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North Dakota outlines plan to restore native grasslands

November 22, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Game and Fish Department on Monday unveiled a plan to bring landowners, conservation groups, scientists, and others together to restore native grasslands.

The agency said North Dakota has lost more than 70% of its native prairie, which is essential for wildlife, pollinators, ranching operations and communities. About 60% of the nearly 5 million wetland acres in the state have been converted or lost.

“When we talk about native prairie in the state, we need to acknowledge who the owners and managers of our native prairie are,” said Greg Link, the department’s conservation and communications division chief. “In most cases, we’re talking about ranchers and producers who run livestock on that prairie. We need those folks because they’re important in keeping that prairie healthy.”

The so-called Meadowlark Initiative is named after the official state bird known for its unique song. The western meadowlark populations in North Dakota are continuing to decline, wildlife officials said.

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The program allows producers to plant marginal cropland back to diverse native perennial grasslands for grazing. Funding is available to establish the grass and to install grazing infrastructure, such as fencing and water. Producers also are eligible to receive rental payments for the first three years as the land transitions from cropland to grazing land.

“This is about keeping working lands working, getting it done on the private playing field, and we know in that arena, we have to come together, we’ve got to collaborate,” Link said.