Once found throughout the Great Plains and intermountain west, the black-footed ferret is a specialized predator of prairie dogs, relying on prairie dogs for food and their burrows for shelter and raising young. Consequently, their fate is directly linked to that of prairie dogs. Concerted efforts by federal and state agencies, Tribal governments, zoos, conservation organizations, and private landowners are giving black-footed ferrets a second chance for survival.
Black-footed Ferret reintroduction sites
Populations of these species have each declined by 65-94% since they were counted in the 1960s. The most threatened birds include the Sprague's pipit, chestnut-collared longspur, McCown's longspur, Baird's sparrow, lark bunting and Cassin's sparrow.
Here, we show the overlap in grassland bird species across the ecoregion, which highlights areas of particularly high diversity in northern Montana/southern Canada.
10 - 12 Species
7 - 9 Species
4 - 6 Species
1 - 3 Species
WWF is dedicated to restoring the plains bison, North America's largest mammal, to its historic place in the Northern Great Plains. Once numbering tens of millions across North America's grasslands, the plains bison was nearly eliminated by the 1880s. Heroic efforts over the past century have sparked the return of the bison to the prairie. Native Americans, with their strong cultural affinity for bison, are leading this recovery effort. WWF is partnering with several Native nations to restore bison on Tribal lands.
1870 Bison Range
1880 Bison Range
1884 Bison Range
1889 Bison Range
"Six grassland songbirds have declined by as much as 80% since the 1960s. Habitat loss has played a major role in their decline."
The Northern Great Plains still supports a tremendous array of biodiversity and intact grasslands play an important role in storing water, filtering nutrients and runoff, reducing erosion and storing carbon.
WWF is working with ranchers to learn more about how grassland birds rely on healthy grasslands and working ranch lands for shelter, food, and breeding grounds. Also, the NGP is home to 14 Tribal reservations, which play a vital role in restoring keystone wildlife species, such as bison and black-footed ferrets.
The Northern Great Plains ecoregion, which comprises approximately 25% of the total area of the Great Plains of North America, remains largely intact, thanks in part to its harsh climate, which has made agricultural expansion relatively dificult until the most recent decades.
11% / 40%
1% / 10%
-1% / 0%
-5% / -2%
-9% / -6%
-15% / -10%
-15% or less
More than 75 percent of the remaining intact grasslands of the Northern Great Plains are privately owned and mostly managed as ranchlands for livestock production. Ranching leaves grasslands intact, protects vital habitat for birds and other grassland species, moderates run-off, and sequesters carbon in the soil. Since 2011, WWF's Sustainable Ranching Initiative has helped establish a productive dialogue between conservation interests and the ranching community to ensure that ranching stays viable and sustainable.
"The North American prarie’s soil is like an old-growth forest. Once plowed, it can't be replaced. Right now, less than 2% is protected." – Martha Kauffman, Managing Director, WWF’s Northern Great Plains Program
WWF is one of a few organizations working with Tribal communities on wildlife conservation and management across the Northern Great Plains. WWF is deepening our engagement with Tribal communities, building capacity for programs that protect native wildlife and intact grassland ecosystems, and supporting efforts to improve the lives of their people. At Fort Belknap and Fort Peck Reservations, we work with Tribes to ensure their bison programs are ecologically, culturally, and financially self-sustaining.
The region filters and stores clean water for communities in the Northern Great Plains, to cities such as St. Louis and Omaha, all of the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
It becomes drinking water for families in St. Louis, and provides healthy fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. Each acre that remains unplowed stores thousands of gallons that would be otherwise lost.