Protect grasslands — and buy range-fed beef — says bird report

Two-thirds of birds that breed and winter in grasslands have been lost, says State of Canada’s Birds report

A new State of Canada’s Birds report shows the beef sector plays a critical role in protecting the country’s highly threatened grassland bird species, says the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

“The CCA has long advocated for enhanced protection of the Great Northern Plains, an endangered grasslands ecosystem, from further encroachment,” the cattle organization said in its e-newsletter earlier this month.

“Canada’s beef industry is the largest Canadian conserver of these grasslands… (and) Canada’s cattle producers support ecosystems that provide wildlife habitat, biodiversity conservation, and maintain water quality.”

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But while the report does call on Canadians to “support sustainable range-fed beef,” it is critical of other farming practices — including cropping native grasslands and draining wetlands.

There is also a need to find “innovative alternatives to broad-scale pesticide use,” says the report from the North American Bird Conservation Initiative Canada. (The organization is a coalition of federal and provincial departments, non-government and industry organizations. Along with its U.S. and Mexican counterparts, it seeks to protect and restore North American bird species and their habitats.)

Its 2019 report says conservation efforts are working for waterfowl and birds of prey — their populations have risen 150 per cent and 110 per cent respectively since 1970.

But “grassland birds are running out of time,” it says.

“Our grasslands have lost 300 million birds since 1970, or two out of every three birds,” the report states.

But the numbers are even more grim for species which breed on native grasslands in the northern plains and winter on ones in the southern U.S. and Mexico — their numbers are down 87 per cent since 1970.

Species such as Swainson’s hawks, which breed in Alberta, are threatened by disappearance of grasslands being cropped under irrigation, it says.

“Protect the few remaining grasslands, including grazed public lands, from crop agriculture and restore native grasslands to provide habitat and increase carbon storage,” the report urges.

Grasslands and pastures grazed by Canadian cattle sequester 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon annually, the CCA said.

In addition to grassland species, shorebirds and aerial insectivore are extremely threatened, the report says, with populations down 40 per cent and 59 per cent respectively.

The State of Canada’s Birds report can be found at nabci.net.

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