Effects of the Conservation Reserve Program on northern bobwhite and grassland birds
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The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has converted just over 36 million acres of cropland into potential wildlife habitat, primarily grassland. Thus, the CRP should benefit grassland songbirds, a group of species that is declining across the United States and is of conservation concern. Additionally, the CRP is an important part of multi-agency, regional efforts to restore northern bobwhite populations. However, comprehensive assessments of the wildlife benefits of CRP at regional scales are lacking. We used Breeding Bird Survey and National Resources Inventory data to assess the potential for the CRP to benefit northern bobwhite and other grassland birds with overlapping ranges and similar habitat associations. We built regression models for 15 species in seven different ecological regions. Forty-nine of 108 total models contained significant CRP effects (P < 0.05), and 48 of the 49 contained positive effects. Responses to CRP varied across ecological regions. Only eastern meadowlark was positively-related to CRP in all the ecological regions, and western meadowlark was the only species never related to CRP. CRP was a strong predictor of bird abundance compared to other land cover types. The potential for CRP habitat as a regional conservation tool to benefit declining grassland bird populations should continue to be assessed at a variety of spatial scales. We caution that bird-CRP relations varied from region to region and among species. Because the NRI provides relatively coarse resolution information on CRP, more detailed information about CRP habitats (spatial arrangement, age of the habitat (time since planting), specific conservation practices used) should be included in future assessments to fully understand where and to what extent CRP can benefit grassland birds.
KeywordsAgriculture Breeding Bird Survey Conservation Reserve Program Grassland birds Landscape composition Natural Resources Inventory Northern bobwhite
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