Scaling up private land conservation to meet recovery goals for grassland birds

David C. Pavlacky, Christian A. Hagen, Anne M. Bartuszevige, Rich Iovanna, Thomas Luke George, David E. Naugle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Long-term population declines have elevated recovery of grassland avifauna to among the highest conservation priorities in North America. Because most of the Great Plains is privately owned, recovery of grassland bird populations depends on voluntary conservation with strong partnerships between private landowners and resource professionals. Despite large areas enrolled in voluntary practices through U.S. Department of Agriculture's Lesser Prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) Initiative (LPCI), the effectiveness of Farm Bill investments for meeting wildlife conservation goals remains an open question. Our objectives were to evaluate extents to which Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and LPCI-grazing practices influence population densities of grassland birds; estimate relative contributions of practices to regional bird populations; and evaluate percentages of populations conserved relative to vulnerability of species. We designed a large-scale impact-reference study and used the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions program to evaluate bird population targets of the Playa Lakes Joint Venture. We used point transect distance sampling to estimate density and population size for 35 species of grassland birds on private lands enrolled in native or introduced CRP plantings and LPCI-prescribed grazing. Treatment effects indicated CRP plantings increased densities of three grassland obligates vulnerable to habitat loss, and LPCI grazing increased densities of four species requiring heterogeneity in dense, tall-grass structure (α = 0.1). Population estimates in 2016 indicated the practices conserved breeding habitat for 4.5 million birds (90% CI: 4.0–5.1), and increased population sizes of 16 species, totaling 1.8 million birds (CI: 1.4–2.4). Conservation practices on private land benefited the most vulnerable grassland obligate species (AICc weight = 0.53). By addressing habitat loss and degradation in agricultural landscapes, conservation on private land provides a solution to declining avifauna of North America and scales up to meet population recovery goals for the most imperiled grassland birds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1564-1574
Number of pages11
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Conservation Reserve Program
  • Iniciativa de la Gallina de Pradera Menor
  • Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions
  • Lesser Prairie-chicken Initiative
  • Monitoreo Integrado en las Regiones de Conservación de Aves
  • Programa de Reservas de Conservación
  • Proyecto de Ley de Granjas Estadunidense
  • U.S. Farm Bill
  • densidad poblacional
  • population density
  • population size
  • tamaño poblacional


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