About Grasslands

Why are they important?

  • Preferred or required habitat for many native plant and animal species
  • Increased biodiversity in local and regional ecosystems
  • Iconic landscape that is part of Saskatchewan’s heritage
  • If well managed, a highly significant carbon sink (capture and storage)
  • Forage for livestock (in community pastures)
  • Opportunities to learn more about adaptation and resilience in a dry and uncertain climate
Prairie crocuses

Prairie crocuses

Over thousands of years, these plant communities developed, changed, and adapted to periodic drought, building rich soils in the process. Even though grasslands may “all look the same,” they aren’t. The prairie potholes host ephemeral, seasonal, and permanent wetlands; sand and gravel ridges support crocuses and rare fescue grasslands; coulees and ravines are home to federally protected species. Furthermore, this landscape mosaic — and the biodiversity it supports — is part of the history and identity of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the US. Conservation of biodiversity is a key part of the process of reconciliation.

Grasslands by numbers

  • 31-43% of the earth’s surface hosts grassland ecosystems, among the most productive and diverse terrestrial ecosystems [1]
  • 8% of the planet covered by temperate grasslands [2], with less than 5% protected globally [3]
  • Estimated that temperate grasslands contain 18% of global soil carbon reserves, more than any other ecosystem except for forest ecosystems [4]
  • Only 5.9% of Canada’s prairie ecozone is protected [5], and less than 15% of native grassland left in Saskatchewan [2]
  • Estimated decline from 21% of historical extent in 1994 [6], down to 13.7% from 2015 data [7]

1. “What is native prairie?”, Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan,  https://www.pcap-sk.org/home/what-is-native-prairie
2.
Roch, L., Jaegar, J., 2014, Monitoring an ecosystem at risk: What is the degree of grassland fragmentation in the Canadian Prairies?  https://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10661-013-3557-9
3. Jenkins, C., Joppa, L., 2009, Expansion of the global terrestrial protected area system, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2009.04.016
4. Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan 2003-2008, PCAP Partnership, 2003, https://www.pcap-sk.org/docs/PCAP_ActionPlan_2003-2008.pdf
5. “Canada’s conserved areas”, Government of Canada, 2018 https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/environmental-indicators/conserved-areas.html
6. Saskatchewan’s Native Prairie: Taking Stock of a Vanishing Ecosystem and Dwindling Resource, Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan & Canadian Plains Research Center, 2001,  https://www.npss.sk.ca/docs/2_pdf/NPSS_SKNativePrairie-TakingStock.pdf
7. “The state of native prairie in Saskatchewan”, Prairie Commons, 2018, http://www.prairiecommons.ca/?page_id=300

Gap road, Cypress Hills, SK

Gap road, Cypress Hills, SK

Concerns

  • Grasslands are the most endangered ecosystems on the planet
  • Grassland conversion and loss to agricultural/urban use continues
  • Fragmentation of landscapes creates “islands of grass” wildlife can’t move between
  • Over/undergrazing reduces habitat quality and helps spread invasive species
  • Enough healthy grassland must be conserved to support multiple species at risk
  • Managing for individual species does not capture dynamic and complex ecosystem interactions
White-tailed jackrabbit

White-tailed jackrabbit