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Sustaining Bird Habitats & Rural Communities
Brenda Brady and Laura Nowlin, ranchers near Winnett, MT, and RSVP participants.

WWF Ranch Systems and Viability Planning Network (RSVP) Summary

RSVP Overview and Enrollment:

World Wildlife Fund’s Ranch Systems and Viability Planning Network (RSVP) takes a community-based approach to preserving the open space, ecological integrity, and community livelihoods of the Northern Great Plains (NGP) ecosystem. By centering the goals of individual ranchers and local communities which own and manage over 70% of the NGP, WWF is fostering a community of practice for sustainable ranching at scale across the region.

WWF’s Sustainable Ranching Initiative (SRI) began enrolling ranches into RSVP in March of 2021. As of September 2023, there are 85 ranches enrolled, with a collective management impact on over 825,000 acres. RSVP provides technical assistance to ranchers, access to a cost-share program for ranch infrastructure improvement projects that benefit grasslands, ecological monitoring for soil, vegetation, and birds, educational scholarships for continuing education, and intentional connections with other ranchers doing similar work.

Ecological Monitoring: On each RSVP ranch, WWF monitors bird populations, vegetation production and diversity, water infiltration, and various soil health metrics. Ecological monitoring enables WWF, ranches, and partners to understand and communicate the importance of intact landscapes for ranch economies and wildlife populations and allows for more consistent review of ecological factors which influence management decisions.

Continuing Education:  Through the RSVP educational program ranchers can request funding to attend workshops and events that will further hone their knowledge and increase their skills related to ranch management, WWF has provided funding to many of our enrolled ranchers to attend Ranching for Profit, soil health workshops, winter grazing seminars, enterprise accounting courses, and a variety of other opportunities across the NGP.

Ranch Infrastructure: WWF provides financial resources to ranchers to help improve ranch infrastructure to meet their management goals. SRI staff work with ranchers to develop and track management goals, including prospective infrastructure that will improve grazing management.  A critical component of keeping landscapes intact is encouraging their grazing utilization, where practical, and facilitating the buildout of infrastructure required for positive impact livestock management. WWF often collaborates with partners such as the USDA NRCS, Pheasants Forever, Rancher’s Stewardship Alliance (RSA), Winnett ACES (ACES), and the Northern Great Plains Joint Venture to collaboratively support these projects. Between March 2022 and March 2023, WWF developed $1.5 million worth of infrastructure improvements on ranches, utilizing corporate, US government, and private foundation funding.

Community-led conservation, local capacity, and technical assistance: WWF prioritizes building capacity within local collaboratives to assist with locally-led conservation and to provide a more community-based contact and technical assistance for ranchers interested in RSVP. WWF collaborates closely with RSA, ACES, Eastern Montana Regenerative Agriculture, and other locally organized groups across the NGP to empower locally-led efforts. These partners may also assist with coordination of field inventories, monitoring, project review, site visits, and other technical assistance on RSVP ranches. WWF also contracts consultants such as independent grazing management specialists and stockwater engineers for particularly large or challenging projects on a case-by-case basis.

Elevating the value of grasslands and benefits of livestock grazing: WWF elevates RSVP, and the ranchers within the network, to national platforms with beef supply-chain companies, international media outlets, and conservation organizations, to support their message and encourage better understanding of their life, business, and the landscapes they manage. We also publish a quarterly print newsletter highlighting current events in the NGP related to sustainable grazing, giving the RSVP network updates about the program, and showcasing conservation partners whom we collaborate with.

Map of the NGP region with RSVP ranches indicated for each year of the program.