The Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal recognizes lands managed to promote birds and biodiversity. Until now, like a fencepost minus a meadowlark, something was missing. Now appearing on the freshly updated seal at a grocer near you: a grazing cow, blooming coneflower, pollinating butterfly, and singing meadowlark, a foursome that better visually represents the habitat now in bird-friendly land management through Audubon Conservation Ranching.
With grassland bird habitat disappearing, grassland bird numbers were nearly halved in the last 50 years. Several grassland bird species remain on this perilous path, poised to lose half their existing populations in the next 25 years. Audubon Conservation Ranching has set out to stabilize these declining grassland bird populations in partnership with land stewards, namely ranchers who own and manage our remaining grasslands.
Audubon Conservation Ranching is a habitat program that goes to the root of the problem – grassland degradation, fragmentation, and loss – through the hearts, minds, and mouths of everyday consumers.
“Grassland habitat loss is inextricably linked to our food system,” said Chris Wilson, Director of Audubon Conservation Ranching, “It’s also true that grassland gains are directly linked to our food system.”
To shine a light on the plight of grasslands and their winged residents – Bobolinks, Lesser Prairie Chickens, Upland Sandpipers, Western Meadowlarks, and more – and to do something about it, Audubon Conservation Ranching takes consumers from conservation’s relative sidelines and puts them front and center in influencing the quality and quantity of bird habitat.
Here’s how it works: By enrolling in Audubon Conservation Ranching, ranchers implement bird-friendly management practices on their lands. Not only are there strict animal welfare protocols, but the grazing cattle and bison are used as a habitat management tool to create different structured grasslands for birds with nuanced habitat needs. These actions merit an Audubon bird-friendly certification which producers then use in promotion on their products, appearing on packaging as the green and white Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal.
Consumers who seek out and select products carrying this Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal essentially provide their own seal of approval as well, conscientious purchasing that acts as a vote for the continued good grassland stewardship on the source farms and ranches.
This market wrinkle is what distinguishes Audubon Conservation Ranching from a more traditional conservation program, a missing link that Wilson says has kept grassland habitat loss hidden in the environmental shadows.
“When Aldo Leopold spoke of the dangers in not owning a farm, one he warned of was supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery. Nowadays most of us don’t really know where our food comes from. The ‘not knowing' can be a passive endorsement of poor land stewardship, little to no grassland habitat, and fewer wingbeats. But now people have a choice – selecting beef raised on Audubon certified lands that are building diverse bird habitats – and this has the potential to empower anyone that eats beef to support conservation,” Wilson said.
More than 140 rancher-producers participate in the Audubon Conservation Ranching program, a growing network buoyed earlier this year by the commitment from Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats to certify 1 million acres of grassland habitat as bird-friendly through Audubon.
Wilson said while Audubon is mission motivated by an outcome for grassland birds, as a market-based habitat program, it was important for the updated seal to showcase the array of land benefits rolled into certification. “Just like calories and content, consumers need to know what they’re getting. The range of land benefits rolled into certification includes healthier soil, cleaner streams, and increased plant diversity that supports bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. With these elements included, the new seal does a better job of ‘selling’ the biodiversity and broader value of Audubon Certified bird-friendly lands.”