Grasslands are among the most imperiled ecosystems in the world—and one of the least protected. The decline of grassland habitats causes a decline of grassland and arid land birds, which have suffered devastating population loss over the last 50 years—more than any other group of birds in North America.
The Lesser-Prairie Chicken, Cassin’s Sparrow, Scaled Quail, and Western Meadowlark depend on healthy southern shortgrass prairie grasslands to breed. Since the 1960’s, many species have declined over 50%. Several species that winter in New Mexico Chihuahuan Desert grasslands have declined over 80%. The goal of Audubon New Mexico’s Conservation Ranching Program is to enhance the biodiversity in grassland ecoregions in the state. We recognize the importance of restoring habitats and the plight of grassland birds is inextricably linked to working lands and grazing management.
Conservation Ranching Program
The vast grasslands of New Mexico are part of the state’s heritage, culture, and economy. Survival of healthy working lands and grasslands birds in New Mexico relies on engaging ranchers in solutions that mitigate economic and environmental threats to their livelihood. Audubon’s Conservation Ranching program offers market incentive to help New Mexico ranchers manage their land for the benefit of grassland birds and ranching families by awarding a certification label on beef products.
In November 2017, Audubon New Mexico partnered with Ranney Ranch to provide a conservation solution for this critical conservation need. For the first time, consumers are now able to contribute to grassland conservation efforts through their fork by selectively purchasing beef from Audubon-certified farms and ranches, like Ranney Ranch. To purchase Ranney Ranch beef certified under the Audubon Conservation Ranching program, contact Skarsgard Farms at 505-681-4060.
“Our hope is that this partnership will spread the word that carefully managed livestock are key to the ecologic health and resilience of our nation’s grasslands. It turns out that grassland birds and grass-fed beef go well together, and each requires public support to survive.” Nancy Ranney
Through this collaboration and many others, we will enhance millions of acres of grassland bird habitat. For each participating ranch, Audubon production protocols are adopted and a Habitat Management plan is implemented. These plans outline steps to diversify pastures, control invasive plants, and implement a rotational grazing approach that produces diverse cover across the land. Audubon is providing technical assistance to participating ranchers in production and rangeland ecology and using its network to build consumer awareness and interest.
For the past half century, the Ranney family has ranched in the high mesa country of central New Mexico near the town of Corona. In the early years of the twentieth century, this land provided some capacity for dryland bean farming, but like most of New Mexico’s grasslands, the limited rainfall, rugged landscape, and depth to significant aquifers have precluded large-scale cultivation of crops. In agricultural terms, this is grazing land.
In 2003, inspired by the notion of raising healthy, grassfed beef and seeking to offer a local product (still, in 2015, less than two percent of New Mexico beef is consumed in-state), Ranney Ranch undertook new land management practices in the hope of restoring our high-country grasslands to their earlier diversity and richness. In five years’ time and without any supplemental irrigation, external fertilizers, or manual seeding of grasses, Ranney Ranch documented the re-emergence of over thirty-five species of native grasses, measured an increase of over twenty-five percent soil organic carbon in the rangeland soils, and saw greatly increased water retention capability across the ranch. This, in addition to producing Ranney Ranch’s healthiest and heaviest calves ever, even during extreme drought years as we are experiencing today.
To support Audubon's conservation efforts to restore grasslands for the benefit of birds, purchase Ranney Ranch beef certified under the Audubon Conservation Ranching program, contact Skarsgard Farms at 505-681-4060.