Community Agriculture Alliance: Why do birds matter? |

Community Agriculture Alliance: Why do birds matter?

Birds do so much for us. They control pests, pollinate plants, disperse seeds, scavenge carcasses, recycle nutrients back to the earth, and entertain and inspire us. Birds are good indicators of environmental problems and a great economic resource (46 million Americans are bird watchers), and protecting birds promotes good land stewardship.

Birds matter, because they keep systems in balance. They are wherever we are, their migrations remind us of the interconnected web in which we live, they are a window that mirrors our own humanness, they bring color, pattern, and sound to our landscape, they add beauty to our lives and they are indicators of how well we are taking care of our planet. Birds help people connect with nature and symbolize the very essence of freedom.

Birds are highly sensitive to landscape changes, which makes them excellent indicators of overall ecosystem health. Much of our nation's most important breeding, migratory and wintering bird habitat is located on private working lands. The Yampa Valley has a rich history of ranching and farming, and these agricultural lands are essential bird habitat.

Wetlands make up less than 2 percent of the landscape but are a critical driver of migratory bird distributions and abundance in the West. Up to 80 percent of these wetland resources are on private lands, mostly associated with ranching and agriculture. High private ownership of these resources inextricably links migratory bird conservation to agricultural and ranching lands. In our area, spring flooding and vegetation management on working lands provides shallow water habitat and plants that mimic natural and seasonal functional values for migratory birds.

The sagebrush landscape of the West contains much of our nation's ranching and grazing lands. About 40 percent of bird species found in these habitats are of conservation concern, and more than 75 percent have declining populations.

Nearly half of forest bird species use private forestland. Private working forests provide substantial acreages of younger forests required by a suite of steeply declining forest birds.

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Bird Conservancy of the Rockies works in partnership with NRCS and other agencies, organizations and private landowners to conserve and protect working lands. The Farm Bill, a major force for creating, restoring and protecting bird habitat, is yielding real and meaningful conservation results. A recent study suggested that, if CRP acres were put back into annual crop production, populations of several species of grassland birds would experience significant declines.

The Wetland Reserve Program has restored 2.6 million acres of private wetlands across the nation. WRP-conserved wetlands provide essential breeding habitat for waterbirds, wintering habitat for waterfowl and migratory stopover habitat for shorebirds. The Sage Grouse Initiative has targeted conservation funding to enroll more than 700 ranchers and implement sustainable grazing systems that improve habitat on more than 2 million acres in 11 western states.

So next time you hear sandhill cranes flying over, a meadowlark singing from a fencepost or a hummingbird buzzing by, take a moment and think about why birds matter to you.

If you are interested in restoring, conserving, enhancing or protecting wildlife habitat on your private land and would like assistance, contact


Becky Jones is private lands wildlife biologist with Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, NRCS, and CPW.

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