Agriculture Project

Northern Great Plains Sustainable Ranching Initiative

Location: Northern Great Plains

Status: Active

Native grasslands, which evolved under varying conditions, are a warehouse of diverse plant life that can grow in hot, cold, wet, or dry conditions. These grasslands thus support wildlife and habitat connectivity, grazing animals, and human communities. We partnered with the World Wildlife Fund Sustainable Ranching Initiative to examine how outcomes-based financing can slow or reverse the rate of conversion of the grasslands of the Northern Great Plains (NGP).


The NGP is one of the few remaining areas of intact temperate grassland in the world. But populations of several of the region’s unique faunae are experiencing rapid declines due to habitat loss from expansion of cropland and development. About 1.2 million acres are converted to cropland annually—a rate exceeding deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon. Moreover, 21% of the remaining intact habitat has the soil quality to sustain crop cultivation. Grassland conversion also threatens the livelihoods of ranchers and rangeland owners and the local economies that depend on them.


A Financing Feasibility Assessment is in process to explore the ways in which impact-oriented capital can support, compliment, and scale the existing conservation initiatives in the Northern Great Plains. With more than 75% of the remaining intact grasslands in the NGP managed by private landowners as pasture for livestock, we are working to structure new models of financial and technical assistance that result in a direct benefit the local ranching community. We are also engaging directly with the conservation groups, retailers, associations, regulators, and communities in the NGP region to deliver solutions that benefit a broad group of stakeholders.


We anticipate that supporting and enhancing the livelihoods of the NGP’s landowners and ranchers to improve profitability and resiliency will lead naturally to a reduction in grassland conversion in the NGP. Keeping the NGP’s grasslands intact not only helps conserve biodiversity, but it also leads to less fertilizer runoff, cleaner streams, more pollinators for plants, and more carbon stored in the soil.