Billings County Ranch Receives Bird-Friendly Habitat Certification – InForum

BILLINGS COUNTY, ND – Shade Ranch near Medora recently received certification as a bird-friendly habitat from the National Audubon Society. Beef produced on the ranch under the Meadowlark Beef brand can now carry a packaging label recognizing the product’s origin as land farmed for birds and biodiversity – the Audubon Certified Bird-Friendly seal.

The ranch is owned and operated by Kim Shade.

“Most of all, I wanted our ranch to be recognized as bird-friendly,” Shade said. “I try to be both animal and bird friendly and a friend of the prairie.”

He said he’s been prairie and ground breeders all his life. His strong passion for protecting their habitat has led him to seek ways to conserve their numbers.

“They’re part of the ecology and it’s very important to conserve them because our birds that nest on the prairie floor, I think, are some of the species that have really suffered losses in the last 30-40 years – mostly because of the loss of theirs habitat,” Shade said. “More and more prairie is being plowed up and given over to modern agriculture, which isn’t good for prairie birds.”

Audubon Conservation Ranching is working to stabilize grassland bird populations through partnerships with ranchers, said the group’s communications manager, Anthony Hauck. 95 percent of grassland birds live on ranch land, he added.

Shade has run his ranch about 15 miles south of Medora for nearly 30 years, drawing on his previous ranching experience in western Idaho.

“Some of the same birds that nest here also nest in Idaho, like the Western Meadowlark and some other bird species that I enjoyed on my ranch,” Shade said.

Nationwide, 99 ranches have been designated bird-friendly Audubon certified.

Contributed / Anthony Hauck

He describes himself as an amateur bird watcher.

“It’s not always about the bottom line,” Shade said. “In the ranching business you have to enjoy some of the little things in life.”

He works with cattle on horseback to hear his favorite birds and avoid running over any nests. His degree in Animal Science and Assortment Management helped him on his way to certification.

“I think an environment that’s good for cattle is also good for wildlife and ecology,” Shade said.

In some areas, Shade’s cattle can be used as habitat management tools, mimicking what bison have been doing for thousands of years, Hauck said. Shade’s flock can be used to manipulate short plant communities, which is ideal for species like the chestnut-collared longspur and the upland sandpiper. Other pastures receive grazing breaks, creating the taller vegetation favored by Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Sharp-tailed Grouse.

“I feel truly blessed and privileged to be a steward of the country,” Shade said. “So I want to take care of it as best I can.”

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 by choosing products that are grazed on these Audubon-certified lands as opposed to lands that are simply not environmentally friendly,” Hauck said.

There are now seven ranches in North Dakota certified through the program and 99 ranches nationwide with about 2.7 million acres of bird-friendly habitat, he added.

Rigorous monitoring of habitat and range production, bird populations, soil carbon, water infiltration and soil health at the ranch will allow Shade and Audubon to adjust the habitat management plan and bird-friendly practices in the future as needed, said Charli Kohler, range ecologist at Audubon Dakota.

Hauck said a recent report, State of the Birds 2022, showed that grassland bird species populations have declined 34 percent since 1970.

“Grasslands are a threatened ecosystem, but through the work of private landowners like Kim Shade, there is increasing effort and awareness to keep this habitat intact, thereby stabilizing our declining grassland bird populations,” Hauck said. “Shade’s ranch, country ethos, and bird-friendly nature are a perfect fit for the Audubon Conservation Ranching program.”