Sharp tailed grouse

What We Do

Work of the Northern Plains Conservation Network includes the following:

Informing people locally, regionally, nationally and internationally about the vision, and about the ecological values and characteristics of the northern Plains;

Developing opportunities for greater participation in key NPCN issues;

Accessing and analyzing data needed for furthering the NPCN vision;

Sharing approaches and information about common issues of concern to NPCN participants; and

Identifying local, regional, national and international initiatives needed to implement the NPCN vision.

For 2016, NPCN has two ongoing initiatives:

Sage Grouse/Grassland Birds

Grassland birds are the most imperiled habitat-based group of birds in North America. Trends of populations decline is largely consistent across types of grassland birds: migrants and residents, gamebirds, shorebirds, songbirds, hawks, and owls. This is alarming as birds are indicators of ecosystem health. Grassland birds are important for economic, esthetic and cultural reasons and that many changes in land development, land use policies, and grazing can occur that would benefit grassland habitats and birds, with minimal financial costs to ranchers and other landowners, and perhaps even benefits.

Examples of simple changes include consideration for: the timing of disturbances relative to bird breeding activities; the area requirements of birds beyond pasture fences to achieve habitats more appropriate in size; and the rotation of grazing among pastures to increase habitat heterogeneity with no change in animal production. NPCN is working to share best management practices and other information for land managers, to support healthy bird populations for priority species.


For the past 10,000 years, bison were the dominant herbivore in North America, and their grazing patterns influenced the structure of grass species, mosaics of vegetation, and fire dynamics, which in turn influenced habitat for grassland insects, birds, and small mammals. The decimation of bison, gradual domestication and increased husbandry of bison in enclosed spaces has begun the steady process of rendering the bison “ecologically extinct.” The majority of land in the region is privately owned and grazing for cattle production is the dominant use. However, based on prior historical situations and current models we believe bison and cattle can be compatible.

NPCN is supporting the work of many groups to 1) collaborate with and support tribes who want to restore bison to their lands or partner with other government agencies to restore bison across multiple jurisdictions 2) partner with other private landowners in ecological restoration 3) identify and disseminate information on efforts to restore the ecological role of Bison and best management practices for grassland management and agricultural practices.


July 2016

Nancy Labbe, WWF Senior Program Officer working in Sustainable Ranching and Sustainable Food gave a WebEx presentation on Roundtables for Sustainable Beef on July 7th.

Nancy spoke about efforts to bring together ranchers, processors, traders, retailers, governments, scientists and other conservation organizations to identify ways to increase the sustainability of beef production. The Global Roundtable, which published its Principles and Criteria in 2014, provides a framework for national roundtables to produce more specific production indicators and verification methods. Nancy spoke particularly about the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, both of which WWF is a founding member, and both of whom are working on the development of their own indicators and metrics to verify sustainable beef production.

See presentation here

December 2015

Lauren Porensky, Agricultural Research Service and lead on the Thunder Basin Research Initiative, gave a WebEx presentation for NPCN December 10th.

The central question driving the Thunder Basin Research Initiative is: How do we manage a large, heterogeneous landscape for multiple ecosystem benefits in the face of external drivers? Dr. Porensky discussed three research projects, highlighting work on the effects of historical wildfire on plant communities and soils. She reported on key results including:

1) Wildfires are linked to reduced abundance of cheatgrass and Japanese brome 2) Wildfires cause sagebrush-dominated plant communities to convert to perennial grass-dominated plant communities, and shrub recovery may take >100 years 3) Wildfires appear to increase forb cover and reduce cactus cover, but these effects are temporary 4) Wildfires are not associated with increased soil erosion or reduced soil aggregate stability.

See presentation here

January 2015

Rick Nelson, Coordinator for the Plains and Prairie Potholes Landscape Conservation Cooperative, gave a WebEx presentation for NPCN January 26th.

The Plains and Prairie Potholes Landscape Conservation Cooperative (PPP LCC) was one of the first nine Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) established in 2010. Rick’s presentation provided an overview of the LCC concept and detail the evolution of the PPP LCC over the course of its nearly five year history. Examples of cross-LCC collaborations were discussed as well as projects that are designed to knit the 22 individual LCCs into a functioning network.

See his presentation here.

NPCN Biannual Meetings:

October 2016

On October 6th and 7th, NPCN hosted another successful biannual meeting, our second for 2016, in Billings, MT. Under the theme of water, its use and conservation, our group visited two sites along the Musselshell River that have suffered from recent extreme flooding events. We saw and heard about some creative ways to deal with the aftermath; one, a pretty impressive dam rehabilitation project with fish passage and the other a dam removal site. 

Montana FWP Billings office was the site of our meeting on the 7th. Ann Schwend, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (NDRP), gave a presentation on drought resilience and building capacity to develop locally-adapted drought management plans in the Missouri Headwaters Basin.

Steve Forrest, Defenders of Wildlife, presented via Skype on the Pallid Sturgeon, giving an update on threats from dam construction on the Yellowstone River, and the growing collaborative effort to engage this issue.

