The North American Grasslands once covered 40% of the United States. Today, just 1% remains intact. This dramatic decline is due to human influences such as conversion of grasslands to row crops and oil/gas production. The ever expanding urban population has decimated grasslands and has introduced exotic, invasive species that continue to encroach and degrade remaining grasslands. As grasslands decline and degrade, grassland birds have shown the most steady species decline through time as compared to all other inland habitat bird species. This shocking fact calls for Audubon's action.
To combat these negative impacts and to keep grass on the landscape throughout North America, Audubon has developed the Conservation Ranching Program. This program is a collaboration with local ranchers within the North American Grasslands, ensuring that grazing regimes produce healthy habitats for target grassland bird species. Mimicing the grazing pressures once performed by bison, cattle are an essential management tool for the prairie which led to Audubon's decision to promote their presence on grasslands. As cattle roam, they will consume the invasives plants and create the necessary disturbance that helps grasslands thrive, while also providing ranchers with a new market opportunities.
Audubon has dedicated the last two years towards development of science-based, bird-friendly production protocols for each state participating in the Conservation Ranching Program. In 2017, Audubon launched the pilot phase of the program. Today, roughly 91,000 acres are enrolled in Audubon Dakota's Conservation Ranching Program. Interested ranchers will recieve technical assistance from a network of Audubon range ecologists whom are trained to guide ranchers through the protocols, ensuring compliance and the resulting benefits for the target grassland bird species.
It is hoped that as the Conservation Ranching Program progresses and shows success, Audubon's protocols will become standard practice for all grassfed beef operations throughout the North American Grasslands.
If you would like to learn more about the program or are interested in enrolling, please contact Audubon Dakota's Range Ecologist, Joshua Lefers, at firstname.lastname@example.org.