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By Dr. Silke Nebel, Vice-President, Conservation and Science, Birds Canada

The State of Canada Birds, 2019 confirmed that Canada has lost nearly 60% of our grassland birds since 1970. This is crisis for bird life and sounds an alarm for our broader biodiversity as well. But, there is hope thanks to an inspiring new project.

Prairie grasslands provide essential habitat to prevent the extinction of unique prairie birds and other wildlife. The vast majority of these grasslands are working landscapes, where Canadian ranchers raise and graze their cattle. Grazing is an essential process in keeping grasslands healthy. However, the remaining tracts of native prairie grasslands are under threat by the tremendous market pressure on ranchers to plow and cultivate rather than maintain traditional pastures. Community pastures that serve local ranching communities and provide large areas of habitat for grassland birds are also under threat from financial and resource extraction pressures. The Grassland Conservation Incentives Project will help Canadian ranchers access financial support to conserve native prairie and offset carbon emissions.

The carbon offset registry ‘Climate Action Reserve’ released the first Canada Grassland Protocol that includes carbon offsets arising from the carbon-rich grassland habitats of the prairies. It provides ranchers and landowners with a guaranteed revenue stream through working with carbon credit experts to monitor and report on the status of their lands – earning credits that can later be sold in a carbon market to earn revenue for the ranch.

To generate interest in this exciting opportunity among ranchers in Manitoba and beyond, Birds Canada has launched a Grasslands Conservation Incentives Project in June 2020, which aims to engage ranchers and landowners by communicating the financial benefits available to qualifying ranches, including the voluntary carbon market, habitat outcome payments, and conservation easements. The collaboration has the potential to be a significant win-win-win for ranchers, grassland birds, and for our ecosystems.

Willet Photo: Pete Davidson
Chestnut-collared Longspur Photo: Yousif Attia

As part of this project, Birds Canada has produced an easy-to-use Grassland Conservation Incentives Guide to centralize all incentives available to producers and landowners to conserve, enhance or restore grasslands. This will make it easier for landowners and producers to access incentives and take conservation action on their land. Birds Canada will be conducting outreach to further expand knowledge of these incentives and the importance of grasslands in mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss.

The project was featured in the Narwhal in the ‘Meet the people saving Canada’s native grasslands’ feature on July 31, 2020.



The Grassland Conservation Incentives program is made possible thanks to the generous support of the A&W Regenerative Agriculture Initiatives Fund, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Manitoba government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Resource Development.

For further reading, the Western Producer featured the Grassland Conservation Incentive Guide in a story that reaches many farm and ranch families across the prairies.

If you’re interested in more information on the Grasslands Conservation Incentives Project, please visit the Grassland Birds at Risk page, or contact Ian Cook.

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