The conversion of grassland to cropland in the Dakotas could imperil wildlife such as nesting waterfowl and contribute to the degradation of water quality in the Mississippi River watershed. However, high crop prices in recent years have contributed to a high rate of grassland to cropland conversion on private lands. In addition to these economic factors, changes in climate could exacerbate the challenge of protecting grasslands, as conditions may become more amenable to row crop production.
The goal of this project was to work with grassland conservation managers to better target the use of funds allocated toward incentivizing grassland preservation in the Dakotas. Researchers identified the vulnerability of crop production to climate change, assessed the likelihood of grassland conversion to cropping, and calculated the costs of protecting grasslands under different future economic and climate scenarios.
Working with land conservation managers, researchers aimed to use these results to identify land parcels where grassland conservation investments would be most effective. For example, researchers aimed to develop a land conversion choice calculator that will compare long-run expected returns from different land uses under alternative climate and economic scenarios. By developing tools such as the land conversion choice calculator, this project is designed to help inform a critical component of grassland conservation – deciding which parcels to target for protection.