Bees and bison on the American prairie

Our national mammal is getting a better home on the range, and nature’s best pollinators will benefit too.

nathan4847 | iStock.com
A bison standing in a tall field of grass.

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Susan Holmes

Former Director, Save America’s Wildlife Campaign, Environment America

In a healthy ecosystem, wildlife of all different sizes work together in harmony — even a two thousand-pound bison and a quarter-inch-long bee. 

Here’s how bringing back native grasslands will help bison and bees while transforming the Great Plains: 

Restoring prairie habitat will be a boon for bison, bees and many other species

Prairie habitat is a sliver of what it used to be. In the 1800s, prairie covered a full third of our country, a sea of grass from the Dakotas to Texas. But over the intervening years, that prairie has been steadily carved into farmland, towns and development. Today, one type of prairie — tallgrass — covers just 4% of its original area. 

America’s grasslands provide vital habitats for native pollinators, migrating birds and endangered species. Expanding prairie habitat for the American bison could also help replenish other species, including river otters, prairie dogs, grizzly bears and wolves. 

The Department of the Interior is dedicating $25 million to conserve bison and restore the native plants they depend on. By restoring prairie habitat, we can start to heal the nature we’ve lost.

Bringing back prairie will also help fight climate change. As the climate warms, grasslands hold and store carbon.

Bison can transform the landscape

The American bison has roamed the plains of our country for millenia. But by the end of the 19th century, only a few hundred bison were left after hunting and habitat loss drove them close to extinction. 

Luckily, the bison survived and this new initiative will help establish more bison-friendly habitat across the United States.

More prairie habitat will be good for bison, but bison will also help improve the prairie ecosystem. Bison herds increase the variety of native plant species because of their unique grazing habits. 

Bison hooves agitate and break up the grass and soil, helping new plants flourish and making grasslands and entire ecosystems healthier. They eat prairie grasses, making room for more wildflower species to grow. And bison also roll on the ground, creating wallows that gather rainwater and help certain plants thrive. 

With healthy bison herds, the prairie landscape becomes richer, with more kinds of wildflowers and more diverse grasses.

Rusty Patched Bumblebee
USFWS | TPIN
A rusty patched bumble bee on a wild bergamot blossom.

Bees need a little home on the prairie

Habitat loss is a major contributor to declining bee populations.

As the prairie disappeared, so did the wildflowers that flourished alongside prairie grasses, and so too did the rusty patched bumblebee. Its population has plummeted by nearly 90% since the 1990s, and in 2017, it became the first bumblebee in the continental U.S. to be added to the endangered species list. 

Prairie ecosystems are few and far between for pollinators. But this initiative to restore prairieland would help provide bees with the nectar and pollen they need to survive.

Grassland prairie is one of the best bee habitats around. Prairies offer tall grasses to shelter in, wildflowers in every color, and a buffet of pollen and nectar for these hard-working pollinators to fill up on. And bison will help the prairie become an even better bee habitat with more flowers to choose from.

Give us a home where the buffalo roam

Investing in native grasslands will help the massive bison, the tiny pollinators, and all the amazing wildlife in between. With your support, we can win more protections for wildlife and wild spaces, just like this new opportunity to restore prairieland across America.

Restoring wild landscapes can bring back some of the beauty of America’s wide open spaces and the animals that call those places home.

That’s why we campaign for more nature. We want more wildlife in the world. We want more beautiful landscapes preserved for future generations to enjoy.

We convinced Congress to pass the Great American Outdoors Act, guaranteeing permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to conserve millions of acres of public lands. And now we’re working to build bipartisan support for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would provide states with new resources to protect species and conserve critical habitat.

At a time when we’re running short on nature, we need to do everything we can to protect it.

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Authors

Steve Blackledge

Senior Director, Conservation America Campaign, Environment America

Steve directs Environment America’s efforts to protect our public lands and waters and the species that depend on them. He led our successful campaign to win full and permanent funding for our nation’s best conservation and recreation program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He previously oversaw U.S. PIRG’s public health campaigns. Steve lives in Sacramento, California, with his family, where he enjoys biking and exploring Northern California.

Susan Holmes

Former Director, Save America’s Wildlife Campaign, Environment America