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Saving the Grasslands While Maintaining Profitability

The North Dakota state bird, the western meadowlark, relies on managed native grasslands to survive. | Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Game and Fish

How the Meadowlark Initiative Can Help Producers Like You!

If you are a producer who is interested in grassland conservation and enhancement and are looking for ways to improve your operation in North Dakota, you may be facing one of two conundrums: either you have too many support resources and you can’t sort through them all, or you can’t find enough resources to help you on your conservation journey. Luckily for you, there is a new statewide initiative designed to assist in connecting landowners and producers with the variety of programs that offer assistance. The Meadowlark Initiative offers personalized referrals to the services, organizations, and programs that will best fit you and your land’s needs. I sat down with Meadowlark Initiative coordinator Heather Husband to learn more about how the Meadowlark Initiative can benefit those in the ag industry in our region and beyond. 

Healthy grasslands, like the one pictured here, filter water, store carbon, and are essential to wildlife and livestock producers. | Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Game and Fish

What the Meadowlark Initiative Is

Created in 2022 by North Dakota Game and Fish in coordination with many conservation organizations across the state, the Meadowlark Initiative promotes efforts of conservation, restoration, and revitalization of grasslands in North Dakota. According to the Meadowlark Initiative’s website, this is accomplished by “tapping into the collective insights, resources, and efforts of conservation, agriculture, and industry partners to enhance, restore, and sustain native grasslands in North Dakota.” Their ultimate goal, as stated on their website, is to “promote and create healthy, thriving grasslands that provide biodiversity and prosperity for wildlife, pollinators, ranching operations and communities by supporting ranching, establishing grasslands, offsetting developmental impacts, promoting societal benefits, and advancing science and education.”

The Meadowlark Initiative strives to encourage conservation of grasslands throughout North Dakota by linking landowners directly with organizations that can help with conservation efforts.

How It Works

While wanting to improve or restore grasslands in a state with a strong prairie heritage is a noble and worthy cause, often it’s hard to know where to start. There are so many resources out there, it’s difficult to know which organization will offer you the most help for your land’s needs. That’s where Heather Husband and the Meadowlark Initiative step in

“In order to keep the grasslands that we have really resilient and diverse, there are a lot of conservation programs out there that can help our producers, both by increasing profitability [of their land], and then–aligned with the Initiative’s mission–[by helping] protect the grassland resource for wildlife,” Husband said. “We are in a really amazing time of having a significant amount of financial and technical assistance available in conservation. For the landowner, it can be very confusing and timeconsuming to search through it all.”

The purpose of the Meadowlark Initiative is to understand your needs and to have someone with a knowledge of the possible grassland resources available in North Dakota recommend services or organizations that will help you—the landowner—the most. Through the initiative, landowners will discuss their goals for their land with Heather. She will then gather information and compile options, providing the landowner with referrals to resources that will help transform their land into thriving grasslands for wildlife, pollinators, ranching, and more

Assistance with Funding

Though many landowners would love to help with grassland conservation efforts, doing so often doesn’t seem profitable. It costs a lot of money to convert idle grassland into working livestock operations or to plant grass and maintain it in a way that is beneficial for both you and the wildlife, so it may often seem like the wrong move for your business. While there are plenty of resources to help you with the specifics of conserving your grasslands, it can be hard to find the funding needed for the infrastructure and management to conserve or restore your land. The Meadowlark Initiative coordinator is your one-stop shop to help you reach your goals for your operation and land. 

“That’s a really big part of it—working with landowners and producers that are interested in restoring and enhancing their grasslands to try and eliminate some of that time and frustration that comes along with the search for financial and technical assistance,” Husband said. “They have one person they can go to when looking for something new who will know them. And if the first offer doesn’t meet their needs, or if they have new ideas, I can be there to keep the process going. I am also listening for situations that don’t currently have assistance. I take those ideas back to the partners so we all can try and develop new programs to meet the landowners’ needs.” 

How Native Grasslands Help You & Your Business

While you likely know that conservation and restoration of grassland is good for wildlife, you might wonder—what’s in it for you? One thing that grassland does to help farmers and ranchers is improve water quality on your land. It can reduce runoff and filter out contaminants that might get into your soils. This not only improves water quality, but soil quality, too. If you operate near a body of water or on wetlands, native grasslands can also help improve that water’s quality.

