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Audubon Dakota staff discuss certification process for bird-friendly beef with rancher Dan Rasmussen of the 33 Ranch. Photo credit: M.F. Fernandez

Bird-friendly Beef: Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Program

Audubon’s Conservation Ranching (ACR) program is the cornerstone of its Working Lands Initiative. It functions as market-based conservation, offering incentives for good grassland stewardship and “bird-friendly” management practices through a certification label on beef products. The program has evolved through a collaborative effort between beef producers, state and federal agency partners, industry experts, and other NGOs into a producer-centered strategic tool to address today’s grassland conservation challenges throughout the Central Flyway, from Canada to Mexico. As grassland birds are experiencing some of the steepest, most consistent declines over any guild of bird in North America and much of the remaining grassland is in private ownership (85%), it has never been more important for conservation organizations to partner with the stewards of this imperiled landscape—ranchers. By achieving standards in habitat management, forage and feeding, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability, landowners can now certify their land through a third-party auditor as “bird-friendly.” For the first time, consumers can contribute to grassland conservation efforts by selectively purchasing beef from Audubon-certified farms and ranches.

Audubon Dakota has embraced this strategy and works within the Prairie Pothole and Northern Great Plains regions, collaborating with cattle-ranchers to protect and restore habitat for grassland birds and waterfowl. Mimicking the grazing pressures once performed by herds of other large ungulates, strategic cattle grazing is an essential management tool for maintaining prairies, which led to Audubon's decision to promote grazing on grasslands. As cattle roam, they consume invasive plants and create the necessary disturbance that helps grasslands thrive, while also providing landowners with new market opportunities within the growing grass-fed and pasture-raised meat industries. The ACR program is designed to combat the negative effects of grassland degradation and to keep grass on the landscape by offering assistance with bird-friendly management, including developing grazing management plans, providing technical assistance, facilitating supply chains, and creating new market opportunities for program ranches. In the Dakotas, approximately 115,000 acres are currently enrolled, and the certified beef is available in a growing number of retail outlets. The ACR program encourages consumers to support grassland conservation by buying beef products raised on Audubon-certified bird-friendly land.

To learn about ranchers and retailers of bird-friendly beef near you, visit: Audubon.org/ranching.