Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): habitat

What if God wants the lesser prairie-chicken to go extinct?

Lesser prairie-chicken. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

Lesser prairie-chicken. Photo credit: USDA NRCS

A version of this piece previously ran as an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle.

A few years ago, I was invited by Texas farmer David Cleavinger to visit his family’s farm near Amarillo. This was during a period of time when my organization, Environmental Defense Fund, was deeply involved in conservation efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken, a colorful bird whose habitat is in decline throughout its five-state range, which includes the panhandle of Texas.

David picked me up at the airport and asked if we could make a quick stop on the way to his farm. That stop turned out to be at local radio station KGNC, where David had arranged for me to go on air and talk about wildlife conservation with a particular focus on the local implications for efforts to revive the lesser prairie-chicken.

I agreed to join the show with some trepidation, but it quickly subsided as we got into a lively discussion with the host, James Hunt, and several listeners. Toward the end of my appearance, a caller asked a surprising and provocative question – What if God wants the prairie-chicken to go extinct? Read More »

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Monarch butterflies get help from Texas ranch

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed! growing at Shield Ranch.

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed growing at Shield Ranch.

A few weeks ago, I visited Shield Ranch, a 6,000-acre property devoted to responsible cattle management and wildlife conservation. I made the visit to the ranch – less than 20 miles west of my home in Austin – to test a new tool being designed to more accurately assess habitat for the monarch butterfly.

Standing in a field of wildflowers with a team of scientists, we used the monarch butterfly habitat quantification tool to measure vegetation and determine what monarch habitat was available on the property. We’ve used similar habitat quantification tools for other at-risk wildlife like the lesser prairie-chicken and greater sage-grouse, but this was the first time we tested a tool for monarch butterfly habitat.

Read More »

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Butterfly numbers may be up, but they still need our help

Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that the monarch butterfly, along with the manatee, is on a “big rebound.” It’s true that the iconic North American butterfly is in better shape today than this time last year. But it’s too soon to celebrate.

A sensitive species

populationThe population of monarch butterflies has historically had drastic dips and spikes. That’s because the monarch is a sensitive species greatly impacted by extreme weather events.

In January 2002, the species experienced unprecedented and catastrophic mortality due to a rare freeze at its overwintering site in Mexico, killing an estimated 500 million butterflies. That’s more than two times the size of today’s population, even with this year’s boost.

Fortunately, the monarch is as resilient as it is delicate. This year’s bump in number proves that. It also shows that recovery is possible, that conservation efforts can make a difference. Read More »

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Recovery of New England rabbit demonstrates importance of private lands in conservation

Credit: Brian Tefft, Principal Wildlife Biologist at Rhode Island Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Saturday marked a new chapter in a years-long rabbit’s tale.

Of course I’m talking about the New England cottontail, which, until this week, was a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Thanks to the work of private landowners, conservation groups, tribes, and state and government agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to remove this critter from the candidate list and declare that it’s well on the path to recovery.

A team effort

The growth of the New England cottontail population was a team effort, with important contributions from state wildlife departments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and conservation organizations.

But the most important contribution came from farmers and forestland owners who committed to managing the specialized habitat of the New England cottontail. Read More »

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With the launching of a new market, he’s a vanguard of grouse conservation in Wyoming

Eric Peterson

Eric Peterson has been hired to fill a new position as pilot administrator of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange.

A landowner-led conservation effort in Wyoming has sparked a new market and has now created a new job.

The University of Wyoming recently announced the hiring of a new pilot administrator of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange, a voluntary, market-based program that seeks to enroll local landowners in landscape-scale conservation of greater sage-grouse, mule deer and hydrologic services.

Eric was formerly manager of the Sublette County Conservation District, where he played a critical role in developing the Wyoming Conservation Exchange with partners from the University of Wyoming, Environmental Defense Fund, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

In his new role, Eric will work with potential buyers and sellers of conservation credits to facilitate pilot transactions and market growth.

I asked Eric to share some thoughts on what drew him to this role and what he hopes to achieve over the next few months.

Read More »

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Operation Warbler: Fort Hood and local ranchers team up to save bird

Dr. Gene Murph stands in front of prime golden-cheeked warbler habitat on his Texas ranch

Dr. Gene Murph stands in front of prime golden-cheeked warbler habitat on his Texas ranch

I’m going to take you back to 2005, to a ranch in the Texas Hill Country, where Dr. Gene Murph operates an 80-head cattle operation on 1,300 acres of rangeland.

