Rapid City, S.D. (January 22, 2024) — The National Audubon Society proudly announces that Cheyenne River Buffalo Ranch, owned by renowned wildlife biologist Dan O’Brien and his family and the home ranch for his Wild Idea Buffalo Co., has achieved bird-friendly habitat certification through Audubon’s Conservation Ranching program. Wild Idea Buffalo Co. will become the inaugural brand to feature the new bison version of the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal, a package label that lets consumers know products originated on lands managed for birds and biodiversity.
Audubon’s flagship grassland habitat initiative, Audubon Conservation Ranching is a collaborative effort between ranchers and the bird conservation nonprofit to address the decline of grassland bird populations – the bird species group that’s experienced the most rapid decline over the last half-century. Over 100 ranches, encompassing nearly 3 million acres, have earned Audubon Certified status nationwide. This includes 13 ranches and about 140,000 acres in South Dakota.
O’Brien is a living legend in the conservation community, largely for his efforts to protect and restore the native prairies of the northern Great Plains. Birds have long informed O’Brien’s work – he spent seven years working for the Peregrine Fund, helping restore the onetime endangered species across the Rocky Mountains – and they thrive at Cheyenne River Buffalo Ranch, the 36,000-acre ranch he purchased in 1997 where he introduced bison as a means of revitalizing the grassland landscape. In addition to protecting his grasslands from conversion to row crop agriculture or other forms of development, O’Brien has restored previously altered lands with native grasses, converting them back to a more natural state.
“Birds are the real reason I started all this,” said O’Brien, “I simply longed to share open spaces with them. But I quickly realized they are in trouble due to widespread habitat loss and degradation. Bringing bison back has been my way to save the planet, help renew the prairie, and improve cover for birds. The link between bison and birds has and always will be a full circle.”
At Cheyenne River Buffalo Ranch, O’Brien adopted a grazing management principle inspired by the historical patterns of native bison herds, ensuring that one-third of the available vegetation is consumed, one-third trampled, and one-third remains untouched.
Cody Grewing, a Rangeland Ecologist for Audubon Great Plains, emphasized the birdy significance of this approach, stating, “The patchwork landscape created by Dan O’Brien’s grazing management is precisely what grassland birds thrive in, a mosaic of habitat that’s ideal for a broad spectrum of different bird species.”
For more information about Audubon Conservation Ranching in South Dakota, please contact Cody Grewing at Cody.Grewing@Audubon.org. For information in other states, please email ConservationRanching@Audubon.