Figure 1. Modeled breeding grasshopper sparrow abundance in the PPJV and NGPJV derived from observations, landcover and climate data.

Developing a Conservation Reserve Program Optimization Model for Grassland Birds

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) of the 1985 Food Security Act (a.k.a. Farm Bill) provides substantial benefits to grassland birds. Populations of grassland birds are declining at a steeper rate than any other group of North American birds and the Northern Great Plains has the highest diversity of grassland bird species on the continent, therefore optimizing the enrollment of CRP in this region is significantly important. Unfortunately for conservation, nation-wide enrollment of CRP lands by FY18 has been capped at 24 million acres, a 25% decrease from the previous cap of 32 million acres. Consequently, it is even more important to develop and use decision support tools to maximize benefits for grassland birds as existing CRP parcels are prioritized for retention and new parcels are assessed for acquisition of CRP lands in the future.

The Habitat and Population Evaluation Team and the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture (PPJV) are working with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop spatial decision support tools that will help the agency prioritize CRP parcels for retention and acquisition across the PPJV and Northern Great Plains Joint Venture (NGPJV). Spatial models (Figure 1) that relate stop-level bird abundance observations from the North American Breeding Bird Survey to landcover and climate data are being developed for a suite of priority species. Additionally, recommendations on seed mixes and management actions (e.g., grazing, haying, prescribed fire) will be delivered to the USDA to optimize CRP for these species of conservation concern. Interim results will be available in late summer 2017. Field validation and final models will be completed in summer 2018.

For more information, contact Sean Fields at