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J.2-2: Assessing Grassland Distribution and Trends across the North American Great Plains to Inform Waterfowl Conservation Delivery

Presented by Sean P. Fields - Email: sean_fields@fws.gov

North American temperate grasslands are among the most threatened ecosystems in the world. The North American Great Plains has sustained extensive grassland loss and degradation since the 1800s due to agricultural conversion and infrastructure development. Land use intensification and eroded ecosystem integrity has resulted in consistent declines in Great Plains plants and animals, most notably grassland-dependent birds. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan established Migratory Bird Joint Ventures as collaborative, regional public-private partnerships that implement landscape-scale conservation efforts for the benefit of priority bird species. In response to the continued grassland loss, a network of eight Joint Ventures across the Great Plains and Chihuahuan Desert initiated a multi-phase grassland conservation effort to benefit grassland-dependent migratory birds, including upland nesting waterfowl. In the first phase, we developed spatial decision support tools to prioritize land parcels for conservation actions across the study area. We used a combination of proprietary US Department of Agriculture data together with remote sensing techniques to identify areas of undisturbed grasslands across migratory bird annual cycles. Additionally, we assessed the rate of conservation gains against the rate of grassland losses in each Joint Venture geography to identify the regions with the greatest urgency for conservation action. Our results indicate 50% of all grasslands have been lost with only 8.5% of the remaining undisturbed habitat perpetually protected. The Prairie Pothole Region of Canada and the US continues to suffer the highest loss rates, with shrub encroachment a primary factor in degrading habitats in the southern Great Plains and Chihuahuan Desert. Now that we have a common understanding of grassland distribution and trends and how those vary across the central grasslands, we plan to expand our partnerships to achieve shared conservation goals to benefit priority migratory birds and rural communities across the landscape.
Session: Conservation & Planning (Friday, August 30, 13:20 to 15:00)