The U.S. Forest Service will celebrate National Grasslands Week from June 17-23, showcasing the beauty, history and economic value of these national treasures on the 75th anniversary of the legislation that established them.
America’s 20 national grasslands, spanning 12 states and 4 million acres, were created through the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937, authorizing the federal government to acquire damaged lands for rehabilitation.
Thirteen of these national grasslands reside in the Great Plains, where the ravages of the Dust Bowl left the soil bare of vegetation for years. Today, the benefits grasslands provide are valued in the billions of dollars.
“Our national grasslands remain beautiful examples of successful restoration programs,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “These lands are once again rich habitats brimming with native wildlife, grasses and wildflowers. They are also economic engines, generating jobs and bolstering rural American communities.”
The national grasslands offer a wealth of recreation and education opportunities for more than 1 million annual visitors.
The grasslands feature some of the world’s best bird-watching experiences as well as camping, hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, target shooting, off-highway vehicle riding, picnicking and learning activities.
Scenic drives offer unique geological features, wildlife and stellar locations for stargazing.
History buffs can visit old cemeteries and homesteads and take guided tours of Native American petroglyphs. They can also share in the experience of early settlers and their trek on the Santa Fe Trail.
“It took decades to restore the national grasslands from the barren landscapes of the Dust Bowl, to the rich prairie habitats we see today,” said Tidwell. “Every American should experience these unique grasslands that are so much a part of our rich natural heritage.”
The national grasslands provide tremendous benefits including pollination of native and agricultural plants estimated at $6 billion annually.
Livestock grazing and energy ventures including oil, gas, coal and wind also contribute to the economic benefits provided by these lands.
They help prevent drought and floods, maintain biodiversity, generate and preserve soils, contribute to climate stability and protect watersheds, streams and river channels.
These lands were managed by the USDA’s Soil and Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service, until 1960 when they were transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and designated as national grasslands.
National grassland facts
- The 18,756-acre Butte Valley National Grasslands in northern California, near the Oregon border, is a part of a study about the declining Swainson's Hawks in California.
- The Crooked River National Grassland on the Ochoco National Forest 15 miles southeast of Madras, Oregon, is characterized by sagebrush and juniper areas. It is often referred to as high desert, supporting a small herd of antelope, numerous mule deer, quail and chukkars.
- The Curlew National Grasslands near Malad, Idaho, are known for their upland game birds.
- The Pawnee Buttes in the Pawnee National Grasslands in Colorado, is an interesting landmark. Sedimentary rock formations, one-half mile apart, rise 350 feet above the plains to an elevation of 5,375 feet.
- The Cedar River National Grasslands, in North Dakota, offers a wide range of recreational opportunities – hunting, fishing, bird and wildlife viewing, sightseeing, camping, picnicking, photography, hiking, horseback riding, and boating
- Offering the same activities, just below in South Dakota, is the Grand River National Grasslands. During the autumn hunting season, deer, antelope, grouse, and waterfowl are favorite game.
- The Little Missouri National Grassland in North Dakota is the biggest, with 1,028,051 acres.
- The Sheyenne National Grassland is the only National Grassland in the tall grass prairie region and has the largest population of the Greater Prairie Chicken in North Dakota.
- Located in southwest South Dakota, the Buffalo Gap National Grassland was inhabited millions of years ago by a strange collection of both marine and terrestrial wildlife which are known today only by their fossilized remains.
- The Ft. Pierre National Grassland in South Dakota gets the most rainfall of all the grasslands: 18 inches per year on average.
- The largest coal producing mine in the world (Thunder Basin) is on the Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming.
- The Oglala National Grassland, encompassing 94,400 acres of land in the Nebraska panhandle, has a diverse landscape including badlands and toadstool formations.
- The Comanche National Grassland has approximately 275 different species of birds and the longest dinosaur track-way in the world.
- Part of the route of the Santa Fe Historic Trail runs through the Cimarron National Grassland, which contains 108,175 acres and is the only land administered by the Forest Service in the state of Kansas.
- The smallest National Grassland is McClelland Creek in Texas with 1,449 acres.
- The Black Kettle National Grassland is just across the border in Oklahoma, offering five lakes, 670 acres of warm water fishing.
- The Caddo National Grasslands in Texas, as well as the LBJ National Grasslands, provide forage for more than 1,584 head of cattle on 3,050 acres of improved pasture and 19,600 acres of native pasture.
- The Caddo and southwestern LBJ National Grasslands in Texas are within a four-hour drive of four million people.
- Wildlife on the Rita Blanca National Grassland, which includes 77,463 acres in Texas and 15,860 acres in Oklahoma, varies as much as does the climate over the wide expanse of country.
- The Kiowa National Grassland includes part of the Canadian River canyon west of Mills, New Mexico, a rugged 900-foot-deep canyon forms a wildlife habitat island in the prairie for mule deer, bear, Barbary sheep, Siberian Ibex, ducks, geese, and provides warm water fishing.
For more information visit http://www.fs.fed.us/grasslands/aboutus/index.shtml .