The Nature Conservancy in North Dakota announced today that it has completed the first year of a three-year project to restore habitat for threatened grassland birds in the Sheyenne National Grasslands. The work is being funded through a State Wildlife Grant from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
The grant, which was awarded earlier this year, provides $153,000 to restore habitat for grassland birds and control the spread of invasive plants that are establishing themselves at the expense of native prairie plants. The grant will fund additional habitat restoration work and invasive species removal in 2009 and 2010.
In the Sheyenne National Grasslands of eastern North Dakota, the encroachment of trees and non-native leafy spurge on native prairie represent significant threats to grassland nesting bird success. Less than one percent of native prairie grasslands remain as critical habitat for species such as Baird’s sparrows and upland sandpipers.
The Conservancy has already removed one-half mile of tree rows and mapped and treated invasive leafy spurge on more than 3,800 acres at its Brown Ranch and Pigeon Point preserves and on adjacent private lands.
The effort has already made a difference for birds native to North Dakota. John Challey, a long-time Conservancy supporter who lives in North Dakota, said that he’s already observed rare grassland birds on prairie restored as a result of the state grant.
“It had been about ten years since I had last seen an upland sandpiper at Pigeon Point Preserve,” Challey said. “However, the work crew was not quite finished with the tree removal project this summer when I began seeing upland sandpipers there again. At the same time, it was a particularly pleasant surprise to see a marbled godwit, a species that I had never seen on the preserve before.”
In the next two years, the Conservancy will continue to remove leafy spurge, use prescribed burns to restore native prairie and monitor the effects of its restoration work. “Controlling the spread of leafy spurge and invasive tree species using prescribed fire will allow the native tallgrass plant community to remain in balance,” said Rob Self, land steward for the Conservancy in North Dakota. “And removal of the tree rows will create a 4,000-acre open area that will provide habitat for grassland nesting birds.”
Grassland bird species have shown a sharper and more widespread decline over recent decades than any other bird type in North America. Less than one percent of native prairie grasslands remain as critical habitat for grassland nesting birds. The Sheyenne National Grasslands, which include 70,000 acres of public land managed by the Forest Service and 50,000 acres of private prairie lands, provide habitat for a wealth of native species, including some 87 species of grassland birds.
The Conservancy’s Brown Ranch and Pigeon Point Preserve are located in the Sheyenne Delta and total 2,100 acres. Brown Ranch is one of the few large examples of nearly intact native tallgrass prairie in northern tallgrass prairie ecoregion.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
North Dakota Media Contact
tel: (612) 331-0747
mobile: (612) 845-2744