In central South Dakota, about 8000 hectares of prairie in Hand County have been wiped out in the last five years by soybean farmers who are planting what is referred to as "round-up ready crops".
Killers of the prairies
The Mercury, Hobart October 12, 2001
A STUDY shows US prairies are dying, the result of increased development, fuelled by the disappearance of small family farms. In some Midwestern states, some soybean farmers are killing prairie grasses by spraying them with chemicals -- an advance in biotechnology in which loads of soybeans are grown without having to plough a single hectare of land. "When you think of conservation, Americans usually think of the Amazon rainforest or protecting old-growth timber in the Pacific Northwest," said Rich Bachand, a grasslands ecologist who did the study for the National Wildlife Federation in Colorado. "But very few people realise our prairie is disappearing right in front of our eyes, not only in Colorado but across the country."
The upshot: wildlife that depends on the prairie grasses for its habitat is taking a hit -- not to mention the cities and towns across the country whose economies are often anchored by ecotourism. Where there are fewer birds, there are fewer birdwatchers. When there's no grass, there's less beauty and fewer hikers to be had, according to the Colorado chapter of the National Wildlife Federation, a non-profit group dedicated to protecting the environment. The numbers of animals are dwindling, most notably the prairie dogs, the mule deer, and, more prominently, the endangered black-footed ferret, according to the study. "How can we tell our children that we've let a magnificent species like the black-footed ferret slip away?" said Jody Flemming, an NWF spokesman. "We should work to avoid such a scenario, but we're going to need a united and concerted effort if we're to restore what is fast being considered as North America's most endangered ecosystem."
According to the study, The American Prairie: Going, Going, Gone?, 90 per cent of the nation's tallgrass prairies and as much as 70 per cent of the mixed and shortgrass prairies, have disappeared, especially in the West and Midwest. In central South Dakota, about 8000 hectares of prairie in Hand County have been wiped out in the last five years by soybean farmers who are planting what is referred to as "round-up ready crops". "They plant the soybean, then they spray the grasses with all sorts of chemicals, and they don't even have to plough the ground," said Chris Hesla, executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, an NFW affiliate. He said the more acres of soybeans the farmers grow, the more money they receive from the federal government. "You make more money growing soybeans than running cows or growing grass," he said. In Colorado, the prairie started disappearing in the early 1800s, when European settlers killed the grass by ploughing it. Fast foward and the most recent culprit is urban sprawl, which eats away at certain habitats, east of highway Interstate 25 and near the foothills. "The message here is that we need to find a balance if we're ever going to save our prairies and protect our wildlife," Bachand said.