In the early days of the United States, unbroken grasslands spread from central Canada into Mexico and flowed from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River.
That was 175 years ago. Farms and cities with industry, housing and other land uses have carved up the grasslands and threaten freshwater ecosystems. The environment suffers.
It’s not something that people should shrug off. To try to develop regional solutions, about 100 experts from nine states and Argentina will meet Thursday and Friday at the Westin Crown Center for the “Multi-State Leadership Meeting” sponsored by The Nature Conservancy.
Trustees and leadership from the conservancy at the conference will include scientists, educators, researchers and business people. They’ll bring a needed focus on conserving freshwater, grasslands and energy. This region needs the border-free collaboration they’ll provide.
Representatives will include people from Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Officials from Argentina will be at the conference because that South American country faces similar environmental challenges. Renewable energy development also is expected to be discussed.
The loss of grasslands should trouble everyone. Deep-rooted plants — unlike a lot of crops and runoff from asphalt and concrete in cities — hold soil in place and filter water, wetlands and streams.
Without it, flooding and droughts increase, and wildlife habitat is lost. Closer to home, water quality for drinking purposes suffers.
Without the grasslands, agricultural, rural, industrial and other wastewater runoff harms the environment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes it as dead zones in which “most marine life either dies, or, if they are mobile such as fish, leave the area. Habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts.”
Nutrient pollution from human activity is the primary cause of dead zones along the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. The world’s second largest dead zone is in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Any solution from the conference that might help reduce dead zones would be welcomed.