In Memoriam: John H. Davidson

john davidson

It is with great sadness that we share that John Davidson passed away last week. We will remember John as an unshakeable conservationist and humble teacher with a deep understanding of the political and social architecture we need in the US to sustain healthy land and water. As a leader at NPLT and in close partnership with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, he worked to achieve real, on-the-ground results to restore and conserve grasslands and woodlands in Nebraska and South Dakota.

We re-posted one of his articles below. You can read another article by John Davidson on how  prairie conservation is vital in our fight against climate change here:


At Northern Prairies we visit each of our conservation projects at least annually.  For the most part, this is a delightful exercise.  We renew friendships with private landowners who are dedicated to protecting the conservation values of their land.  During these visits we are enriched by hours spent walking on healthy and productive grasslands.

John Davidson (left) and Bob Warrick (right) walk through a prairie easement in Pierce County, Nebraska.

Recently I, John Davidson, walked on a section (640 acres) of native grassland which is protected by a conservation easement held by Northern Prairies.  The land supports healthy cattle grazing and native wildlife of all kinds, including Prairie Chicken.  The owners of this land view protection of the native grasslands as an inter-generational family legacy.  Not too many years ago I could stand on a high point and observe that the surrounding land included ample amounts of native grasslands, stocked with healthy livestock. This year, when I stood on that same place, I saw that our protected native habitat was surrounded on all sides by corn.  Our conservation grassland had become a remote island in a sea of corn.

This is not an isolated incident, but is repeated time and again.  Fields are plowed to the edge of rivers and streams. Formerly rich wetlands are drained with subsurface plumbing as complex as that found in cities. Lands that were formerly considered to be marginal for anything other than grazing are now intensely cultivated, right up to the edge of roads, and often without regard to the resulting erosion and exposure to drought. Because grasslands are closely associated with wetlands, the prairie potholes which formerly defined the Great Plains are disappearing.

Statistics back up these observations. Between 2006 and 2011 about 1,400,000 acres of grass were plowed for corn and soybean production. Currently, the rate of grassland conversion in the northern plains is more than 5% annually.  These are conversion rates not seen since the 1920s, and are comparable to the deforestation rates in Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia.

On a parallel course, we are losing wetlands at a rate that easily exceeds 15,000 acres a year, resulting in degraded water quality, reduced wildlife habitat, and the inevitable increase in the severity and frequency of flood events downstream.

At a time when nations are struggling to reduce carbon emissions, the plowing of native grasses releases vast amounts of carbon which would otherwise be safely sequestered in the ground.

Proponents of this wastage cite the short-term financial rewards.  They also claim that they are “feeding the world,” which is an asinine red herring, unless the poor of the world are to be fed hamburgers and barbecue. The long-term costs to society will be borne by future generations, and the poor of the world will remain unfed.

This is an environmental catastrophe that will not be brought under control until citizens speak out in large enough number to be heard.

John Davidson


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