GRASSLAND MANAGEMENT IN AMERICA AN OVERVIEW OF RESOURCES, ISSUES, AND PRACTICES PUBLISHEDGretel Enck, Luminiţa Cojocariu
Grassland management in the United States is as large and unwieldy a subject as are the grasslands themselves, varied in their location, size, condition, historic use, and indeed mythology. Grassland naturally occurs in many areas of the United States and in most states, from the coastal grasslands of California, the Everglades of Florida, and the montane grasslands of the Colorado Plateau centered around the state of Utah. But generally when we Americans talk of grasslands we think of the Great Plains, the vast midsection of the country once rhapsodized as the home of the buffalo and antelope, homesteaded by prairie farmers over a hundred years ago. (Pieper 2005, 245).Pioneers, as the early settlers were called, found an unpredictable land of unforeseen challenges. Tall-grass prairie was so tall in places that they “hid the stock, making it sometimes difficult to find the cows and horses. Some of the grass grew to a height of ten feet” (Murie 1940). Weather was unpredictable and often violent. And clouds of grasshoppers occasionally descended and destroyed crops (Rölvaag 1927). The pioneers persevered with the growing of crops and the raising of livestock. The bison of the plains were replaced by cattle. The objective of this paper is to give an introduction to the vast grassland resources of the United States and discuss the issues that face grassland managers today. Grasslands are inherently unstable ecosystems maintained by disturbance—primarily fire, grazing, and climate factors, particularly drought. Bison, elk, pronghorn antelope, deer, numerous species of small rodents and invertebrates inhabited the prairie long before the European-American settlers arrived with cattle (NPS 2000, 72). Grassland management recognizes the disturbance of grazing as an integral part of sustaining desirable prairie characteristics. While moderate disturbance is beneficial to biodiversity, however, high disturbance typically lowers diversity (Archer and Smeins 2003). Not only is the intensity of grazing a factor, but also the differences in grazing habits of traditional grazers and introduced domestic grazers. Research is currently underway regarding the different effects of grazing on tall-grass prairie composition and biodiversity. While both bison and cattle display generalist food habits, a bison’s diet consists of up to 90% grasses, while cattle diets consist of about 70% grasses. (NPS 2000, 74) Traditionally, as well, bison movement was unrestricted and variable whereas modern cattle grazing is heavily regulated, which can be used to a manager’s advantage if the manager has a good range management strategy—unfortunately not always the case.Thus, while grazing has been used to create necessary disturbance in the prairie ecosystem, humans have substantially changed its frequency, intensity, extent, and magnitude with the introduction of livestock. The result has been rapid and widespread changes in species composition and productivity of plant communities. (Archer and Smeins 2003). The dominant grasses of the tall-grass prairie are big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans and switch grass (Panicum virgatum). In the mixed-grass prairie, needle-and-thread grass (Stipa comata) and western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii) are common grasses, but many other species are abundant on specific sites. Plant diversity of the mixed-grass prairie is highest of all grassland types in the United States. Two major grass dominate short-grass: blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides). It should also be noted that the term “grassland” is a bit misleading since these zones are also rich in forb species (Pieper 2005, 232). The great grasslands of America are largely in private ownership today, but federal agencies, state agencies, and citizen organizations work closely to provide assistance and incentives to manage grasslands for diverse values, including conservation and restoration of pre-European settlement grassland ecosystems. A large part of this analysis will center on the state of Kansas, in the heart of the Great Plains and representative of the issues considered in our review.
grassland, grassland management; planning; private/public partnerships