Grasslands as Teacher

Webinar series aims to grow public awareness of these uniquely valuable and critically endangered ecosystems

Desiree Mannila

Group of people in grasslands, blue sky behind

Photo: Mike Dedels / Grasslands Conservation Council

The Grasslands Conservation Council (GCC) of British Columbia and the Thompson-Nicola Conservation Collaborative have created a free webinar series – “Grasslands as Teacher” – to increase public education and awareness of grassland ecosystems.

The first session in the series (which is running Wednesdays from February 22 to March 15, 12-1pm PST) included professor Wendy Gardner from Thompson Rivers University, who led participants in a crash course on one of Canada’s most valuable and critically endangered ecosystems. Grasslands are unique ecosystems made up of native grass species; the varying types and elevations of grasslands found in BC provide diverse conditions capable of supporting a wide variety of plants, animals, and other organisms.

Lush green grasslands

Photo: Mike Dedels / Grasslands Conservation Council

Gardner shares that while grasslands cover only 1% of British Columbia’s land base, they house 30% of at-risk plant species. Globally, grasslands store 33% of terrestrial carbon and have equivalent levels of biodiversity to tropical rainforests. “I think it’s important to understand the value that they have to us,” says Gardner, “and the value that we have to them” She explains that grasslands provide both provisioning and supporting ecosystem services to society, including biodiversity, medicinal and fibre harvesting, soil and habitat preservation, and cultural purposes.

Education is key

Gardner expresses that education and awareness are vital in keeping grasslands healthy and functioning. “I think we all should be out there making sure that we’re sharing this information with people so that they understand the value of these kind of underrepresented ecosystems,” she says, “and that we get people out in the grasslands so that they can see the beauty and appreciate the role that they play.”

Mike Dedels, executive director of the GCC, shares that he was “lucky to be able to work with ranchers, First Nations, and diverse user groups,” through his career with the Forest Service. “It showed me how precious our rare and special BC grasslands are,” he says, explaining that grasslands face several threats, especially from development and invasive plants. “Uncontrolled development rarely is compatible with maintaining grassland ecosystems, and once they are developed they are lost.”

Circle of people learning together in the grasslands

Photo: Mike Dedels / Grasslands Conservation Council

Dedels explains that grasslands tend to be misunderstood as having little value, and those on valley bottoms are often destroyed for civil developments. “They provide valuable ecosystem services, including habitat for many species at the edge of their ranges. They are also not always recognized for their importance during climate change, as healthy grasslands sequester significant carbon, and grasslands may very well expand with changing climate – so we need them to be healthy.” Currently only six per cent of grasslands in Canada are under federal protection.

Dedels shares how readers can help with conservation efforts – “get to know the diverse grasslands of BC, respect them when out recreating, and spread the word about how important and sensitive they are.”

Those interested in the “Grasslands as Teacher” webinar series can view details and register at no cost for any or all of the upcoming sessions (March 1, 8, and 15) on the GCC’s website. The first session is also available now to watch online.

Pa̱x̱a̱la, Desiree Mannila is a proud member of the Da’naxda’xw Nation, and staff reporter for the Watershed Sentinel.

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