Drought has been a consistent reality across the Western Slope of Colorado and the arid west for decades. This complex ecological force creates a wide variety of issues for people, habitat, and wildlife. Stewardship biologists at Bird Conservancy work with landowners to increase climate resilience in the face of drought, by implementing a variety of habitat restoration techniques that can better retain moisture on the landscape and promote healthy, native ecosystems. Improving resilience on sagebrush rangelands is difficult due to the arid nature of these environments, but wet meadow restoration and invasive species management for cheatgrass and invasive conifers can be used to increase climate resilience.
Fire is a fact of life in the American West, of that you can be sure. Our forests have long been shaped by fire, and efforts to prevent it have significantly changed forests and often backfired —making wildfires worse. Today, we are correcting course by using a process called forest restoration which uses land management tools to transition forests back to near historic conditions to make forests more resilient to natural disturbances, such as fire, while also providing benefits to people and wildlife.
The Private Lands Wildlife Biologist (PLWB) program is a crucial pillar in Bird Conservancy’s three-pronged approach to avian conservation through science, education, and stewardship. Our PLWBs work across the western Great Plains and eastern Rocky Mountains, often in rural and remote communities. Their jobs are complex, challenging, and incredibly rewarding. Recently, several of our current Private Lands Wildlife Biologists (PLWBs) visited with their predecessors to hear their reflections on how working as a PLWB for Bird Conservancy influenced their future career path, capturing insights that to inform our current cohort of biologists and seeking inspiration after all the challenges of working in people-centric conservation during a global pandemic.
The past year of pandemic life has been a struggle for most us in many ways. For a field biologist who truly values time outdoors and in nature, the transition to telework and isolation is particularly impactful. But forced solitude leads to unexpected new perspectives, including a stronger connection to the land, nature, and community.
The U.S. and Canada have lost almost 3 billion birds since 1970. Grassland bird species suffered the steepest declines, losing an estimated 53% of their population, or more than 720 million birds. Established in 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is one of the USDA’s largest voluntary conservation programs within the Farm Bill, and it’s also very important to birds that rely on grassland habitat. Unfortunately, enrollment in the program is declining, but our private lands stewardship program works to provide landowners with viable options to keep their fields in grassland habitat beyond CRP.
LandPKS (Potential Knowledge System) is a mobile phone app that makes digital soil and vegetation data and knowledge available in the palm of your hand. Bird Conservancy of the Rockies is excited to have helped develop a new LandPKS Habitat module specifically designed for ranchers, farmers, wildlife conservationists, educators and other land managers who are interested in using innovative technology to understand their landscape values and enhance wildlife habitat on their lands.
The cultural heritage of those that tend the land and call it home—from ranchers to Indigenous Peoples to ejidos—is closely tied to the fate of grasslands. Rural communities and economies depend on healthy grasslands and the services they provide which include aquifer recharge, productive rangelands, outdoor recreation and more. Despite their importance, the plight of grasslands has been largely overlooked, but a new initiative has launched which aims to chart a better future for this precious resource.
Birds make our lives better. They provide beauty and song, as well as vital ecosystem services like seed dispersal and pest control. Bird habitat conservation is a great investment, returning millions of dollars in economic benefits and contributing to clean air and water for people. Read on to learn more about why we should all care about birds!