In the Northern Great Plains, partnerships with ranchers protect vulnerable grasslands

Rancher on horseback watching cattle
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May 2022

Our “Common Ground” feature took us to the Northern Great Plains, where 32 million acres of grassland habitat have been destroyed over the past decade, primarily for row crop agriculture. Since launching the Sustainable Ranching Initiative in 2011, WWF has worked alongside cattle ranchers to identify practices that benefit both biodiversity and the bottom line—incorporating cattle grazing methods that help grassland ecosystems thrive.


Last August, WWF held its first rancher networking event with a keynote address from prominent animal behaviorist and livestock consultant Temple Grandin. Seventy-five ranchers traveled from across the Northern Great Plains to build community, share their perspectives on government policy, listen to rancher-led presentations, learn about funding opportunities, and get inspiration for sustainable ranching practices.


WWF mobilized funds in 2023 to help ranchers implement regenerative grazing practices and enable upgrades—such as installing temporary and permanent fencing, introducing virtual livestock collars, and digging new wells that can bring water for livestock to regions previously inaccessible for grazing.


WWF’s New Agrarian Program offers aspiring ranchers who are new to the industry an eight-month paid apprenticeship with seasoned pros at participating ranches. In four years, the program has graduated 55 apprentices; 80% have continued their career in agriculture.


Thanks to implementation of sustainable grazing practices on partnering RSVP ranches, grassland-dependent songbird species like the horned lark, chestnut-collared longspur, and western meadowlark are thriving alongside cattle on ranchlands.

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