Matador Milestones

15 Years of Conservation

This year, the Matador Ranch celebrates 15 years of working with local ranchers and scientists to find the intersection between effective land management and healthy wildlife. We take a look back at the evolution of this gem on the plains.

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A major drought grips north central Montana. The Conservancy purchases nearly half of the Matador Ranch, the largest private ranch in Phillips County. The Conservancy then hires a ranch manager to oversee work that aims to demonstrate how conservation and ranching can work hand in hand.


Restoration activities improve conditions on two wetlands on the property totaling 680 acres.


The Conservancy purchases the remaining portion of the Matador Ranch, bringing the total ranch size to 60,000 acres.


As the drought intensifies, the Conservancy’s innovative grassbank program begins with almost 160,000 acres enrolled for local ranchers to access. The grassbank enables local ranchers to graze their cattle on the Matador for discounted fees based on various conservation practices used on their own ranches.


Science becomes a larger part of the equation as the Conservancy begins baseline ecological monitoring for grassland and riparian habitats as well as wildlife species found on the ranch.


The Conservancy and local ranching partners create the founding Grassbank principles that are still used today.


The Conservancy conducts its first prescribed burn on the ranch to help restore grassland habitat. The drought subsides, and Beaver Creek flows on the ranch for the first time in 10 years.


First Matador grassbank member places a conservation easement on his ranch. This will lead to more participants and a total of 30,000 acres under easement in the Northern Prairies area by 2015.


Grassland bird research project launches to study what habitat different species select and how grazing can be used to create favorable conditions for those that are most imperiled. The first “Matador Science Symposium” is held to convene a diverse group of people who support and implement rangeland research and share results. The ranch also experiences extensive flooding this year.


A year of wins for wildlife! Beaver return to the aptly named Beaver Creek, and 41 miles of fence on private ranches in southern Phillips County are removed or modified to meet wildlife friendly standards.


Today, the grassbank serves 16 ranches and is composed of 266,000 acres in addition to the 60,000-acre Matador Ranch. The Conservancy is conducting fire and grazing research and has launched a cooperative, wildlife friendly fence research project with Alberta Conservation Association and the University of Montana.


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