Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Strong, Allan


For several decades, grassland bird populations have been facing consistent declines throughout North America with population declines >1.5% per year in the past 40 years in the eastern United States. If this current rate persists, the populations will be reduced to half their current size in less than 50 years. Multiple causes have been proposed to explain the decline of grassland birds, but loss of available habitat and declining habitat quality are recognized as key elements in the decline of this guild. The Champlain Valley has the potential to be an important area for the conservation of grassland birds due to large acreage of grassland habitat; however, management practices are not always compatible with grassland bird habitat requirements. Therefore, there is a need to focus conservation efforts in areas that will have the greatest probability of maintaining populations of grassland birds. This project was designed to identify priority areas for implementing conservation programs for grassland birds in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. Using ArcGis, I created detailed layers that included landscape level factors (forest, grassland, development and roads) and patch level factors (size, management and conservation) important in grassland bird habitat selection. Integrating the GIS dataset into a multicriteria decision analysis framework, I produced maps in which grassland patches were ranked on the basis of their quality for grassland birds. The Analytic Hierarchy Process was the decision rule used to identify priority conservation areas. The use of a hierarchical structure distributed the relative weights of different factors deemed important by grassland bird experts, allowing a greater number of criteria to be included while keeping the methodology manageable. These procedures resulted in a series of habitat quality maps that federal, state, and non-governmental land managers will be able to use as a baseline to focus conservation efforts on areas that will have the greatest probability of maintaining viable populations of grassland birds. The maps emphasize the protection of grassland patches larger than 5-10 ha that are 2 km away from roads with high traffic, and the selection of blocks of > 50 ha of protected or bird-friendly grassland habitat. The Analytic Hierarchy Process is a flexible method that can be applied to conservation decisions across a variety of ecosystems and species.