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WWF works to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, collaborating with partners from local to global levels in nearly 100 countries.
World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Sustainable Ranching Initiative (SRI) is partnering with ranchers across the Northern Great Plains (NGP) to increase sustainable grassland management on one million acres in five years. Through the Ranch Systems and Viability Planning network (RSVP), WWF has established a comprehensive support system for ranchers to develop sustainable grazing management plans with assistance from on-the-ground technical specialists and to access continuing education to improve ecological outcomes at scale in the NGP. The initiative aims to improve management on 1 million acres across the region over five years, increasing carbon sequestration, improving water infiltration, and biodiversity health. The RSVP program provides events, in-person land health workshops and online educational workshops hosted by WWF and by our local and regional partners.
To date, WWF has enrolled 90 ranches totaling near 850,000 acres in central and eastern Montana, western South Dakota, northeastern Wyoming and the Nebraska Sandhills. Fifty-five percent of RSVP ranchers are primarily managed or co-managed by women and 31% of the ranches are managed by beginning ranchers, defined as under the age of 40.
Eligible landowners can apply to enroll their ranch and intact grassland acres in the Ranch Systems & Viability Planning Network (RSVP). Once the SRI team has reviewed the application, approved landowners will sign a participation agreement which includes a pledge to keep their enrolled acreage intact with no conversion for at least 10 years. By enrolling their ranches and meeting the program criteria of grassland retention and grazing plan development and adherence, ranchers can access financial assistance to attend continuing education and to administer ranch improvement projects with a conservation benefit in the form of cost-share support.
RSVP ranchers have utilized RSVP resources to attend Ranching for Profit schools, attend grazing and soil health workshops, install water and fence infrastructure on their ranches, complete other conservation projects like beaver dam analogs for wetland restoration, develop grazing plans, subscribe to grazing software, and many other activities.
Landowners in the RSVP program can apply for funding in the form of cost-share for ranch improvements. This is intended to encourage increased adoption of sustainable grazing practices in the NGP. Project costs are expected to be shared with the rancher and/or additional contributing partners, if applicable. Currently, the standard for cost-share projects is that WWF will pay up to 50% of the balance of the total project cost not covered by the rancher and or contributing partner, with a maximum of $60,000 per ranch. Cost-share policy with regards to maximum investment per ranch and the types of practices ranches are allowed to request assistance for is reviewed annually by SRI and adjusted based on the current enrollment in RSVP and available funding. Project costs are based on Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) state Conservation Practice Scenario (CPS) rates, unless a rate does not exist and then based on fair market value analysis.
The SRI team reviews each project application, including a project description, detailed budget, and cost-share information. Landowners with approved projects will enter into a funding agreement with specific terms and conditions. Landowners are responsible for securing any necessary licenses, zoning approvals, permits, and insurance.
Once a project is complete, the SRI team will travel to the ranch to confirm the work was completed to CSA specifications and the cost-share funding will be disbursed to the landowner. Larger projects may be completed in phases, with interim reviews and disbursements. Landowners agree that as part of the cost-share program, WWF will, at a minimum, perform site visits with RSVP ranches annually. For RSVP ranches with active cost-share projects, an informal progress update and site review will be included. In the event a project may require more frequent check-ins for adaptive management, technical assistance, or other consultation, more frequent visits will occur. The next RSVP annual visit by WWF staff following project completion will include an assessment and formal review of project goals and accomplishments.
For more information on the RSVP Program, please contact Alexis Bonogofsky, Sustainable Ranching Initiative Program Director, World Wildlife Fund, [email protected] or fill out the contact form below.