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To measure climate change effects in Ohio, the answer may be found in birds

A bobwhite quail
A bobwhite quail

As federal investments in climate change mitigation continue to be distributed, Ohio will also be a recipient of some award amounts.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $25 million will be awarded for a project that aims to improve local ecosystems in Missouri and Ohio by introducing and keeping native plants.

And the progress will be measured through grassland bird populations.

In Ohio, this project is being bottom-lined by the state Division of Wildlife, with support from the National Bobwhite & Grassland Initiative.

“With the conservation practices that we have selected in the proposal for this project, they are all practices that also help sequester carbon,” said John Kaiser from the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Planting native grasses, wildflowers, trees and shrubs as well as controlling invasive plant species were some examples of conservation practices that Kaiser named.

A grassland habitat suitable for birds to live in. Grassland ecosystems have been on the decline across the continent.
Courtesy of Ohio Division of Wildlife
A grassland habitat suitable for birds to live in. Grassland ecosystems have been on the decline across the continent.

Research shows that non-native plants often reduce carbon sequestration abilities within an ecosystem. And the presence of native plants are instrumental to restoring the balance.

Grassland bird species in the state like bobwhite quail, dickcissel and bobolink have declining populations, potentially due to lost habitat.

The project was awarded through the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program. On the program’s website, it states that funding often goes towards projects that have multiple environmental co-benefits.

I think the birds are letting us know what's really happening in our environment and watching that decline by, you know, taking away their habitat is a true indication of where we're going ecologically,” said River Johnson, assistant land director with the Agraria Center and local project partner.

Landowners will play a key role in the implementation of this project; Ohio is 95% privately owned, according to Kaiser.

The state will be creating incentives for landowners by paying them for allowing their land to be used for this purpose, Kaiser explained.

There would be a contract for a landowner or a farmer that is wanting to plant a couple of acres of pollinator habitat, maybe plant some trees and shrubs and also control some invasive species.“

RELATED: Upland birds are in decline in Ohio, a state effort looks to improve wild habitats

Landowners in contract would be expected to work with state wildlife consultants to create site-specific land management practices.

From the $25 million, Kaiser expects the state will receive $1.75 million each year for five years to aid in the project’s administration.

Kaiser said they want landowners to feel the benefits also.

“Not everybody's going to be interested in improving habitat for grassland birds,” he explained. “They may have a stronger interest in managing their property for [other wildlife]. We listen to the landowners and we find out what their goals are and help them meet their wildlife habitat management goals. This program is going to be a great way to do that.”

Kaiser said the state division is still in the planning stages of how this project will actually pan out, but he said Preble County was selected as the key monitoring site for the state for measuring these bird populations.

“Having some [grassland bird] hot spots specifically in the southern and southwestern part of the state, we know where there are some existing populations that we feel with this project, we could add the proper outreach to landowners,” Kaiser said.

Since they anticipate landowner outreach to be crucial, they’ve recruited Johnson who also works with the BIPOC Farming Network to focus her efforts on reaching landowners and farmers from historically underserved and BIPOC communities in the region.

BIPOC is an abbreviation for Black, Indigenous and people of color. Johnson will be working primarily in Montgomery, Hamilton, Clark and Franklin counties, she said.

Kaiser said the state anticipates landowners will be eligible for participation sign up by the summer of 2024.

Adriana Martinez-Smiley (she/they) is the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Reporter for WYSO. They grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in June 2023. Before joining WYSO, her work has been featured in NHPR, WBEZ and WTTW.

Email: amartinez-smiley@wyso.org
Cell phone: 937-342-2905
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