The Conservancy’s pioneering grassbank is centered at our 60,000 acre Matador Ranch. Under the program, local ranchers pay discounted fees to graze their cattle on the Matador in exchange for wildlife-friendly practices on their own operations. The minimum requirement for membership in the grassbank is a committment to control noxious weeds and not break any new ground (sodbusting). After that, the lease price drops for additional conservation measures. For example, protecting prairie dog habitat earns a discount, securing Sage-grouse leks earns another, modifying fences, that's right, more money off the lease price.
The agreements secure habitat for grassland wildlife; increase the use of wildlife-friendly fencing, protect streams; control weeds;and prevent plowing under native prairie.
The program evolved in 2002 after the area had suffered from three years of severe drought, and ranchers were facing selling off their herds if they didn’t find grazing. They found grass at the Matador. The program helped the ranchers rest their drought-weary ranchlands, and helped the Conservancy develop positive relations among neighbors.
“We are real pleased with this opportunity,” says rancher Dale Veseth, “This has made a huge difference in this community… When you help feed families and cows, they’ll remember.”
Ranchers on the Matador Grassbank © Ami Vitale
A Growing Success
The local ranchers help plan and manage the grassbank. The result is that participating ranchers, along with the Matador, have improved habitat across more than 250,000 acres in south Phillips County. They have also helped us:
- Protect more than 53,000 acres of habitat for highly threatened Greater Sage-Grouse
- Remove or modify 50 miles of fencing that endangered wildlife
- Protect more than 3,600 acres of prairie dog towns
- Control and monitor weeds on nearly 200,000 acres
The grassbank has allowed ranchers to broaden their stewardship in ways that increased benefits to wildlife, without reducing the already slim profit margins for ranching. This partnership has helped conserve some of the most important remaining habitat for grassland birds, pronghorn, prairie dogs, and Sage grouse in the country.