Brian Chepulis, Range Ecologist, Brian Amundson, rancher from Bar V Bar Ranch, and Katie Preston, Operations and Outreach Assistant at the Edward M. Brigham III Alkali Lake Sanctuary. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon
Brian Chepulis, Range Ecologist, Brian Amundson, rancher from Bar V Bar Ranch, and Katie Preston, Operations and Outreach Assistant at the Edward M. Brigham III Alkali Lake Sanctuary. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Audubon in Action

For Consumers and Conservationists: FAQs on Conservation Ranching

Learn more about what conservation ranching is, and why it can be good for birds and the environment

What are your program standards?

Program certification is achieved by following a set of program standards in four areas:

1.  HABITAT MANAGEMENT---Each farm or ranch must be managed for bird habitat according to a set of protocols, including general habitat protocols that apply to all sites, regional protocols, and ranch-specific management requirements. Each rancher adopts a Habitat Management Plan that is uniquely developed to address site-specific habitat goals and bird conservation opportunities. 

2.  FORAGE AND FEEDING---Livestock must be able to freely graze open grasslands. The protocols prohibit the use of antibiotics and animal byproducts, and seek to minimize grain-based feed supplementation. No feedlots are allowed.

3.  ANIMAL HEALTH AND WELFARE---Program participants must demonstrate a commitment to properly caring for livestock by adhering to livestock production methods that reflect best practices for animal health and welfare.  Any mistreatment of animals is not tolerated in this program.

4.  ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY--- Pesticides are restricted, and waterways are protected from contamination to ensure that ranching practices result in cleaner streams, healthier soils, more pollinators for plants, and more carbon stored in plants and soil.

The full set of ACR program standards is available at Audubon.org/ranching.

How do I know if this product came from an Audubon certified ranch that is following the standards?

The presence of Audubon’s certification seal indicates that the product came from a certified ranch. Audubon has enlisted Food Alliance as a 3rd-party verifier. Their ongoing audit system assures consumers that products from Audubon-certified ranches meet program standards. 

Why is Audubon certifying habitat?

Grassland bird populations have drastically declined as intact grassland habitat has been converted or degraded. The vast majority of grasslands across the U.S. are privately owned working lands. Audubon believes that this market-based approach can enhance grassland bird habitat on millions of acres by incentivizing ranchers to manage their land to benefit birds.

How is this beef different from other grass fed or organic beef products?

The Audubon certification is centered on habitat conservation, and our program protocols ensure that certified ranches are managed to provide benefits to grassland birds. Many of the beef products labeled with the Audubon certification seal will also be grassfed/grass-finished and/or organic. Consumers should read labels and select specific products or brands that meet their desires.

Is this beef purely grass fed?  If not, why not?

While our protocols require animals to be grazed on open pastures, we do not require them to be 100% grassfed/grass finished. However, many of the products carrying the Audubon certification will be grassfed/grass finished, depending on the ranch or brand.

Where can I buy this product?

You can find links to all retailers at Audubon.org/ranching. Our initial retailers are in the regions of our pilot ranches, but we continue to add retailers, some of which are online with the ability to ship products.

How can I find out more information about this program?

Visit Audubon.org/ranching.

Where is this beef produced?

We currently have participating ranches in Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Texas, and New Mexico.

  • Why should I care about this program?

By choosing beef products from Audubon-certified ranches, you can contribute to the expansion of livestock management practices that are better for your health, better for cattle, and better for the environment.  When expanded to millions of acres, this program will support more sustainable ranching livelihoods, resulting in more grassland birds, cleaner streams, healthier soils, more pollinators for plants, and more carbon stored in plants and soil.

Why is this product more expensive?

The implementation of Habitat Management Plans incurs costs for new infrastructure and ongoing management. Program protocols require many changes from conventional cattle management, such as avoiding feedlots, which requires cows to stay on pasture longer.

Are there animal husbandry standards associated with this program?

Yes. Program participants must demonstrate a commitment to properly caring for livestock by adhering to livestock production methods that reflect best practices for animal health and welfare.  Our 3rd party verifier conducts audits to ensure compliance.

Is this product antibiotic free?

Yes. Any animal that must be treated with an antibiotic may not be sold through our program.

How can I support this program?

You can purchase beef products that carry the Audubon certification. To make a tax-deductible financial contribution, contact Chris Wilson, Program Director, at cwwilson@audubon.org.

Why is Audubon promoting beef products? Aren’t cattle bad for the environment?

The program is based on the concept that consumers can have a direct impact on land management through their food purchasing decisions. Grazing animals have been an integral ecological part of grasslands for eons, and cattle can effectively mimic the role of bison in enhancing diversity across the landscape. By adopting regenerative grazing approaches, cattle grazing can actually build soil, sequester carbon, reduce water runoff, and create ecosystems that are more resilient to drought. We believe that such practices can be expanded to encompass millions of acres when conscious consumers choose beef grazed on Audubon-certified ranches, and this will significantly benefit grassland bird populations.

How do ranchers know which bird species are important or what to do to help them?

Audubon identifies a suite of priority grassland bird species for each ecoregion, then works with partners to develop regional habitat management protocols to benefit those species. A Habitat Management Plan is developed for each ranch that defines management practices to those birds.

How do you know this program is helping grassland birds?

Bird monitoring is conducted on all ranches in the program to measure changes over time as a result of management actions. Audubon uses a “Bird-friendliness Index” to compare certified ranches to other public and private lands in the region.

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”