu/edu1c_E.asp). "The ocean of grass that was once the North American prairies has been plowed, bulldozed and became fragmented. The ocean has become islands."
Large scale conversion of grassland to agriculture, hunting, and pest extermination programs has led to the extirpation (local extinction) of bison, prairie wolf, plains gizzly, elk, wolverine, swift fox, black-footed ferret, and greater prairie chicken and have drastically altered this once wild land. It is still home to endangered species such as pronghorn antelope, swift fox, sage grouse, burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, prairie rattlesnake and the eastern short-horned lizard.
In Canada, the Northern Great Plains region is protected within Grasslands National Park. This area, however, is not large enough to sustain a functional ecosystem and the endangered species that call this region home are still threatened by habitat loss and are struggling to reach healthy populations sizes. Habitat outside the park can be protected through government policies that: reward farmers to leave land unplowed and create habitat; prevent industrial development on critical habitat and along park boundaries, and; recognize that the grasslands are an important natural resource - not just marginal farmland. Your support can help us to increase the amount of grassland that is protected, helping to ensure the survival of this threatened ecosystem.
To Take Action:
In Alberta, write to:
The Hon. David Coutts, Minister of Sustainable Resource Development, Ph: (780) 415-4815, Fax: (780) 422-4818
The Hon. Doug Horner, Minister of Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Ph: (780) 427-2137, Fax: (780) 422-6035.
Letters can be sent c/o:
Alberta's Legislature Building 10800 - 97 Ave
Edmonton, AB T5K 2B7
Hon. David Forbes, Minister of Environment, Room 208, Legislature Building, Regina SK, S4S 0B3, Phone: (306) 787-0393, Fax: (306) 787-0395.
Sierra Club US - Follow in the Footsteps of Lewis and Clarke
World Wildlife Fund - Northern Great Plains Campaign
Parks Canada - Grasslands National Park
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society - Saskatchewan Chapter: About the Prairies