"BOWMAN COUNTY, N.D. — There’s a stretch of Kim Shade’s ranch in the North Dakota Badlands where he used to look for a peculiar long-billed bird from the seat of his saddle. Now, all he sees there is a road leading to an oil rig.
“I used to see quite a few of them,” the cowboy said, of the speckled, chicken-size bird called a long-billed curlew. The curlew’s absence is unsettling, he said.
“Our birds on the prairie are the same thing as a canary in a coal mine,” Shade said. “If we lose them, something’s wrong.”
Curlew territory has been slowly shunted westward in North Dakota following the retreat of the state’s dwindling grasslands. That’s bad news for conservationists, who are trying to salvage one of the country’s most threatened habitats, which has been hit hard by industry and traditional crop development. It’s also a problem for ranchers, whose cattle rely on the health and sprawl of prairie as much as the curlews."