New research from DU’s Great Plains Region guides future grassland easement priorities 

Johann Walker, DU director of conservation planning for the Great Plains Region (GPR), is the lead author of a research paper that introduces a new adaptive strategy for securing conservation easements in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR). While previous conservation planning for grassland easements focused predominantly on accessibility to breeding duck pairs, the new prioritization strategy considers the probability that an area will be converted to cropland, as well as the cost of protection, to current targeting criteria of breeding-pair use.

Conservation easements that perpetually protect grassland from conversion to cropland on private lands are the principal tactic used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and DU in the PPR of North and South Dakota to ensure breeding habitat for waterfowl into the future.
Current conditions on the landscape and in agriculture markets have posed challenges to grassland conservation and have proven that the existing rate of easement acquisition and funding are insufficient to meet land-protection goals set by the USFWS.

Walker’s research points out that the evident threats to the PPR landscape, including increased commodity prices, increased cropland value and cropland expansion need to be incorporated into easement-prioritization strategies. The objective of the new approach is to direct grassland-easement acquisition to landscapes under the greatest threat of conversion, with the greatest potential benefit to nesting ducks, and maximize the area of protected grassland with the most efficient use of funds.

With diminishing buying power in an appreciating land market, this new prioritization tool will improve the grassland-conservation success rate and efficiently approach the goals set by the USFWS to support North America’s waterfowl population.