Commission on Ecosystem Management

Holarctic Steppes

The main goal of HS SG is to improve management and conservation of steppe ecosystems, and to harmonize this with the needs of the human society.
steppe ecosystem mongolia

Specialist Group Leaders:

Tatyana M. Bragina and Karsten Wesche  

Focal point: Madhav Karki

The steppes of the Northern Hemisphere are among the largest terrestrial biomes, supporting a rich flora and fauna, and providing invaluable ecosystem services. Holarctic steppes are the homeland of millions of humans; meat, milk, wool, grain, and a range of other agricultural products and goods come from these regions. There are also less material values; steppes are sources of cultural symbols and spiritual experience; and they are at the heart of many civilizations in Eurasia and North America. 

Today, most of the Northern Hemisphere’s grasslands are already lost; virgin steppes were converted to crop lands, settlements, mining sites, industrial areas, etc. The few remnants of these grasslands are under the pressure of livestock grazing and other agricultural use. Levels of human impact differ between regions such as the Central Plains of North America and Central Asia, but pressure still is generally high. For that reason, IUCN has recognized temperate grasslands as one of the most threatened biomes of all.

Global climate change as well as agricultural land degradation and reduction of productivity are aggravating the losses of steppe ecosystems, leading to deteriorating livelihoods of millions of people.

The IUCN/CEM’s "Holarctic Steppes" Specialist Group (HS SG) aims at an improved management of ecosystems such as:

  • Forest-steppes of plains and mountain regions
  • Temperate steppes at all elevations
  • Temperate and subtropical prairies
  • Semi-arid grasslands surrounding the dry lands of Northern Hemisphere
  • West- and Central-European extra-zonal and secondary steppes
  • Agricultural lands with importance for steppe biodiversity

The main goal of HS SG is to improve management and conservation of steppe ecosystems, and to harmonize this with the needs of the human society ("Golden Steppe Chain Network") based on the Nature-based Solutions principles. Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are defined by IUCN as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits”.

Therefore we seek to raise awareness on wise use of steppe ecosystem worldwide, and to mainstream this in both international and national conservation agendas.
If you are not yet a member of CEM, but would like to work in the main areas of the HSTG, please go to our membership applicaion page here. If you are a member of CEM and are interested in the activities of the HS SG, please contact the Specialist Group Lead.

Holarctic steppes


1. The IUCN/CEM’s Specialist Group on "Holarctic Steppes" (HS SG) unites experts on effective management and conservation of steppe ecosystems.

2. The main goal of the Holarctic Steppe Group is to promote the conservation of steppes and to harmonize this with the needs of the human society. In 2010, HS TG started a global programme named "Golden Steppe Chain Initiative", which formed the GOLDEN STEPPE CHAIN NETWORK – the basis for IUCN/CEM’s Specialist Group on "Holarctic Steppes".

3. The main objectives are:

  • to bring experts together from different parts of the Steppe Biome
  • to summarize experience with different land use changes and their effects along the steppe biome
  • to gather traditional knowledge and best practices for the conservation and management of steppe ecosystems 
  • to analyze the responses of steppes to different factors including global environmental and land use changes
  • to initiate a steppe heritage network 
  • to promote practical actions and environmental education to conserve the steppe
  • to protect the interests of steppe ecosystems in international organizations and programs.
  • to mainstream steppe conservation in the global agenda 

4. HS SG participates in global, regional and national meetings for nature conservation and steppe management (e.g. IUCN, CBD, CCD)
5. HS SG also prepares analytical documents and reviews on different subjects relating to the steppe biome.

Additional information

Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM) - Mandate 2017–2020

Mission - to provide expert guidance on integrated approaches to the management of natural and modified ecosystems, in order to promote effective biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

Goal - ecosystem approaches to natural resource management mainstreamed worldwide.

Objective -  to promote the adoption of, and provide guidance for, ecosystem approaches to the management of landscapes and seascapes and build resilience of socio-ecological systems to address global changes.

Major changes have occurred in conservation and environmental policy at all levels. A New Strategy and National Action Plans for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity by 2020, as well as future plans to implement before 2030 were prepared, or are at the final stages of preparation. These activities follow the decisions of the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity (18-29 October 2010, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan), and the updated Global Strategic Plan for 2011-2020 years.

Experts from many countries, including HS SG members, have contributed to the creation of these documents, which define necessary actions for the coming years. Even more efforts are needed now to make these plans become reality, and preserve the invaluable natural treasures and of our Planet.

The main goals of the CEM 2017-2020, and The IUCN/CEM’s Specialist Group on "Holarctic Steppes" (HS SG) objectives and initiatives for the coming years

HS SG will provide important information to foster the main goals of the CEM’s mandate for 2017-2020 (Annex), and will contribute to the core knowledge products of IUCN addressing: 

  • Red List of Ecosystems (RLE).
  • Resilience of Ecosystems and their dependent communities
  • Specific Ecosystems and Biome oriented activities. CEM will continue to pay attention to the management of specific ecosystems such as steppes and some others.
  • Emerging Issues. More attention needs to be paid to the aspects of ecosystem management and the private sector, as well as on urban ecosystems.

In accordance with the goals of the CEM, and with an aim to improve own activities the members of the group made up Intersessional (2017-2020) and Annual Workplans. In the coming years HS SG’s members will focus on the analysis of data on the conservation of steppe ecosystems, their status and management in their own countries and regions. New data and assessments of the status of the steppe biome should be made available for the “steppe” community. Assessment of ecosystem services can be a basic tool for the conservation, restoration, optimal steppe ecosystem management and sustainable use of steppe biodiversity.

Virtual Encyclopedia of the Steppes

A potentially effective way of synthesizing and providing valuable information about the status of the steppes and steppe biodiversity is the compilation of a Virtual Encyclopedia of Steppes. At the moment, steppe areas and other temperate grassland ecosystems, which are in the focus of the IUCN/CEM’s "Holarctic Steppes" Specialist Group (HS SG), are examined. The "Encyclopedia" includes information such as a brief description of physical and geographical conditions, location of the described steppe units, vegetation cover and soils, current status (protected, included in conservation programs, recommended for preservation, used as pasture etc.), valuable species of flora and fauna, current land use and threats. In a next step ecosystem services can be evaluated, made on this basis. A practical step in this direction include the parts of the Virtual Encyclopedia of Steppes (Gobi Eco- regional Assessment). The next steps are to include other important steppe areas, and contribute to an IUCN Red List of Ecosystems.

Publications and Experiences

This section on the website IUCN CEM-HS SG includes links to most important publications on the steppes of Holarctic, materials on the steppe conferences, and examples for best practice management of steppe ecosystems for information sharing/using. A good site for this is Conservation of Steppes in Russia and the magazine “Steppe Bulletin” ISSN 1726-2860 (print version ISSN 1684-843). The magazine and website are in Russian and English versions. Many members of the CEM-HS SG use these resources for information about the present status of steppe biodiversity and actions for the conservation and management of the steppe.

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