The ranch is vast, with rolling hills and wooded ravines. The only sounds on the ranch are those of cattle mooing in the pastures and birds trilling in the trees. If you listen closely enough, you can hear the signature call of the golden-cheeked warbler. If you look closely enough, you can spot the bird’s sunshine-yellow face.

The golden-cheeked warbler was listed as an endangered species in 1990, making Dr. Murph’s ranch a vital stronghold for subpopulations, which nest at select sites scattered throughout 33 counties in central Texas.

Another nearby stronghold for the bird is the Fort Hood Army Base, only a few miles down the road from Dr. Murph’s ranch and home to the largest known population of golden-cheeked warblers. Read More »

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Five things to like about California’s proposed rice protocol

EDF's work on the rice protocol was featured in an article from The Fresno Bee: California Rice Farmers Could Get Pollution Credit. Photo credit: California Ag Today.

EDF’s work on the rice protocol was featured in The Fresno Bee: California Rice Farmers Could Get Pollution Credit. Photo credit: California Ag Today.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has been developing the first crop-based protocol that will allow U.S. rice growers to participate in California’s cap-and-trade program. The final draft of the standards – a product of meticulous research and stakeholder input – is now out for review.

There’s a lot to like in the draft, which demonstrates the ARB’s diligence in developing a greenhouse gas reduction program that is good for both farmers and the wildlife that depend on rice fields for habitat. Here are my five highlights:

1) It creates a new revenue stream for farmers:  Rice farmers across the U.S. can volunteer to implement one of three methods included in the protocol – dry seeding, early drainage, or alternate wetting and drying – to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint. In doing so, they will be able to generate offsets to sell in California’s carbon market, providing revenue for growers while contributing to the state’s clean air goals.

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A cattleman’s quest to save a bird and help ranchers thrive

Terry Fankhauser, Executive Vice President of Colorado Cattelmen's Association

Terry Fankhauser, Executive Vice President of Colorado Cattelmen’s Association

Terry Fankhauser is a rancher and executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. He is also a board member and executive director of Partners for Western Conservation, which seeks to implement market-based conservation services that benefit wildlife and the economy.

Terry joined me and other conservation colleagues last week in Washington, D.C., to discuss habitat exchanges at the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation. I asked him to give us a recap of the discussion and to tell us why he got involved in the development of exchanges.

Why were you in D.C. last week?

I took the opportunity to travel to Washington to convey the message that agriculture producers are investing time and resources into developing conservation markets like the Colorado Habitat Exchange.  We are just as interested as other parties in addressing conservation concerns, regulatory challenges and the ongoing need for viable businesses that drive our economies.

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Wyoming ranchers steward land, cattle and the greater sage-grouse

Cattle ranching and greater sage-grouse can not only co-exist, but thrive. Or, as some would say, "What's good for the herd is good for the bird."

Cattle ranching and greater sage-grouse can not only coexist, but thrive. 

Ranchers and other private landowners have a critical role to play in conserving wildlife like the greater sage-grouse, which could face listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2015.

Home to nearly half of the greater sage-grouse’s remaining habitat, Wyoming is a landscape critical to the recovery of the species. A full 40 percent of the bird’s habitat in the state is privately held. Therefore, common sense solutions are needed to reward ranchers and other private landowners for conservation actions that protect vital habitat.

A rural, working landscape

Private lands in the West are often found near water, as ranches and other homesteaders put down stakes where they had ready access to water. For similar reasons, these areas are also critically important to wildlife.

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“Growing” habitat can help agriculture and wildlife weather the drought

IMG_6613dsThe California drought is putting the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers at serious risk.  Without a reliable water supply, many fields are going fallow. This not only threatens the state’s world-leading agricultural economy, it significantly impacts wildlife species that depend on agricultural lands for survival.

A pioneering program under development in California’s Central Valley, however, may offer farmers and wildlife some relief. It’s called the Central Valley Habitat Exchange, and while it wasn’t conceived for the express purpose of helping growers in times of drought, it can reward producers who provide habitat by growing less water-intensive crops. Here’s how.

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