The ring-necked pheasant is another species that benefits from working grasslands. | Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Game and Fish

“While the primary focus of the strategy is on grasslands, we also work a little bit with wetlands and riparian areas. If you have some buffer strips in the area, we are looking at how that is improving water quality. And if you put in tanks for livestock, and you’re moving them off of a river or other body of water, not only do they get cleaner water, but then it kind of protects the riverbank a little bit more as well,” Husband said, speaking of the Meadowlark Initiative’s water quality research project.

Due to the decline of grasslands in North Dakota, it is also becoming harder to maintain ranches in the prairie state. According to the Meadowlark Initiative website, “the number of U.S. cattle ranches is declining 1% per year.” Without grasslands, there are not as many food sources for the cattle. By protecting the existing grasslands and revitalizing them, the cattle ranches will begin to thrive again. If you currently own a cattle ranch, the Meadowlark Initiative can refer you to resources that can help improve your grassland’s quality and maintain grazing patterns with your current livestock that are conducive to grassland plant diversity and resilience, especially in times of drought.

Aside from improving water quality, native grasslands help humanity as a whole, too. Restoring or conserving native grasslands can have an incredible impact on the environment. For example, native grasslands are great at removing carbon from the atmosphere because they store and use the carbon to grow.

“You always hear about how the rainforest is important for carbon sequestration. But grasslands are even more amazing at storing carbon. With native grasses and forbs, their roots are five to fifteen feet deep or more. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and use it for growth, especially the root mass. The root mass of our native prairies are a real powerhouse,” Husband said. 

Grasslands are connected with all of our water, soil, energy, and food here in the prairie state, and maintaining them helps your land and your neighbors.

Not in North Dakota?

While the Meadowlark Initiative was created for North Dakota, many of the resources they use come from national or international organizations. Husband said she would never turn away a landowner if they wanted her help, and she would be happy to refer them to resources that may be available in their area. The hope, though, is that one day each state will have their own similar initiative to assist landowners with restoring their natural resources. That way, the help would be specific to each state’s environment. 

Testimonials from Partner Organizations

Conservation, ranching, and farming organizations around the state of North Dakota all partner to bring resources to North Dakota landowners through the Meadowlark Initiative. Here are what some of the partners are saying about this great new resource and the importance of grasslands for farmers, ranchers, and our wildlife:

In my mind, the Meadowlark Initiative couldn't have been named more perfectly. Because the Meadowlark is the North Dakota state bird, it is also the most honest and true indicator of the health of North Dakota's grasslands. As both a rancher and mentor for the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition, I believe that we need to work extremely hard at keeping grasslands the right side up. Without healthy grasslands, we compromise both the health of our livestock and the health of our families.
Trish Feiring
Field Representative, North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition
Audubon Great Plains is a proud partner of the Meadowlark Initiative as it provides producers improved access to financial support for regenerative and adaptive land management, while also increasing accessibility to conservation professionals who prioritize partnering with producers to conserve our state’s unique natural heritage.
Sarah Hewitt
Director of Conservation, Audubon Great Plains
Working grasslands keep native prairies and North Dakota’s ranching heritage on the landscape. | Photo courtesy of North Dakota Game and Fish
It’s refreshing to see the level of interest in North Dakota prairies from all walks of life: ranchers, birders, homeowners, conservation and agricultural groups, and state and federal agencies. It really feels like there is momentum and these groups are pulling the rope in the same direction when it comes to restoring, protecting, or enhancing prairies and the ranching heritage in North Dakota.
Kevin Kading
Private Lands Section Leader, North Dakota Game and Fish Department
When it comes to efforts for keeping our native grasslands intact, healthy, and thriving… in essence, it’s really about keeping our own health, heritage, well-being, and livelihoods intact. It’s not really about a conservation ethic, after all… it’s about ‘us.’ Our communities… our lives… they’re truly enriched by, and ultimately rely upon, the products our prairies and our ranchers provide. Take away clean water, productive pollinators, cheerful bird songs, healthy soil, locally-produced food, stable climates, and economic diversity—what have we got? It’s not surprising, once realized, that there’s collaborative buy-in. It becomes obvious we need to work together to take care of this natural fabric that ties it all together.
Greg Link
Chief, Conservation and Communication Division, North Dakota Game and Fish Department

Looking for assistance to restore or improve your grasslands?

Check out the Meadowlark Initiative at or contact Heather Husband at (701) 223-8501

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