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Scientic Investigations Report 2015–5070

Management of Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands to Meet Wildlife Habitat Objectives

By Mark W. Vandever and Arthur W. Allen

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (30 MB)Abstract

Numerous studies document environmental and social benefits of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). This report offers a synopsis of findings regarding effects of establishing CRP conservation practices on the quality and distribution of wildlife habitat in agricultural landscapes. On individual farms, year-round provision of wildlife habitat by the CRP may appear relatively insignificant. However, considered from multi-farm to National scales, such improvements in habitat and wildlife response have proven to be extensive and profound.

Because CRP acres historically have been dominated by plantings of introduced and native grasses, this report focuses on issues pertaining to wildlife response to grass-dominated conservation practices. While the majority of CRP acres have been concentrated largely in the Great Plains and Corn Belt regions, 47 states (and Puerto Rico) have participated, resulting in measurable environmental benefits throughout the United States. Numerous investigations of habitat use by a wide range of wildlife species reveal that periodic management of CRP lands can enhance benefits through and beyond a typical 10 year general CRP contract.

Over its 28-year existence, the CRP has evolved into an effective integration of conservation and agricultural policies targeting fragile and environmentally-valuable lands. Landowners with fields enrolled in the CRP often are the first to observe improvement in the landscape, greater numbers and kinds of wildlife, cleaner water and air, less erosion, and they have the satisfaction of seeing fragile lands serve better purposes. There is persistent concern that improvement seen in wildlife habitat and other environmental profits delivered by the CRP are ephemeral and last only as long as funding supports the existence of the program and its vegetative cover is properly managed.

An involved American population will continue to expect governmental policies to enhance long-term protection of natural resources and public health. Recent investigations furnish evidence that the collective economic value of environmental benefits delivered by the CRP likely exceed program costs. The mounting significance placed on environmentally-responsible land management is based in part on public recognition that social, aesthetic, and recreational values enhance the traditional uses of agricultural land.

First posted June 22, 2015

For additional information contact:
Director, Fort Collins Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
2150 Centre Ave., Bldg. C
Fort Collins, CO 80526–8118

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Suggested citation:

Vandever, M.W., and Allen, A.W., 2015, Management of conservation reserve program grasslands to meet wildlife habitat objectives: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5070, 47 p.,

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)


Executive Summary


Effects of the Conservation Reserve Program on Grassland Wildlife Habitat

History of Grassland Management

Management of CRP Grasslands

Avian Habitat and Grassland Biomass Production



References Cited

Appendix 1. Latin names of wildlife species discussed in text

Appendix 2. Latin names of vegetation discussed in text

Appendix 3. Description of Potential Effects of Managing CRP Grasslands for Wildlife Habitat

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