Grassland Restoration: A Win-Win-Win for Birds, Prairies, and Landowners

Since 1970, North America's grassland birds have lost about half of their population, with an astounding three out of four species declining. These losses are concerning for many reasons, perhaps most of all because bird declines serve as an “alarm” warning of challenges to the health of our land.

What's behind these dramatic downturns?

The short answer is habitat loss. In the central regions of Texas and Oklahoma, where ABC's local partner the Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture (OPJV) operates, large-scale habitat loss is depriving native birds of the food and space they need to survive and thrive.

Habitat loss in the region has been driven, in large part, by land-use changes and misguided management practices, of which wildfire suppression has been the most detrimental. Without fire, woody species such as Eastern Redcedar and mesquite often invade and degrade native grassland.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Photo by Anders Gyllenhaal

Northern Bobwhite. Photo by Tim Zurowski/Shutterstock

To help reverse these trends, the OPJV launched an innovative grassland restoration program, the Grassland Restoration Incentive Program (GRIP), in 2013.

GRIP provides landowners with the technical and financial assistance needed to improve native grassland management on their lands. By tweaking management strategies, landowners can keep working lands working, while creating and maintaining essential grassland habitat for birds and other wildlife.

GRIP uses a suite of proven conservation practices to improve native grassland habitat. These include: prescribed fire, firebreaks, prescribed grazing, range planting, brush management, herbaceous weed control, and cross fencing.

The results have been dramatic. Since GRIP's inauguration seven years ago, the OPJV has:

• Treated more than 92,000 total acres;
• Contracted more than 16,000 acres for prescribed fire;
• Administered more than 30 grants worth more than $1.9 million;
• Surveyed more than 19,000 monitoring points; and
• Created or improved more than 1,500 Northern Bobwhite territories.

These practices don't just improve grassland for birds. Other wildlife species such as the Texas Horned Lizard and the Monarch butterfly, a declining pollinator, also benefit. That's not all: Taking care of native grasslands provides Texans and Oklahomans with clean air, water, and healthy soils.

Loggerhead Shrike. Photo by Serenity 23/Shutterstock

Loggerhead Shrike. Photo by Serenity 23/Shutterstock

To learn more about GRIP, OPJV partner organizations, and OPJV's focal species, visit the OPJV website. You can also watch the video below.

If you are a landowner within the OPJV landscape and would like to participate in the GRIP program, you can reach out to a local biologist to learn more. To find a biologist in Texas, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's "Find a Wildlife Biologist" page. In Oklahoma, visit the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's website.