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MT Grasslands 'Vanishing Act' Noted in 'State of the Birds' Report

May 4, 2011

HELENA, Mont. - Ferruginous hawks, greater sage grouse and long-billed curlews aren't as common as they once were in eastern Montana, according to a new federal report which lists vanishing grasslands throughout the Dakotas as a reason for the change.

A lawsuit recently filed by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) claims that federal laws to protect grasslands are not being enforced, and that farmers are being encouraged to plow grasslands under in order to plant corn for ethanol production. Julie Sibbing, NWF's director of agriculture programs, makes her organization's stance clear:

"Let's produce corn on the best acreage out there, which is what's already in production. Let's leave the rest for nature."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's "2011 State of the Birds" report notes that very little grassland is public land, so protecting it is a challenge. Sibbing says Montana's prairie is home to a vast array of wildlife besides birds - from bison and elk to prairie dogs - and the area also provides important grazing lands for livestock.

"These are working lands. They should remain working lands. That's not a problem. We can still support cattle grazing. We can still support the biodiversity that rely on grasslands."

Native grasslands once spread from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains through the Midwest, Sibbing says.

The "2011 State of the Birds" report is at stateofthebirds.org. Details of the NWF lawsuit are online at tinyurl.com/3tz4v9c.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT