Every year USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in South Dakota joins partners to coordinate a bird watching tour on a farm or ranch that participates in one of our voluntary conservation programs.
This year’s tour was held in June on the Headley Ranch, near White Lake. It was hosted by the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, a group that reaches out to both producers and non-agriculture audiences to raise awareness about the science of conservation and management of grasslands. Over 30 birding enthusiasts and producers attended.
Headley Ranch is a unique ranching operation that implements conservation practices to support diverse livestock, crops and wildlife. During the tour, NRCS and other technical specialists were on hand to show participants how cattle can improve the environment and identify birds and plants. They also talked about habitat restoration efforts, explained how the banding of birds for scientific monitoring works and ran kids’ activities.
The Headley family has lived in the area for over 100 years, and still lives in the original Sears Roebuck house, built in 1908! Jim Headley and his wife now manage the ranch, with 3,600 acres of mostly contingent grassland and 280 head of cattle. Going against the current trend in South Dakota of ranchers breaking lands for crops, the Headleys are focused on restoring the historical mixed-grass prairie ecosystem through grazing and partnerships with agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.
Through technical assistance and modern programs, such as NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Headleys are maximizing the grazing system on their property with conservation practices such as installing pipelines, water tanks and fences.
By practicing proven grazing conservation and monitoring techniques, the Headleys are steadily bringing back diverse native habitat to provide both better quality forage for his cattle and sustainable, unique habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Tour coordinators commended the Headleys for their dedication and stewardship. The family has been involved in conservation work with NRCS for several decades. Recently, their application to the Grassland Reserve Program was accepted, providing them with an easement to keep their “working grasslands” permanently in grass vegetation.
Many partners collaborate with the South Dakota Grassland Coalition to make a well-rounded bird watching tour, including NRCS, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Dakota State University, South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Service and local conservation districts.
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