18 Mar 2016

Conservation cowboy cooperation receives international recognition

Plovers, cows and gauchos on the grasslands of the Southern Cone. Photo: Alianza del Pastizal (Grasslands Alliance)
Plovers, cows and gauchos on the grasslands of the Southern Cone. Photo: Alianza del Pastizal (Grasslands Alliance)
By Shaun Hurrell

It’s all about cooperation, conserving South America’s natural grasslands from agricultural intensification. Just look at the latest Ranchers’ Gathering organized by BirdLife’s Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance:

Photo: Alianza del Pastizal (Grasslands Alliance)

Hundreds of cattle ranchers, conservationists, government officials and academics came together to share ideas, expertise, and best-grazing practices needed to save this endangered habitat for wintering migratory birds. And to top that, the traditional grassland ranchers are benefitting from this initiative too: better meat production through knowledge of sustainable grassland management, and consumer preference for their bird-friendly Grasslands Alliance certified beef product.

Now after 10 years of work by four BirdLife Partners in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay – which has seen more and more ranchers preserve at least 50% of their natural grasslands (350 farms now certified in the four countries) – it is very apt for the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance to have been honoured with an award for ‘International Cooperation’ as part of the prestigious U.S. Forest Service’s 2016 Wings Across the Americas Awards for outstanding conservation achievement.

“This award is a great recognition for the work of the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance, strongly supported by Aves Argentinas (BirdLife in Argentina), Aves Uruguay (BirdLife in Uruguay), SAVE Brasil (BirdLife in Brazil) and Guyra Paraguay (BirdLife in Paraguay) in bringing together so many different stakeholders throughout the region”,

said Nicolas Marchand, Coordinator of the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance.

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“It is with great pride and satisfaction that this award has arrived on our 10th anniversary of continuous Grasslands Alliance work; thank you to the USFS for walking alongside us from the very beginning.”

This award also resonates very well with BirdLife’s Flyways Programme, which connects countries for the conservation of birds between BirdLife Partners along their migratory flyways: shorebirds from the boreal and arctic regions of Alaska and Canada depend on these southern grasslands for their wintering habitat.

Only a small percentage of Southern Cone grassland habitat remains in its natural state, and it continues to be threatened by agricultural conversion.

In response to this, the four BirdLife Partners came together in 2005 to develop a large-scale, multinational initiative for grassland biodiversity conservation. The Grasslands Alliance’s work is supported by U.S. Forest Service International Program, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Neotropical Migratory Birds Conservation Act, Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation and Bobolink Foundation, among others.

How do the cowboys of South America, legendary figures know as gauchos, provide the solution to saving millions of birds?

In the Southern Cone, 95% of the grasslands are privately owned. Farmers face huge financial pressure to convert their native grasslands into crops to make more money over the short-term, or to sell their land to industrial-scale agricultural giants. These grasslands now represent one of the most critically endangered ecosystems in Latin America, yet provide one of the richest grazing areas in the world and are home to hundreds of bird species.

Click here read more about the Grasslands Project</br>in this World Birdwatch Article (PDF)

The inclusion of ranchers and their business partners in the partnership has led to bird-friendly beef certification systems, with meat bearing the Alliance’s Saffron-cowled Blackbird Xanthopsar flavus logo commanding preference and increasingly higher prices than feedlot beef. Certified grass-fed beef is already for sale in Argentina, this year will be available in Brazil with actions in place for Uruguay and at a later stage in Paraguay, and thus, continuing to maintain the diverse mosaic of long, short and tussock grasslands on which millions of birds depend.

327,000 hectares of grasslands in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay are now producing bird-friendly beef

Find out more:

Thanks to Bobolink Foundation, Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation, US Fish and Wildlife Service – Neotropical Migratory Birds Conservation Act, US Forest Service – International Programs, and Canadian Wildlife Service.