Grasslands: A Hidden Wilderness

Canada’s prairies are among the world’s most endangered, least protected ecosystems, but there are people working to keep them wild
Available on CBC Gem

Grasslands: A Hidden Wilderness

Nature of Things

When most Canadians think of the prairies, they think of roads stretching for kilometre after kilometre with barely a curve, or symmetrical lines of corn, canola and wheat reaching for the horizon. But, hidden just beyond our country’s croplands, there lies an unknown wilderness where a rich web of life relies on the specific conditions available only in the heartland of the continent.

Today, however, the wild prairie is a shadow of its former self. And temperate grasslands, as a whole, are now considered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to be the most endangered — and least protected — habitat type in the world.

Prior to European settlement, North America’s Great Plains were home to enormous, thundering herds of bison. Wolves and grizzly bears thrived at the top of the diverse food chain in this vast, unobstructed landscape. It truly was, as the region is often called, the Serengeti of North America. 

Though much has been lost, there is still enough wildness that exists in these flatlands to inspire some optimism. And there are people across the Canadian prairies working to help keep them wild.

Volunteers meet in Alberta to replace barbed wire with wildlife-friendly fencing, which allows for safe passage of the ancient pronghorn that never evolved to jump over them. Miles Anderson, a fourth-generation cattle rancher in Saskatchewan, carefully manages his cattle’s grazing to improve habitat for all creatures living on his land, including the critically endangered greater sage-grouse. And thanks to conservationists who reintroduced swift foxes to the grasslands, the once-extinct species now ekes out a living amid the scrubby sagebrush.

Ferrets, foxes and the fringed orchid: Species that suffer when grasslands are threatened
Canada's beautiful prairie grasslands are among the most endangered ecosystems in the world
How to be good neighbours with grizzly bears

While some animals are holding on to their place on the prairies because of the hard work of people, it seems others just need a bit of time and space. Grizzly bears are back in the grasslands for the first time in over a century. And as seen in Grasslands, life on the prairie is pretty good for bears!

From producer Jeff Turner (The Wild Canadian Year, Nature’s Great Events, Frozen Planet), this film is an evocative exploration of a surprising landscape. Featuring never-before-filmed animal behaviour, the documentary takes audiences beyond the corn, canola and wheat fields, and into a hidden wilderness.