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A Talk on the Wild Side.

A Win-Win Partnership with Ranchers that Benefits Grassland Birds

Windmill on prairieWindmills can negatively impact grassland birds. Photo by Elizabeth Emeline/ABC

At the Northern Great Plains Joint Venture , we work with our partners to build and sustain healthy ecosystems for birds, wildlife, and people. The Northern Great Plains, parts of the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana, provides some of the most important and intact breeding habitat for grassland birds, which as a group have experienced a population decline of 53% since 1970. 

brown and black bird with yellow face sits on tan stem in prairieThe chestnut-collared longspur prefers native grasslands recently disturbed by fire, grazing, or mowing. Photo by Rick Bohn

Although much of the Northern Great Plains is considered intact, half a million acres of native grasslands are converted to cropland each year on average. We collaborate with private landowners and other partners to maintain, enhance, and restore grasslands as working lands and, through our Northern Grasslands Restoration Incentives Program, provide cost-share assistance for voluntary rangeland enhancements that support local producers and improve habitat for grassland birds, including chestnut-collared longspurs and Baird’s sparrows.

brown, white and black bird in tall grassRare and elusive, Baird's sparrow lies low in tall grasses, its presence revealed only by its distinctive song. Photo by Rick Bohn

One of our rangeland enhancements projects is to help ranchers remove and replace windmills that are used to pump water for livestock. These windmills are becoming obsolete over time, and unfortunately, tall structures and visual obstructions in open areas, such as windmills, have been documented to negatively influence prairie grouse and may impact other grassland birds. 


Learn More at NRCS

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In 2020, we partnered with American Bird Conservancy, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and private landowners to replace windmills with solar-powered pumps that draw water efficiently. 

This windmill removal project enhanced the ability of local ranchers to sustainably manage their cattle across more than 6,400 acres of rangelands, while also benefiting grassland birds.   

By Catherine Wightman, Coordinator for the Northern Great Plains Joint Venture

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