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Photo Credit: Sandra Johnson

North Dakota Meadowlark Initiative

Credit: Lara Anderson

The Meadowlark Initiative is a new statewide strategy initiated by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, tapping into the collective insights, resources, and efforts of conservation, agriculture, and industry partners to enhance, restore, and sustain native grasslands in North Dakota.

Healthy, diverse native prairies make up the vital habitat component for North Dakota’s state bird, the Western Meadowlark. If there is one bird North Dakotans know and adore, it is the meadowlark. It is only fitting this colorful “country crooner” should be the ambassador for a proactive, comprehensive effort to conserve grasslands in this state.

With less than 25 percent of the state’s original native grasslands still remaining, steady declines in meadowlark populations are being widely observed, as well as those of other grassland-nesting birds, pollinators (native bees and butterflies), and ranching operations; all of which are dependent on these vibrant grasslands.

During the development of its 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan – the primary blueprint for addressing management of North Dakota’s rare and declining Species of Conservation Priority – and subsequent discussions and collaboration with fellow landscape stakeholders, the Department recognized its essential role in forging the relationships necessary to begin charting the course for stemming, if not reversing, the alarming downward trends of the state’s grassland-dependent species. When surveying stakeholders, 84% (of 73 responses) agreed or strongly agreed that an initiative focused on grasslands is a vital priority for our state and its future. Thus, the vision and focus of the Meadowlark Initiative were fledged.

Credit: North Dakota Game & Fish Department

The vision of the North Dakota Meadowlark Initiative is to create healthy, thriving grasslands which provide biodiversity and prosperity for our wildlife, pollinators, ranching operations, and communities by addressing the following key elements:

  1. Revitalize, reconnect, and sustain existing working grasslands and ranches for diverse, vibrant communities.
  2. Reinvent and implement a statewide grassland reconstruction program.
  3. Offset impacts to grassland habitat function and value as development advances.
  4. Increase awareness that meadowlarks, prairie pollinators, native grasslands, and their associated biodiversity provide important beneficial services for human well-being.
  5. Advance grassland ecosystem recovery through science and education.

As a first step in launching the Initiative, the Game and Fish Department and several contributing partners submitted a USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant proposal, seeking to leverage over $12M in partner contributions with $10M of USDA-NRCS funding to “kick start” collaborative work toward goals and objectives encompassed in the Meadowlark Initiative. Partners include the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Audubon Dakota, North Dakota Natural Resource Trust, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy, Mule Deer Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Northern Great Plains Joint Venture, Ecological Insights, Millborn Seeds, and North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition.

In late April, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service announced that North Dakota’s Meadowlark Initiative RCPP was selected as one of 85 successful projects nationwide to receive a $7.1M grant award.

Over the next five years, together with this funding, the collaborative effort intends to: 1) convert 20,000 acres of marginal cropland to diverse native perennial vegetation; 2) enhance 50,000 acres of existing and reconstructed native grasslands; and 3) restore and enhance 10,000 acres of wetlands within reconstructed grassland complexes.

More information regarding the Meadowlark Initiative can be found at: https://gf.nd.gov/working-together.

-North Dakota Game and Fish Department