Most of the vast native prairie that originally covered over 300 million acres of the Great Plains has been lost to conversion to agriculture and development. The grasslands that remain have been degraded by a range of factors, including invasive species encroachment, urbanization, energy development, and unsustainable livestock management practices. As a result, grassland birds have suffered an unparalleled decline over the past half century. This calls for Audubon's action.
To combat the negative effects of grassland degradation---and to keep grass on the landscape---Audubon has developed the Conservation Ranching program. This market-based conservation approach offers incentives for good grassland stewardship through a certification label on beef products. For the first time, consumers can contribute to grassland conservation efforts by selectively purchasing beef from Audubon-certified farms and ranches.
Regenerative grazing increases plant diversity and productivity with benefits for bees, butterflies and birds.
The program is a collaboration between Audubon Dakota, Audubon New Mexico, Audubon Rockies, Audubon Nebraska, Audubon Missouri, and Audubon Texas with local ranchers that aims to enhance millions of acres of grassland bird habitat. For each ranch, a Habitat Management Plan is developed that benefits target grassland bird species.
Regenerative grazing practices are adopted that mimic past grazing by bison. Pastures are allowed to rest and recover, resulting in a diversity of grassland vegetation across a ranch. To be certified, each ranch must also meet program protocols related to Forage and Feeding, Animal Health & Welfare, and Environmental Sustainability. Animals in the program must spend their entire lives on grasslands. Feedlots are not allowed, and growth hormones and antibiotics are strictly prohibited.
The Audubon certification seal is expected to bring a broad market appeal that should enhance demand by consumers that want options for beef that is sustainably raised and benefits wildlife habitat.