Integrating Bird Conservation into Range Management
We implemented workshops for resource professionals in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico, and developed informational tools to assist resource professionals and landowners with integrating bird conservation into range management. We created a pocket-sized field guide that encompasses birds that are common or of conservation concern on the prairie. We developed a training module that covers bird identification, habitat needs, and their ecological and economic importance. A CD-ROM to assist with bird identification by sight and sound is in the development phase. These tools will help raise awareness for prairie birds including their identification, habitat needs, and conservation concerns.
The overall goals are to integrate birds into range monitoring and management prescriptions and to heighten awareness of birds with resource managers and private landowners. Objectives to achieve these goals:
Develop a teaching module for NRCS, SCD, university cooperative extension, and wildlife managers that integrates bird conservation into range management and monitoring. This module will complement Colorado State University’s Cooperative Extension project on “Coached Land Planning and Care” funded last year by SARE.
Train-the-trainer sessions, including four pilot sessions, will be an integral part of module testing and development. After incorporating feedback from the pilot sessions, a total of four sessions will be implemented in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico with extensive evaluation. After final module modifications are incorporated, 500 copies of the curriculum will be made available to NRCS, SCD, university cooperative extension agents, and other resource managers for private landowner programs.
Develop a protocol for bird evaluations, which will help resource managers and landowners tie range habitat and condition with birds. The protocol will be tested on at least three different ranches within the region important to shortgrass prairie birds, which includes Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Evaluations are a way to get resource managers and private landowners more in tune with birds on grassland habitats. Birds are excellent indicators of land health because they are closely linked with the ecosystem and typically are very conspicuous. Through time, our efforts will help enhance prairie stewardship and generate enthusiasm for birds and bird conservation. We will include this evaluation protocol in the module and training sessions.
Create, print, and distribute an easy-to-use, illustrated bird pocket guide that resource managers and landowners can use to help them identify common bird species and their habitats throughout the shortgrass prairie. Our guide will be an effective tool for training sessions and programs as well as for bird evaluations. We will provide 5,000 copies to resource managers and private landowners.
A draft of the training module for resource professionals and landowners has been produced. Landowners and resource professionals have reviewed the training module, and we will be incorporating their feedback this winter. We implemented four workshops this summer, one per state, in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. We had more than 70 attendees with the majority being resource professionals predominantly from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. We also had attendees from the Soil Conservation Districts, range consultants, wildlife consultants, Bureau of Land Management, state wildlife agencies, and private landowners. We had evaluations at the workshops regarding the training module, bird survey protocol, exercises, and an overall evaluation of the workshops. Respondents rated the bird survey protocol with an average score of 8.82 on a 10-point scale. They felt the indicator birds and habitat categories outlined in the training module were useful with a rating of 8.52 on a 10-point scale. Tables that were created as a part of the training module to tease out the different bird species of conservation concern and their diverse habitat needs were also useful, receiving a rating of 8.86 on a 10-point scale. The overall usefulness of the training module received a rating of 9.05 on a 10-point scale. Respondents also rated the workshops, which received a 9.11 on a 10-point scale.
The “Pocket Guide to Prairie Birds” was developed and made available in 2003. Ten thousand copies of the guides were printed and distributed. A reprint of the guides was just completed and we are actively distributing 17,000 more copies. Resource professionals and landowners have received them positively. All workshop attendees received pocket guides and we are currently sending them more.
It became apparent during the workshops and training sessions that resource professionals and landowners will need assistance with identifying birds by sight and sound. The pocket guide is a great resource for easy identification in the field, however, we need to develop a tool for assisting with bird songs. We are currently working with John Robinson of Lanius Software on a CD-ROM that includes all bird species in the pocket guide as well as approximately 20 more species, that are likely to be found within the four-state focus area. Users will simply click on the bird species of interest, which will link them to a page with a photo of the bird, range map, natural history and habitat information, and an icon to click on for the birds song. The CD-ROM will help with species awareness and be easy to reference in the field or in the office in preparation for field work.
Next year we will focus on upgrading the training module and incorporating feedback from workshop participants and reviewers. This will include developing a cover page for the training module, index, more details on habitat requirements, additional indicator bird species, and simplification of data sheets for field collection. This will also include the bird identification CD-ROM, which will help address concerns about learning the birds better especially by their songs. We are excited about workshops and further partnership building for next year. We are also excited about working with new partners including resource professionals and landowners as well as previous partners on the final phases of this project.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This project has made tremendous strides in raising awareness of birds within the Great Plains, which is that critical first step toward conservation. The majority of grassland birds are of high conservation concern and a concerted effort on the part of landowners and resource professionals is required to reverse declining trends and keep species off the Endangered Species List. The tools we have developed will help resource professionals and landowners integrate birds into their management and monitoring efforts. Since birds are heavily tied to the structure and habitat available they are also good indicators of range condition and thus management. In concert with range management they can be used to help indicate changes in habitat, which reflects on management strategies.
Birds are of high ecological importance since they help control insects and rodents, eat carrion, distribute seeds, and serve as food for other wildlife. Most grassland birds during the breeding season switch to an insect only diet and are able to consume impressive numbers of insects. Although birds may not control large insect and rodent outbreaks after they have begun, they can suppress populations, keeping them below outbreak levels that require more active control by landowners and managers.
Birds are also important to the U.S. economy. In 2001, over 80 million Americans participated in some form of recreational activity related to fish and wildlife. Roughly 46 million of all wildlife watchers were bird watchers and in 2001 they spent an estimated $32 billion on food, lodging, travel and equipment. Nature-based tourism is the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry in the United States. Many landowners are seeking alternative economic resources and nature tourism is becoming a viable and popular option for them.
Integrating birds into range management and monitoring can help improve range health and the economic base of private lands. This project has been well received by resource professionals and landowners throughout the Great Plains. The simple outreach tools we are or have developed are greatly enhancing awareness for grassland birds including their conservation needs. The partnerships that are and have been developed through this project will also enhance long-term grassland conservation at a regional scale.