Pollinator and grazing cattle at Sand Ranch, Ashley, ND Photo: Lucy Love
Currently, Audubon Dakota manages roughly 100,000 acres across the Dakotas. This would not be possible without the support and help of many different private land cooperators, agencies and programs, local businesses and individuals, and many volunteers and local Audubon Chapters. Audubon Dakota’s Working Lands consists of privately-managed lands enrolled in the Audubon Conservation Ranching Initiative, Prairie Management Toolbox Programs and Conservation Forage Program. Land owners participate in enhancement and preservation of critical grassland habitats. Audubon Dakota also helps land owners apply “bird-friendly” grazing practices and develop market-based solutions to build economic incentives that benefit landowners, consumers and the environment.
In 2017, 33 Ranch in South Dakota enrolled in the Working Lands Program as the first Audubon Conservation Ranch in the Dakotas. Audubon Dakota is implementing a prescribed grazing system as its primary management tool. As grasslands continue to be degraded and lost from the drift prairie landscape, prairie and grassland birds and wildlife have suffered dramatic declines in numbers. The ultimate goal of these programs are to use cattle in a managed rotational system to increase nesting, brooding, and feeding cover for grassland birds, and generally create more hunting and outdoor recreation opportunities.
It’s been shown that when used effectively, cattle are one of the best tools for creating high quality habitat for birds and wildlife. That is why the Audubon Society has developed the Working Lands Programs on the national level. The programs focus on partnering with grass-fed cattle ranchers to ensure grasslands are properly grazed and managed for grassland bird species, while at the same time, these ranchers and private landowners get to explore a higher market premium for their products.