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The Conservation Reserve Program and Grassland Birds


Several prairie species that seriously declined in abundance during 1966-1990 were common in Conservation Reserve Program fields. These species presumably diminished because of the conversion of perennial grassland habitat to annually tilled cropland, although exact causes are unclear. Our results, like those of King (1991) for southeastern Nebraska, indicate that the Conservation Reserve Program offers breeding habitat for several of these species and, if continued, may have the potential to reverse their downward trends.

Although more research on habitats provided by the Conservation Reserve Program in the northern Great Plains can and should be carried out, early results indicate the tremendous value of restored grasslands to a host of breeding prairie birds. The Program provided for 10-year leases, which will begin to expire in 1996. At that time, many farmers will likely return their Program fields to cultivation, even though those areas may not be needed to meet demands for crop production. It would be wise conservation—of soil, water, and bird resources—to continue the Conservation Reserve Program in some form.

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