The Grassland Foundation was founded in 1999 by Tyler Sutton and Joel Sartore as the Conservation Alliance of the Great Plains. One of our first projects was to produce Endangered America (watch the video here), an hour long video presentation on biodiversity loss, narrated and featuring the award winning photography of Joel Sartore. We also early on participated in state and federal efforts to develop a management plan for the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog.
In the early 2000s we joined the Northern Plains Conservation Network and helped develop an eco-regional assessment of biodiversity on the Northern Great Plains, which was published with the leadership of the World Wildlife Fund under the title Oceans of Grass (read a summary of the report here and find the full report at www.worldwildlife.org/what/wherewework/ngp/publications.html.
In 2005, we changed our name to the Grassland Foundation and began working with the Bozeman, Montana office of the World Wildlife Fund on what became known as Grasslands 2010. The primary objectives of our collaboration were to increase the amount of land on the Northern Great Plains in grassland protected areas and to otherwise improve grassland biodiversity management in the region.
In retrospect, many of the original goals of Grasslands 2010 were overly ambitious. However, both working on our own and in collaboration with WWF, over the five year period from 2005 until the end of 2010, we achieved several noteworthy accomplishments.
An early outcome from the Grasslands 2010 collaboration was the publication of our report entitled: The Economic Benefits of Grassland Protected Areas, which is archived on this site. The report concluded that an increase in the amount of land in the Nebraska Sandhills managed for nature-based recreation would increase economic and employment opportunities for ranchers and rural residents.
In 2006, we began collaborating with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Center for Great Plains Studies to host an annual lecture on topics relevant to grassland biodiversity conservation. The lectures were held annually from 2006 until 2010. Video recordings of the lectures from 2007 to 2010 are archived on this site. Funding and support from WWF made these events better.
The high water mark for the lecture series was a symposium hosted by the Grassland Foundation, WWF and other partners in 2009 called: Grasslands of the World. The symposium presentations were published in a special issue of Great Plains Research, a journal of natural and social sciences sponsored by the UNL Center for Great Plains Studies, in the spring of 2010. A copy of the special issue is available from the Center.
Over the years our work increasing focused on using a multi-enterprise approach on private ranches in grassland areas to simultaneously increase revenue from nature-based activities, while improving grassland management practices for biodiversity. From this work we eventually developed a travel program, where participants studied land management and hospitality best practices in the African country of Namibia. For this work Travel & Leisure Magazine selected the Grassland Foundation for the 2009 Global Vision Award. We intend for this travel program to continue for UNL students through a scholarship/grant fund coordinated by faculty at the UNL School of Natural Resources.
In later years we supported the pioneering research and writing of Anthony Schutz, Professor of Agricultural Law at the UNL College of Law, on legal mechanism to create large-scale management regimes on private grasslands for economic development and to improve biodiversity management. We also supported a groundbreaking study by Dr. Larry Swanson, Director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana, on the economic impact of expanding the number of nature-based ranching operations in the Nebraska Sandhills. Professor Schutz’s work is archived on this site and Dr. Swanson’s study will be when it is completed.
Finally, over the last couple of years we tried to put into practice some of these ideas by developing demonstration projects in collaboration with the 4 D Rush Lake Reserve in Garden County, Nebraska and the Switzer Ranch & Nature Reserve in Loup County, Nebraska. Both landowners seek to use nature-based activities to add to their cattle income, while improving their management of grassland biodiversity.
As a result of this work, we know that cattle ranches on the Northern Great Plains can both increase their profitability and better manage their grassland resource for biodiversity by adopting nature-based activities as part of their traditional cattle ranching operations. Public policy to provide education and capacity building assistance to ranchers and rural residents could help them adopt and better manage nature-based enterprises on their private lands, but whether this shift will succeed over the long term will ultimately depend on the entrepreneurial talents of ranchers and rural residents. We hope our efforts have helped lay some of the ground work to encourage and support this shift to a new type of multi-enterprise ranch.
This website is intended to archive our work for others to build upon.