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Could more private land conservation reverse bird declines?

Cara J

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Throughout rural Illinois, more than 140,000 acres of farmland have been conserved for wildlife. That’s about as much as one-third the acreage of public land in the state. Like similar programs in other states using federal Conservation Reserve Program dollars outlined in the Farm Bill, Illinois’s program compensates farmers for taking some of their fields out of production to aid wildlife. “The program is benefiting a wide variety of species,” said Bryan Reiley, avian ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. But when he looked deeper, he found Illinois’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program was benefiting some declining bird species more than others. Could CREP lands be harnessed, he wondered, to provide more benefits to more species? “Based on the numbers we see and other nesting ecology data we have, we know that habitat created through these programs is pretty decent habitat for avian species and many other taxa,” he said. “We just need a lot more of it.” Field sparrows have increased in abundance in Illinois, but researchers found they lack sufficient habitat to reach state population goals. ©Michael Jeffords and Sue Post In a study published in Ecosphere, Reiley and his colleagues looked at four bird species to see how well [...]

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