Recent declines of grassland bird populations in North America are linked to habitat loss and fragmentation associated with agricultural practices. One tool used to conserve soil, water and wildlife habitat on agricultural fields is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the largest agricultural conservation program in the United States. Managers and conservationists recognize CRP as an important component of conserving grassland birds in the central portion of the United States. However, recent widespread expiration of CRP contracts could negatively influence grassland bird populations. Few studies have evaluated how former CRP-enrolled fields may function as grassland bird habitat. In this paper, we analyzed data from a long-term (1990–2017) study aimed at comparing grassland bird abundance (24 species) between idled CRP grasslands and fields where the CRP contracts expired. Some of these fields where contracts expired were maintained as pasture or hayland, and others were converted back to cropland. Estimated abundances of most species were considerably higher in idled CRP than in fields with expired CRP contracts. Post-CRP land use also appeared to affect most bird abundances, with lower abundance in grazed grasslands and haylands relative to idled CRP, but higher abundance than cropland. The responses of obligate and facultative grassland specialists to post-CRP management varied among species, with some being negative and some being positive depending on post-CRP land use, which is unsurprising given the variable habitat requirements of grassland birds. Our results have implications for wildlife managers who must design conservation strategies around the land use decisions of private landowners. Our results support the idea of maintaining a mosaic of undisturbed CRP grasslands and post-CRP grasslands that are hayed or grazed, which should guarantee some undisturbed nesting cover in the landscape for some bird species and some disturbed grasslands that may have long-term benefits for other species.
|Title||Converting CRP grasslands to cropland, grazing land, or hayland: Effects on breeding bird abundances in the northern Great Plains of the United States|
|Authors||Lawrence Igl, Deborah A. Buhl, Max Post van der Burg, Douglas H. Johnson|
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Series Title||Global Ecology and Conservation|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center|