Tree plantings are striking landscape features that symbolize settlement of the West. Although grassland birds require large tracts of treeless grasslands, planting trees in prairie landscapes is still regarded by many as a positive management practice. We compared bird use of tree plantings (n=182) and natural riparian woodlands (n=37) to evaluate whether ecological costs of tree plantings to grassland birds is compensated for by the benefit they provide to forest birds of management concern. Findings indicate that ecological costs of tree plantings outweigh their benefits because they fail to provide habitat for forest birds of management concern. Thus, loss of native grassland bird communities is the currency in which we pay the ecological costs of plantings trees in prairie landscapes. We recommend that managers refrain from planting trees in or adjacent to grassland habitats. We further recommend that managers refocus their tree plantings efforts to restoration of riparian woodlands that maximize avian diversity in prairie landscapes.
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