Broad-Scale Relations between Conservation Reserve Program and Grassland Birds: Do Cover Type, Configuration and Contract Age Matter?

Sam Riffell*, 1, Daniel Scognamillo2, L. Wes Burger Jr.1, Shawn Bucholtz3
1 Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA
2 Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, Stephen F. Austin State University, Box 6109, SFA Station, Nacogdoches, TX 75962, USA; and
3 USDA, Farm Service Agency, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D. C. 20250-0519, USA

© 2010 Riffell et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Aquaculture, Box 9690, Mississippi State, MS 39762, USA; Tel: 6623250392; Fax: 6623258726; E-mails:


The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a voluntary cropland set-aside program where environmentallysensitive cropland is retired to a conservation practice. Grassland birds should benefit because most CRP is grass habitat and because amount of land in CRP is highest in agriculture-dominated areas of the United States where grassland habitat has been most impacted. We used the Breeding Bird Survey and Common Land Unit (CLU) data (spatially-explicit data of farm field boundaries and land cover) to identify relations between types and configurations of CRP and grassland bird abundance in 3 Midwestern states. All 13 species we studied were related to at least one aspect of CRP habitat - specific conservation practices (e.g., native vs. exotic grass), CRP habitat configuration, or habitat age. Treating all types of CRP as a single habitat type would have obscured bird-CRP relations. Based on our results, creating a mosaic of large and small set-aside patches could benefit both area-sensitive and edge-associated grassland birds. Additionally, northern bobwhite and other birds that use early successional grasslands would benefit from periodic disturbances. CRP, agrienvironment schemes, and other government-sponsored set-aside programs may be most successful when administered as part of a targeted, regional conservation plan.

Keywords: Conservation reserve program, grassland birds, landscape relations, set-aside.