Soil erosion is a good thing, says geomorphologist Chris Hugenholtz.
It’s a good thing if you happen to be among the species that live in one of 120 sandhill areas of the Prairies because erosion preserves that particular ecosystem.
For farming, soil erosion is a bad thing because of its nutrient loss.
It’s all in the perspective.
Hugenholtz, a professor at the universities of Lethbridge and Calgary, has studied the effects of wind on prairie sandhills and found that climate change and to a lesser extent improved soil conservation efforts are harming species that live in sandhill areas.
“They need wind erosion to sustain their habitat. I think nearly a quarter of the endangered prairie species reside in these areas and they require open sand habitat, and the only way to keep it open is for wind erosion to occur.”
The Prairies experienced massive and relatively frequent grass fires before European settlement, as well as grazing by large bison herds. Both those phenomena have disappeared, and the climate has changed.
“With the push on climate to make things greener, longer growing seasons and the removal of key disturbances, those are the main factors, I believe, that our research suggests have allowed these sandhills to become very green and verdant.”
But green and verdant conditions don’t suit some species, he added, and the result is reduced biodiversity.
Vegetation is slowly taking over many sandhill areas. Though that may be good for rangeland and grazing, there is a trade off in terms of species.