Conservation Ranching

How we empower ranchers and consumers to protect grassland birds.

Western Meadowlark Photo: James Halsch

 
North America's grasslands are among the most imperiled ecosystems in the world.  They have declined more than any other bird group in the continent, by as much as 80% for some species.
 
The vast majority of America’s grassland birds breed on private lands which is why working with ranchers is our best hope for conserving them. California has 61 million acres of rangelands that provide food production, carbon sequestration, water infiltration, and habitat for a wide range of species.
 
A recent study identifies California grasslands as more reliable and resilient carbon sinks than forests (Pawlok 2018). However, this historic California land use is under threat with an average of 20,000 acres a year being lost to development or crop conversion (Cameron et al2014).
 
Climate change, invasive species, aquifer depletion, and poor grazing practices also degrade large portions of grasslands, increasing economic and ecological vulnerability. To slow the loss of rangelands, stabilize declining populations of grassland birds and wildlife, and contribute to climate mitigation, Audubon created the Audubon Conservation Ranching Program (ACR).
 

Benefits to Birds

Doniga Markegard with her herd on coastal grassland near Halfmoon Bay. Photo: Doniga Markegard
To save grassland birds, we’re enlisting and assisting California’s ranchersthe stewards of our remaining grassland landscapesin implementing conservation ranching practices of thousands of acres. We’re working with them to develop Habitat Management Plans that implement regenerative grazing and other bird conservation practices, such as controlling invasive species and native plant seeding. 
 
By mimicking historic wild herds of grazing mammals, regenerative grazing invigorates diverse plant communities and supports nutrient cycles that rebuild soil and conserve water. It even has the potential to remove carbon from the atmosphere and add enormous amounts of carbon to soil organic matter. We measure the effectiveness of these practices by monitoring bird diversity and abundance, vegetation change, and soil health.
Benefits of regenerative grazing.
 

Benefits to Consumers

Beef from Audubon-certified land is hormone and antibiotic-free, ethically raised, and delicious. Supporting Audubon-certified ranches is better for grassland birds, better for the land, and better for you. Our certification seal can be found on high-quality meat products and empowers consumers to support ranches that benefit grassland birds and their habitat. 
 

Benefits to Ranchers

Beef from Audubon-certified lands garner a premium price and provides a unique opportunity for ranchers to showcase their excellent management practices. This helps them care for their families and provides exceptional habitat for wildlife. By first listening to the ranching community, trusting in their knowledge of sustainable land management, and learning from their resiliency in a volatile marketplace, we are ensuring that our strategies and solutions will benefit both people and nature. Buying beef from Audubon-certified lands supports rural economies and the ranching way of life.
 

Our Impact

 Since 2019, the Conservation Ranching Initiative in the California has: 

• Enrolled 17 different properties, as part of four ranching operations, totaling~70,000acres

• Conducted vegetation, soil, and bird surveys on participating ranches

• Outreach and education to hundreds of partners and eco-conscious consumers

• Developed technical and advisory committees with industry experts

We thank the California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) for their support.

Photo: Mike Fernandez

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News & Updates

A Way Forward for California's Working Lands
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Regenerative grazing increases plant diversity and productivity with benefits for bees, butterflies and birds.

How you can help, right now