What’s good for the herd is good for the bird
Grasslands historically covered approximately 170 million acres of North America and were the dominant landscape of Nebraska. Whether short, mixed, or tallgrass prairie, these landscapes provided habitat, homes, and sustenance for birds, wildlife, and people. Today, though, little of the original grasslands remain. Correspondingly, grassland birds have suffered an unparalleled decline over the past half-century: According to Audubon’s North American Grasslands and Birds Report, total populations of grassland species have declined more than 40 percent with some species hovering toward the possibility of extinction.
The loss of grasslands has impacted not only birds and wildlife, but also livestock producers due to habitat fragmentation, declining rural populations, and challenges that can arise from a misunderstanding of agricultural production processes and how those processes can incorporate conservation of our critical resources. Private landowners are the primary stewards of our grasslands, so long-term grassland conservation and restoration must use practical solutions that ensure economic viability for those producers.
The desire to reverse the negative population trends for prairie birds, and to bolster Nebraska’s ranching communities, is where Audubon Nebraska’s renewed focus on working with private landowners comes in. At its heart is the idea that cattle operations—whether large ranches in the Sandhills or smaller ranches in the southeastern corner and others—and bird conservation can co-exist. Audubon has elevated “Working Lands” as a priority conservation and education strategy to help our diverse audiences understand the importance of good grazing stewardship in maintaining or restoring critical grassland bird habitats.
Over the past several years, Audubon has elevated this message in a variety of ways including a renewed focus on educating youth, adults, and those across our urban audiences that working landscapes and cattle are integral to keeping grasslands “bird friendly”. Additionally, we have expanded focus on our own center and sanctuary grounds and private landowners near those areas and across the state. Our team is focused on providing technical assistance to landowners on issues such as prescribed fire, invasive species management (primarily eastern red cedar), grassland diversity, and restoration. We are also focused on learning from those landowners on what practical solutions or practices can be done within their operations that continue to provide wins for their pocketbooks and the landscape.
Nationally, Audubon has launched the Audubon Conservation Ranching program, which offers ranchers incentives for good grassland stewardship through a certification label on beef products. For the first time, this gives consumers the ability to contribute to grassland conservation efforts by selectively purchasing beef from Audubon-certified farms and ranches. The Audubon certification seal brings a broad market appeal that enhances demand by consumers who want options for beef that is sustainably raised and benefits wildlife habitats.
Finally, we are focused on expanding and strengthening our partnerships and conversations with organizations such as the Nebraska Cattlemen to continue to identify strategies and opportunities to highlight wins for the herd and win for the birds for both urban and agricultural audiences.