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Approximately 90% of the Great Plains and ¾ quarters of the Northern Great Plains—WWF’s focal region—are privately owned. WWF is actively building partnerships with landowners such as ranchers who use sustainable practices on their land. These grasslands evolved to be grazed, and cattle primarily fill the niches that was once held by plains bison.

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84% of the intact habitat in the Great Plains is privately owned (309 million acres). Ensuring that privately owned lands remain intact not only conserves biodiversity, but also keeps streams clean, stores water, reduces erosion, supports pollinators, and leaves carbon in the soil.

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"One of my neighbors said it best what's good for a duck, is good for a deer, is good for a cow. And we all live on one small planet." Montana Rancher, Dale Veseth


"Cattle & Conservation: Ranching with Wildlife"

Building local-to-global support for sustainable ranching.

Since 2011, WWF's Sustainable Ranching Initiative has been working to establish a productive dialogue between conservation interests and the ranching community in the NGP. We've also increased our engagement with players in the beef commodity marketplace. We're driven by the goal of maintaining intact grasslands by applying WWF's influence throughout the beef supply chain, and ensuring that intact grasslands are valued by a marketplace of informed consumers.


The primary goal of WWF's Sustainable Ranching Initiative (SRI) is to "keep ranchers ranching" to conserve high-quality grasslands. The SRI works with landowners, corporations, industry groups, NGOs, and government agencies to conserve grasslands at scale by generating a better working environment.


Conducted an audit of 29 beef sustainability initiatives in the region.

Hired staff with experience in the beef industry.

Conducted regional workshops on beef sustainability with local ranchers and corporate partners.

Recognized ranching innovators through national and state conservation award programs given to beef producers.

Hosted listening sessions with leading ranchers throughout the ecoregion.


Awarded capacity-building grants to rancher-led organizations for sustainability objectives.

Completed grassland bird surveys on 47 family ranches (representing 371,000 acres of land) to make the case for the bene ts of ranching for conservation.

Held influential positions on the global, US, and Canadian Roundtables for Sustainable Beef, guiding indicator and metric development and shaping the future of sustainable beef.

Developed metrics for intact habitat and plowprint to track grassland loss annually and monitor the effectiveness of our strategies.

Built greater collaboration between conservation interests and ranching partners in key geographies throughout the NGP


The NGP is home to 14 tribal reservations, which play a vital role in restoring keystone wildlife species, such as bison and black-footed ferrets.

© WWF-US / Clay Bolt

Tribal communities in the Northern Great Plains have a desire to maintain and enhance the grassland ecosystems, which are home to culturally and biologically important prairie species including bison, prairie dogs, and migratory birds. Native peoples value the connection between environmental health, the health of their people, and protection of the environment for future generations.

© WWF-US / Clay Bolt


WWF proudly partners with tribes throughout the Northern Great Plains in support of efforts to restore balance to the grassland ecosystem and the communities that live there. On tribal lands, WWF is a guest in support of local efforts. Our approach aims to bolster economic and community benefits, strengthening local wildlife management, and direct wildlife conservation activities. Our current work with tribal communities focuses on black-footed ferret and bison restoration, and a sustainable financing initiative to foster tribal wildlife program sustainability.

To many plains tribes, plains bison and black-footed ferrets are culturally important species. After an absence of many years from tribal lands, these communities are embracing the recovery of bison and ferret in the Northern Great Plains. WWF is working with tribal partners to restore these species to their rightful place in the ecosystem and at the heart of their people’s culture, economy, and lands. 


A lot of reservations want to see the bison come back...Fort Peck is one of the best examples.

© WWF-US / Clay Bolt


Our current work with tribal communities focuses on black-footed ferret and bison restoration, and a sustainable nancing initiative to foster tribal wildlife program sustainability.


2009: Reintroduced black-footed ferrets to Canada after a 70- year absence, returning wild ferret populations to all three countries of their historic occupation.

2013: Re-established a black-footed ferret population on the Fort Belknap Reservation after a 14-year absence.

2015: Reintroduced black-footed ferrets to the Crow Reservation after a 92-year absence.

2010-2015: Mitigated the lethal impact of sylvatic plague on 15,000 acres of black-footed ferret habitat annually for the last five years.

2013-2015: Field-tested a new oral sylvatic plague vaccine for prairie dogs at two black-footed ferret reintroduction sites.

2015: Tested the application of using drones and high-resolution 3D imagery to monitor black-footed ferret habitat on the Fort Belknap Reservation.

2016-2018 Developed Unmanned Aircraft Systems and All-terrain Vehicle devices to deliver vaccine baits to prairie dogs to protect them from sylvatic plague.

2017: WWF and partners tested the application of a new thermal imaging system to detect ferrets on the U.L. Bend National Wildlife Refuge in Montana.


Supported the establishment of the 1st herd of Yellowstone bison outside Yellowstone National Park, by helping transport 136 Yellowstone bison to the Fort Peck Tribes in Montana, in 2014.

Partnered to create the Fort Peck Pte's (Bison) stakeholder group, which actively works to ensure that the restoration of bison contributes to the well-being of the people of Fort Peck Reservation.

At both Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations, WWF and partners have facilitated financing to expand bison habitat by thousands of acres through tribal lease acquisitions and land purchases.

In 2016, WWF committed two years of funding to hire Fort Peck Buffalo Program's first administrator who is enhancing the value of Fort Peck's Buffalo Program to community members.

WWF and Fort Peck's Buffalo Program are developing models that will illustrate how to optimize economic return and community benefit generated from tribal bison herds.
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Policies such as the Farm Bill also play a vital role in assuring that the grasslands of the Northern Great Plains, and those that still exist within the broader Great Plains remain intact. Provisions within the Farm Bill such as the Sodsaver and the Conservation Reserve Program make it more economically feasible for ranchers and farmers to implement practices that are good for their business and for the environment.

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WWF's science team continually refines planning models used to focus and prioritize our conservation actions. Ecoregional and landscape-level progress is tracked toward our conservation goals in the Northern Great Plains.

We use cutting-edge techniques to model species richness, assess future threats, and predict patterns of change across the region. WWF has been a science leader, engaging a variety of partners working in this region, and we continue to hold a high standard for designing smart strategies and updating planning as the world changes.