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KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The Grasslands Are Growing Again In The Great Plains

According to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund, recent low crop prices mean some ranchers are shifting their lands from crops back to grassland for cattle.

This means a small but growing portion of the Great Plains are reverting back to their natural state – at least for now.

Before settlement, the Great Plains used to be a giant sea of grasses.

But then farmers turned around half of it into wheat, soy and corn fields.

“The really big thing you lose is the diversity of species,” Martha Kauffman, an expert with the World Wildlife Fund, said.

She said plowing over prairie destroys habitat and kills dozens of different plants.

Nowadays, many ranchers in the Great Plains have a mixture of crops and some grassland. But the recent low prices are changing things

“They might’ve plowed a field when crop prices were higher and decided that they can do better with that field back in grassland,” Kauffman said.

According to Kauffman, these native grasslands are better for the prairie ecosystem.  The current shift means there’s now more than a million acres of new grassland in the Great Plains.

However, the shift may not be permanent.

Those lands can still be reverted back into cropland. According to Kauffman, it can take up to a century for the prairie ecosystem to fully return to normal.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.