[imgcontainer right] [img:23prairie0923.jpeg] [source]Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune[/source] An area of Herb Hamann’s nearly 5,000 acres of prairie land, most of which has now been put in permanent easement as native prairie. [/imgcontainer]

Only one percent of the 10,000 year old native prairie that once stretched from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico remains untouched, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The paper says that ecosystem is one of the most threatened on Earth, more so than the rain forests. 

The paper has done some very thorough reporting on the prairie, explaining how a combination of policy, technology and markets is speeding the transformation of grassland into cropland. The paper reports:

Since 2008, the rate of land conversion nationally has exploded.

In just four years, some 37,000 square miles of grasslands, wetlands and shrublands have been converted to row crops, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Defenders of Wildlife, which analyzed federal satellite images to document the change.

Minnesota and the Dakotas alone lost an area the size of Connecticut.

Of the Minnesota land that was once tallgrass prairie, only one-fourth is in grasses of any kind today, according to satellite data. And only about 300 square miles, scattered in remnants across the state, remains in its virgin state.

The change, said Scott Faber of the EWG, “is unlike anything we’ve seen in a generation.”

The same transformation is speeding across much of the globe. Temperate grasslands have become one of the most threatened biomes on Earth, disappearing eight times faster than they are being protected, according to a pioneering study published in Ecology Letters, a respected environmental science journal.

Check out this story for videos, maps, photos and stories.

The Disappearing Gulf Coast — All the states along the Gulf Coast are seeing their coastlines disappearing. Land is simply being eroded away.

The editorial page of the New Orleans paper commends a joint effort by Gulf states to control coastal land loss. The projects involved in coastal restoration involve everything from building man-made oyster reefs to changes in the flow of the Mississippi River that cause erosion. The editorial gives some idea of how massive the effort must be. 

Nebraska Poll — Former Sen. Bob Kerrey is losing to his Republican opponent by 16 percentage points (56 to 40 percent) among likely voters in Nebraska, according to a poll conducted by the Omaha World-Herald. 

Ranchland Victory — The Denver Post tells us that a cooperative program between ranchers and the U.S.D.A. is providing both grazing land for cattle and habitat for endangered species. 

The Ag Department’s Working Lands for Wildlife program is protecting landowners from restrictions on their property so long as they follow practices that allow endangered species (such as the greater sage grouse) to thrive. The agreements can last as long as 30 years. 

High Stakes Education Tests…And Cheating — The Atlanta paper outlines widespread cheating on school tests. Principals went to extremes to organize cheating on tests. For example, the paper reports

The cheating scheme was so elaborate, officials alleged, that an administrator devised a code to warn the school staff if outsiders showed up during testing. As a team of officials looking into testing violations approached the school last March, they heard the administrator broadcast the alert on the public address system: “Will Abraham Lincoln please come to the office?”

The principal denied wrongdoing, but he and two instructional coaches quit, bringing the investigation to a close.

Nothing particularly rural about any of this. The examples given in the story were urban. But rural schools must live with a system that is less than honest.

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