"Our results support the notion that ranches are important for protecting biodiversity and suggest that future conservation efforts may require less reliance on reserves and a greater focus on private lands," say Jeremy Maestas, who did this work while at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and is now at the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service in Provo, Utah; Richard Knight of Colorado State University in Fort Collins; and Wendell Gilgert of the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service in Fort Collins in the October issue of Conservation Biology.
About 30 million acres of U.S. ranch and farmland were converted to rural residential developments during the 1990s. This trend has increased the popularity of preserving ranches with conservation easements, which restrict development but often allow livestock production.
So far more than 1,200 land trusts have used conservation easements to preserve about 2.5 million acres of land in the U.S. However, this approach assumes that preserving ranches helps protect biodiversity, and some conservationists argue that ranching and maintaining biodiversity are incompatible in the West.
To see if ranches do help protect biodiversity in the rural West, Maestas and his colleagues surveyed birds and plants in cattle ranches, rural residential developments and nature reserves near Fort Collins, Colorado. The average lot size in the rural developments was 40 acres.
The researchers' findings support the assumption that preserving ranches helps protect biodiversity in the West. Ranches had higher densities of the ground- and shrub-nesting bird
Contact: Jeremy Maestas
Society for Conservation Biology