The Audubon Conservation Ranching Initiative originated in Missouri with key foundational support from the Missouri Department of Conservation, one of the nation’s leading wildlife conservation agencies. Investigation into the potential for a market-based conservation grazing program began in Missouri in 2006 with an MDC-funded economic analysis of the costs of implementing grassland bird conservation management recommendations on working farms. Exploratory work to implement a pilot project, then known as the Audubon Prairie Bird Initiative, began in 2010 with a series of conversations among Audubon staff and Max Alleger, MDC’s Grassland Coordinator at the time. Max’s belief in the promise of the program has been instrumental in MDC’s strong support in the ten years since. An ongoing cooperative agreement provides MDC staff assistance and funding to ACR implementation in Missouri, including focused landowner incentives for bird-friendly management, ranch certification, market development and marketing efforts.
Private Land Conservationists with MDC serve as the primary contact for participating farmers. They work with the producer to assess and plan management actions, which often include an adaptive rotational grazing approach, native prairie plantings, brush control, and infrastructure to enable improved management. The Habitat Management Plan (HMP) guides the ranch through three years of management. Upon implementation of the HMP and compliance with program standards, the farm operation is audited and certified as bird-friendly, allowing product from the farm to carry the Audubon certification seal in the marketplace.
“Familiar birds like meadowlarks, bobwhite quail and greater prairie-chicken---as well as seldom-seen species like Henslow’s and grasshopper sparrows---all benefit from habitat created as part of Audubon’s Conservation Ranching program. The Department of Conservation is proud to have partnered on this innovative program from the start, and we look forward to seeing how this set of ideas influences the future of private land conservation efforts.”
--- Sara Parker Pauley, Director, Missouri Department of Conservation