Birds break boundaries

  The Colorado state office of The Nature Conservancy has worked for years to preserve chunks of the state's shortgrass prairie, breeding grounds for birds such as mountain plovers, burrowing owls and long-billed curlews. But staffers always knew their efforts in Colorado could provide only part-time protection, since most of these species travel south during the winter.

So this year, Chris Pague, conservation scientist for the group, followed the birds to their off-season home in northeastern Mexico. Near the town of Saltillo, he found substantial remnants of the birds' grassland habitat. "It was amazing to come across the valley floor and see nothing but prairie dogs," he says, enthusiastically listing off the bird species that also frequent the area.

Much of the land in the area is owned by communal agricultural settlements called ejidos, which are under great pressure to sell their holdings to the highest bidder. Options such as conservation easements are almost unheard of. In an attempt to counter this trend, the Colorado office teamed up with local stakeholders in Mexico. With the help of a grant from The Nature Conservancy's national office, the group is beginning work on a conservation plan for the region. They hope to use a variety of tactics, including conservation easements, to protect key areas in a 60,000-acre swath of grassland habitat.

For more information, contact The Nature Conservancy of Colorado, 1244 Pine St., Boulder CO 80302, call 303/444-2950, or check out the office's Web page at

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