Dogs aren’t new to me, but they almost seemed that way when I moved to the San Luis Valley and started working as a Private Lands Wildlife Biologist. I grew up in Chicago, IL and the dogs I knew were house pups – used to lazy mornings and an afternoon walk. So when I moved to the San Luis Valley and met a cattle dog that wanted nothing to do with me, I was surprised. But by spending time with local landowners and their dogs, I quickly learned the difference between the “pet” dogs I’d grown up with and the working dogs out here in the San Luis Valley – and much more. I’m a Private Lands Wildlife Biologist and I work with landowners, ranchers, and farmers to conserve wildlife habitat on their properties. Landowners are typically focused on making a living and carrying on generations-old traditions, while I am focused on creating and enhancing habitat for migratory and resident birds. These goals often go together, allowing us to develop and work on projects that both enhance landowner operations and benefit birds and other wildlife.
Northern Bobwhite quail are an important species in the plains and the eastern United States, known for their characteristic whistle, their habit of gathering in groups (known as coveys) and their white and black faces that peek out through the shrubby habitats they call home. While other game birds fly south for the winter, these short stout birds stay put. Bobwhites are indicators of rangeland health, and their presence often indicates that land managers are taking the health of the land into consideration when implementing agricultural practices. They are a charismatic species, and habitat protection and enhancements that target Bobwhites also benefit numerous other grassland species. Agricultural producers take great pride in the health of their lands, and knowing they have an iconic species like the bobwhite on their land gives them as much joy as it gives us in observing them in the field.
As Thanksgiving is right around the corner, let’s reflect on Wild Turkeys, the habitats they call home, and how we can help conserve them. Wild Turkeys can be found in all of the lower 48 states, but in the early 1900’s this was not the case; turkey populations were nearly depleted due to poaching and habitat loss. Once conservationists began to focus on habitat restoration and reintroduction to areas where turkeys were formerly extirpated, populations began to bounce back. Unfortunately, we are beginning to see a slight decline in Wild Turkey populations again today, and Bird Conservancy is working with private landowners to improve habitat for Wild Turkeys and other forest inhabitants. This Thanksgiving we are thankful for all of the private landowners and partners who have worked with us to improve wildlife habitat!
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.