Jan Swenson showed the short film “Keeping all the Pieces.” Done in collaboration betweenNorth Dakota Wildlife Federation and Badlands Conservation Alliance the film explores oil and gas impacts on North Dakota’s western public lands, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the one-million-acre Little Missouri National Grassland.

 Finally, the group discussed a recently received grant for NPCN to develop and distribute a survey in collaboration with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. We received ideas on how the survey could best identify collaboration needs with groups in the region and how NPCN can more effectively meet those needs.


May 2016

The Spring 2016 meeting took place in Rapid City, South Dakota. We received updates on critical issues and heard about the amazing work that individuals and groups are doing for prairie conservation. Some of that included the use of drones to distribute oral vaccine to prairie dogs in order to combat plague; changes in land management, both good and bad, from the decline in oil production on public lands in North Dakota; working with ranchers on a variety of issues from water management to creating grassland bird habitat; and efforts to maintain genetic diversity in bison herds.

Presentations included Shaun Grassel who shared information on research and conservation on Lower Brule with a focus on pronghorn and badger work, and local rancher and South Dakota Grasslands Coalition member Pat Guptill, who shared his grassland management strategies for combating drought, improving cattle grazing and wildlife management.
Our field trip included a tour of Badlands National Park and Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, hearing about plague management for prairie dogs and expanding habitat for bison restoration. We learned about public, private, NGO land exchanges from Corissa Krueger of The Nature Conservancy and a private land investment model that is bringing bison to the Conata Basin


October 2015

The Fall 2015 biannual meeting in Bozeman, Montana was another successful effort to come together as a Network with a total of 21 attendees. As a result of ideas generated from the last biannual meeting, two speakers shared information about fire as a prairie conservation tool:Tim Seipel, Montana State University (click on liink to see presentation) and John Carlson, Bureau of Land Management.

John Carlson also shared some detailed information about where and how the BLM is focusing Sage-grouse habitat management efforts in Montana (click on link to see presentation). Various speakers shared insights and lessons learned in working with private landowners. Collaboration and strategies were discussed, and as always we heard about the wide range of work happening in individual organizations around the Northern Great Plains.

Thanks to Don Woerner for setting up a fantastic Bison display. Thanks also to Cheryl Mandich and Cliff Wallis for creating a poster outlining the goals and work of NPCN. The poster has already been presented at one conference and will be presented in the future.

May 2015

The Spring 2015 biannual meeting was held in Douglas, Wyoming May 27-28. We heard about a range of activites going on around the Northern Great Plains including work on improving Greater Sage grouse habitat management, improving the success of Black Footed Ferret reintroductions, expanding conservation Bison herds and addressing threats to the Pallid Sturgeon.

A number of participants reported on initiatives to produce and market ecologically friendly beef. The attendance by a local rancher gave the group an opportunity to discuss options for compatible cattle and prairie dog management. We dug into local issues in Thunder Basin National Grassland through presentations from Laurel Vicklund – Thunder Basin Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association and David Augustine-Agricultural Research Service. To see the presentations click on links above.

October 2014

The Fall 2014 biannual meeting was held in Billings, Montana October 15-16. The NPCN Biannual meeting featured discussions on Greater Sage-grouse with presentations from BLM and FWS on their status, conservation and potential listing as an endangered species. Bison was also a major focus as the group and initiative discussed plans for raising the profile of conservation efforts of Bison, and addressing legislation both for and against. We heard from representatives from Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and the InterTribal Buaffalo Council.

A field trip on the 16th took a group to BLM lands designated as having wilderness characteristics, South of Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge. We were accompanies by a BLM staff person wtih expertise on the issue.

May 2014

The Spring 2014 biannual meeting was held in Medora, North Dakota May 20-21. It was decided to suspend the energy initiative until we had needed focus and participation. The Bison and Sage Grouse/Grassland Bird Initiatives will continue for 2014/2015.

A number of NPCN participants joined in a tour of the Bakken oil fields. The group heard from local natural resource management specialists about the individual and collective environmental and social impacts from rapid oil development and visited areas under development that are close in proximity to both the North and South Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and development occurring in and close to National Grassland areas.

September 2013

NPCN held its second biannual meeting for 2013 in Bozeman, Montana September 20th. Updates were provided on the priority initiatives: Bison, Sage Grouse/Grassland Birds and Energy and priority actions for the next 6 months identified.

Additional issues for NPCN engagement were also identified including linking conservation with diaster payments in the Farm Bill and concerns over the reinstated use of Rozol in some Western States. For more information contact NPCN Coordinator, NPCN Coordinator.

March 2013

The NPCN 2013 Spring meeting held March 25th in Rapid City, South Dakota brought in participants from all over the Northern Plains. Discussions resulted in the identification of three priority initiatives: Sage Grouse/Grassland Birds, Bison and Energy. Groups are forming now to take ideas and action forward. For more information contact NPCN Coordinator NPCN Coordinator.