New State of the Birds Report: Farm Bill Pays Off For People & Birds
August 10, 2017
Western Meadowlarks, which share the range with sage grouse, depend on grasslands found mainly on private land. Farm Bill programs help conserve the bird’s habitat. Photo: Donald Metzner
Latest report documents the many benefits the Farm Bill has delivered to birds, farmers, and rural communities
The U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative released its fourth annual State of the Birds report, which focused for the first time ever on how the Farm Bill has impacted birds across the nation. The NABCI is a coalition of 28 state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and bird-focused partnerships.
The Farm Bill is America’s single largest source of conservation funding for private lands
Two-thirds of the land area in the Lower 48 states is privately owned. The Farm Bill helps people manage their land and conserve natural resources at the same time.
For more than three decades, the Farm Bill has been an effective tool for wildlife conservation, sustaining essential habitat for more than 100 bird species. For farmers, ranchers, and forest owners, the bill provides a safety net that helps keep working lands from being developed. It also provides financial support for vital ecological services that benefit millions of citizens, such as clean water and healthy soil.
Western ranchers are key to arid lands conservation success
The Sage Grouse Initiative applies the power of the Farm Bill to conserve western rangelands where habitat is intact and sage grouse numbers are highest.
Voluntary, incentive-based projects funded by the Farm Bill made it possible to avoid listing the greater sage-grouse as endangered in 2015. Over the past seven years, the Sage Grouse Initiative has worked with 1,500 ranchers to improve more than 5.6 million acres of sagebrush habitat — an area twice as large as Yellowstone National Park.
More than 75% of arid land bird species are declining, and private lands host 40% of these birds during the breeding season. Ranchers are implementing sustainable grazing systems and improving bird habitat on ranchlands in 11 Western states.
Farm Bill conservation programs pays huge natural dividends across the nation
Key Benefits of the Farm Bill:
- Keeps birds off the Endangered Species List.
- Promotes public-private partnerships and supports habitat restoration projects.
- Protects vital prairie grasslands and wetlands.
- Creates eco-benefits for the entire farm, including clean water and healthy soil.
Bird Populations: Combined population trends for suites of bird species that depend on different habitat types (i.e. grasslands, wetlands, or forests) are important indicators of the overall health of those ecosystems.
After two decades of declines, wetland bird populations grew dramatically — and forest and grassland birds stabilized — following the introduction of key Farm Bill conservation programs.
Grassland Birds: Declining grassland birds like Western Meadowlarks — which share sagebrush country with sage grouse — rely on habitat provided by Farm Bill grassland conservation programs. Private lands support 73% of the range of Western Meadowlarks.
Recent grassland conservation practices applied by private landowners with Farm Bill assistance are helping these grassland birds recover across the nation, so that their familiar songs fill the air for future generations, too.
Working lands sustain people and wildlife
As the 2018 Farm Bill is debated for reauthorization in Congress, the report calls attention to the benefits of investing in conservation on private lands.
In the coming years, our communities will require more food, timber, and energy. Conservation strategies compatible with working lands will become even more important for sustaining wildlife like birds.
A suite of strong programs and partnerships — like those encouraged by the Farm Bill — will ensure that landowners are empowered to choose conservation tools that best fit their needs and also benefit the wildlife and people who depend on healthy habitat.
The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.