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Another Vision for Conservation on the Prairie

The Nature Conservancy buys land for partnership with neighboring ranchers.

Malta, MT

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has taken the first step in an innovative, multi-year plan to protect vital grassland habitat by keeping it in the hands of Montana ranchers.

To that end, the organization has purchased 4,340 acres in Phillips County, south of Malta. After placing a conservation easement on the property, TNC will sell it to adjacent private landowners who have expressed interest in placing conservation easements on their own ranches as well.

The result will be 120 square miles of conserved grassland for threatened grassland birds and other prairie wildlife.

“We don’t believe you have to create a private nature reserve to protect the prairie and its wildlife. These ranching families have been doing it for generations through their good stewardship and their demonstrated commitment to conservation,” says Brian Martin, Grassland Conservation Director for TNC. “This is a leap of faith for TNC, but one based on the trust that we have forged with this ranching community over many years.”

The land is a series of 10 discontinuous parcels nestled within the area of several ranches whose owners have been part of TNC’s pioneering Matador Grassbank. In exchange for discounted grazing leases on TNC’s 60,000-acre Matador Ranch, grassbank members put conservation measures in place on their ranch operations, which encompass another 300,000 acres.

The land, which runs along sections of Second Creek, is a rich mix of native prairie and big sagebrush grassland as well as more than 155 acres of freshwater wetlands, a vital resource in this arid country. It harbors several important and/or disappearing species including greater sage-grouse, burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, long-billed curlew and chestnut-collared longspur. It is also important winter and summer range for pronghorn.

TNC plans to secure a conservation easement on the land in 2019 and to complete sale of the property to the neighboring ranches within three years.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.