New State of the Birds Report: Farm Bill Pays Off For People & Birds

Meadowlarks depend on grassland habitat, which exist mainly on private land that receives support from the Farm Bill. Western Meadowlark by Donald Metzner.

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.

Mike Fenn, Wyoming rancher who benefits from Farm Bill programs

Mike Fenn is a Sage Grouse Initiative-enrolled rancher in Wyoming who improved habitat for grassland and wetland bird species while also benefiting his agricultural operations. Photo: Brianna Randall

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.

Two sage grouse hens hunker down on a ranch where invading conifers were removed with Farm Bill funds. Photo: Connor White

Two sage grouse hens hunker down on a ranch where invading conifers were removed, cost-shared in part by Farm Bill programs. Photo: Connor White

Farm Bill conservation programs pays huge natural dividends across the nation

Key Benefits of the Farm Bill:

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.

Dots on this graph indicate start dates for key Farm Bill conservation programs, showing the change in populations of wetland, forest, and grassland birds after these programs were implemented. For more details on this graph, see Methods.

Dots on this graph indicate start dates for key Farm Bill conservation programs, showing the change in populations of wetland, forest, and grassland birds after these programs were implemented. Click here for details.

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.

meadowlark distribution map

Map of Eastern and Western Meadowlark abundance from eBird data; Farm Bill conservation practices from USDA-NRCS data.

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.