Advice from an Unlikely Uplands

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Sometimes revelations come when — and where — you least expect it

By Marissa Jensen

I never expected to ponder the grasslands on a recent trip to a tropical paradise. Nevertheless, I found myself staring at a remnant “thermal” prairie on a walk within Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Pausing, I learned this remnant was aptly named Ha’akulamanu — a gathering place for birds. Unfortunately, the island faces similar threats as the grasslands back home. The ecosystem is assaulted by non-native plants; invading and overcrowding the native flora which in turn dissuades the local fauna. A sidewalk built with a desire to enlighten visitors’ winds around this remnant, preventing further growth. I can’t help but wonder what it looked like in it’s prime. Here, the iconic grassland birds, such as the Hawaiian short-eared owl (Pueo), share a similar story to our uplands across the country. A story of habitat loss and fragmentation, competition between invasive species and native. What will this remnant look like in years to come?

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There are parallels here on this island, just like there are in every landscape when we simply open our eyes. The uplands have taught me to search out such parallels, and to look through the lens of conservation regardless of the landscape or wildlife which call it home.

Walking into the parks gift shop, I find trinkets; bookmarks and magnets offering advice from both land and sky. Advice from a caldera prompts us to get fired up and rise to the occasion. Likewise, a night sky instructs us to keep looking up and expand our horizons. Yes, these cute gimmicks written by marketing gurus are designed with the purpose of attracting a shopper. Regardless, I wondered what that remnant grassland would offer for advice to us now? Would it caution us to hold on to what we have before it’s gone? Would all grasslands urge us to stand our ground and secure our roots? If the uplands could talk, I suspect they would say all this and more.

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Whether you’re standing on an island in the Pacific Ocean, or you’re walking a bluestem prairie in Nebraska, the future of conservation is in our hands. We’ve lost more than 70 percent of our country’s grasslands, leaving behind a vestigial structure of what was and what could have been. But there is hope, with a growing awareness of the demise of our grasslands and likewise, a demand for action.

The uplands are calling, louder than ever before. This urgent call reminds us that we must get involved. The uplands will speak to us when we’re finally willing to listen. Their advice will likely follow; to slow down and remember the beauty the uplands hold, speak loudly and be the voice for those who are without, and grow, not only the land we share but intentions. And remember, wherever you are, whenever you are, together we make a difference.

We must take the time to learn about our land, immerse ourselves in it, on a local level and from afar. After all, one doesn’t have to be in the uplands to answer its call.


Marissa Jensen is Pheasant Forever and Quail Forever's Education and Outreach Program Manager.