Science to Solutions | New research shows that implementing conservation practices like prescribed grazing increases songbird populations in the southern Great Plains, while benefiting lesser prairie-chickens and grassland productivity.
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A new study done in partnership with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, CEAP Wildlife, and Playa Lakes Joint Venture as part of the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions Program, highlights population benefits for many species of songbirds that use prairie habitat alongside lesser prairie-chickens. The key take away from the study? Conservation practices contributed to an increase of 2.4 million songbirds across the region.
Healthy prairies are a vital resource for agricultural producers and wildlife. They provide a mix of grasses and forbs that supply protein-rich forage for livestock as well as habitat for numerous grassland birds like lesser prairie-chickens.
Unfortunately, in North America’s Great Plains, this asset is at risk from development, conversion to croplands, and other intensive land use practices that fragment or degrade our grasslands and prairies. Ninety-five percent of the land in the Southern Great Plains is privately owned, making voluntary conservation on private lands a key strategy in preserving and improving the prairie habitat that supports lesser prairie-chickens and dozens of other songbirds.
From 2015 to 2017, researchers monitored birds on ranches in CO, KS, OK, NM, and TX that had implemented conservation practices. The study compared avian population densities on private land enrolled in either the Conservation Reserve Program or that had established prescribed grazing plans through the USDA-NRCS’s Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative to reference grasslands in the region.
In total, the conservation practices contributed to improved regional abundance for:
Livestock grazing is compatible with maintaining healthy grasslands, as demonstrated by the variety and abundance of birds on well-managed ranch lands. ~ David Pavlacky, Research Ecologist, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, lead author on the study.
Key findings from the study:
Prior research has also shown that lesser prairie-chickens increase their use of grasslands following the implementation of prescribed grazing and other conservation practices promoted by LPCI.
Additionally, research commissioned by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, showed that lesser prairie-chicken populations expanded following a 2009-2012 drought in the Great Plains. Many of the population-level increases occurred on lands enrolled in LPCI and CRP conservation programs. While the rebound cannot be directly contributed to conservation practices implemented through LPCI or CRP, the birds did take advantage of restored habitat when it was available.
Taken together, these studies highlight how conserving lands for lesser prairie-chickens sets the stage for increased population levels of multiple bird species, including lesser prairie-chickens and songbirds, while also improving the productivity of grasslands for ranchers. That’s win-win conservation at its best.
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