These are grasslands that have never been farmed. In a perfect world native grasslands would support the full suite of native species including vegetation, mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and soil biota. In reality, few have been managed well enough over time to have retained the full suite of biology, but many do retain a fairly intact and diverse native plant community. In South Dakota, these are often traditional pastures that occur in areas that are too rocky or steep to farm. It is important to note that just because a pasture is native, does not necessarily mean it’s always healthy. Across South Dakota, native grasslands may be heavily invaded with non-native grasses such as smooth bromegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, crested wheatgrass, or cheatgrass. If an area still has scattered surface and sub-surface rocks it is likely that it was not tilled in the past and is a native grassland.
These are grasslands that were converted to farmland at some point in the past but have reverted back to grassland. Go-back grasslands may have been abandoned and thus passively returned to native and non-native species or may have been actively replanted to serve as pasture or hayland.
High-diversity native grassland reconstructions
These are areas where the intent is to permanently re-establish plant diversity and ecological function, including cool and warm season native grasses and flowering broadleaf plants. They can harbor as few as 30 and as many as 200 or more native plant species. These plantings are generally established and managed by agencies as conservation areas and often have excluded livestock in the management plan. However, in recent years conservation organizations have been experimenting with livestock integration as a management tool in these re-established grasslands. These grasslands focus on native species but they are not truly native grasslands as they are most often established on previously cropped ground.
Low-diversity native grassland plantings
These are areas where the intent is to establish a relatively temporary low-diversity native plant community that offers some wildlife cover and structure and overall conservation value. Generally, old CRP fields that have 1-5 species of warm or cool season native grasses would fall into this category.
Diverse native grassland plantings
These are an emerging segment of the grassland re-establishment matrix and are plantings that are generally in-between the other categories. These fields are often intended to be at least semi-permanent and include a greater degree of diversity of native grasses and flowering plants. While not as diverse as a full native grassland reconstruction in regard to structure and function, these plantings offer more than just a few grasses and may have from 10 to 20 or more native species, including at least a few native flowering plants. These fields are often associated with some sort of state or federal program (such as CRP) and are generally established for soil conservation, wildlife habitat, and pollinators.
Non-native or mixed grassland plantings
These are simply those areas planted into permanent or semi-permanent non-native grassy cover. They may be old CRP, pastures, hayfields, conservation plantings, or erosion control projects. While they are often managed well, these areas do not focus on native grassland species management.
The Healthy Grasslands article series is provided by the South Dakota Grassland Coalition in partnership with SDSU Extension. Contributing editors: Sandy Smart (SDSU Extension Rangeland Management Specialist), Pete Bauman (SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist), and Joshua Lefers (South Dakota Grassland Coalition Board Member, 2015–2017). © South Dakota Grassland Coalition 2017. View the full document for more information.