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Farm Bill Conservation Programs Help Maryland's Birds

Grassland birds suffered a nearly 50 percent population drop before easements were introduced in 2003. (
Grassland birds suffered a nearly 50 percent population drop before easements were introduced in 2003. (
August 21, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – While the Farm Bill is crucial policy for agriculture, it's also quite literally for the birds.

The "State of the Birds 2017" report from the North American Bird Conservation Initiative says farm bill conservation programs are helping farmers and ranchers keep their land productive, while supporting birds and other wildlife species.

Two-thirds of the land in the lower 48 states is privately owned, and Andrew Schmidt, agriculture policy program manager for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, says it provides critical habitat.

"If you look at migratory birds, they're certainly not coming down that flyway avoiding private lands,” he points out. “So, how do we create that habitat throughout their range to allow those birds and species to thrive, keeping birds off the endangered species list, keeping common birds common?"

Schmidt says conservation provisions in the Farm Bill have helped stabilize populations of grassland birds, including Maryland's beloved eastern meadowlark.

The report notes that grassland birds suffered a nearly 50 percent population drop before grassland easements were introduced in 2003.

The report makes recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill, including increased funding for the voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that benefit farmers and ranchers as well as grasslands and wetlands.

Schmidt explains habitat work goes hand in hand with soil and water quality improvements.

"If you're trying to create good grassland habitat, that habitat is going to restore that landscape to its native plant community, which by extension will also assist with soil health, nutrient runoff and water quality and quantity issues," he states.

Other recommendations include working with individual states to improve the impact of conservation programs on priority wildlife species, and monitoring and evaluating the programs over time to maximize efficiency.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD