A new strategy from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department will team landowners, conservation groups, scientists and others to enhance, restore and sustain native grasslands in North Dakota.

The vision of the Meadowlark Initiative, named after the state’s iconic, yet declining Western meadowlark, is to promote and create healthy, thriving grasslands that provide biodiversity and prosperity for wildlife, pollinators, ranching operations and communities.

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North Dakota has lost more than 70% of its native prairie over time, and it will take more than the Game and Fish Department and its long list of contributing partners in the long-haul task of enhancing, restoring and retaining what’s left of North Dakota’s native grasslands.

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“When we talk about native prairie in the state, we need to acknowledge who the owners and managers of our native prairie are,” Greg Link, conservation and communications division chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, said in a news release. “In most cases, we’re talking about ranchers and producers who run livestock on that prairie. We need those folks because they’re important in keeping that prairie healthy.”

Through the Meadowlark Initiative, producers can plant marginal cropland back to diverse native perennial grasslands for grazing, Link said. Cost-share to establish the grass and to install grazing infrastructure, such as fencing and water, is available. During the first three years of grass establishment, producers also are eligible to receive rental payments as the land transitions from cropland to grazing land.

“This is about keeping working lands working, getting it done on the private playing field, and we know in that arena, we have to come together, we've got to collaborate,” he said.

A year ago, the Game and Fish Department and 13 contributing partners submitted a grant proposal through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, seeking to leverage over $12 million in partner contributions with $10 million of USDA-NRCS funding to kick-start collaborative work toward goals and objectives, encompassed in the Meadowlark Initiative. The initiative last spring was selected as one of 85 successful projects nationwide.

Together, the collected effort focuses on improving, increasing and connecting wildlife habitat and supporting the sustainability of new and existing livestock ranches by offering incentives and programs to promote regenerative grazing with grass-based livestock operations.

To learn more about the Meadowlark Initiative, visit the game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.