Medora, North Dakota — The Shade Ranch south of Medora, North Dakota, has received a Bird-Friendly Habitat Certification from the National Audubon Society. Beef produced on the ranch under its Meadowlark Beef brand can now carry the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal, a package label that recognizes product origin as lands managed for birds and biodiversity.
The 18,000-acre Shade Ranch, owned and operated by Kim Shade, includes private land as well as a large grazing lease from the Little Missouri National Grassland, administered by the U.S. Forest Service. Shade enrolled his property in Audubon Conservation Ranching, a habitat program working to stabilize declining grassland bird populations in North Dakota and across the U.S. As detailed in the just-released State of the Birds 2022 report, grassland birds are among the fastest-declining bird species in the United States, with a 34% loss since 1970.
Rooted in wildlife habitat, Audubon Conservation Ranching is a program that provides producers with individual assistance and ranch-specific habitat management plans. Uniquely, Audubon Conservation Ranching connects consumers to conservation through the marketplace, with the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal distinguishing products that come from lands actively managed for wildlife through rotational and regenerative grazing practices.
Located in the Northwestern Great Plains Ecoregion, Shade has developed a holistic approach for his ranch, one that drew him to the Audubon certification. “I believe if we have a healthy environment for cattle, then we have a healthy ecosystem for wildlife,” he said. Using his herd as a habitat management tool – mimicking what bison did for thousands of years – Shade’s cattle can, in some places, be used to manipulate the short vegetation that favors species like the Chestnut-collared Longspur and Upland Sandpiper. Other pastures are purposely provided breaks from grazing, creating taller prairie plant communities preferred by Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Sharp-tailed Grouse.
But of all birds, it’s the Western Meadowlark – the state bird of North Dakota – whose call resonates with Shade the most. Shade has lived most of his life “where the meadowlark sings,” one of his earliest memories being 4-years-old and hearing the bell-like song for the first time on a Dakota prairie drive. He still works cattle via horseback as opposed to an engine-operated mode, which allows him to hear his favorite bird and avoid running over any nests.
Charli Kholer, Range Ecologist with Audubon Dakota, says regular monitoring of habitat and range production, bird abundance, soil carbon, water infiltration, and soil health on the ranch will provide Shade and Audubon with the data needed to make informed updates, adapting the habitat management plan and bird-friendly practices as needed in the future
For more information about Audubon Conservation Ranching in western North Dakota, contact Charli Kohler at (701) 509-7357.
About Audubon Conservation Ranching
A wildlife habitat initiative of the National Audubon Society with a unique market front, Audubon Conservation Ranching’s purpose is to stabilize declining grassland bird populations in partnership with ranchers – on whose land 95 percent of grassland birds live. Audubon Conservation Ranching’s enrollment includes 99 ranches, covering more than 2.7 million acres that have earned status as Audubon Certified Bird-friendly Land. Incentivizing this habitat work for birds and biodiversity are consumers with an appetite for conservation, who support it with the purchase of products grazed on these lands. Shoppers see a special package designation – the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal – that sets these products apart. For more information, visit Audubon.org/ranching.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon’s state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon’s vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.