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How do bison help fight against climate change?

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American prairies were once home to as many as 60 million bison. But when ranching and agriculture displaced elk and bison from the prairies, America’s grasslands all but disappeared. Now, the Nature Conservancy manages the largest remaining protected tract of tallgrass prairie in the entire world, the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma.

This 40,000-acre expanse is much more than grass. It is a biologically rich habitat that harbors a diverse collection of plant and animal species—more than 750 species of flora and 80 different mammals. This prairie is also a vital component in nature’s fight against climate change. The key to keeping the prairie healthy? Bison.

bison roaming the prairies
This episode of Overview from PBS Terra, hosted by Dr. Joe Hanson from It’s Okay to be Smart, visits the preserve where 2,000 bison, the descendants of 300 reintroduced to the land in 1993, are helping to save America’s lost prairie.

herding bison
grasslands prairie fire
Managed fires that mimic nature’s regenerative cycles help replenish the land, too, allowing for new growth and keeping woodlands from developing. Per the Texas Tribune, prairie grasslands are more reliable carbon sinks than forests, storing carbon in the soil, even when they burn.

grazing bison
If cattle were managed in the same way bison are allowed to be bison, would North America’s vital prairies be healthier?

Related learning: 6 Furry Facts and History about the Iconic American Bison.

Watch these related bison, sustainability, and natural climate solutions videos next on TKSST:
• How do Yellowstone Bison survive harsh winters?
• How can nature be used as a tool to restore ecosystems?
• What if there were 1 trillion more trees?
Why are mangrove trees so important?

And not to be missed: Chief Oshkosh and a history of Menominee Forest conservation.

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