More than 1 million visitors to grasslands managed by the U.S. Forest Service enjoy the aesthetic beauty that provide opportunities to view the largest assortment of threatened and endangered species, thousands of species of wildflowers, stunning grass-filled vistas and a peek into our nation’s historical past.
The Forest Service manages more than 80 percent of the country’s federally managed grassland acreage. And there are many stories those lands can tell.
The 17,873-acre Caddo and 20,313-acre Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands are located in North-central Texas, northeast and northwest of the Metroplex. The numerous lakes and recreation areas are a favorite spot for fishing, camping and trail riding. And it’s all just a few minutes away from one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.
Yet for many people who drive through or past grasslands, they may seem like desolate landscapes dotted with lone trees or the occasional windmill. In reality, the nearly 4 million acres of national grasslands in 12 states are hardworking lands that contribute to the health and well-being of Americans.
Certainly that is reason enough to celebrate in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937, which planted the seed for the establishment of our national grasslands. But perhaps there are some who need a bit more convincing.
Grasslands contribute to climate stability, control agricultural pests, detoxify and decompose waste, mitigate drought and flood, pollinate crops and natural vegetation and control agricultural pests. More than $250 million a year are derived from grazing and from oil, gas and coal deposits on national grasslands.
National grasslands are living laboratories, helping Forest Service scientists understand more about how to best manage our grassland ecosystems and, in many cases, how to restore and preserve plant and animal species. Their work is seen through such efforts as the nationally significant black-footed ferret recovery program and continuing work to mitigate damage caused by invasive plants and encroaching development.
Today, our national grasslands provide habitat for a host of wildlife, including grouse, golden eagles, elk and prairie dogs. The beauty of those lands is enhanced by thousands of species of wildflowers, which attract thousands of species of pollinators.
The worth of our grasslands is difficult to enumerate but may be as simple as looking at your plate at dinner. One-third of our food comes from plants pollinated by wild pollinators, including bees, bats, moths, beetles, birds and butterflies. And there is no man-made substitute for the work they perform. The value of pollination services from wild pollinators in the United States alone is estimated at $4 billion to $6 billion a year.
Our national grasslands help sustain, support and fulfill human life. These services can be tangible or intangible, but they are nevertheless critical.
Tom Tidwell has been chief of the U.S. Forest Service since 2009.