With the ultimate goal of conserving and restoring threatened native grassland prairies and the wildlife that depend on them, the National Audubon Society (Audubon) is facilitating a landscape conservation design for the grassland birds in the greater Chicago region. As a first step in this process standardized avian point count surveys conducted primarily by citizen volunteers were combined with landcover composition and configuration, soils, and vegetation productivity data to model abundance of five grassland bird species. Models were updated with additional data and expert review in 2015 and now provide map outputs of existing grassland bird habitat and population estimates for species of conservation concern in the region. Supporting approximately 62,700 Bobolink; 4,700 Henslow’s Sparrow; 3,200 Grasshopper Sparrow; 4,000 Sedge Wren; and 33,500 Eastern Meadowlark, an approximate total of 140,000 acres of grassland bird habitat has been identified in the Chicago Metropolitan Region (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, Will counties). Approximately one-third of which (46,000 acres) is under current legal protection.
In the summer of 2015 modeled grassland bird habitat and abundances were summarized with data on water filtration, flood control, groundwater recharge, and carbon storage from the Chicago Wilderness Green Infrastructure Vision (GIV) which aims to identify opportunities for conservation and restoration based on these ecosystem services. Quantifying the value of these ecosystem services along with grassland bird habitat will inform conservation decision-making beyond acres of habitat and number of species or individuals. Grassland bird habitat within seven Chicago Metropolitan Region counties provides over 900 million dollars in ecosystem services annually, with approximately half of that value on unprotected lands.
Through the collaborative process of the Chicago Wilderness Grassland Bird Committee future work will focus on building bottom-up habitat and population objectives for the region. Working with major land owners, the committee will develop county-level grassland plans that are realistic and cost-benefit based. Combined, these county objectives will inform regional targets that can be tracked over time. The committee will continue to work toward increased and improved grassland bird monitoring, which could allow for the further refinement and geographical expansion of modelling.
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“Presentation Slides #1”
“Presentation Slides #2”