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Working with Landowners to Provide Habitat for Grassland Birds in NY

Loggerhead Shrikes no longer breed in New York; photo by Jeff Nadler.
Through its Landowner Incentive Program (LIP), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has enrolled 526 acres of private lands within the AMJV region in 5-year contracts for grassland bird habitat management. An additional 433 acres are currently being enrolled. These lands are part of a statewide effort that will soon have enrolled well over 2,500 high-quality grassland acres in total.

Landowners enrolled in LIP agree to manage their lands according to a site management plan tailored to each property. Site management plans generally require removal of trees and woody vegetation and rotational mowing of grasslands. These practices help provide high-quality grassland habitat that remains undisturbed throughout the breeding season and winter months when these areas are used extensively by raptors. Monitoring of breeding birds at these sites has shown densities of species like Bobolinks to be more than five times higher than at randomly selected sites.

In addition to LIP, DEC works with the Farm Service Agency to enroll and prepare management plans for the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement Conservation Reserve Program (SAFE-CRP). Whereas LIP focuses on maintenance and improvement of large existing grasslands, SAFE-CRP focuses on conversion of cropland to suitable grassland cover. Once conversion is accomplished, management for SAFE-CRP sites is similar to that of LIP sites and consistent with grassland bird nesting and wintering requirements. Audubon New York assists with various elements of both programs, including researching management practices, monitoring, and helping to draft site management plans. Initial research shows grasslands not enrolled in a conservation and management program but actively managed for grassland birds quickly becomes unsuitable for nesting through succession, row-crop agriculture, development, or other practices incompatible with grassland bird reproduction and survival. There are approximately 1,257 acres of grasslands enrolled in conservation programs in NY’s portion of the AMJV.