The Great Plains lie nearly in the center of the North America continent and extend from Texas in the south up into Canada in the north. Covering all or parts of ten of the United States, these grasslands are one of only four temperate grassland ecosystems in the world. The others include the veldts of Africa, the pampas of South America, and the steppes of Eurasia. Being extremely productive ecosystems harboring some of the richest soil on the planet, temperate grasslands are the places preferred for conversion to human agricultural use. Be it farming or ranching, temperate grasslands worldwide are being put to human use on an alarming scale.
The Great Plains of North America were once home to an estimated 20 to 30 million bison. Slaughtered by the 10s of millions, these ecosystem engineers were nearly driven to extinction. The grazing action, migratory routes, and other behavioral characteristics of bison were critical to the maintenance of mixed-grass prairies of the Great Plains.
On an even larger scale, temperate grasslands like the Great Plains are tremendously important reservoirs for carbon pulled out of the air by plants and buried in the soil. When these grasslands are plowed under for cropland, or over-grazed by cattle or sheep, their ability to store atmospheric carbon is greatly diminished, thus reducing their ability to mitigate climate change. Don’t get me wrong, raising food for humans is a critical activity, but one that we perhaps need to balance against the need to maintain healthy natural ecosystem harboring high levels of biodiversity.
The abandoned ranch house on the prairie outside Winifred, Montana, just south of the Missouri river, perhaps represents in a philosophical way a slow change in the balance between agriculture and natural ecosystems. I have no idea what brought about the circumstances that led to the abandonment of this homestead, and perhaps the entire parcel of land associated with it, but in some respects it could be emblematic of a slow reconversion of human dominated land on the Great Plains back to natural grasslands.
This photo was taken with a Canon EF17-40 mm f/4L lens zoomed to 37 mm on a Canon EOS 5D Mk. III. The exposure was set to 1/60 sec. at f/9.5 and ISO 100.