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Vt. farmers participate in project to protect grassland birds - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. farmers participate in project to protect grassland birds

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BRIDPORT, Vt. -

The hayfields are still frozen but in about two months they should be ready for their first cut of the season. That is a growing problem for birds that use the fields to nest and raise their young. One of these birds is the Bobolink.

The Bobolink is a species that has seen a 75 percent decrease in its population in the past 40 years according to the Breeding Bird Survey. Now a new effort is underway to help bring the Bobolink back.

"We started this project in 2013. It is a collaboration between UVM and UVM Extension and UConn. The idea is to see if we can raise money from the general public to pay directly to farmers to actually get them to bring bird friendly management practices into their farming business," said Allan Strong from the University of Vermont Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.

The farmers who participate are paid not to cut their fields while the birds are nesting during the months of June and July. Farmers who are interested submit bids on what they figure it will cost them to set aside acres of hayfields. Money will go to farmers who charge the least for changing their field practices. The general public is asked to pledge online to fund the effort.

"Last year was the first year we have run this project in Vermont. We raised $31,000 to pay to seven farmers to conserve 200 acres, so we were pretty pleased with that this year. We are trying to see if we can ramp it up even further," Strong said.

And while actual reproductive numbers were not collected, Strong estimates there were about 70 pairs of Bobolinks on those 200 acres.

Phil Wagner was one of the farmers who participated. He was paid $160 an acre for the 20 acres he enrolled in Bridport. He wants to participate again this year. "Yes, as I said it's a calculated risk. We only enrolled the amount we knew that if the weather conditions didn't permit, if we didn't get that first cut of hay off, it wouldn't have put us out of business," Wagner said.

Wagner says there is an added benefit. He used the money from the Bobolink Project to make an environmental improvement on the farm."We used those funds to fix an existing manure system that was not operating properly, so we have a new feeding  area for our cattle that will hopefully mitigate the manure runoff and be helpful," he said.

And Wagner says one of his neighbors is now interested in submitting a bid to participate in the Bobolink Project this summer.

If you are interested in donating to the Bobolink Project, the deadline is April 29. Click here.

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