University of Vermont

Bobolink Project Sees Successful Second Season

Burlington--The Bobolink Project raised more than $32,000 this year to protect grassland bird nesting habitat on 340 acres of farmland in the Champlain Valley, an increase of 140 acres over 2013, its pilot year.

The project, which got its start in Rhode Island in 2007, is a collaboration of University of Vermont (UVM) Extension, the UVM Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and the University of Connecticut (UConn). It helps ensure the survival of bobolinks, Eastern meadowlarks, grasshopper sparrows and other grassland birds by compensating farmers for altering their haying practices to allow these ground-nesting birds to nest in their hayfields.

"Bobolink populations have declined by 75 percent in the Northeast in recent decades due to loss of grassland habitat to reforestation and development," explains Dr. Lisa Chase, UVM Extension natural resources specialist. "In addition, technological advances in agriculture allow farmers to harvest hayfields two to three times a summer with the first cut two to three weeks earlier than was possible 70 years ago. This makes it difficult for grassland birds, which breed in May, to successfully raise their young."

The Bobolink Project solicited pledges from Vermonters earlier this year, using a reverse auction process where farmers bid to receive payments. The project then matched these bids with the contributions to establish a fair "market price" to preserve each 10-acre parcel of land and determine how much each farmer would receive and the total number of acres that could be covered.

Dr. Stephen Swallow, a UConn environmental economist and the Bobolink Project leader, notes that "the 70 percent increase in acreage protected this year reflects not only strong donations from community members but also growing interest from farmers."

Although research and administrative costs are covered by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, thus allowing all the money collected in the state to go directly to local farmers, not all interested farmers were able to participate this year due to limited funding.

"Vermont farmers offered upwards of 800 acres of land to be a part of the Bobolink Project," Swallow says, adding that he hopes to grow the donor-participation base next year. "The birds really need more of the available acres, and farmers just can't afford to do more without help from the community."

The next pledge period will run from February through mid-April 2015. The project also will explore other sources of funding for future seasons as well as ways to stimulate more donations from Vermonters to enable all farmers who want to be part of the project to protect their hayfields.

To learn more, visit www.bobolinkproject.com or contact Stephen Swallow at (860) 486-1917 or stephen.swallow@uconn.edu. Or check out the project's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheBobolinkProject.