January 2022 Edition | Volume 76, Issue 1
Published since 1946
Restoring Nebraska’s Prairie Grasslands with Prescribed Burning
The USGS Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit is leading new research on restoring prairie grasslands with prescribed burning in the Loess Canyons of Nebraska. Private landowners have used prescribed burning for nearly two decades to address the greatest threat to their working grasslands, the expansion of trees into grasslands (woody encroachment). This is the first study showing how long-term management across an entire region or ecosystem can reverse the impacts that trees have on grasslands and on birds that depend on intact, resilient, and tree-free grasslands.
Science documenting conservation efforts that lead to increases in the number of grassland bird species across an entire region is extraordinarily rare. Over 700 million birds have been lost from grasslands and 74% of grassland bird species are in decline in the Great Plains—the highest of any region in North America.
Grassland bird conservation is a key priority of a new Framework for Conservation Action in the Great Plains Grassland Biome developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife. Addressing large-scale threats, like woody encroachment, and building from measurable outcomes of conservation successes, like increasing numbers of bird species on landscapes, is a top priority to address grassland bird declines.
Researchers used 14 years of fire treatment data, six years of grassland bird monitoring data, and remotely sensed tree cover data from the Rangeland Analysis Platform across more than 330,000 acres of privately owned grasslands to observe how grassland-dependent birds responded to landscapes restored by prescribed burning.
The researchers found that the number of grassland bird species increased across 65% (~222,000 acres) of the Loess Canyons, and woody plant cover decreased up to 55% across 25% of all fire-treated areas.
A forthcoming study in Ecological Solutions and Evidence demonstrates how prescribed burning has increased the number of grassland bird species found on privately-owned rangelands across most of this region. This research shows this decline does not have to be permanent and grasslands and species richness can be recovered through concerted, landscape-scale action. Research in the Loess Canyons and this research may inform future conservation projects.
The ONB features articles from the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program, a cooperative agreement among State fish and wildlife agencies, Universities, Wildlife Management Institute, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Follow CRU on Twitter.
Greg M Peters, Western Working Lands for Wildlife Communications Coordinator
Caleb Roberts, firstname.lastname@example.org, Assistant Unit Leader, Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
Dawn Childs, email@example.com, Information Specialist, Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Program, USGS.