The CHJV region supported an estimated 6.5 million-acres of native grasslands (prairies, savannas, barrens, glades) at the time of European settlement, but nearly all of it has been lost or degraded due to conversion to row-crop agriculture or non-native pasture grasses, succession to woody vegetation, and urban development. Most of the native grasslands of our region have been decimated for so long that only mere fragments remain and hundreds of species of grassland-dependent animals and plants are experiencing widespread population declines. Habitat improvements for our grassland bird species of concern, which are more dependent on vegetation structure than on species composition per se, can be accomplished by opening up suppressed native grasslands with removal of woody cover and prescribed fire, reconversion of cropland or fescue pastures to native grasses, increasing forb-to-grass ratios, changing grazing intensities, and altering haying regimes.
While there are some opportunities for restoring grasslands on public lands in the CHJV, most of the grassland acreage in the region is in private ownership. As a result, our partner agencies and organizations work with the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) “farm bill” programs that provide cost-share incentives to private landowners for improving grasslands for wildlife on their properties. The state wildlife agencies in Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee all have private lands biologists that work with both NRCS and private landowners to develop management plans and all are involved in a Regional Conservation Partnership Program, or RCPP, focused on grasslands and grassland birds.