By the 1990s, 70 percent of Patagonia was affected by desertification. As a consequence, these ecosystems are in a very fragile state. They are losing their functionality, and therefore, all the plants, animals and people that depend on them are threatened as well.
Bucking the Trend
However, there is still hope for the Patagonian grasslands. We are working closely with Argentine rancher network Ovis XXI on an exciting new partnership that aims to reverse more than 100 years of overgrazing on Patagonian grasslands.
As part of the project, The Nature Conservancy works closely with wool producers to provide scientific expertise and monitoring to ranchers. Together, we introduced the Patagonia Grassland Regeneration and Sustainability Standard – or GRASS, for short –that incorporates conservation science, planning and monitoring into the management plans of wool producers.
So, rather than grazing sheep in one place continually, they are moved in and out of different pastures depending on the conditions of the grasses, which encourages more diversity of native grass species and more ground coverage. When flock sizes, lands and streams are properly managed, then ranchers, sheep, native plants and animals can thrive together.
GRASS, Goals of the Standard
GRASS is intended to help achieve the following goals for people, wildlife and grasslands:
- Protect and restore of Patagonia’s grasslands and their unique and fragile environments.
- Maintain viable populations of key native wildlife, including puma, rhea and guanaco.
- Provide stable markets for grassland products, including wool and meat, to the greatest degree possible given changing market conditions.
Some of the specific outcomes of the sustainable grazing partnership include:
- Six million hectares of Patagonian southern temperate grasslands under science-based sustainable grazing practices.
- The top 5-6 wool companies engaged in the program.
- A monitoring system that allows the Conservancy to measure conservation outcomes and that can be applied to other grasslands ecosystems.