Shrub mowing to enhance grasslands for Species at Risk

helloHabitat Stewardship Program, News, Species At Risk, Uplands

Photo courtesy of the Critical Wildlife Habitat Program

Encroachment by wolf willow, snowberry and other woody shrubs, is a major threat to native mixed-grass prairie habitat. Without proper management, extensive patches can develop. A high density of shrub species negatively affects the health of prairie by competing with grasses for sunlight, nutrients and water. Shrubs also decrease the health of warm season grasses by shading the ground, resulting in bare spots that can become a seed bed for invasive species. This leads to the degradation of habitat for grassland bird species, as well as decreased productivity for livestock.

Grassland birds have specific requirements that dictate where they breed, build nests and forage for food. The Sprague’s Pipit is a medium-sized grassland songbird species that is of high conservation priority because its population has declined significantly in recent decades, along with the loss and degradation of prairie habitat. Eighty percent of the global breeding population occurs in western Canada’s mixed grassland ecosystems.  Pipits require large tracts of intact native grassland habitat and do not tolerate shrub species.

In the past, disturbance by frequent fires and bison herds helped control the spread of shrubs. Today, mowing can be an effective tool for the management of shrubs on native prairie grasslands.

The Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation (MHHC) understands the importance of grasslands to bird species, cattle production, and the health of rural communities. In response to the issue of woody shrub encroachment, MHHC has developed a shrub-mowing program targeting pastures that are in priority areas for threatened grassland birds. This program is provided to landowners free of charge. Please contact your local MHHC field representative for more information on how your grassland can be involved.

Carol Graham – Reston – 204.821.4943

Roy Bullion – Shoal Lake – 204.729.7592

Tom Moran – Boissevain – 204.305.0276