Did you know?

Nearly 3 billion birds have been lost in North America since 1970. Roughly 25% of those were grassland birds.

Project Spotlight

Collaborative Conservation Helps to Offset
Grassland Loss in the Northern Great Plains

Featured Projects:

Drake Ranch Cropland Reclamation

Voluntary Landowner Efforts to Prevent Wildlife Habitat Loss

Conservation organizations, agencies, and private landowners in the Northern Great Plains collaboratively protected, restored, and enhanced approximately 350,000 acres of grasslands and wetlands in 2020. This is a significant accomplishment in a region that is experiencing ongoing grassland loss. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Plowprint Report, 210,000 acres of intact grasslands were converted to cropland in the Northern Great Plains last year, with a total of 3.4 million acres converted between 2009 and 2020. The collective work of partners to sustain working rangelands, wildlife and pollinator habitat, and carbon sequestration capabilities is helping to offset the loss of our native grasslands.

Approximately 75% of the Northern Great Plains region is in private ownership and supports a high proportion of the Nation’s family ranching operations. These lands also provide habitat for a suite of grassland-dependent wildlife. For example, 53% of the world’s population of lark buntings–a grassland bird that is experiencing significant population declines–breed in the Northern Great Plains. Other declining grassland birds, such as chestnut-collared longspurs and western meadowlarks, also call the region home for all or part of their life cycle. Native grasslands are important for reducing atmospheric carbon that is driving climate change and are one of the most important systems globally for absorbing and storing carbon. Almost all the conservation projects in 2020 were conducted on private lands in collaboration with private landowners, emphasizing the pivotal role landowners play in finding solutions to conserve our Nation’s rangelands. 

The Northern Great Plains Joint Venture (NGPJV), a public-private partnership dedicated to healthy lands for people, birds, and other wildlife, has established a conservation target of up to 2,000,000 acres conserved within a 10-year period (2016-2026) to slow the decline of grassland birds. In 2020 alone, the collective effort of landowners and conservation partners achieved more than 17% of this target. If conservation continues at this rate, habitat goals will be met or exceeded by 2026 with measurable benefits to grassland birds and other wildlife. 


Partners contributing to this conservation summary include:
American Bird Conservancy Audubon's Conservation Ranching Initiative
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies ConocoPhillips
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
NGPJV's Northern Grassland Restoration Incentive Program Private Landowners
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in MT, ND, and SD
Winnett ACES (Agricultural and Community Enhancement and Sustainability) World Wildlife Fund, Northern Great Plains Program
Wyoming Game and Fish Department  



Drake Ranch Cropland Reclamation

Partner Spotlight: Drake Family Ranch and Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD)

The Drake Ranch is a family ranch located in the northwest portion of Campbell County, Wyoming. Historically, the Drake Ranch’s operation revolved around wheat farming and cattle grazing. Due to a mixture of low grain prices, overhead costs, and production potential of the currently farmed ground, the Drake Ranch began the process of converting 384 acres of retired cropland to a grazing operation in 2020. While cropland has limited value to wildlife, reclaiming that land back to native grassland and/or an introduced grass/alfalfa grass mix has higher value to wildlife. Reclamation of retired farm ground can be costly, especially with native seed. By providing cost-share to landowners reclaiming retired cropland, WGFD can incentivize planting mixes that have high value to wildlife, such as native mixes of high-quality forage plants. WGFD provided cost-share for the purchase of seed mix for the native grass/forb planting and the introduced grass/alfalfa planting. In total, 333 acres were planted to a native grass/forb mixture, while 51 acres were planted to an introduced grass/alfalfa mixture. This project was funded by the NGPJV and the WGFD Habitat Trust fund, with technical assistance provided by NRCS.

Text courtesy of Todd Caltrider, WGFD



Volunteer Landowner Efforts to Prevent Wildlife Habitat Loss

Partner Spotlight: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' Working Grasslands Initiative

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) developed a 5-year strategic initiative to help private landowners conserve rangelands for ranching operations and state grassland Species of Concern. As part of the initiative, FWP is offering voluntary 30-year conservation leases to landowners, in which enrolled landowners receive a one-time payment and agree not to convert rangelands to croplands or subdivision or drain wetlands for the duration of the lease. Enrolled landowners also agree to provide reasonable recreational public access for game bird hunting and/or bird watching activities. Grazing management is not restricted or prescribed by lease terms, and ongoing grazing management is encouraged. In 2020, eight landowners enrolled 65,871 acres of native rangelands in conservation leases within the Northern Great Plains portion of Montana. These leases not only support working lands but are also considered by the federal government to be protected habitat. This helps keep species off the federal threatened and endangered species list, as the amount of protected habitat available in a species range is a key consideration in listing decisions.