Environmental Science: How to Conserve Grasslands

Environmental science looks at how to conserve grasslands. Grasslands are an important ecosystem that people use (and sometimes abuse) for the resources they provide. Generally speaking, grasslands, or rangelands, as they’re sometimes called, are open areas without trees.

Farmers and ranchers use grasslands to graze animals such as cattle and sheep. Allowing herd animals to inhabit these open grasslands inevitably leads to some environmental damage.

Overgrazing is when herd animals consume the vegetation cover of a grassland to the degree that it can’t be naturally replenished. After animals remove the vegetation by overgrazing, grasslands are susceptible to erosion by wind and water, which may convert the land into desert — thus making it generally unable to sustain vegetation. This process of changing previously fertile or useful land into a desert is called desertification.

One approach that minimizes ecosystem damage and desertification due to overgrazing is called rotational grazing. Rotational grazing requires that farmers and ranchers allow their herd animals to graze an area for only a short time and then move (or rotate) them into a different area.

This rotation from one grazing spot to another mimics the natural process of herd animals grazing a landscape and allows the patches of grassland to recover before the animals return to graze them.

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