The grade school textbooks in my rural, northern Minnesota classroom raised an issue that led to lunchroom table talk over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Rainforests were being cut down. Animals were disappearing. The Disney movie "FernGully" backed up the texts.

There I was, 5,000 miles from the Amazon rainforest, a concerned elementary school kid. Something needed to be done.

Little did I know that at the same time, an ecosystem of equal importance was disappearing at an unprecedented pace right in my own backyard. And not a word was written about it in textbooks; nor was it dramatized in animated movies.

Today, I find myself a resident on the prairie of eastern South Dakota. Grassland habitats have disappeared from the landscape, and this is cause for great concern. As the area's regional representative to the nation's largest upland bird conservation organization, I have witnessed this firsthand.

North America's grasslands are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Within the past decade, more than 50 million acres of various grasslands have been lost to residential and commercial development and cropland production. As the grasslands disappear, so do upland birds and other wildlife.

Since 1970, pheasant populations have decreased by 70%, bobwhite quail populations have declined by 85%, and total grassland bird populations have declined by more than 50%.

This problem of course is bigger than birds, or lack thereof. Grasslands deliver important ecosystem services — the reduction of soil erosion, improved water quality, flood mitigation, and habitat for pollinators such as the monarch butterfly. These have significant economic value.

Grasslands also reduce the impact of climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil. If these ecosystems were to disappear altogether, it would be catastrophic for the climate and the environment.

Something needs to be done to protect and conserve threatened grassland ecosystems before it is too late.

An opportunity to do something is at hand. Some momentum is building. Led by a coalition of conservation organizations including Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Izaak Walton League, National Deer Association, American Bird Conservancy and many others, a proposal to Congress is in the works to establish the North American Grasslands Conservation Act.

If you are a member of these organizations, now's the time to pay attention. If you're not a member of one of these organizations, now's the time to sign up.

The proposed North American Grasslands Conservation Act would create a voluntary, incentive-based, landowner-driven grant funding program to conserve and restore threatened grassland ecosystems. In other words, this legislation provides the funding necessary to restore and conserve grasslands and creates a program that works with producers, ranchers and landowners for conservation, economic opportunities and outdoor recreation.

There is reason to be optimistic that this proposed legislation will make a difference, as this act is similar to the innovative North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), a voluntary incentive-based program addressing wetland ecosystems across the continent. NAWCA has helped fund more than 3,100 wetland-improvement projects spanning more than 30 million acres across the United States since its enactment in the late 1980s.

The proposed North American Grasslands Conservation Act is an urgent call to action and a key step in restoring and conserving North America's grasslands while supporting farmers, ranchers and rural communities. We need policymakers and our elected representatives to support and back this proposed legislation. Now is the time to act.

Your help is needed to advocate and support this proposed legislation. Together, we can act for grasslands. Visit to learn more about this proposal and check in on legislative updates.

Who knows? Maybe our collective efforts will end up in a textbook someday.

Jacob Hanson, of Sioux Falls, is South Dakota regional representative of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.