In a blog post on the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies website Angela Dwyer, asked the question “What if it were possible to have your conservation cake and eat it too?” She is referring to a Collaborative Adaptive Range Management (CARM) project that the Bird Conservancy is working on in conjunction with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service on the Central Plains Experimental Station in northeastern Colorado.
Given that we have lost 3 billion birds since 1970 and that over 300 bird species make their home in the grasslands of the Great Plains, the goal of improving bird habitat while improving the land health and productivity of working lands is a mutually beneficial goal.
I also learned about other research from the Bird Conservancy where they’re conducting bird surveys in eastern New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands as well as non-CRP lands. They found there was more species richness in the CRP land than on conventional agricultural reference land.
In fact, CRP lands make meaningful contributions to declining grassland bird populations in the PLJV region, including 2.6 million Grasshopper Sparrows, 400,000 Mourning Doves and 200,000 Eastern Meadowlarks per year. Partners in this effort include the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, and Playa Lakes Joint Venture.
At the New Mexico Coalition to Enhance Working Lands Summit in April, Angela also shared other Bird Conservancy’s findings about the challenges of managing cattle to address rancher’s needs and the needs of the birds. If range management is focused solely on maximizing utilization of forage and gain per acre, then only certain bird species may benefit. However, by using adaptive grazing, which provides an opportunity to vary the utilization in certain areas at certain times of the year, more bird species are provided habitat to support their survival, and potentially the rancher has more opportunity to manage for forage quality in some pastures and improve rangeland health and cattle production. They also were able to have a 10-fold greater stock density with their animals to better manage and measure their impact and vegetation recovery.
This large collaborative research project demonstrates that everyone can win when adaptive management takes into account the diverse needs of all parties involved–including the birds. After all, birds can be key indicator of rangeland health. Greater plant heterogeneity and bird diversity can also indicate greater resilience of the land.
Bird Conservancy works with producers throughout the Great Plains to provide financial and technical assistance to working lands through the USDA Farm Bill, and with their Private Lands Wildlife Biologist Kaitlyn Nafziger, partner biologist for Bird Conservancy working in collaboration with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), in northeastern New Mexico. To learn more about how she can help, contact her at [email protected]. To learn more about CARM and other collaborative conservation efforts, contact Angela Dwyer, Grassland Habitat Coordinator at [email protected].