BILLINGS COUNTY, ND – The Shade Ranch near Medora recently received a Bird-Friendly Habitat certification from the National Audubon Society. Beef produced on the ranch under its Meadowlark Beef brand can now carry a packaging label that recognizes the product’s origin as land managed for birds and biodiversity – the Audubon Certified Bird-Friendly seal.
The ranch is owned and operated by Kim Shade.
“I just wanted our ranch to be recognized as bird-friendly more than anything,” Shade said. “I try to be respectful of wildlife as well as birds and a friend of the prairie.”
He said he had been around grassland and ground-nesting birds all his life. His strong passion for protecting their habitat led him to research ways to maintain their numbers.
“They’re part of the ecology and very important to preserve because our grassland breeding birds, I guess, are among the species that have really suffered losses over the last 30 to 40 years, mostly because of the loss habitat,” Shade said. . “More and more grasslands are being plowed and put into modern agriculture, which is not good for grassland birds.”
Audubon Conservation Ranching works to stabilize grassland bird populations through partnerships with ranchers, said group communications manager Anthony Hauck. Ninety-five percent of grassland birds live on ranches, he added.
Shade has operated his ranch about 15 miles south of Medora for nearly 30 years, building on his previous experience as a rancher in western Idaho.
“Some of the same birds that nest here also nested in Idaho, like the western Meadowlark for sure and other bird species that I enjoyed on my ranch,” Shade said.
He calls himself an amateur ornithologist.
“It’s not always about the outcome,” Shade said. “In the livestock business, you have to enjoy some of the little things in life.”
He works cattle on horseback to hear his favorite birds and avoid running over nests. His degree in animal science and range management helped him on his journey to certification.
“I think an environment that’s good for livestock is also good for wildlife and ecology,” Shade said.
In some areas, Shade cattle can be used as a habitat management tool by mimicking what bison have done for thousands of years, Hauck said. Shade’s herd can be used to manipulate short plant communities, which is ideal for species such as Chestnut-collared Longspur and Upland Sandpiper. Other pastures benefit from grazing breaks, creating the taller vegetation preferred by Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows and Sharp-tailed Grouse.
“I feel truly blessed and privileged to be able to be a steward of the land,” Shade said. “That’s why I want to deal with it to the best of my ability.”
Those interested in Shade Ranch products that carry the Audubon Certified Bird-Friendly seal can find the Meadowlark Beef brand on Facebook.
“Consumers can have an impact, you know, by choosing products that are grazed on these Audubon-certified lands as opposed to lands that are just not environmentally friendly,” Hauck said.
There are now seven ranches in North Dakota that have earned certifications through the program and 99 ranches nationwide, with about 2.7 million acres of bird-friendly habitat, he added. .
Constant monitoring of habitat and range production, bird populations, soil carbon, water infiltration and soil health on the ranch will allow Shade and Audubon to adapt the habitat management plan and bird-friendly practices as needed in the future, Charli Kohler said. , range conservationist with Audubon Dakota.
Hauck said a recently released report, State of the Birds 2022, showed populations of grassland bird species have declined by 34% since 1970.
“The grasslands are a threatened ecosystem, but thanks to the work of private landowners like Kim Shade, there are growing efforts and growing awareness to keep this habitat intact and thereby stabilize our declining grassland bird populations.” , Hauck said. “Shade’s ranch, land ethic and bird-friendly nature is a perfect fit for the Audubon Conservation Ranching program.”