Restoring Grasslands: The Revival of High-Value Grassland Regions
Williams Lake, B.C. – Grasslands possess a hidden world of ecological wonder. These expansive landscapes, though deceptively simple in appearance, are among the most invaluable treasures when it comes to biodiversity. Central Chilcotin Rehabilitation Ltd. (CCR) recognizes the importance of grasslands and has been working hard to restore and preserve these areas in their region. This article shares CCR's efforts to restore grassland areas, the ecological importance of grasslands and their role in supporting diverse wildlife species, plus how CCR's restoration work positively impacts these valuable ecosystems.
Photo credit: Daniel Persson
CCR has been working diligently to reduce wildfire risk to the forest and communities, especially after the devastation caused by the mountain pine beetle infestation, leaving many hectares of dead, dry trees killed by the beetle. CCR has done this by utilizing various rehabilitation and management strategies, including innovative seeding methods, such as drone seeding with Mast Reforestation through Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC) funding, planting trees with Natural Resource Canada’s 2 Billion Trees program, and conducting manual treatments such as thinning and pruning treatments. However, one area that few know about is CCR’s work in restoring grasslands.
Daniel Persson, Registered Professional Forester and Forestry Superintendent with CCR, said, “We saw an opportunity in our wildfire risk reduction program with FESBC to try to restore some of these grassland landscapes while still creating natural wildfire resiliency. Grassland habitat is such an important biodiversity anchor for forests as they support a wide variety of species, especially vulnerable and endangered species. Grasslands provide habitat for more than one-third of the province’s rare and endangered vertebrates such as pelicans, badgers, bats, hawks, and owls, etc.”
According to Persson, one of the motivating factors for CCR’s work to restore grasslands in the Cariboo region is that these areas have been invaded by invasive species or eroded due to various human activities. Additionally, encroaching trees exacerbated by the absence of natural fires, have contributed to the shrinking of grasslands.
“Seeing more of these grassland areas restored to their natural size is something we believe will help restore the overall biodiversity of our region while also providing places for recreation, education, eco-tourism, ranching, cultural plants and hunting. This motivates us to continue to put efforts toward this initiative,” said Persson.
Persson also noted that the species that rely on grasslands have been disappearing, and a large part of endangered and threatened species have grasslands as their fundamental habitat. Some wildlife species that depend on grasslands for survival are sharp-tail grouse and badgers.
To restore grasslands, the CCR team has some specific strategies which start with trying to establish the natural area of the grassland to evaluate what type of treatment is needed. Typically, encroaching trees are cut and removed by hand from the site with chainsaws and brush saws to avoid compacting or eroding soils and disturbing grassland species, and the work can be extremely labour-intensive. The treated grasslands are then assessed to determine if a cultural burn is appropriate. Cultural burning, a historic and sacred practice, brings forth a powerful connection between human beings and the land. Historically, grasslands in the Cariboo-Chilcotin experienced frequent low-intensity fires created by lightning or Indigenous peoples, all aimed at rejuvenating the site. These fires prevented the encroachment of trees, restored understory plants and maintained more open grasslands. Today, the reintroduction of a managed cultural fire can help do all this, restore and conserve the traditional plant community and its natural balance, and prevent the encroachment of trees.
“Grasslands are unique and provide habitat that is rare and crucial for a wide variety of plants and animals. CCR would like to see more activities to restore natural habitats in general. We hope to broaden our work further on this as there are so many different ways to help the landscape regenerate,” Persson concluded.