Ever notice what appear to be small ponds on the grasslands during spring? These are ‘playa lakes’ — temporary wetlands that dot the prairies of the western Great Plains. Playas are shallow depressions lined with clay soil that holds rain water. Healthy playas are a win-win for water conservation and birds. They benefit people by helping replenish groundwater, filtering water and assisting with flood control. They also provide wildlife habitat and important stopover points for migrating birds. Over the years, many playas have become degraded and are disappearing from the landscape. However, with proper restoration and management, playas can return to their full potential.
With over 70% of landownership in the Great Plains and Intermountain West being privately owned, landowners are one of the keys to conservation of wildlife habitat. Many at-risk bird species use private lands during their annual life-cycle. Our Private Lands Wildlife biologists work assist landowners in navigating the complex process for securing funding for management plans, habitat enhancements, and infrastructure improvements on working lands through USDA Farm Bill. By targeting the specific needs of local stakeholders and geographic areas, we not only make funding more accessible, but we use the resources more efficiently to ensure conservation is happening where it’s needed most.
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.
Join us for a special virtual program featuring Grady Grissom, owner of Rancho Largo Custom Beef and 2017 Leopold Conservation Award Winner, and Tammy VerCauteren, Executive Director at Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. They’ll share their perspectives about cattle ranching and conservation on private lands, and their relationship to bird conservation. We’ll also explore how birds serve as indicators of healthy, productive landscapes and the role they can play in helping land managers as stewards of natural resources.
They sat quietly, as still as possible, a group of kids and their adults listening for the elusive sound. Then they heard him: the muffled gobble of the wild tom turkey. It wasn’t long before this dinosaur of the modern age was in full view, following the sound of what he thought to be a receptive hen. It’s an emotional and immersive experience that brings these young people closer to nature and continues a long heritage of tradition and stewardship.
In a landscape where water is scarce and margins are slim, agriculturalists are leading the way to find innovative and collaborative conservation approaches. These folks are the boots on the ground, taking voluntary action and making tangible changes to achieve sustainability for future generations of people and birds.
We continue our conversation with Wyoming ranchers Marilyn Mackey and Tom Reed about family heritage, the influence of the oil and gas industry, changing conservation practices, and challenges facing the future of ranching in rural America. In today’s post, they share their perspectives about sustainable management approaches, and why they love what they do. Part 4 of a 4-part series.