WASHINGTON, JUNE 19, 2006 AT 11:00 AM EDT - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced National Grasslands Week, June 18-24, to spotlight the beauty and historical importance of the 20 national grasslands in 12 western states managed by the USDA Forest Service.
"The western prairies that make up today's national grasslands are a treasure for all Americans," said Johanns. "Our national grasslands span stunning natural landscapes, providing abundant wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities, as well as maintaining many farms and ranches."
The National Forest System grasslands comprise 82 percent of the country's federally-managed grassland acreage and preserves a wide variety of resources and habitats, including:
- the Comanche National Grassland in Colorado with approximately 275 different species of birds and the longest dinosaur track-way in the world;
- the Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming with the largest coal producing mine in the world; and
- the Black Kettle National Grassland in Oklahoma with five lakes offering 670 acres of warm water fishing.
While the federal government only designated national grasslands in 1960, their origin dates back to the Civil War when Congress enacted the Homestead Act of 1862 to spur settlement of the sparsely-populated west on 160-acre parcels. By 1904, nearly 100 million acres had been homesteaded and even more settlers from urban areas were flocking to rural lands during the Great Depression. However, much of the land was unsuitable for intensive farming, which, along with repeated drought and relentless wind, eventually changed the soil into dust.
In the 1930s, the federal government purchased more than 11 million acres of the unsuitable farmland and began planting trees, constructing water developments and seeding areas with grass under the Land Utilization Program. Most of the lands were eventually transferred to federal agencies to manage. In 1960, the Secretary of Agriculture designated 3.8 million acres of national grasslands to be administered by the Forest Service.
A list of the 20 grasslands is below. Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois, which became the first national tallgrass prairie in the nation in 1996, will also participate in National Grasslands Week. For more information, visit http://www.fs.fed.us/grasslands.
1. Butte Valley National Grassland, (California)
2. Comanche National Grassland (Colorado)
3. Pawnee National Grassland (Colorado)
4. Curlew National Grassland (Idaho)
5. Cimarron National Grassland (Kansas)
6. Buffalo Gap National Grassland (Nebraska)
7. Ft. Pierre National Grassland (Nebraska)
8. Oglala National Grassland (Nebraska)
9. The Kiowa National Grassland (New Mexico)
10. Cedar River National Grassland (North Dakota)
11. Little Missouri National Grassland (North Dakota)
12. Sheyenne National Grassland (North Dakota)
13. Black Kettle National Grassland (Oklahoma)
14. Crooked River National Grassland (Oregon)
15. Grand River National Grassland (South Dakota)
16. & 17. Caddo and LBJ National Grasslands (Texas)
18. McClelland Creek National Grassland (Texas)
19. Rita Blanca National Grassland (Texas & Oklahoma)
20. Thunder Basin National Grassland (Wyoming)