The Great Plains of North America once represented one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Popularly titled the Serengeti of North America, these prairies were home to diverse assemblages of flora and fauna, including hundreds of birds and mammals. Thriving populations of bison and prairie dogs—keystone species in this habitat—along with regular fires maintained soil and habitat conditions that supported the rest of the wildlife community, including sage grouse, black-tailed ferrets, badgers, elk, pronghorn, bears, and wolves. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Europeans expanded west and began farming this fertile land, which led to losses of native plant species that dramatically altered available browse and soil function.
This changing landscape ultimately led to the dust bowl, since the introduced plant species were not able to hold moisture in the soil as effectively as native species and the top soil began to blow away. The percent of tallgrass, shortgrass, and mixed grass prairie that remains today is severely diminished (the best estimates suggest between 95 and 99 percent of tallgrass prairie is gone), and the Great Plains exist in a highly fragmented and altered state.
The Phoenix Conservancy is dedicated to working with local landowners and management agencies to increase the portion of the plains covered in native plant species, to remove barriers to wildlife migration, and to restore these magnificent wild areas to their former glory.