Southern Cone Grassland Alliance – an Inspiration

I thought I would share a link to a story I received this morning from Birdlife International about Birdlife Americas Southern Cone Grassland Alliance. The alliance has just received an award for ‘International Cooperation’ from the prestigious U.S. Forest Service’s 2016 Wings Across the Americas Awards for outstanding conservation achievement. See Birdlife America’s Southern Cone Grassland Partnership.

Late last year, Bird Studies Canada’s (and MB IBA steering committee chair), Christian Artuso, presented a talk, together with Audubon, on North American grassland bird conservation at a gathering of ranchers, NGOs, government officials and academics in Brazil. This gathering was arranged by an inspirational partnership for conservation involving ranchers from four countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay), conserving native grasslands and in return receiving a grassland bird-friendly beef certification. This certification provides ranchers with a higher price for their beef.

Why is this of interest to the Manitoba IBA Program? For starters, cattle producers, especially in the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-grass Prairie IBA, face many of the same challenges as those in South America. In both Manitoba and the Southern Cone, almost all grasslands are privately owned. Retaining cattle production is vital to retaining the remaining patches of native grassland, especially given the loss of native bison in Manitoba. Conserving native grasslands is also key to conserving our special grassland birds such as Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspur and Ferruginous Hawk. In both cases, cattle production is beneficial to birds.

Landowners must also turn a profit to retain cattle on the landscape. Across the Americas native grassland have been converted to crops or in some cases in the north, areas of grassland are given over to energy extraction due to financial pressures. This has meant that in North and South America, entire grassland ecosystems have become endangered, leading to declines of well-known grassland birds such as Bobolink and Loggerhead Shrike.

Also of interest is how this type of initiative might influence migratory birds from Manitoba. Birds of the Manitoba grassland like the Upland Sandpiper and Swainson’s Hawk spend the winter on South American grassland. What’s more, some open tundra species of the high Arctic, think Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and those of the Hudson Bay lowlands, say, Hudsonian Godwit, also winter on the grasslands of the Southern Cone. This demonstrates the importance of a fully functioning network of sites for conservation, such as IBAs, across borders and continents. It also presents a challenge to decision-makers and stakeholders in North America in responding to such a positive initiative.

Could a similar certification award and partnership could work in North America? Maybe in a few years there will be an option of purchasing grassland bird-friendly beef from the native prairies of southwestern Manitoba. That would certainly be a step in the right direction for threatened grassland birds!Upland Sandpiper