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Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Preserving Change: The Southern Cone Grassland Alliance

We have a guest blogger at Open Spaces today! Haley McKey is a communications intern at the Office of Migratory Birds at Service Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.  She recently graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in biology.  Her interest in conservation in South America inspired her to highlight the Southern Cone Grassland Alliance.

We are entering into our third week of autumn here at Open Spaces. From shorter days to turning leaves, the signs of change are all around us. For bird lovers, the most dramatic sign of change may be the flocks of migratory birds flying high over-head en route to warmer climates. 

We work to protect migratory birds, and like all species, that work begins with the preservation of natural habitats. It’s hard enough to protect the habit for a cave beetle that spends an entire lifetime within a small, isolated area, but what about migratory birds, whose migrations take them across multiple habitats stretching over many countries and international borders?

Boblink in flightPhoto Credit: Anibal Parara/Birdlife International

Such is the case for the American Golden Plover, Bobolink, and Upland Sandpiper. These birds fly thousands of miles from the U.S. to South America every winter. When they land, they reach the Southern Cone Grasslands, a plain that covers nearly 400,000 square miles and parts of Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Paraguay. 

Upland SandpiperPhoto Credit: Carlos Figuerero/Birdlife International

Despite its enormous size, nearly all of the grasslands have been altered by human activities such as cattle ranching, agriculture, and urbanization. Protecting habitat on a scale this large requires big thinking and a big team to pull it off. 

Which brings us to the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance.

The Alliance began in 2003 with a partnership between Birdlife International and four bird conservation organizations, one from each country within the grasslands ecosystem.

Since 2003, the Alliance has identified 61 priority conservation sites for migratory birds. It has also created partnerships with grassland ranchers and landowners, looking for ways in which protecting the grasslands could also be commercially profitable.

Southern Cone GrasslandPhoto Credit: Anibal Parara/Birdlife International

One outcome: a new “green” certification for South American beef that will allow ranchers to tap into the market for environmentally-friendly foods.

Back in the U.S., the Fish and Wildlife Service recognized that protecting South American grasslands was a worthy cause when it benefitted bird species that also make a home in the U.S.  And so, we were pleased to provide seed money to the Alliance in the form of a Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act grant.

The Alliance now stands on its own and is a great example of how conservation efforts in other countries can benefit the migratory birds at home we love to notice during this great season of change.


This projects resonates wonderfully with John MUir's statement, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
# Posted By Bill Youngs | 10/14/11 12:31 PM
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