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Farm Bill a potential game-changer for grassland birds

Bobolink is one of the many grassland birds that would benefit from a stronger Farm Bill. Photo by Ray Hennessy/Shutterstock

North America’s grassland birds are disappearing at an alarming rate. Since 1970, more than half of all grassland birds in the United States and Canada have been lost, and species like the Bobolink and Mountain Plover are on track to lose another 50 percent of their population in the next 50 years in the absence of conservation action.

One of the surest ways to turn the tide in their favor could be a sweeping piece of U.S. agricultural legislation known as the Farm Bill, which happens to be the single-biggest source of conservation funding in the world. The current Farm Bill expires in September, opening the door for new and stronger conservation measures in the next iteration of the bill.

American Bird Conservancy is advocating for measures to be included that have the best chance of saving grassland bird species from extinction. This “Bird Saver” platform includes three key recommendations based on tried-and-true strategies.

The first recommendation is to expand one of the Farm Bill’s most historically effective conservation efforts, called the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP is a program where farmers agree to set aside ecologically sensitive land and plant native grasses and other groundcover in exchange for a financial incentive. The end result is a benefit for wildlife and decent income for farmers.

ABC also recommends expanding funds for technical assistance to farmers looking to implement conservation strategies. The new Farm Bill could make it easier for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to connect with farmers interested in providing wildlife habitat on their land, improving the success rate of programs like CRP.

Finally, the Farm Bill could be used to implement a concept called Rest-Restore-Recapture. This set of ideas would incentivize ranchers to let parts of their grazing lands rest for a period of time, rather than continuously grazing cattle on all of their land. Periodic rest has a number of benefits for ranchers and birds alike. It improves plant species diversity, soil stability, and resilience to extreme weather. It also increases the land’s stored carbon and soil health and helps grass grow back fuller and richer for cattle.

“We’ve got lots of land in the West that’s never been plowed and still has a basic natural soil structure and native plants,” says Steve Riley, ABC’s director of Farm Bill policy. “A lot of making that work better for wildlife is just being nicer to it. If we take some of the pressure off of it, it’ll heal itself.” — Rachel Fritts, writer/editor at American Bird Conservancy

Want to advocate for a bird-friendly Farm Bill? Here’s how to contact your representatives and senators in Congress.

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American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It contributes the “Eye on Conservation” column in each issue of BirdWatching.

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