Grassland Conservation Needed to Combat Birds’ Climate Change Woes

Grassland Conservation Needed to Combat Birds’ Climate Change Woes

Ducks Unlimited
Ducks Unlimited

BISMARCK, North Dakota – -(OutdoorWire.com)- Grassland birds, whose populations are in a persistent decline, may be poorly positioned to adjust to a warming climate as a result of dwindling habitat. According to a recent analysis by Ducks Unlimited, the continued loss of grassland habitats could spell the same challenges for breeding waterfowl.

As reported by the National Audubon Society, grassland songbirds have not shifted their wintering grounds northward over the past 40 years as the climate has warmed, in contrast to other bird groups. This may be because grassland birds simply cannot find enough intact grassland to the north of their current range.

Waterfowl face similar problems on their breeding areas. “We continue to see ongoing loss of both native prairie and restored grasslands across the Prairie Pothole Region,” said Dr. Scott Stephens, director of conservation planning in DU’s Great Plains region, “and our long-term data from research on nest survival clearly indicates continued loss of grassland will ultimately result in reduced populations for ducks, shorebirds and raptors.”

Stephens says wetlands will undoubtedly also be impacted significantly by a warming climate. Some projections suggest wetlands in the PPR would see far less frequent periods of wetness, which will negatively impact populations of breeding waterfowl and waterbirds.

“We know populations of waterfowl closely track the wetness on prairie breeding areas,” Stephens said. “Increased dryness of wetlands coupled with continued loss of grassland breeding habitat represents a recipe for disaster for the continent’s waterfowl.”

“The ironic part of this is conversion of grassland results in the release of carbon dioxide stored in the soil by prairie grasses, which further contributes to warming the climate,” said Dr. Jim Ringelman, director of conservation programs for DU’s Great Plains region. “However, if structured correctly, climate change legislation can protect and restore grassland across the Great Plains while also removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This will help reduce atmospheric warming.”

Ringelman says climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing conservationists and continued habitat loss only magnifies that problem. “We believe climate-change legislation that recognizes the value in terrestrial storage of carbon will provide the multiple benefits of reducing gases that contribute to climate change while also benefitting grassland wildlife,” he said. “We are hopeful Congress will be very interested in these “win-win” solutions as they look to craft legislation to address climate change.”

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With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with more than 12 million acres conserved. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands ? nature’s most productive ecosystem ? and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.