The biggest threat to this region is plow-up (conversion) of native grassland for row crop agriculture for crops such as corn, soy, and wheat. Across, the entire Great Plains, 1.7 million acres were lost to conversion from in 2017, as compared to over 2.5 million acres in 2016. During the same span of time in the Northern Great Plains alone, over 540,000 acres of grasslands were plowed under. On average, the Northern Great Plains has lost 1.5 million acres of grassland to conversion annually since 2009.
It is estimated that conserving threatened grasslands could save 1.7 trillion gallons of water that otherwise would be lost to surface runoff. This is the equivalent of around 4% of the total flow volume of the Missouri River Basin. When grasslands are plowed for agriculture and native plants are removed, water that would normally be pulled deep into the soil by the roots of prairie plants instead runs off into streams and rivers along with excessive amounts of soil (sedimentation). This loss of water affects wildlife, sustainable agriculture, and downstream communities that rely on these systems for drinking water and healthy fisheries.
Originally the region was a sea of rich grasses, watersheds and wildflowers. Today, demand for agricultural commodities and new, drought resistant bioengineered crops, encourage the degradation of native grasslands and drain waterways and watersheds. This plow-up of native grasslands will continue to reshape the landscape and push out wildlife if conservation is not considered.
The plow-up of native grasslands will continue to reshape the landscape and push out wildlife if conservation is not considered.
Energy development pressure in the Northern Great Plains comes from both traditional (oil, gas, and coal) and renewable sources. Some of the nation's largest coal reserves exist in the region, and wind energy development is growing across every state in the NGP.
Advances in oil and gas extraction allow industry to tap into parts of the region where resources were once too difficult and expensive to access. The oil and gas industry is taking advantage of these new technologies and breaking ground from the Dakotas to areas as far west as the Rockies. In North Dakota, the Bakken Shale Formation has produced over a million barrels per day in recent years. The incredible amount of oil underlying the Bakken has led North Dakota to become the second highest oil producing state in the country after Texas. As technology continues to improve, oil and gas development will continue to boom in the region, fragmenting the grasslands and threatening its wildlife.
Potential Oil & Gas Development areas
Wind energy's increasingly competitive prices and federal and state policies meant to drive its development have led to a wind boom across the NGP. In 2013, South Dakota generated 26% of its energy from wind while North Dakota and Wyoming generated 15.6% and 8.4% respectively.
Potential Oil & Gas Development areas
Potential Wind Development areas
From seasonal migrations across state or country boundaries to moving between nesting and feeding grounds, wildlife need the freedom to roam for survival. Changes in land-use, roads, permanent fences, and invasive plant species can restrict wildlife’s ability to adapt, move, find mates and food, and thrive. A significant change in land-use is from energy development pressure in the Northern Great Plains, which comes from both traditional (oil and gas) and renewable sources.
From seasonal migrations across state or country boundaries to moving between nesting and feeding grounds, wildlife need the freedom to roam for survival. Development, roads and fences, habitat clearing and invasive plant species restrict the ability of wildife to adapt, travel, find food, and mates.