Conserving Native Grasslands
Grasslands support a phenomenal number of nesting birds, waterfowl, grouse, prairie chickens and songbirds. But these grasslands are being lost to cropland at an equally phenomenal rate. Approximately 35 acres of grass and wetland are lost to conversion every hour.
“With the high price of corn,” says Harris Hoistad, project leader at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge Complex, SD, “we are having a run on prairie grasslands being turned into cropland.” Once those grasslands are gone, birds are forced out and lose their habitat. Some sparrows are among the fastest declining birds in North America.
In 2012, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe agreed to spend 70 percent of the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (including Duck Stamp proceeds) to secure the best breeding habitat for waterfowl and grassland species. As a result, the Mountain-Prairie Region of the Refuge System significantly increased land acquisitions in the critical Prairie Pothole Region of the Dakotas and Montana. Nearly all of the acquisitions are easements, in which the landowner receives a one-time payment but continues to own and manage the land under some restrictions.
“Little will change for the landowner.” says Hoistad, “He has been grazing and haying, but under the terms of the easement, he agrees to keep the land in grass. Haying has to wait until after July 15, when nesting is finished. Wetlands must not be drained.”
“Preserving grassland is conserving a way of life,” explains Hoistad. “If we can partner with livestock folks, they understand that we both need grass on the landscape.”
Funds from the Duck Stamp, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and such partners as Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Northern Prairie Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy and the Conservation Fund were used to protect 83,716 acres valued at more than $35 million.
“We hope to add similar acreage in 2013,” says Hoistad.
Read more in the Mountain-Prairie Year in Review 2012.